February 22, 2015 –– First Sunday of Lent
Genesis 9:8–15 / 1 Peter 3:18–22 / Mark 1:12–15
Walking With Jesus In the Desert
Mark tells us that right after Jesus’ baptism, The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. On this first Sunday of Lent we are called into a 40-Day period of spiritual examination and focused disciplines that enlarge our souls and help us to be better followers of Jesus Christ.
As we seek to follow Jesus think about this: The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert…. Can you imagine God “driving” God? If you understand the Trinity, that is what Mark is saying. The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, drove Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, into quite an unpleasant situation (from our human perspective). Even more, the verb “drove” is the same word used to describe Jesus “driving” demons out of people!
So Jesus responded to the Holy Spirit’s leading, and the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert. Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark gives no mention of the specific temptations. Some have suggested that Mark’s emphasis here is not on “temptation” so much as it is the desert. The nature of life in this world is a spiritual desert––a place where demons lurk like wild beasts. We live in a world where demons try to destroy all that God loves. By ourselves we are vulnerable and even helpless. We need a Savior.
Jesus came into our world, not only to die for our sins and rise again in victory over death, but also to model for us what a perfect life lived in the Spirit is like. Life in the Spirit is "present tense”. In our human weakness (and our desire for some control) we want God to give us a road-map to the future. We want to know the details of what to do next week or even next year. God’s Spirit is always saying “Trust and obey me right now.” Jesus shows us a human life that was a day by day response to the Spirit. And sometimes God sends things into our lives which are not pleasant, but the hard things are meant both to drive us into the arms of our loving Lord and to make us strong. Just as we don’t build physical muscle by being a couch potato, we do not grow strong spiritually without being subjected to difficulty and struggle.
But like the many people who get try to use some magic pill to get a near-perfect body, we want an easy way to healthy spirituality. Haven’t there been times that you’ve been impatient for God to do something that meets your expectations? So often God’s answer seems to be Wait. Part of Jesus' temptation was enduring the "waiting." The basic temptation from Satan was for Jesus to "do something" sensational and right away to prove he was God. Surely one of the besieging thoughts was simply “You know who you are and what you’ve come to do––get with it”. In other words, the temptation is “don’t wait on the Spirit’s leading.” It’s easy to think that if we’re doing a good thing (even what we think is a godly thing) we don’t have to wait on God. We want to charge full speed ahead. Jesus waited.
At the right time Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God. When Jesus announced This is the time of fulfillment he was not talking about a moment of chronological time. He uses another word for time that goes beyond our watches and calendars. It is God’s time, and God’s time is always a dynamic now––the present moment when the Spirit wants to lead us. When we live in that moment of God’s “time” we enter the Kingdom of God. and the Kingdom of God is the rule of God breaking into the world’s spiritual desert. So the Good News comes: If we follow Jesus from baptism to the cross––and yes, through the “desert” of our various temptations––he will lead us to full salvation.
But we should always remember that hard times will often follow our high times. Jesus went from the glory of his baptism to…. seemingly nothing––into the desert. So for us, a new commitment…. a fresh obedience…. an especially good time of worship when we personally sense God’s closeness…. any spiritual “high” can be a challenge for the powers of hell to test our response to God's presence in our lives. We are called to follow Jesus in every way, but we cannot faithfully follow Jesus in obedience to God…. we cannot faithfully follow Jesus in service to others…. and, even more, we cannot faithfully follow Jesus in death to self…. if we do not first face the reality of who we are in our weaknesses and temptations in the “desert”.
Baptism and temptation were not just for Jesus. They are for all who follow him, and in this Lenten season we follow Jesus through the wilderness of temptation to the surrender of the cross. We are to keep following even when sometimes it means waiting in not so pleasant situations. If we will do that, Jesus will lead us to a life that is beyond our comprehension.