9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:9-15 ESV)
We have begun our Lenten season 2018 and we pause slightly – the runner slows to a walk perhaps – the workers look up to view the scenery – the Sundays are in Lent but they are not strictly counted in the 40 days. Sunday resurrection news always shapes whatever the Church Year is saying, whatever the local emphasis might be. And with Mark’s account of the Gospel we don’t get much detail – it’s a fast moving account of Jesus not huge on the scenery, introspection, motivation, psychology – but rather words and deeds – immediately, immediately … this happened, that happened.
We go from Jesus’ baptism – observed back in early January – 3 verses – to the wilderness and temptation and resolution – 40 days worth of living in 2 verses – 2!! – and then the public ministry begins in controversy with John the Baptist having been arrested, Jesus now says that ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’. That’s the summary and goal and Jesus’ message and entire ministry will be about serving people – challenging them – with a message of God’s mercy and grace that changes lives and has a focus – you can’t get away from it – on him. Him personally. You can’t bypass Jesus to see God is the message that confronts people – then and now.
But in between we have the two verses of the 40 days in the wilderness – the association of the 40 years in the wilderness after the people’s rescue from Egypt by God can’t be ignored – and the details are sketchy – Jesus was tempted by Satan – no more details. Jesus was with wild animals (which might make us think of danger or maybe even the demonic) – but no more details. And the angels were ministering to him – and the only detail is for Greek ears – that their serving of Jesus was not a once-off but they were serving him in this past time – but again no more details. So we have Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days being tempted by Satan and people scratch their heads as to what that’s all about. Other people mutter, “I can’t resist some temptations 40 seconds!”.
Matthew and Luke will give us further insight via the conversation between Satan and Jesus but we might have made a guess along those lines if we thought about the 40 year wilderness journey of the people of God who learnt what it was like to be God’s people. Who learnt who they were – and identity leads to relationships and relationships govern behaviour. The 40 years in the wilderness was a response from God because of the people’s lack of faith and disobedience when God brought them to the Promised Land the first time.
In today’s reading the thing that might catch us out – surprise us – shock us even – worry us more – is spotting that it was the Holy Spirit who ‘drove’ Jesus into the wilderness – expelled him from the River Jordan, threw him into the wildness as one might throw the unclean into the bin or away from the clean. The Greek can have a sense of force here – but need not. Was Jesus frogmarched into the wilderness? At the baptism of Jesus, he was declared by the voice from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased’ while at the same he is dripping wet looking like yet another repentant sinner. Jesus is in solidarity with sinners and yet linked with God. That is a conflict. Who will win?
And so Jesus faces his power, the will of God, himself and is tempted by the accuser, the Satan – and yet God is very much in the background setting up this situation.
Sins are one thing we can fight against or excuse. Temptations are part of our behavioural options. We can blame ourselves or others. Many people might blame ‘Fate’ as the source for a lot of life – the tough stuff, our selfish, destructive behaviour included but Christians are uneasy with ‘Fate’ – just as they are uneasy with God being around. What is God doing here to Jesus? What is God doing to us?
You see we want God always on our side against whatever is attacking us. We live in a binary world – people are on our side or they’re not; for us or against us sort of thing. We find it difficult coping with someone who would support us and support our opponent or enemy too. Our logic is that if they’re supporting others who are against us then they can’t be supporting us as much as they could be – with their time, resources, etc. It’s simple finite logic.
Now in this world our supporters are all flawed; no one is perfect. Nevertheless we can feel for parents who genuinely love and support their children but who are accused of favouritism. We do nod if the therapists tell us that they can’t counsel both of us. And we would think it very strange if lawyers said they could represent us and our opponents equally.
So we understand that our selfish self tempts us, that the world tempts us, and that the demonic world can tempt us and all their goals are that we sin – we go away from God – we minimise or stop following Jesus. And we want God to help us. And we say that it doesn’t help us at all that God is somehow overarching ‘high above’ our situation allowing stuff to happen to us – temptations, bad things, hardships, evil – when from the very beginning he should be on ‘our side’ and already be helping us avoid trouble and hardship.
We can’t imagine Jesus’ temptations – the struggles – the hardship – the ‘God, what are you doing?’ – the wrestle with how he will use his power (he is the Son of God after all). But Jesus used God’s Word to resist them and all the other temptations that came his way. Don’t you think he was tempted to get off the cross?!
Our struggle with sin, our battles with temptations, our following Jesus, living the lives we lead and the lives we want to lead when we wreck things all happen because Jesus somehow kept resisting temptation, remained focused on saving us, and doing his Father’s will. So when we struggle with God seeming to put temptations before us and when as part of that temptations we hear the whisper or the shout that our God doesn’t care for us, that we are rats in his maze, then we can turn to Jesus and quieten down and watch him go to the cross, listen to him through his Word, come to him when he calls us to his table – and he does help us in our temptations. He orients us away from the allure and strengthens us to turn away in our behaviours. This is all very personal because temptations are unique and personal but Jesus doesn’t abandon us.
Lent is a time of reflection and a recommitment to a struggle – a personal struggle to follow Jesus, to not doubt God’s goodness, and to focus on serving those around us. We can really only do this – and stay somewhat spiritually sane – when we are reassured again and again that God will not change his mind towards us, that God will not gag at our sins and cast us out, that God wants us to live with him. How do we know this? Look to Jesus. Listen to Jesus. And follow him.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. [Amen]
PS. I don’t often give ‘homework’ in my sermons – though I occasionally do suggest you read a book in the library called the Bible or a chapter. But here is a suggestion for this week. All available on the internet – why not read about the 6th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer in Luther’s Small Catechism and his Large Catechism and in his letter to Peter, his barber, called ‘A Simple Way to Pray’? … You’re tempted now aren’t you?! In this case, that’s good!
- Mark 1:9 - 15