How many of you like to read the articles in Reader’s Digest? Have you ever noticed that some of them are edited versions of articles that have been published elsewhere? Mark’s Gospel is similar to these articles because although his Gospel does include many of the same stories that are in the other three Gospels, Mark’s versions leave out many of the details that are included in the other Gospels. A good example is Mark’s version of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. Mark’s version doesn’t include Jesus’ conversations with Satan.
Mark wanted believers to know that Jesus triumphed completely over the enemy-and they can triumph too when they are tempted. Mark 1:9-15 begins with the exhilaration of Jesus’ baptism and leads to his retreat into the wilderness where he was tempted by everything God opposes. Jesus went willingly into the wilderness, but the Spirit is pictured as moving him to battle Satan’s temptations. Jesus often went into the wilderness during his ministry. It is in the wilderness where we often meet God. We don’t choose to go to wilderness places such as times of trial, temptation and struggle. They happen to us. Even when the challenges are caused by our actions, we rarely seek out or even want such hardship. Even when we face life’s challenges, the Holy Spirit will make use of us.
All of us have wilderness experiences from time to time. These experiences often force us to confront the negative experiences of our lives. They force us to strip away our pride and worldly resources and come to God in faith. I know, because several years ago I went through a wilderness experience because of my mother’s health issues. It was a tough time for me. I had to turn the situation over to God, but in doing so my faith was challenged and strengthened. Jesus knows that unless we are liberated at the core like I was, we won’t live the life God wants us to lead. We have to get rid of the values, motives and attitudes of the world.
Some people believe that if you follow God’s will, you will have a life of ease. Nothing could be further from the truth. The way of God often involves circumstances where we must trust in God and draw on his truth and strength. God tests us to help us grow, to show us that we have the faith and ability to stand up to the testing, that we will trust God in difficult times and to strengthen our faith and Christian character. At the same time, Satan has his own purpose-to turn us away from God and tempt us to sin. It is our responsibility not only to teach people the difference between right and wrong, but also to motivate them to want to do the right thing.
Satan and much of human society want to make us do the wrong thing. Jesus was the son of God, but his earthly life was full of challenges that he had to endure. God sometimes uses the devil to test people. His purpose is to strengthen our faith, but Satan wants to destroy our faith. We will face the trials of life, but we can endure if we draw strength from Jesus. After all, Jesus’ faith was strengthened by his time in the wilderness.
When we turn away from God we find ourselves pursued and served by God in the person of Jesus. When we become his followers, his “no” becomes our rejection of evil. His “yes” becomes our battle cry of hope for God. With his victory over evil, Christ can now proclaim the coming of the Kingdom, because he can announce that which he possesses-namely, the kingdom.
After the temptation in the wilderness, Jesus started his mission of preaching the good news of salvation. Jesus announced the kingdom’s arrival by saying that it was time for the kingdom to come. It includes the good news of hope, peace, promise and eternal life. The kingdom is more than simply the rule of the Holy Spirit within us. The kingdom will ultimately include the restoration of all creation.
The wilderness can be a lonely place. Jesus was alone emotionally, environmentally and physically. It was a good time for Satan to make his move. He tested Jesus’ character, creativity and communion with God. Jesus was tempted to take care of his own needs first, but his character included a reservoir of strength that he could draw on when he was tempted-the word of God. In the silence of the wilderness, God spoke to him.
We are often led into the wilderness just after moments of triumph in our lives, just like Jesus was led into the wilderness after his baptism. When we are in the wilderness, our character is also tested, especially when we are tempted. Do we let faith guide us, or do we give in to worldly pleasures? Do we draw on our faith? Do we let God speak to us?
When we are in the wilderness, we don’t know how long the journey will last or what is on the other side, but it is a time of preparation. Lent is a wilderness journey for us. We are invited to embark on a journey that will take us through a wilderness that will toughen our faith so that at the end of the journey when we are at the foot of the cross, we will be victorious.
