Sermon Seeds: Temptation

Sunday, February 18, 2024
First Sunday in Lent | Year B
(Liturgical Color: Violet)

Lectionary Citations
Genesis 9:8-17 • Psalm 25:1-10 • 1 Peter 3:18-22 • Mark 1:9-15

Focus Scripture: Mark 1:9-15
Focus Theme: Temptation
Series: Say No (Click here for the series overview.)

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

During Lent, many Christians engage in the spiritual discipline of fasting. They choose to forgo the use or consumption of food, practices, or behaviors in order to draw nearer to God or to seek to better themselves in the name of Jesus. One year, I decided to give up complaining (and listening to complaining), and it was one of the best seasons of my life. It was also extremely difficult to do…especially disconnecting from the complaints of others. At the same time, it was liberating and challenging. It’s important to note that I didn’t stop listening to lament; I didn’t allow myself to disconnect from the pain and suffering of others. Rather, I had to discern the difference between lament and complaint. Lament takes a journey toward healing, and complaint, in my view, can often leave one stuck in the current circumstances by transferring more and more power to the problem itself.

Temptation can also be a transfer of power and energy from oneself to another person, thing, or idea. Temptation occurs when our desires compete with our best interests, ethics, and commitments. I know of people who have given up something they only marginally cared about because they think it will be easy only to discover that the process of self-denial can make something nominally interesting become almost irresistibly appealing. That’s the power of temptation.

Even Jesus was tempted. The Gospel according to Mark begins in what seems to be a story already unfolding. Mark has no time to tell the story of pre-public Jesus. No birth narratives, angelic visitations to explain what is about to take place, and no star to lead shepherds and wise people to a baby and toddler Jesus clutter the Markan account. This narrative begins with a few words about John the Baptist as the messenger who prepares the way and then quickly turns to the baptism of Jesus. This is our introduction to Jesus. It does not bring the Jesus who emerges from the waters of the womb. This Jesus enters the waters of the River Jordan in order to be baptized.

Jesus, the divine, is baptized by the human, John the Baptist. Some long-standing questions present themselves: If we accept Jesus’s divinity, then why does he participate in this ritual that is done for the purpose of confessing and repenting of one’s sin? As divine, Jesus is sinless, so what purpose does this act serve? The church considers baptism a sacrament because it is an act that was done by Jesus himself, and thus through our baptism we are initiated into the body of Christ. But the question of Jesus’s need for baptism remains. Many Jews during this period engaged in ritual cleansing as a sign of repentance and humility, and Jesus was an observant Jew from Galilee. Perhaps this detail in Mark reflects the spirit of humility that epitomizes Jesus’s action.
Gennifer Brooks

In Matthew and Luke, Jesus enters the human condition through birth. In Mark, he enters through baptism. It’s the launch of his public ministry, and it also serves to reveal his identity. Jesus the person does not need to be baptized. The ministry of Jesus uses the act of baptism to institute a sign of belonging. Jesus enters the waters we enter, adopts them, and invites us to enter with him. The baptismal waters are another sign of the covenant, and Jesus enters them as a renewal of the divine-human pact that is evidenced most clearly in his very person. Jesus embodies the covenantal promise of God’s abiding presence. The Holy One’s commitment to being with humanity reaches the pinnacle as God becomes human. There’s no greater way to be with us than become us.

Proof of that human nature happens immediately as the Spirit compels Jesus to enter the wilderness where Jesus experiences temptation for forty days. After going public, Jesus goes private and is confronted with the challenge of being fully human. If one questions whether Jesus needed to be baptized, the follow-up to that is pondering why Jesus needed to be tempted. The answer is likely the same. Temptation is part of the human condition, and Jesus participates fully in humanity. Baptism and temptation form the basis of his preparation for launching his public ministry.

In Mark, Jesus’s public career begins where John’s ends; there is no overlap between the ministries of the two prophets, as there is in John 3:22–24, where John, Jesus, and their disciples baptize together. The reference to the arrest of John (lit., the “handing over,” paradidōmi) is so terse that it seems to presuppose that the reader/audience already has some previous knowledge of this event; the circumstances of John’s imprisonment and execution are recounted in Mark 6:17–29. The notice that John was handed over sounds an ominous note and foreshadows Mark’s many references to the “handing over” of Jesus/the son of man (3:19; 9:31; 10:33; 14:10–11, 18, 21, 41, 42, 44; cf. 13:9, 12). Jesus returns to his native region of Galilee to begin his ministry, and it is in and around Galilee that his mission of preaching, healing, and teaching mostly takes place (Mark 1:14–9:50; see Freyne 1988, 32–68).
Mary Ann Beavis

In his ministry, Jesus will encounter people in need, spiritual and material in nature. He responded to both. He casts out unclean spirits and cures diseases. He feeds the hungry and affirms the marginalized. He knows what human suffering feels like even at this early stage in his ministry because he was tempted. It was not necessary for him to display compassion, but it likely heightened his empathy and impacted the nature and urgency of his ministry.

