A Trek Through the Wilderness

28 May


Photo by almogaver on Morgue File.

As we have been walking through the first chapter of Mark together, we have seen Mark appeal to the OT prophecies concerning John the Baptizer and Christ. Mark, along with the other NT writers, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, clearly testify to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is the long-promised and long-awaited Messiah or Christ. Mark, like the others, proves this by appeal to the OT prophecies, demonstrating how Christ is the fulfillment of those oracles.

Mark has given us a quick synopsis of the ministry of John. John, who was the voice crying in the wilderness, preparing the way for the One to come. We observed John’s humility and steadfastness to the call and purpose of God on his life. John understood his role and part in God’s providential plan and he fulfilled that purpose.

Mark also told us about the baptism of Christ by John in the Jordan. We looked at that event in yesterday’s post. We saw the Trinitarian witness to the person and ministry of Christ. Jesus’ baptism really served as the launching point for his public ministry. A ministry that would begin at the Jordan and wind inevitably toward Golgotha.

Today, we will look at the next pericope in Mark’s gospel:

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. (Mk. 1.12-13, ESV)

Mark tells us that after Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit (i.e. the Holy Spirit) immediately (again one of Mark’s favorite words!) drove Jesus out into the wilderness. When one studies the scriptures, it becomes apparent that the wilderness plays a big role throughout the course of God’s work in salvation history. The wilderness is almost like a supporting character in the lives of God’s people. The wilderness is a time of testing and trial. The wilderness is hard and gruff. It is tough as nails and hard as iron. It is unrelenting and unforgiving. It is without solace, mercy or pity.

It is no small thing that you cannot spell wilderness without wildness!

Indeed, the wilderness is wild and unpredictable. It is dangerous and mysterious. It is like another world, alien soil on which the believer must walk, learn and endure.

The children of Israel had their testing in the wilderness; and, because of their failure to believe, their deaths as well. Moses knew the wilderness well. He had trained in the wilderness. David knew the perils and loneliness of the wilderness. He knew the testing of that harsh landscape. Elijah was familiar with it as well. He knew its isolation and hopelessness. On and on we could go, but we see the wilderness as a time of proving, trial and even death.

Now, here is Jesus in the wilderness being tested and proven. Jesus, like those who had come before him, now endures the pains and hardships of this barren terrain. But, he is not alone. In fact, Mark tells us there are three kinds of creatures that are with him throughout his forty days in the wilderness.

The first, of course, is Satan. As if the wilderness was not hard enough by itself! The name Satan comes from the Hebrew and can mean adversary, enemy or an accuser. It is not an evil word in and of itself. It does not mean a false accuser or a slanderous accuser or an evil accuser. It simply means one who brings an accusation. So, if I were living back in the OT days and my neighbor stole my cow, I would go to the judges and accuse (i.e. be the satan) him of stealing my cow. In this case, I would be bringing a just accusation, because he truly stole my cow.

Of course, Satan (i.e. the devil) is an accuser as well. For his part, not so much because of the word, but rather his nature, he brings false and salacious accusations against God’s people.

Interestingly enough, the word Jesus used of the Holy Spirit in John 14-16, known as the Paraclete sayings, is the Greek word paraclatos. It is translated in a variety of ways in the English translations; but, one of its basic meanings is advocate. So then, the Holy Spirit is an advocate or defender of Christians. While Satan is the adversary or the accuser, attacking believers with lies and slander, the Holy Spirit is our defender and advocate rebutting the lies of Satan. Of course, it is noteworthy that Christ said he would send another advocate when he left; implying that Christ himself is also an advocate for us, not only in his death and resurrection, but as the writer of Hebrews tells us as our High Priest at the right hand of the Father.

