Summary: 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.
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, which we heard from Mark 1:9-15 a few minutes ago. 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 I’m currently going through a wilderness experience because of my mother’s health issues. It has been a difficult time for me. I’ve had to turn the situation over to God, but in doing so my faith has been 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?