Jesus proclaims, “the good news of God.” What is that exactly? The writer offers no clear definition of the phrase, or for the claim that “the time is fulfilled.” What time? There is also his heralding of the ambiguous but imminent “Kingdom of God.” Both the passage and the present time seem to call us to investigate these questions, as well as other theological questions related to our identity, responsibility, and commitment as Christians. The human/divine Jesus, in his humility, offers an other-worldly response that invites hearers into a new relationship with God. Jesus does not call the hearers to be baptized. That was John’s purpose. But Jesus’s call still requires repentance, turning away from the present to a new relationship with God, one defined by our humility, perhaps as prerequisite to claiming one’s place in the Kingdom—the kin-dom—of God that Jesus declares has come to fulfillment.
Gennifer Brooks

Mark’s account emphasizes the power and immediacy of the ministry of Jesus between his baptism and his resurrection. Those two acts bookend the gospel. In both the beginning and conclusion of his earthly ministry, Jesus demonstrates his covenantal commitments. Both show Jesus retreating in nature (wilderness and garden). Jesus also experiences temptation. As others mock his position and ask him to save himself from the horror and suffering of the cross, perhaps Jesus reminded himself that he had suffered before. Perhaps, Jesus did need to be tempted in the wilderness in order to prepare him for the temptation in the passion.

As the season of Lent unfolds, perhaps the most challenging question presents itself. Why did Jesus need to die? In a physiological sense, the answer is straightforward. Because he lived. Life is defined in part by death. All living creatures die. Jesus would be no different. Jesus dies in the manner that he did because human beings were unable or unwilling to say no to temptation.

Still, the power of his death is like that of his baptism. He enters into the human condition fully and completely.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
*Note: The dialect in the poem below is understood by reading it out loud phonetically.

“Temptation” by Paul Laurence Dunbar
I done got ‘uligion, honey, an’ I ‘s happy ez a king;
Evahthing I see erbout me ‘s jes’ lak sunshine in de spring;
An’ it seems lak I do’ want to do anothah blessid thing
But jes’ run an’ tell de neighbours, an’ to shout an’ pray an’ sing.

I done shuk my fis’ at Satan, an’ I ‘s gin de worl’ my back;
I do’ want no hendrin’ causes now a-both’rin’ in my track;
Fu’ I ‘s on my way to glory, an’ I feels too sho’ to miss.
Wy, dey ain’t no use in sinnin’ when ‘uligion ‘s sweet ez dis.

Talk erbout a man backslidin’ w’en he ‘s on de gospel way;
No, suh, I done beat de debbil, an’ Temptation ‘s los’ de day.
Gwine to keep my eyes right straight up, gwine to shet my eahs, an’ see
Whut ole projick Mistah Satan ‘s gwine to try to wuk on me.

Listen, whut dat soun’ I hyeah dah? ’tain’t no one commence to sing;
It ‘s a fiddle; git erway dah! don’ you hyeah dat blessid thing?
W’y, dat’s sweet ez drippin’ honey, ’cause, you knows, I draws de bow,
An’ when music’s sho’ ‘nough music, I ‘s de one dat’s sho’ to know.

W’y, I ‘s done de double shuffle, twell a body could n’t res’,
Jes’ a-hyeahin’ Sam de fiddlah play dat chune his level bes’;
I could cut a mighty caper, I could gin a mighty fling
Jes’ right now, I ‘s mo’ dan suttain I could cut de pigeon wing.

Look hyeah, whut ‘s dis I ‘s been sayin’? whut on urf ‘s tuk holt o’ me?
Dat ole music come nigh runnin’ my ‘uligion up a tree!
Cleah out wif dat dah ole fiddle, don’ you try dat trick agin;
Did n’t think I could be tempted, but you lak to made me sin!

For Further Reflection
“Hard to say what’s right when all I wanna do is wrong.” ― Prince
“Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour … If at my convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?” ― Charlotte Brontë
“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions….Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen

Works Cited
Beavis, Mary Ann. Mark (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011.
Brooks, Gennifer Benjamin. “Between Text and Sermon: Mark 1:9-15.” Interpretation 75, no. 2 (2021): 149–51.

Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection
This series encourages the church to say no. To balance that, the response should invite the gathered community to say yes. Let us say yes to preparing for the temptations that life presents. Encourage worshippers to share in a word or two what that might mean for them.
In a small gathering, this may be done verbally with all assembled. In a larger setting, this may be done in small groups. Honor the choice to process internally and invite (not dictate) participation. Online worshippers should be specifically asked to share in the comments or chat functions based on platform.

Worship Ways Liturgical Resources

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (, also serves a local church pastor, public theologian, and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page:

A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.