So Satan comes against Jesus in the wilderness to confront him: to test and try him. For forty days, Satan had Jesus alone to tempt him with all sorts of temptations and lusts. And, for forty days, Jesus resisted and did not succumb to the wiles of the evil one. Imagine, the ferocity and intensity of the temptations Jesus must have endured at the hands of the Adversary. Not only the temptations he endured for those forty days but for his entire life.

Some have complained to me about Jesus being God and sinless. They have deduced that since he was God, and unable to sin, then the temptations he experienced were not real in a sense. But think about it. Jesus never once gave in to the lies and temptations of Satan. Imagine how much harder and more determined Satan must have approached Jesus each new time to try to get him to falter and sin. Jesus would have experienced every attack in Satan’s arsenal. Satan would have hurled everything he had at Jesus with an intensity and ferocity that we, as sinful human beings, have never known.

At yet, through it all, Jesus remained perfect, sinless and pure before the Father. It is amazing and glorious to think about it. Jesus never, not one single solitary time, ever sinned against his Father in either thought, word or action. That means every motivation, desire, goal, plan, purpose, hope, dream, perspective, opinion, outlook and wish Jesus ever had, all were righteous, holy and perfect before his Father! How amazing is our Savior!

Not only was Jesus confronted by Satan, but he was in the harsh environs of the wilderness. He was surrounded by barrenness, heat and despair. Mark makes the point that Jesus was out there with the wild animals! It is a fascinating commentary for Mark to add. Wild animals! we may ask? What does that matter when you are facing the Prince of Darkness for 15 rounds?!

Well, one thing it reminds us of, as we have already touched upon, is the wilderness is a wild and dangerous place. This is no resort. This is no five-star hotel or sunny tropical beach Jesus is in; no, it is cruel, hard and relentless. Also, I think Mark is reminding us, as he has done and will continue to do several times, of the authority of Christ. Were the wild animals any threat to the Son of God? No! Like the lions with Daniel, they were as quiet and harmless as house cats! Why? Because of the anointing of God.

Mark also is sure to point out that the angels ministered to Jesus. The very beings Satan would use in one of his temptations of Jesus (one of the three we have recorded in the gospels). He, the Son of God, had such authority that the angels of God ministered to him in his time of trial and need.

As in all things, Christ exits the wilderness totally and perfectly victorious! He vanquishes Satan. He, unlike our first parents and every human since, does not fall for the hiss of the devil’s tempting tongue. Jesus refutes his temptations by the use of God’s word.

So then, Christ’s authority is shown. It is shown he has authority over: Satan, the wild animals and the angels. This indeed is no ordinary man!

What are some life-lessons we can learn from this short pericope? There are three things I would like to mention:

1. Trials and temptations will come upon us all. If Jesus was not immune from them, neither shall we be. It is a part of life; even more, a part of the Christian life. God uses those times, those wilderness times to hone us and mold us into the image of Christ. No, we do not much care for them. I am sure Jesus would have rather been a million other places himself rather than in the wilderness; but, he endured and he passed the test. We too must face trials and hardships. We too must pass through wilderness times. We must trust the One who did the same and knows our suffering.

2. Satan, though a powerful foe, is not invincible. Yes, of course, Jesus was and is God incarnate, something none of us are. But, by the power and victory of Christ and through the grace and strength of the Holy Spirit within us, we too can defeat him. He is not invincible! Just as Christ, we can rely on God’s word to vanquish him and turn him away. Our call is to be like Christ, so let us follow his lead and allow God’s Spirit to use his word in and through us to conquer the enemy, for his praise and glory!

3. Wilderness times, though tough, are not forever. There comes a time that the wilderness ends. The wilderness is terminal: it does not last forever. There comes a time when we step out of the wilderness and find our time of trial and testing to be over. How sweet it is to go through such a time of testing and come out on the other side in the strength of God, knowing we have endured with patience and relied on his grace to see us through it. How great is our praise in those times! If you are in the midst of a wilderness now, be of good cheer, you are not alone. Christ is there with you, every step of the way and by his grace, the wilderness will end.


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