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"The Desert"

July 28, 2019 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis

Passage: Mark 1:12–1:13

We have two short verses to cover this morning.

First, after Jesus was baptized, the Spirit “immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”

Second, we learn three things that happened there: Jesus was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; he was with the wild beasts; and, the angels waited on him.  That’s it.

As I mentioned last week, one of the things I want us to consider as we walk through the gospel is why Mark chose to include the things he has written. It is important to read what he wrote, but it also is instructive to consider why he chose to include these items. For some things – like the teaching and parables – the reasons are obvious. For others, like these verses today, you could ask yourself, “How did this make the cut? Why was this important enough to include when other things were not?”

For example, if I were to say we were looking at Jesus’ time in the wilderness, most of us – I think – would have in mind the expanded versions found in either Matthew 4 or Luke 4, which include conversation, Scripture quotes, and an enumerated list of temptations Jesus endured. If that’s where you went, I want to draw you back this morning. Mark does not include those things. Mark’s version is much shorter and concise. 

I want to be careful here: I am not suggesting that Mark is correct and Matthew and Luke are incorrect. What I am saying is that the gospel writers were addressing different audiences and, therefore, emphasizing different aspects of the same events. Looking at the emphases helps us to see more fully the richness of Jesus’ ministry in fulfilling God’s purpose and revealing God’s heart and character. It also allows us to understand what inspired Mark and why the good news to Mark’s readers also is good news for us.

So, for today, let me encourage you to step back from the longer versions in Matthew and Luke and focus only on what Mark has actually written. The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. Then, three things happened.

That’s where we are going to spend our time today.

The Spirit Drove Him Out Into The Wilderness

If you were here last week, you heard me describe the gospel of Mark as the “action” gospel. You see it here, “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”

I confess, each time I read this, the mental image is that the Spirit loaded Jesus into God’s brown paneled Pontiac station wagon with the tent strapped on the roof rack for a camping trip. No. The Spirit did not take Jesus to the wilderness in the family station wagon. That’s not what “drove him out into the wilderness” means. Mark’s first readers understood that the wilderness was a place that people would not ordinarily go by their own choice. It was not a place of luxury, convenience, security, and ease. In fact, the wilderness was considered the domain of evil, it was dangerous, it was marked by chaos. If you went to the wilderness, you should not be surprised to encounter Satan. It was into that environment that the Spirit drove Jesus.

“Drove” is an interesting word. We do not get any indication that Jesus was unwilling to go; rather, Mark was making the point that God was in charge of Jesus’ walk and ministry. Just to put this in context: remember, we are at the beginning of Mark’s material. Jesus had just been introduced. It was the Spirit that descended on Jesus at his baptism who immediately drove him out from the water to the wilderness.

How many of you can relate to Jesus here? There you were, minding your own business and enjoying a really nice moment, when God takes you and drives you somewhere you were not necessarily intending on going? As you look back on your life, can you see where God changed the road you were traveling?

There have been a number of occasions where God – for his own purposes – has taken me in a direction I had not and could not have foreseen. As I have been introducing myself to people here and sharing stories from my life, I have been surprised by the number of times I have heard myself say, “I had thought I was going to … but then God…”

When Jen and I were starting out in married life together, I had just left a law career and was beginning seminary. We were trying to contemplate our future and realized that we were not steering the ship. We were going to go where God led – and that would create times of uncertainty for us. Times of uncertainty: it is the realization that we walk by faith and not by sight. Although it does not make the uncertainty any more comfortable, it does give us a handle of hope onto which to hold. “We are on an adventure,” is all we could conclude. We do not know what tomorrow holds and, thus, we have to put our trust in God.

Every time we think we have our future planned out, it seems God has something different in store for us. Our certainty about the next steps often is an indicator of how unlikely those steps will actually come to fruition. Our arrival in Carson City is another chapter of that story – it was not on our radar until God put it there, opened the door, and all but drove the moving van here. We are on an adventure. (And, by the way, there are two final parts of that story: 1) God’s way is always better and; 2)  God is always faithful.)

