Collect Reflections: The First Sunday in Lent

Collect Reflections: The First Sunday in Lent

Joshua Steele

Joshua Steele

Editor of Rookie Anglican at Anglican Pastor
Josh founded Rookie Anglican to help make Anglicanism more accessible to Anglicans and the Anglicurious. Read his blog at JOSHUAPSTEELE.COM and follow him on Twitter: @joshuapsteele.
Joshua Steele

This post, in addition to being a part of Rookie Anglican, is part of a series on the Collects of the Christian Year (ACNA), called “Collect Reflections.” If you’re just jumping in, make sure to check out the introductory post, “Announcing Collect Reflections.” All Collect Reflection posts can be found here.

The First Sunday in Lent

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations, and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

We Serve a God Who is Merciful and Mighty to Save

“Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan”

As I said previously in my overview of the Church Calendar, the 40 days of Lent recall the 40 days Jesus spent being tempted in the wilderness by Satan:

Just as the Christmas cycle begins with a season of preparation, so the Paschal cycle begins with Lent –the period of fasting and penitence from Ash Wednesday until Holy Saturday.

Because Lent lasts for forty days, not counting the six Sundays which are celebrations of the Resurrection, it recalls Christ’s fasting during temptation in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13).

Now, because we’re in Year B of the three-year Sunday Lectionary, this Sunday’s Gospel text comes from the Gospel of Mark (Matthew is Year A, Luke is Year C). As opposed to Matthew and Luke, who give us much more detail about the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, Mark’s account is extremely brief.

Here’s the Gospel lesson for this Sunday:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. (Mark 1:9-13).

Matthew and Luke give us the specific content of the temptations Jesus faced from Satan in the wilderness:

  1. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matt. 4:3; cf. Luke 4:3)
  2. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” (Matt. 4:6; cf. Luke 4:9-11 [Luke puts this as the third temptation])
  3. “All these [kingdoms] I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matt. 4:8-9; cf. Luke 4:5-7 [Luke puts this as the second temptation])

But still, even in Mark’s brief account, we can catch the stunning point:

We serve a God who knows what it is like to be tempted and tried. We serve a God who has been in the wilderness.

This ought to be an encouragement to us, because we are tempted and tried! We often find ourselves, as it were, in the wilderness. This is where the Collect goes next.

“Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations,”

But wait. When was the last time you were tempted to:

  • command a stone to become bread?
  • cast yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple?
  • fall down and worship Satan in exchange for the kingdoms of the world?

I don’t know about you, but I more frequently find myself tempted to do things like:

  • put my own needs above everyone else’s
  • mistreat others
  • lie
  • lust
  • give full vent to my anger

Does Jesus really know what we’re going through if he faced such unique temptations?

Yes, he does. Even though his temptations had to do with his unique role as the Son of God, these “edge cases” demonstrate that, if Jesus has faced these 3 “ultimate” temptations, as it were, he can relate to those “lesser” temptations we face every day.

Because we serve a God who became incarnate – who became fully human for the sake of our redemption – we serve a God who knows what we’re going through.

But that’s not all.

“and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save”

See, we don’t just serve a God who can both sympathize and empathize with us in our weaknesses.

Sure, sympathy and empathy are great. But they are of little comfort if the following isn’t also true:

We serve a God who is mighty to save!

God both (1) knows what we’re going through and (2) is able to help us. He is merciful AND mighty.

I’m reminded of Psalm 103. Verses 13 and 14 read:

As a father has compassion for his children,
    so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made;
    he remembers that we are dust.

God is merciful. Thanks be to God!

However, just before that, verses 11 and 12 read:

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far he removes our transgressions from us.

God is merciful AND mighty. He knows what we’re going through, and he is able to do something about it!

He is not content to let us remain captive to Sin and Death. No, he will not let Sin and Death have the final word over his good creation!

Instead, he is mighty to save. He can, today, set us free from sin’s power. And, one day, he will set us free from sin’s presence.

So, when you and I face temptations this week, we can take heart, for we serve a God who is both merciful and mighty to save us from our sins.

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