Thrown Into the Wilderness

Mark 1:9-15

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” 

In these short verses we have Jesus’ baptism, his wilderness sojourn, John’s imprisonment, and the beginning of Jesus’ public preaching. While there is a lot of content in these few short verses, let’s take a look at Jesus’ wilderness experience in verses 12-13. Here are a few summary points to consider:

Jesus didn’t choose the wilderness… and neither do we

  • In our translation above, it says that Jesus was sent by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. Other translations are a bit more graphic with the following words used in other English translations – driven, forced, chased, (even “thrown into the wilderness” in one translation). The Japanese – 追いやる – is usually translated as “chased away”. No matter which word we use it becomes clear that Jesus didn’t choose this sojourn so much as he was chosen for it. There was a need for this wilderness time of testing and trial.
  • In reflecting on our own wilderness experiences – of pain, ordeal, testing, sickness….we can recognize that we don’t volunteer or ask for those experiences either. They usually just come to us…. uninvited.
  • God is not anxious to make us suffer, but to help us grown strong in the wilderness.

The wilderness experience is usually longer than we would wish

  • Was it difficult for Jesus? Do we truly appreciate his humanity and the discomfort that 40 days of fasting and temptation from Satan would entail?
  • He had been affirmed by God’s loving words at his baptism. Did he still feel it now… throughout these 40 days? Were there times of doubt?  How about us? When we’re in the wilderness, do we sometimes doubt God’s love for us?
  • Sometimes it requires a long wilderness experience in order for us to learn that we’re truly loved, regardless of circumstances. We can be truly loved and uncomfortable at the same time. We can be truly loved and sick at the same time. We can be truly loved and food-insecure at the same time.  Do we truly understand this? God’s love for us is real whether we are “feeling it” or not.

The angels were with Jesus… have you ever experienced this?

  • Even when things were the toughest , or maybe especially then, God was present. We don’t know what Jesus’ angels looked like – or how they appeared to him. Maybe they served him through the physical world – as a soothing drink of water – or as a gentle breeze, or some other encouraging sign. Maybe they actually appeared as a companion? We, too, in our toughest moments, if our hearts and eyes are attuned, can see how God’s angels often bring relief, healing, help, etc. Maybe help comes in the form of a friend, or a card, or a phone call. Scripture doesn’t say a lot about angels. But it’s comforting to know that Jesus was protected from wild beasts and desert dangers by angels… and so are we.
  • In Luke, Jesus also experienced the support of an angel as he prayed in Gethsemane.
  • Last Sunday I challenged each of you to call or reach out to someone – perhaps we could become angels to others?

Jesus must have taken comfort many times from the audible words of his father on his day of baptism: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.” Those words may have given strength and endurance during the 40 days of testing that followed. Can we hear those words spoken to us today as well… in our time of pandemic or other wilderness trial? “You are my daughter, you are my son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.” 「あなたは、わたしの愛する子、わたしはあなたを喜ぶ。」

During Lent, we don’t want to rush to resurrection. Contemplating our spiritual lives, imagining what Jesus went through for us, thinking deeply on our need for humility and repentance – are all crucial. But we don’t have to be dark and gloomy throughout. We can do all of that with the end result – resurrection and new life – in mind!

(the above is a summary of the message shared during our zoom worship time on February 21st.)