This has an impact on our day-to-day living. When we realize that we are going where God is leading and cannotcontrol things, we shed a lot of anxiety. Yes, we plan and we try to be good stewards of the time and resources God has given us; but we hold those things loosely knowing that God’s plan for us may drive us in a direction we had not anticipated. God’s way is always better; and, God is always faithful. So, can we let go of trying to control tomorrow?

Mark was making the point that God was in charge of Jesus’ walk. Jesus was going obediently where God directed – and after his baptism, the Spirit drove him into the wilderness.

What It Was Like In The Desert

Why? Why would the Spirit drive Jesus into the wilderness? There are three clauses describing what happened while Jesus was in the wilderness: 40 days tempted by Satan; he lived with wild beasts; and angels waited on him.

I. 40 Days, Tempted By Satan

The way Mark constructed the sentence puts the emphasis on the time rather than the temptations by Satan. For Mark, Jesus’ being in the wilderness was more significant than the temptation encounter with Satan. This is not to say that the temptations were unimportant; rather, it is to say the time of temptation was only a part of the larger purpose for Jesus’ time in the wilderness.

Forty days is a familiar time reference in Scripture. It represents a season. It represents a period of time that God is using for his purpose. Noah was on the ark for 40 days. Moses was on the mountain with God for 40 days. Elijah was in the wilderness for 40 days after he had defeated the prophets of Baal and escaped the wrath of Jezebel. In a larger sense, Israel was in the desert for 40 years.

Forty days also appears in one other notable Old Testament episode: Goliath opposed Israel for 40 days prior to David showing up with the slingshot. In the same way, Jesus going out to the wilderness for this season was to initiate the battle against the one who opposed Israel and God’s plan, namely Satan. This is why Mark phrases it the way he does: Jesus headed into the wilderness to begin the offensive – the kingdom of heaven breaking in. The time of testing – Satan’s tempting – was not Jesus playing defense. Jesus was affirmatively breaking into that which was his own: he was moving forward with the battle.

The lesson here is that Jesus was not a victim. God’s Upper Story plan included Jesus entering into territory seemingly abandoned to Satan – to prove that he came to redeem all of creation.

Neither are we victims. Christians may not be popular these days; however, that need not discourage us from the mission we have been sent to accomplish: namely, to proclaim the good news of the victory Jesus has already won for us. Remember, Jesus commissioned his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” We have been sent here to bear witness to Jesus – here. We experience trials, we suffer temptations, we endure hardships not of our own making, and we persist in the face of opposition because – in Jesus Christ – we will not be overcome. We do not go out on our own – we go where the Lord sends us. To some, it is far-away places like Thailand, Belize, Africa or the South Pacific. For others, it is in places like Minden, Gardnerville, Fallon, Reno, and Carson City. We have been sent for the duration of the season God intends for us to serve in these places.

Here, we have been sent into a wilderness in which many people in our communities do not know the love of Christ. Whether that has always been the case or whether it is just all of the California transplants, it does not really matter. God has put us here, in this situation, chaos and opposition and all, and charged us with moving forward with sharing our witness to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

We ought not be triumphalist – that is; obnoxiously arrogant as if we – through some measure of our own righteousness – have accomplished something. Instead, we can pose the question that Mark will be answering over and over: who is this?  In confident humility, we rejoice in the one who has gone to the wilderness to wage the battle on our behalf. Mark’s succinct phrase that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness tempted by Satan is just that: a celebration of the victory Jesus was accomplishing for us.

 II. Lived With Wild Beasts

Next, Mark wrote that Jesus lived with the wild beasts. This may be the key to understanding these two verses. Mark’s phrasing here suggests that Jesus was living peaceably with the wild beasts – he was not being threatened or in danger of violence from them.