The arrival of the kingdom comes with a sense of urgency, and this sense of urgency is often portrayed in Mark’s Gospel. It is shown in the brevity of the stories he includes in the Gospel and in the stories he left out (such as the Incarnation). The arrival of the kingdom requires an urgent response. God controls the timing, not us. Every sermon that is preached or heard, and every witness we give must have an urgent tone. Our lives and God’s patience are short when it comes to accepting or rejecting Christ.
We must not place obstacles in the way of people who reach out in faith to Christ. For example, a follow-up study of people who made decisions for Christ at a Billy Graham crusade condemned people who wanted to keep the kingdom of God out of the reach of sinners. The report showed that the decisions were genuine, but only a few new believers became members of a church after their conversion. The churches had no plan for bringing someone else’s converts into the fellowship of faith.
The good news is decisive. The call to repent is decisive and urgent. People expect that preaching will lead to a call for a decision. Jesus calls on us to turn around and walk with God. It is a theme that is repeated again and again and again throughout the Bible. Repentance loosens our hold on the world and strengthens our hold on the good news. It calls on us to trust God.
Jesus preaches repentance, which requires a change of mind and heart. It is a full-time, ongoing commitment to change. We are to turn away from whatever distracts us from God and turn toward God. We will receive the help we need, because repentance won’t be easy.
Sometimes people do not change. One reason is because change involves making a decision. Only by deciding to live a better life can we have lives that are truly happy and fulfilled. Another reason is because they don’t really want to change. They do not want to repent. They focus on the consequences. In other words, they don’t really hate what can be changed-they just hate the consequences when they are found out.
Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. The number 40 is often associated with intense spiritual experiences. Christ’s temptation in the wilderness was an intense spiritual experience for him. Our wilderness experiences can be intense spiritual experiences for us because they force us to draw closer to God in faith.
Jesus’ temptation was a foretaste of his entire ministry. It involved unending assaults from evil forces. He was sustained in the wilderness and he was sustained throughout his ministry. He did not replace evil earthly rulers or lift up the poor and oppressed. People still suffer today, but God is still with them and us.
Today is a good day to make decisions about our lives and how we are going to live them. Lent is a time for us to think things over, to reconsider, and to be more aware of our limitations, our mortality and our need for God and the transforming grace he offers us through Jesus. Even as we look at our own broken, sin-filled lives, we can take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus has preceded us in this journey. Jesus came into our dark, sin-filled world in order to be joined to our brokenness and redeem it. When we find ourselves in the wilderness of disease, loneliness, joblessness, depression or any other things that challenge us, Jesus has been there before. He meets us in our wilderness to bear our burdens with us and for us.
Lent is a time for us to loosen our grip on the ways of the world and draw nearer to God’s grace. It is a time for us as Christians to take a journey through the wilderness to the cross. We can’t avoid this journey, but we can take comfort in the knowledge that God will bring us through it to the other side. God will not deliver us from the suffering we will endure during the journey, but with his help we will be transformed by it. God will show us how to make our divine lives spring to fuller life. We’ll have to change our vision of the world, but God will help us get rid of our old worldly lives.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
- Preaching Magazine, Nov./Dec. 2014 (Nashville, TN: Salem Publishing; pp. 80-81)
- McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
- Pastor Ken Klaus, “Leave Behind the Past.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
- Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 1st Sunday of Lent, (B).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- Sarah Henrich, “Commentary on Mark 1:9-15.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Exegesis for Mark 1:9-15. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- David Lose, “Beginnings and Endings.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org.
- Brian F. Stoffregen, “De Jevu All Over Again?” retrieved from www.crossmarks.com/brian/mark1x9.htm
- The Rev. Christopher Henry, “Where to Begin?” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Lectionary Notes, Volume XXVI, Number 2 (St. Paul, MN: Luther Seminary, pp. 23-30)
- Margaret Manning Shull, “Through Wilderness.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org