Driven by  the Spirit  /  Message for the First Sunday in Lent

March 1, 2009  /  Resurrection Lutheran Church  /  Pastor Carol Kniseley

As we all know by now, “tradition” has it that the season of Lent is a time for either giving something up…or for taking something on.    It is a way for us to spend the next 40 days focusing on our ‘walk with Jesus’ in a very intentional way.     This year, I’ve decided to take something on that will drive home the fact that this Lenten season is meant to be a journey of sorts.     For the next 40 days, I plan to ride 40 miles a week on our stationary bike with the intent of improving not only my stamina…but my walk with the Lord.     Because if Mark’s Gospel is any indication of the fast pace that Jesus set for himself, then all I can say is:  we haven’t got one moment to waste!  

In the course of just seven verses, Mark has Jesus walking rather briskly through three very important events.    What begins with Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan quickly dove tails into Jesus hearing a voice from heaven affirming that he is indeed God’s Son.   In the very next breath it seems, that same Spirit that had descended from heaven, is now seen “driving him” into the wilderness where he is to be tempted by Satan himself.   When that is all over, and Jesus hears that John the Baptist has been arrested, he then puts on his walking shoes and goes about proclaiming that the ‘time is fulfilled…the kingdom of God has come near.’

Needless to say, Mark’s Gospel is intent on moving things along when it came to dispensing with details, unlike the other Gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, who decided years later to try and fill in the blanks.     It is from their versions, and not Marks, that we begin to understand the gist of what took place.   What happened was that Jesus went from one spectacular moment of being acknowledged as God’s Son to a long, lonely time in the wilderness.     For forty days and forty nights…there was no sign of God at all.     The sky stayed shut.   There were no doves to be seen and no voice from heaven to be heard.   Apparently…there was just Jesus, the desert, and yes…the tempter.   

We already know their conversation pretty much by heart.   And even though Mark remained completely silent in regards to content, Matthew and Luke practically copied each other word for word when it came to what was on the devil’s test.     First, he tempted Jesus to practice magic:  Command these stones to become loaves of bread.     Then he called on him to lean on God for special protection:  Throw yourself down from the temple.    Finally, he tempted Jesus to take control of all the kingdoms of the world:   All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.

All along, the devil subtly suggested that Jesus deserved better than God was giving him.   Why should the son of God go hungry?     Why should he so much as stub his toe, or be subject to Caesar when Caesar should be subject to him?       If God could not do better than that by his son, the devil suggested, then maybe it was time for Jesus to start shopping around for another Father.

One thing we have to remember is that Jesus did not wander into this wilderness by mistake.   According to all three Gospels, he was ‘driven there’ (Mark’s wording)…’led there’ (Matthew’s and Luke’s wording) by the Spirit, who delivered him to the devil for his forty day exam.   AND…it is important for us to note that according to Matthew and Luke, the exam actually came at the end of the forty days, when Jesus was practically starving.      So who is this Spirit we wonder?      The one that drove / led Jesus into a place that he really didn’t want to go?    Could it be the very same Spirit that descended like a dove from heaven at the time of Jesus’ baptism?    And if it is…then for what purpose was Jesus allowed to be tested?   All very good questions…that deserve some sort of explanation.

If we are looking for answers from Mark’s Gospel, then we need to look again.   Mark’s Gospel is known to be the shortest one for a reason.    Mark is a writer who uses very few words to state what he has to say.   And yet, what he has to say he states in a rather blunt…even raw fashion.     True to form, there is always a pervading sense of urgency to this Jesus who comes across as being driven.   

Despite his lack of words, Mark does have one puzzling piece of evidence not recorded by the other Gospel writers.   In verse 13 we read:  “…and he was with the wild beasts”.       Two thoughts come to mind.   First of all, what Mark is most likely alluding to is the ‘loneliness and isolation’ that occur when one is separated from fellow human beings.   By being driven into the wilderness / dessert, Jesus soon finds himself in the company of animals as opposed to human beings.  

If I were to tell you that one of the signs of God’s coming kingdom was that there would be a remarkable unity among all living creatures.    Namely:  ‘The wolf will lie down with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them…’ (Isaiah 11: 6, 8).       What Mark may very well be hinting at in his own blunt manner, is that such possibilities are drawing nearer with the coming of the kingdom (1:15), and that Jesus’ closeness to the animals is a sign of it.      Is it any wonder then, that following the temptation of Jesus…and the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus sees it all as a sign that the time has come (is fulfilled)…and that the kingdom of God has come near.   

In the person of Jesus…you and I find our stamina for this 40 Day Lenten journey.    Every day we draw strength in knowing that Jesus has experienced fully what it means to be tempted.    And because he has, he can relate fully to our needs as well.     We have nothing to fear as we walk this journey with Jesus for the next 40 days.    Our assignment, if we decide to accept it, is to take seriously our walk with our Lord…and to step out in faith as we find ourselves driven on occasion to a place we would rather not be.    The Good News is Jesus has already gone before us…and it is he who continues to set the pace.       Amen