Why is this important? Remember who were Mark’s initial readers. Most likely, they were Christians in Rome who were being persecuted. I mentioned this last week, but it bears repeating: the historian Tacitus reported that Christians were condemned under Nero and

Their deaths were made farcical. Dressed in wild animals’ skins, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or made into torches to be ignited after dark as substitutes for daylight.

In contrast, Mark’s description of Jesus living in peace with wild beasts was a sign of the eschatological kingdom come. It was a sign of the Upper Story being revealed. This was precisely what was foretold in Isaiah 11 – in a prophesy you have heard time and time again:

 

1           A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,

                        and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

2           The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,

                        the spirit of wisdom and understanding,

                        the spirit of counsel and might,

                        the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

3           His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.  He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;

4           but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,

                        and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

            he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,

                        and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

5           Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,

                        and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

 

Is. 11:6    The wolf shall live with the lamb,

                        the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

            the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

                        and a little child shall lead them.

7           The cow and the bear shall graze,

                        their young shall lie down together;

                        and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8           The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,

                        and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

9           They will not hurt or destroy

                        on all my holy mountain;

            for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD

                        as the waters cover the sea.

 

Is. 11:10   On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

We see the character of God re-confirmed, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” In the wilderness, Jesus was restoring the original created order. He was redeeming it. He was bringing the wilderness into conformity with God’s perfect standard.

To those suffering in Rome – and to Christians since then – this is an answer to the question, “Who is this? Who is this that I should be willing to suffer and die for him – for his name’s sake? Is he worth it?”

Here, Jesus was manifesting his messianic identity. His authority within the natural created wilderness restored the original order within his immediate presence. In the midst of chaos and disorder, we can put our hope in the one who redeems and brings order.

III. Angels Waited On Him

Adding credence to this idea is the last phrase, “angels waited on him.” What we see here is the comparison of Jesus as the “Second Adam” succeeding where the First Adam failed. Specifically, just as Adam had angels ministering to him in the Garden of Eden and yet succumbed to temptation by rebelling against God; Jesus had angels ministering to him in the midst of the wilderness – the wilderness that was responding to his authority – and stood fast in faithful obedience before God.

Mark did not make a big deal about the angels waiting on Jesus. It is what angels do. For us, it is a word of encouragement: if we are adopted children of God, if we are brothers and sisters with Christ, if we are co-heirs of the kingdom of heaven with Christ, we can anticipate that angels are waiting on us, too. Again, that is part of the redeemed created order. Paul would write to the Corinthians in a different context, “Do you know that we are to judge angels – to say nothing of ordinary matters?”

Angels waiting on Jesus revealed that the kingdom of heaven will set things right. Jesus was bringing near that which we will see completely in the fullness of the kingdom when it comes. We have a foretaste already; we wait for it to come completely.

IV. Conclusion

Jesus’ wilderness experience – initiating the battle to redeem creation, restoring order, and revealing God’s kingdom present on earth – came at the beginning of his ministry. We have just begun the gospel of Mark and there is a lot more of the story left to tell.

It was important for Mark’s first readers to see how Jesus was victorious and authoritative from the very beginning. They needed to know that Jesus was more powerful than the weight of the earthly powers oppressing them.

So it is for us, too. We need to see how Jesus was victorious and authoritative from the very beginning. We need to know Jesus is more powerful than the weight of the earthly powers oppressing us. What towers over you? Health? Finances? Grief of loss? Fear of the future?

Friends, the good news to Mark’s first readers also is good news for us: this is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He redeems his creation. He restores his order. He reveals God’s kingdom present here on earth. Believe and rejoice because he is able.

Amen.

 

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH: Heidelberg Catechism: Question 26

Q.  What do you believe when you say: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth”?

A.  That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth with all that is in them, who also upholds and governs them by his eternal counsel and providence, is for the sake of Christ his Son my God and my Father. I trust in him so completely that I have no doubt that he will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul. Moreover, whatever evil he sends upon me in this troubled life he will turn to my good, for he is able to do it, being almighty God, and is determined to do it, being a faithful Father.