Two years ago, Lynn died of cancer. On the second anniversary of her death, friends posted a picture of her on Facebook. In the photo, she was in Hawaii on the beach. She sported a golden tan and displayed a smile of fierce joy. In the background, blue skies and beautiful water reached all the way out to the horizon. At some point, your eyes would glance at the bottom of the photo. At Lynn’s feet, written in the sand were the words: “Fight like hell.”
I thought of that photo as I read Mark’s account of Jesus in the wilderness. Lynn’s picture reminded me how there are many kinds of wildernesses. One would not think that a beautiful woman smiling on a beach in Hawaii was in the midst of a wilderness, but she was. She was fighting like hell as she was dying of cancer.
For you, the wilderness might be your home. A three-car garage, a fully stocked fridge, walk in closets, and yet every day you struggle with anger in your marriage. No one would think you lived in a wilderness, but that is what your home has become.
Or it could be your dream job. There is a corner office with a view of the city. Clients leave you high ratings on their google reviews. You have the job and the success some kids in college dream of. Yet, every day, you battle stress and depression, and wonder if you can make it through. Your dream job is your wilderness.
In Mark’s account, our Lord was in a literal wilderness and fought the literal powers of Satan. But He did it so people in any wilderness might know the comforting power of God.
As Mark recounts the temptation of Jesus, he hides the actual temptations. Satan does not question whether Jesus was the Son of God and Jesus does not quote Scripture to fight Satan. There are no stones, no kingdoms, and no pinnacles of the Temple. Mark lets the fighting remain a mystery.
Because Mark wants us to draw comfort not from the precise things Jesus did as He battled Satan in the wilderness, but rather from the broad way in which God was present with Him in the struggle.
There will be times in our lives when we enter the wilderness. Our wilderness will be different from that of Jesus. But one thing remains the same: God will be there working for us. Mark offers all people three truths to comfort their souls in the wilderness.
Our wilderness will be different from that of Jesus. But one thing remains the same: God will be there working for us.
First, God is in control. Mark begins by saying, “The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness” (verse 12). This is the Spirit that descended on Jesus in His baptism. This is the Spirit which came as God the Father said, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased” (verse 11).
Temptations in the wilderness are not a sign that God has abandoned you, that God does not love you, or that God is nowhere to be found. This is actually the greatest temptation in any temptation, to believe God is not around.
Instead, God is present in the testing, in control of what is happening, and this one who will never leave you or forsake you, this one who gave His life for you and rose for you, defeating Satan and death itself, He is the one who is in control of what you are experiencing. God the Father is treating you like a son (Hebrews 12:7). He is in control of all things and working to bring about good (Romans 5:3-4 and 8:28). The first thing to remember in your wilderness testing is God has not abandoned you. He is in control.
Second, God cares for you. Mark closes by telling us “angels were ministering to [Jesus]” (verse 13). Even in the midst of suffering and temptation, God sends angels to minister to his people. God created angels to serve Him and His people. When you suffer, God sends someone to offer you the care you need.
For example, when you mourn, you discover there are those who understand the winding road of grief and reach out, with a letter, a note, a text, a call, or maybe a visit. These small efforts are like the work of angels, someone who watches over you and watches out for you when you have trouble watching over and out for yourself. The God for whom a sparrow does not fall without His knowing it, understands your needs better than you and provides His messengers to care for you in ways you may not yet understand.
Third, and finally, God is bringing about a new creation. It is a restoration of all things. In closing the account, Mark mysteriously tells us Jesus was with the wild beasts. He was not fighting them but living with them. Perhaps, He was foreshadowing the time when the wolf will dwell with the lamb and there will be a peaceable kingdom where God’s good order has been restored (Isaiah 65:17-25).
We can become claustrophobic in times of wilderness suffering. We take this one moment of depression, grief, sorrow, or suffering and expand it until it covers all of our days. We imagine this will never go away. And when we expand the present moment so it extends over our entire future, we can lose hope and break under the strain.
But times of testing are simply that: Times of testing. They are periods of life, moments of suffering, or seasons if you will. God the Father has sent His Son into this world to intervene and break the rule of Satan. Satan’s kingdom will not last. Jesus has established His eternal Kingdom and He leads all things toward that final day of restoration and new creation.
Today, Mark reminds us that any time you enter any wilderness, there is one God who is in control, who cares for you, and who promises to bring you through.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 1:9-15.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 1:9-15.
Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 1:9-15.