“In the Wilderness” (Mark 1:9-15)

First Sunday in Lent
February 21, 2021

“In the Wilderness” (Mark 1:9-15)

Today is the First Sunday in Lent, and every year on this Sunday the Holy Gospel is an account of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. This year the reading comes from Mark’s gospel. It’s the shortest, and the most compact and condensed, of the three accounts, but still it has much to speak to us today. So now let’s join our Lord “In the Wilderness.”

As I say, this account is very brief, just two verses, as follows: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 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.”

Now this text comes in a context. In the verses right before the temptation of Christ, we have the baptism of our Lord. There Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, the Spirit descends on him to anoint him as the Christ, and the Father’s voice says to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

OK, there you go. Everything sounds great. Empowered by the Spirit, approved by the Father, Jesus is ready to go! There’s a lot of preaching, teaching, and healing to do, so let’s get on with it. But wait! Something happens first. Something you wouldn’t expect. Mark tells us: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”

Now that’s odd. You wouldn’t have predicted that. The same Holy Spirit who had just descended on Jesus in the form of a dove–the Spirit now drives him out into the wilderness. In fact, to say the Spirit “drove” him out is a little mild. The Greek text actually says, the Spirit “throws” him out into the wilderness, “casts” him out. Jesus is literally an outcast, thrown out into the wild. There’s kind of a violent feel to it. Jesus will “cast out” unclean spirits from people. Now the same word is used for when the Holy Spirit “casts out” Jesus. From the water, out into the wilderness.

And this is going to be no brief walk in the park. No, our text continues: “And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.” Father in heaven, is this any way for you to treat your Son? O God, you just said to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Really? Is this how you show your love? Is this how you show your pleasure? Letting Jesus languish out there in the wilderness for forty whole days? Isn’t that a bit extreme? And to be tempted by Satan, as well! Why, Father, why?

We can indeed ask that “why” question about Jesus. After all, the Father was well pleased with Jesus. He never did anything wrong. But sometimes, don’t you think, we ask that “why” question about ourselves. Why is God letting me suffer out here in this wilderness? Why do I have to endure the temptations of Satan? Couldn’t God just take it all away? Snap his fingers, and I could just coast through life, with no problems. Walking down Easy Street. Instead, I’m out here in the wilderness for what seems like forty years now.

Oh, forty years! Now that reminds me of something, something I read in the Bible. Forty years, in the wilderness. That’s what Israel went through. Israel had sinned against God, grumbling against him. Not trusting his promise to bring them into the promised land. Not trusting God to sustain them along the way. Israel was tempted by Satan, in the wilderness, for forty years, and they failed the test. But now here comes Jesus, out there also in the wilderness, for forty days. Will he succeed where Israel failed? Yes, big time!

But how about you and me, when we are tempted, when we are tested? Do we always come through with flying colors? No way. So often we fall flat on our face. If we’re going to make it to the promised land, it won’t be by our own efforts. It won’t be because of our own strength or piety. We need something more than what we’ve got on our own.

In short, we need Jesus. He is the one who has passed the test. We need him pinch-hitting for us. Jesus is our champion. He took on Satan on the devil’s home turf, and he won the day. It was exhausting, it was grueling, but Jesus won the day. He won the forty days.

Now notice something about those forty days, and it’s a detail we find only in Mark. It says, “And he was with the wild animals.” Well, I guess if you’re going to spend forty days in the wilderness, you might encounter some wild animals. And wild animals, out in a wilderness, would pose some danger. These are untamed creatures, wild beasts, the sort that do harm to human beings.

But Jesus is out there with them, for almost a month and a half. Like Daniel in the lions’ den, Jesus’ life is preserved. Unlike Adam and Eve in the garden, where a serpent tempted them and they failed, Jesus overcomes the temptations of Satan. As the psalmist foretold of Christ: “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.”

“He was with the wild animals.” What else is this telling us? For one thing, it reminds us of when man was first with the animals, back in the garden of Eden. At that time, before the fall into sin, animals posed no danger. However, after the fall into sin, humans are not safe in the midst of wild beasts.

But Jesus is. Indeed, Jesus is the one who will usher in the peaceable kingdom, prophesied in Isaiah 11, where man and beast will live together in harmony without harm. In Isaiah 35, the prophet says that when God’s people return from exile, there will be a highway in the wilderness, where no lion or any ravenous beast will pose a threat. And in Isaiah 43, the Lord says of the new thing he will do: “I will make a way in the wilderness,” and “the wild beasts will honor me.”

So Jesus was with the wild animals, yet he was preserved from danger. Like it was in the garden of Eden. In Christ, paradise will be restored, better than ever. God will turn the wilderness into a garden. And that’s where you and I will be living for a good eternity.

“And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.” And, dear friends, God sends his ministering angels to watch over you and care for you. We live among wild beasts, so to speak, whether literal or figurative. The early Christians literally were thrown to the wild beasts. So for them to know that Jesus was right there with them must have been a great comfort. God knows what his people are going through. And he sends his angels to help us, even when we’re not aware that they are watching over us.

So Jesus made it through the forty days. But there are more days to come, days that will take Jesus on a long march to the cross. There Jesus will defeat the devil once again. Decisively. Once and for all. Once and for you! For all of your failures in the wilderness, for all your grumbling against God, for all the temptations that Satan has beaten you on–for all that, Jesus paid the price that secures your release. You are forgiven. You are free.

God sent his Son, his only Son, Jesus, whom he loved, and he did not withhold him from offering up the perfect sacrifice. The wood was laid on Jesus’ back and he carried it–your sins were laid on his back and he carried them–and he himself was laid on the altar of the cross. Jesus was the ram caught in the thicket. He was the substitute that the Lord provided, so that now you are spared. The Lord will provide. God will provide for himself the lamb for the offering. As it is said to this day: Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

The tempting in the wilderness was a training, in a way, for Jesus to endure all the way to the cross. Jesus suffered as you suffer. He was tempted as you are tempted. He knows what you’re going through. Hebrews says: “He had to be made like his brothers”–that’s us–“in every respect.” “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, turn to Jesus when you are weak, when you are suffering, when you are being tempted by Satan. Jesus knows what it’s like to be out there in the wilderness. You may be out in a wilderness of your own. But Jesus is out there with you. God’s holy angels are watching over you. And Jesus will lead you out of the wilderness of this world and into the promised land of heaven.

Let us pray: O Lord God, You led Your ancient people through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land. Guide the people of Your Church that following our Savior we may walk through the wilderness of this world toward the glory of the world to come; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Published in: on February 20, 2021 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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