“For because He, Himself has suffered and been tested. He is able to help those who are being tested now. Hebrews 2:18
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Oct. 4, 2015
After a spiritual high, at the time of His baptism when He had heard a voice from heaven saying "Thou art my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." Our Lord, filled with the Holy Spirit was led into the wilderness to be tested by Satan. Mark, whose gospel we reflect upon this year, states that he was literally driven into the wilderness by the Spirit for this season of testing.
After a spiritual high at the time of His transfiguration when he heard a voice from heaven saying, "This is my Son my chosen listen to Him!" Our Lord, in obedience to His Father's will went down the mountain, set His face toward Jerusalem where He knew He would face death.
In the first instance He was in the desert alone weakened from hunger exhausted from heat. In this condition He came face to face with Satan. In the second instance He was in the midst of the crowds who were clamoring for His attention, where He was stretched to the very limits of human endurance. The gospels record that again and again, in the midst of the needs of people our Lord was put to the test.
That, precisely, is where we find Jesus in today's Gospel. Our Lord has just recently come down from the Mount of Transfiguration, He is heading toward Jerusalem and the crowds have gathered around Him. In this context, someone came forward, some manuscripts say it was a Pharisee, to put a question to Him in order to test Him.
The question was "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" Now at first glance, you might think this is a different kind of test than the kind of I have been describing in past sermons. It would appear more to be like the kind of test you would take in college or in seminary.
Does Jesus know the law? What particular interpretation of the law does He subscribe? Jesus jumps right in and enters this seminary debate. "What does Moses command?" He asks. His questioners answer with an exception and a permission summarizing Deuteronomy 24:1. Moses permitted divorce provided that a certificate of divorce is given to the wife," was their reply.
In reality, this Mosaic provision was given to protect a woman who had been repudiated by her husband. But by the time of our Lord this provision had been turned on its head. It was taught that under certain circumstances a man was fully justified in fact almost obligated to divorce his wife.
On this point the Pharisees and probably the majority of adult Jewish males were agreed. The only point of real dispute concerned the grounds that divorce should be permitted. The followers of Rabbi Shammai argued that divorce should be limited to moral failure, particularly adultery, but also failure to properly observe the Jewish law. The followers of Rabbi Hillel argued that in addition to moral fault anything which caused annoyance or embarrassment to a husband was legitimate grounds for a divorce.
However, far more than a rabbinic despite is going on in this discussion. Today's Gospel states that Jesus had left Galilee on His way to Jerusalem and has come to the region of Judea east of the Jordan river. This is the region where John the Baptist had conducted his ministry. The question of the lawfulness of divorce and remarriage had been the immediate occasion for John's denunciation of the conduct of Herod Antipas and Herodias which in turn led to John violent death.
Jesus was now in Herod's jurisdiction. The intention behind the question was to compromise Jesus in Herod's eyes in the expectation that Herod would seize Him even as he had John. Throughout the Gospel Mark intimates that the Pharisees are in league with Herod and they are plotting to take His life.
Thus the test that Jesus faces in today's Gospel like His time in the wilderness and like when He enters His final passion has the same qualitative, all demanding, dimensions. How will He respond? He ignores the debate between Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel. He places the Mosaic provision in its proper perspective "For the hardness of your heart Moses permitted divorce. He calls them back to today's Old Testament lesson where the orders of creation are given and where God's original intention for marriage was as a life-long covenant between two persons is revealed.
Thus in this historical and geographical context our Lord's pronouncement confirmed the bold testimony of John the Baptist. Once again, Jesus had faced the test. He did not back down if the face of his difficult circumstances.
It was upon reflecting upon these kinds of experiences which our Lord faced that the author to the Hebrew Christians had in mind when he wrote today's epistle. Let me read my text again. For because He, Himself has suffered and been tested, He is able to help those who are being tested now. It is a different time and a different place. The Hebrew Christians were being persecuted because they were following the way of Christ.
Some, like our Lord, were even being put to death. In this crucible of life many wavered, and some were tempted to turn back. The author of this epistle wrote to encourage them and to call them to faithfulness. They were reminded that our Lord was continually confronted by the same kind of testing. He was victorious because he relied on Scripture and by trusting the Holy Spirit to sustain Him.
The implication is clear If our Lord could do it, the Hebrew Christians can too! They had the same Scripture. They had the same Spirit abiding in them.
And what about us? In yet another time and place what does the fact that our Lord has suffered and has been tested mean for us today? In some of this testing it seems easy enough to see the implications. For example, the circumstances in your life may be such that you feel you are in the wilderness?
Alone, in the desert without anyone who really understands or cares. You feel alone, in the desert, tested by Satan. "Give up," "Give in" he says to you. "God's word, God's way, is only an illusion.
No one really believes it anymore, no one really cares, follow me, and I will give you happiness."
Or, perhaps your life is more like our Lord's following His transfiguration. You have so much to do, so many people are clamoring for your time so many needs, it seems to be beyond your capacity to respond. You feel stretched to the limit, like you are about to snap. You sometimes wonder. Do people really care about me, or are they only concerned about what I can to for them?
Does your heart cry out for time to be alone? And then the tempter comes and says "What is the use what can you do among so many needs? "Who will appreciate you anyway?"
If you feel you are in the wildness or are in the midst of the clamoring crowd, this morning I say to you with confidence our Lord was there before you. He too was tested. He too, suffered.
He found guidance in the Scriptures. He was sustained by the Holy Spirit. We will be, too!