This Sunday is the First Sunday in Lent, which is a season of repentance in preparation for Easter. Sunday is always a ‘little Easter,’ even during Lent, and therefore retains an Easter tone and may be less solemn than the midweek services.

The readings for this Sunday reflect themes of trial and temptation. The Gospel records the Baptism and temptation of Jesus for forty days in the wilderness, an embodiment of the Lenten season. The reading concludes with these Lenten words of Jesus: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” The Old Testament reading records the testing of Abraham as God tells him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham proceeds in faith, but God prevents the death of Isaac and provides a substitute for Isaac in the form of a ram. In the Epistle reading, St. Pauls asks, “Can any trial or trouble in life separate us from Christ’s love?” Of course not! Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God revealed in Jesus.

The Hymn of the Day is “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (ELH 250 and ELH 251), written by Martin Luther. The first verse highlights the temptation theme of the day.

Our hymnary includes two different tunes. ELH 250 was written by Martin Luther. According to the musical tastes of the 1500s, it features an interesting rhythm but a plain harmonization.

ELH 251 was written by a famous Norwegian musician, Ludvig Lindeman, in the 1800s. Musical tastes had changed. His tune features a plain rhythm to highlight the more interesting harmonies of the singers. At Lindeman’s funeral it was said, “He taught the Norwegian people to sing.”

The Gospel: Mark 1:12-15
The Baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of his ministry as the Messiah. But why was he baptized? Jesus had lived a perfect life and didn’t need Baptism for the forgiveness of his sins. Yet as Jesus approached the Jordan River, God the Father saw him as if he were covered in all of our sins—and therefore he was in desperate need of Baptism for the washing away of those sins. Then directly from his Baptism Jesus went alone into the wilderness to face the temptations of the Devil and defeat them on our behalf.

The Old Testament: Genesis 22:1-18
God had promised Abraham to be the father of many nations, yet he delayed for many years to give Abraham a single son to fulfill that promise. Finally, when Abraham and Sarah were biologically too old to have children, God gave them a miraculous son. And then in this reading God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice that son as a burnt offering. This test seemed to contradict God’s promise—it required Abraham to put his logic in second place behind his faith. At the last moment, God spared Abraham from sacrificing his son and provided a substitute. But in Jesus, God does not spare his own Son from being the sacrifice that brings forgiveness to everyone.

The Epistle lesson: Romans 8:31-39
Since God did not spare his own Son from death on our behalf, he will certainly give us everything else that we need in this life. Even when we have trouble in life, we can be sure that it is always turned to the purpose of strengthening our faith, not defeating it. The Devil is at work every day to tempt us, but we do not need to fear him, because his only weapon—death—has been broken by Christ’s resurrection. The infinite love of God runs deeper than any power of evil which may work against us.