“Coming Out of the Wilderness”
During Jesus’ baptism the love of God was revealed and given to all people; as the heavens opened, the Spirit n the form of a dove came down, and a voice from heaven was heard to say, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” It is that love of God that is central to the understanding of the Christian message.
Have you ever been in a place, a worship service, a moment when the presence and love of God was present to you with such clarity that you could not deny it: The assurance of salvation, an uplifting worship service, the remarkable beauty of the world around us, or the miracle of new life?
Perhaps you might wish that such high moments, when you have felt and rejoiced in the very presence of God, and were sure in your heart without a doubt, should never end? Perhaps that the honeymoon should go on forever.
It is interesting to read in today’s text that, “The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness.” Perhaps the scripture suggest that Jesus also would have desired to linger in the warmth of that voice from heaven which said, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” Jesus may have wanted to stay in the area of his baptism and continue to share in the awesome encounter with God that everyone around had shared in, and just listen to the words of John the Baptist, but he was not allowed. The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
There we read Jesus stayed for forty days, was tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beast; and the angels ministered to him. I guess we can not stay on a honeymoon forever. Real life catches up to us, and eventually we have to pay the bills, and for the spiritual aspect of life, we can not stay on the mountaintop forever.
Once again real life demands for us to struggle with a lot of hard question concerning our faith, and face the natural conflicts in life that occur when we engage our lives with one another. Jesus could not stay and just simply bask in that happy moment of his baptism, but he had to journey into the wilderness.
Now in Mark’s gospel we are not told what specifically happened to Jesus in the wilderness. We are simply told that he was gone for forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beast and angels ministered to him. The other gospels would seem to indicate that Jesus had to wrestle with what life was about and what his ministry would be about. He had to face some of the more difficult issues of life and what it meant for him to be in this world. Through his baptism, in a very real sense, his secret was out. John had identified him as the one God had sent into our world. “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”
Now what did that identification mean to Jesus. He was God’s son, but what would come next. Is it not overly naïve to suppose that Jesus had every one of his days already figured out? Maybe Jesus was like us and he had to decide who he was going to be and what his life was going to be about. What would his ministry and calling look like?
More than not the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness seem to struggle with this question of being. Would his life simply be about satisfying the needs of the body –changing stones into bread, or would he commend himself to God. Would his ministry be about spectacular miracles and great mass appeal for entertaining shows –would he throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple so that God’s angels might catch him where undoubtedly there would have been many witnesses. Maybe in some dramatic way, like a superhero, he should just proof his divinity before everyone. Finally, would he choose the easy way and give all of himself up to Satan and to evil works so that he might obtain the glory and power of every earthly kingdom rather than face the cross. Jesus was crucified as the King of the Jews. By choosing differently he could have lived like a king and never have died on the cross, but then what hope would there be for you or me.
Do you remember those three temptations that came to Jesus in the other gospels? They were very real trials to Jesus faith and to what his life would be about. Basically, Jesus had to decide whether or not he was going to be like the beast that surrounded him, or if he was going to live according to a reality that was greater than the world of which he was very much a part.
Also, I have to say that I think they are very real temptations for us as well; both as individuals and as a church. God calls upon us to also decide who we are going to serve. What our faith is going to be about. We too must decide whether we are going to be only worldly minded or heavenly directed.
The truth of our age is that there are many things which vie for our attention and allegiance in this life. Every time you pick up a newspaper, turn on your TV, drive your automobile down the highway, what do you see. Well, you see advertisements promising to make you richer, better looking, stronger, smarter, or more successful. All you must do is get this insurance, buy this truck, subscribe to this service, or pop this pill. Now not every product is bad for you or wrong to use or acquire, but you are constantly being asked to make up your mind about who you are going to be, and what is most important about living. You are being asked to define for yourself your reason for being, and whether you are going to serve God or something else. Temptation in this life is a very real thing. What commands most of your attention, thinking, and action in this life?
Are we really focused on who God is calling us to be? There is an old story of a New England pastor who said to one of his parishioners, “I hope, Madame, that you believe in the doctrine of total depravity.” (That is the belief that we all are sinners before the holiness of God.) The pastor received the prompt response: “Oh parson, what a fine doctrine it would be, if folks only lived up to it.”
Then there is the story of the one fellow who came up to his minister, “Well preacher, I have decided to give up something for Lent -Church!” One day my daughter asked me, “What are you going to give up for Lent,” and I told her probably my sanity.
The problem with our world is that too many people never really consider the significance of theological doctrine, and too many people have given up on the church. And sometimes even we who come to church, even though we might have already affirmed our desire to follow God by coming to church, sometimes we would just as soon take the easy road.
Much of the time I would seek to live a comfortable life, but often it is only through well considered discomfort that I learn more about God, or meet the task that God is calling me to. In my moments of self-sacrifice, I most clearly find God.
Basically, we should truly consider the questions, “What will I give up for Lent?” How do I remind myself every day of my need for God? Do I live in thankfulness for the salvation God has abundantly poured out upon my life?
As Christians we must deal with these issues; otherwise, we are perhaps but residents in the wilderness of temptation. Aimlessly wandering around allowing other voices to determine who we are and what we will be, and never making our decision to take up our cross.
We know that God loves us and is calling his people out of the wilderness. Come out of the wilderness. Jesus came out of the wilderness after being tempted. He did not stay in the wilderness forever, but he came out declaring, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.” This is largely accepted as the central themes of Jesus first teachings to the people, and this message I might add is just about what John the Baptist was preaching right before he was imprisoned and executed. From the very beginning there was nothing safe about Jesus’ message, but he had made up his mind what he was to do, and he did so, knowing that at the end of the road was the cross and glory. From the very beginning Jesus message was bold and audacious, but more than that it was a message of faith. It was a message that was not a part of this world, and it expounded upon a different reality than what most people believed in. (A New Kingdom was coming) He had indeed come out of the wilderness unquestionably believing in a God that would meet his every need in this life and beyond. With this type of faith, he prioritized his life and ministry.
During this season of Lent we all need to come out of the wilderness. God does love us. Believe in that. Experience the love of God in your own life and know that even though life can not be a honeymoon all the time, and even though we must face the hard questions about our faith, God is calling us to live with our lives prioritized according to God’s standards. When you are out of the wilderness you are living for the eternal.
Such a life as this might be thought of like a marriage. After the honeymoon, you and your spouse are going to have times of disagreement, and even difficulty, but when you persevere in faithfulness, you find that you are truly in the best place. Only in the facing the challenges and the normal conflicts of life are life, love and hope found. So, it is with God, when we face the questions of our faith and chose to faithful live for God, living according to His calling within our own lives, life might not always be easy, but there we will find the rich blessings waiting for us. Let us come out of the wilderness and live with a vision of God’s calling upon us. What does God call us to walk away from, and what attitude of faith is God calling us toward in this season of Lent? Amen.