The Calvary Baptist Church of Detroit

"Church of the Open Door: Year of the Lord's Favor" Revelation 3.8; Luke 4.18-19

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A New Move For This Season
First Sunday in Lent, Year B (2015)
Mark 1.9-15

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beats; and the angels waited on him. ~ Mark 1.12-13 (NRSV)

The Holy Spirit and Dr. Fred B. Craddock inspire today’s lesson.

Mark 1.9-15 records three episodes in the beginning of Jesus’ public life; his baptism (vv. 9-11), his temptation (vv. 12-13), and his first preaching in Galilee (vv. 14-15). Because verses 9-11 were treated during Epiphany on the Sunday of the Baptism of the Lord and verses 14-15 were discussed for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, we will here attend only to verses 12-13, the temptation in the wilderness. One can hardly think of a more appropriate consideration for the First Sunday in Lent.

Speaking of temptation, [we] will need to be on guard against gravitating toward Matthew or Luke in [interpreting] the message. Not only are the longer temptation narratives of Matthew and Luke more familiar, but Mark’s brevity may seem at first inadequate as source and substance for proclamation. But full attention on Mark will yield more than enough for the day.

Mark ties Jesus’ temptation directly to his baptism. Apparently, the theme of a new exodus, developed in the portrayal of John’s ministry in 1.1-8, is being continued here. As Israel experienced God in passing through the waters of the Red Sea only to encounter trials and tests in the wilderness, so Jesus, still wet from the Jordan, is plunged into the wilderness. (In 1 Corinthians 10.1-13 Paul compares Israel’s baptism and temptation to the experience of Christians). The forty days is also reminiscent of significant periods in Israel’s relation to God. The intensity of the experience for Jesus is underscored in Mark both by the brevity of the account and by the vigor of the language: drove him out (literally, threw or cast him out); tempted (tested, put through trials); Satan (the adversary, the opposing one); wild breasts (wild animals and demons were in the wilderness, Isaiah 34.8-14; some believed demons dwelt in wild beasts); angels waited on him (not after the temptation but during it, in a contest with Satan).

One has to be impressed and affected by the reality of Jesus’ experience in the wilderness. Not even protests that we no longer subscribed to driving spirits, demon-possessed animals, Satan, and ministering angels can obscure the clear resonance of our own experiences with that which Mark describes. If there is any reticence to accept the temptation account, the reason probably lies not in the highly symbolic nature of the description but in the fact that it is happening to Jesus. Many Christians wish to protect Jesus from trials and other difficulties common to humankind for fear that convictions about his uniqueness will be eroded by such experiences. When faced with assertions but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4.15), some would respond that Jesus was not really tempted but was setting examples for us. Such a view of Jesus seems blind to the fact that anyone who walks through experiences that are not personally engaging or demanding just to set an example is not setting an example. Such approaches, however sincere, rob Jesus, the Scriptures, the gospel, and life itself of reality.

Mark’s record is straightforward and clear. Jesus fully identifies with the people of God who were, and are, tested in the wilderness. For Israel, the wilderness symbolized some extraordinary experiences of God (Exodus 19; Hosea 2.14); and the Israelites recalled those bitter-sweet days annually with the Feast of Tents. But there was a darker side to the wilderness, for there they often failed the test (temptation), rebelled against God, and suffered God’s wrath (Psalm 78; Ezekiel 20.13-22). Jesus, then, has not withdrawn into pensive retreat, but Spirit-driven, he endures testing appropriate to his person, his powers, and his relation to God. In other words, the greater one’s abilities, power, and influence, the greater one’s temptations. Although Mark gives no details concerning the nature of Jesus’ testing, we can be sure it was strong and ingeniously deceptive, given Jesus’ relation to God, the many needs of the people about him, the several paths of ministry available, and the military, political, and religious forces ready to counter him. Jesus’ temptation, then, is a preview of the many struggles that will test him during his ministry, sometimes involving demons, forces of nature, opposing clergy, and even his own close friends, and of the victory to come. It is natural, when reading this brief account, to look ahead to Gethsemane. Gethsemane was a garden, but for one night it, too, was a wilderness.

Lent’s Message: We Shall Overcome, with Jesus!

Lawrence T. Foster