9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news."
It was beautiful…
|Photo courtesy of dan / freedigitalphotos.net|
This past Tuesday, Elizabeth baked me a blueberry pie—which had to be one of the best pies I’ve ever tasted. Truly, it was “paradise on a plate.”
After eating my second slice, I began asking myself, “is this my last taste of sweets until Easter?”
I’ve always given up something for Lent, even though we Lutherans live under no such ecclesiastical mandate. So I’m thinking to myself, “Does Jesus want me to do this?” “Shouldn’t I be happy to give up sweets for Lent since Jesus gave his life for me?” Or, “shouldn’t I enjoy my freedom from having to prove myself worthy before God by doing something like this?”
But what’s Lent going to be about then, if I just live out the normal routine?
Lent (as we know it) comes from Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. It all begins with Jesus’ baptism. The voice tells Jesus (and he alone) that he’s God’s Son. Immediately afterwards, the Holy Spirit drives him out into the wilderness, where he’s alone—facing the elements, the wild animals, and the temptations of Satan. But Jesus makes it safely through…
After the wilderness, Jesus proclaims the coming of God’s reign and invites God’s people into the kingdom. Trouble is, his mission field will ultimately prove to be far more threatening even than the wilderness… It certainly was for John the Baptist, who’s now in prison.
As we’ll see in Mark’s Gospel, it’s not easy being God’s Son. God therefore uses the wilderness for good! In the wilderness, God proves faithful to Jesus. He protects him against all the threats. Jesus’ relationship with His Father is strengthened so that he can live out his God-given identity and ultimately bear his cross for the sake of all.
Jesus goes to the wilderness because he needs to be there.
So does this mean that when we find ourselves in awful, threatening times and places that God wants us to be there? Well, not exactly. It’s easy to think of pains and temptations as wilderness experiences, but Jesus’ wilderness experience is something quite a bit different…
Ever since the fourth century, Christians have been deliberately going into the wilderness as a place of pilgrimage, seeking a greater connection with God.
Strangely enough, this all began during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine who declared Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. In a lot of ways, this was one of the greatest miracles to hit the church since the resurrection. Christians would no longer be ostracized and persecuted! The Christian faith would soon work its way into just about every aspect of social, political, and economic life! It would go on to become the world’s biggest religion (which it still is today!)
But a few Christians didn’t find this entirely positive. Without the persecutions and daily struggles of following Jesus, they feared they would grow complacent in their faith. They feared succumbing to the same sins of greed and pride that the pagans had committed before. Life had become so good they feared losing their dependence on God.
So they fled to the wilderness to experience the presence of God more fully, without the distractions and temptations of the world they’d come to know. They were like “Ancient Amish.”
That’s the kind of wilderness that we all need—a holy space in our lives where we can experience God and be formed in faith and identity as God’s child. This is important because of the way the world is. Not only is their pain and suffering, there’s evil. Satan has filled this world with temptations, all of which serve to drive a wedge between you and God, and build you up at the expense of your neighbor. How does the world say you live the good life? “Get more! Be more! Do more!” There’s been no other time in history quite like the present where we can be stuffed with so much that ultimately will leave us so empty…
We’re under siege with trials, and temptations; doubts and distractions. This is why we need a wide-open wilderness space in our lives, where we can rest and experience a beautiful, daily communion with living Christ. It all begins by asking God to reveal to us (1) the things we count as essential for our happiness; (2) the things we strive most to control; and (3) the things that cause us the greatest fear. Taken together, all of these can literally suffocate the life of Christ right out of us. But it is in these vast, empty spaces that Christ brings us new life.
We follow Christ throughout these forty days to die to all these things. And from the dust and ashes of our present situation, God raises us up into a brand new existence:
· Trusting the God we see at work in our lives
· Forgiving sins and sinners
· Belonging to each other in Christ
· Serving and healing as Christ lives in you.
The wilderness doesn’t have to be a scary place—but a sanctuary of prayer, of worship, and peace. It’s a rich exchange to be emptied of all the junk of life to truly live in and through Jesus Christ.
Isn’t this what we all need this Lent? A greater and stronger connection with God. This is why Jesus carries his cross—so you can be emptied of all that creates only death, and filled with the Spirit who gives us life.