Wilderness, Temptation, Angels and Wild Beasts

1:9“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by

John in the Jordan. 10 And 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. 11 And a voice

came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.13 He was in the

wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the

angels waited on him.14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee,

proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the

kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 9:2-

Let us pray: God of wilderness and water, your Son was baptized and

tempted as we are. Guide us through this season, that we may not avoid

struggle, but open ourselves to blessing, through the cleansing depths of

repentance and the words of the Spirit. Amen.

I have never been to the Holy Land but I understand that the wilderness

described here in Mark’s gospel is the dessert just south of the Dead Sea.

Apparently, you can see for miles in every direction. The color is uniform in that it

is all sand colored, the hills, the rocks, the brush, everywhere you look it seems the

same dusty sand look. I imagine that back then it was very quiet, because sand

absorbs sound and because there were not many living things to make noise.

Barbara Brown Taylor, writes “if you sit in that dessert all by yourself, then

you will soon notice a mechanical humming between your ears, roughly the sound

of a small electric clock. This is the sound of your nervous system at work.” With

all of its elaborate wiring and sparking synapses. Once you have gotten used to that

humming noise then you will notice how much noise you make when you breathe.

Your lungs work like fireplace bellows, with all of that wheezing in and out. When

you breathe in, you can hear the wind whistling through what sounds like your

hollow skull, when you breathe out you can hear the roar it makes as it rushes out

through the narrow passage ways of your nose.

Then you will notice the sound of your heart. To some it would sound near

and to others far off depending on your own heart. I was camping one time in the

Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota and it was so quite at night I

could hear what I thought was drums beating then I realized it was my heart beat.

So, for Jesus after forty days of near silence it must have been startling to

have it interrupted by a voice…

Not everyone’s wilderness is so quiet. Some people say that when they are

lost in their lives their wilderness is more like a snowstorm, something we are

familiar with. Where you can barely see one step in front of you with the wind

whipping around you, the snow blowing and obscuring your vision and making it

impossible to hear anything or anyone.

Other talk about it being dark, pitch black dark, like lying in bed tossing and

turning, their minds racing, no rest or sleep in sight. Just long hours or thoughts

and images that wear on their souls.

Whatever your own wilderness is like, I bet that it has at least three things in

common with all other wildernesses: You did not choose it. It is no place you

would have ever gone on your own. You are not in control. You cannot even

control the pounding of your own heart. Whether it is noisy or quiet, there is one

thing missing and that is the voice of God. It might not even seem like a

wilderness to you if you could hear that voice— telling you that everything is

going to be all right, that you are not alone, that this experience is all of a reason.

But you cannot hear that reassuring voice to calm you and comfort you. All there is

is a defining silence or darkness or chaos and that is what seems to define the

For most of us, when we find ourselves in the wilderness it is hard to believe

in God much less believe that God has anything to do with us. It can feel like God

has vanished and you are all alone to deal with the wilderness on its terms.

But according to Mark’s gospel, it was the Holy Spirit who drove Jesus into

the wilderness— not the devil or the world or some sort of cosmic trick but the

Holy Spirit of God.

This is not the first time that the Holy Spirit has driven or forced Jesus into

something. When he was baptized by his cousin John in the River Jordan, no

sooner had Jesus come up out of the water than the Holy Spirit descended on him

and drove him into the wilderness. He spent forty days alone, well not quite alone.

The devil was there and the wild beasts and some angels. But he was alone in the

sense that no one was present to make any sense of his experience. There was no

one to tell him what it all meant, or what to do. There was no one else there to take

his mind off of the hum in his head and the drum in his chest or the wild beasts

Mark’s gospel, unlike Matthew and Luke doesn’t tell us the intimate details

of what happens while Jesus is in the wilderness. Jesus is driven into the

wilderness and tempted by Satan. This period in the wilderness was essential to

everything that came after it for Jesus. It was a great source of his humanness as

well as his holiness. Even after he left the wilderness, he carried it around inside of

him, and far from fleeing from it later in his life he actually sought out the

wilderness. Without the wilderness he would not have been the same person.

Because of the wilderness he was not afraid of anything.

The church—by which I mean the living body of Christ in the

world—believes this so much that it has set aside a similar season in the wilderness

for every one of us. The only difference being that none of us have to participate if

we don’t want to. No heavenly dove will drive us there. We are free to stay or to

go, as we choose to participate in Lent. If we choose to go, however, then it is time

to stop pretending there is something wrong with these wildernesses of ours. It is

time to stop pretending they don’t exist. It is time to stop trying to deny them. It is

time to stop wishing that we could just sleep through them, or that they would just

If Jesus’ own life has anything to do with ours, then the wilderness of your

life and of mine are in a strange way God’s gift to us. They are the Holy Spirits

doing. They are offered to us for our humanness, as well as our holiness, if only we

will recognize them.

So where are you headed this Lent? Do you know what your wild beasts

are? Can you hear the voices of angels? Where is your wilderness?

Here at the beginning of Lent, at the beginning of the season for facing up to

our wilderness, here at the Lord’s Table we are welcome for our sin is forgiven.

And God is with us as we face down our wilderness.

Let us pray:

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