For Lent 1, Mark 1:9-15 is the gospel. Only a few weeks ago parts of this lesson formed the gospel reading for the Baptism of our Lord and Epiphany 3.
As we begin our journey to the cross we begin with Jesus and his baptism. But the reading for this Sunday bridges from the baptism into the wilderness and then continues by celebrating Jesus first proclamations of the kingdom of God coming near.
When I look at this reading I am struck by the beautiful confirmation of purpose that is revealed in the voice from heaven, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.”
That beautiful confidence is immediately matched with the Spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness.
I think the God-seekers will struggle with this contrast. If Jesus is God why does he experience the wilderness? More importantly for us today, if he is God, why do we continue to experience so much of our lives in the wilderness?
In Mark 8:27ff Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”
They told him essentially that people think you are a sure thing hall of famer, you are a part of that super hero cast of characters from our past, you are “John the Baptist; and others say, ‘Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”
The people were placing Jesus up on the pinnacle of humanity. But their answers show they struggled with imagining he could be more.
People saw the beauty of Jesus’ ministry. They could see in Jesus’ trail a path filled with victorious healings and exorcisms.
God-seekers try to understand the beauty and authority of Jesus with the struggle of the wilderness. Because I want Jesus, I want this mystical vision of Jesus that has the heavens opening up with the affirming voice of the heavenly father.d
But I know that when I look at those that have sought God, they still live in the wilderness. I hate the illusions of following God that make think that in Jesus everything is easy.
I struggle in the wilderness. I am pained by the loneliness of the deserted places. I do not know the authority of God as always present, because it seems like I keep experiencing the disobedience of my own flesh and the decadence of this world.
I find it easy to identify Jesus as the one that can reach to the heavenly father. He is the perfect, obedient one that does everything right. He is my comic book superhero. He is perfect, a hero, legendary.
But when Jesus goes from his baptism and the voice of God that splits the heavens into the wilderness, he is not just a Biblical superhero that can reach higher then the rest of us.
Little kids try to figure out Jesus as divine and human and so will pull out the trump card of Jesus. Who can throw a football better than Tom Brady, the kid answers, “Jesus can!” Hah! You got me. He can do everything better and more beautiful than anyone else.
But is the beauty of Jesus all that I need to trust in today as I go through the wilderness of my life?
I don’t just need Jesus who can reach higher than me. I need Jesus, the very hand of God, reaching into my life. I need to know that Jesus isn’t the only one that reach all the way up to God. I need to see in Jesus the very hand of God reaching into me.
So where does Jesus go? The Spirit drives him into the wilderness.
To the God-seeker that sees the heroics of Jesus, there may be a struggle to see God suffer in our own wildernesses.
Jesus asked his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”
Peter answered with all of us a faithful answer, and it is an answer that finds a remarkable location. Where does the anointed one of God go? After Peter answered Jesus, Jesus told the disciples that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after the third day rise again.
If you are the Christ, Jesus why must you suffer? If you are the Christ, Jesus why must I suffer?
Why do we go from the beauty of the voice splitting the heavens and have to witness Jesus being driven into the wilderness?
I think the struggle with locating Jesus in the wilderness and in the suffering and dying and rising of the cross is because we want to have Jesus be either our superhero that does everything we can’t or try to add him simply as an add-on to a perfectly okay life. Good to have Jesus around. He can do great things. He is the beloved son after all. But do I really need him, or can I just add him to make my life a little better?
Jesus is not a super hero who we all watch on the journey with the detachment of an audience.
Jesus is not the compassionate friend that shows up to console us in our struggle but is actually so weak to not be able to do anything about our actual struggle.
He is the one who has the beauty of the voice from heaven confirming his mission. But we do not just stand as observers of this beauty. We don’t stand in faith with glassy eyed, fuzzy and glowing views of Jesus.
Jesus preached, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel.”
“Repent and believe” means it is time to refocus and trust Jesus. I need to daily refocus and look around. I stop looking with fuzzy, glowing view of what I wish life was like, instead I see what struggles I truly experience. When I look and seek the truth of my struggles, I thankfully trust that Jesus has come. I am glad because I am in a wilderness.
Even after repenting and believing in Jesus we will continue to journey in this wilderness. Even after seeing the beauty of Jesus, we will continue to see him driven into our wilderness.
So why do I keep experiencing the wilderness even after I have repented and believe in Jesus. In my own journey I experience the lonely desertion of the wilderness and I will never forget how necessary God is for living a vibrant life.
In the wilderness that God continues to allow us to experience we will never forget that can’t just have Jesus become our beautiful hand bag accessory.
The God-seeker wonders why we still experience the wilderness if Jesus is really God. The answer is that we can see in both the beauty of the baptism and in the struggle of the journey that God is present in both.