Mark 1:9-15
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan.  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.  And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

Sometimes, when we have trouble getting to sleep we listen to one of these sleep meditations on an app called Headspace.

It always starts the same way… Here we are, where the ocean meets the land. A lovely beach, surrounded by rocky cliffs… and in moments we’re asleep. Well, I’m asleep. The calm voice and the repetition with a breathing exercise thrown in seems to be enough to soothe us to sleep. It’s become almost a bit of a joke. I’m asleep before the end of the first sentence. Avril wants to stay awake to find out what happens next!

Repetition… familiarity… they can cause us to relax and that can, of course, be a good thing. But we can also become so familiar with something that we take it for granted.

So, here we are again… Back at the same verses of chapter 1 of Mark’s Gospel for the third or maybe fourth time in just a few weeks. I’ve said before that there are 10 sermons in every passage, but this is really starting to put that theory to the test. We’ve spoken about Jesus’ baptism, about John and ideas around confession and forgiveness. We’ve also spoken about Jesus’ mission. So, what’s left?

It’s the first Sunday in Lent so we have this reading again because of 2 verses. 12 and 13. “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”

We always get readings about the temptation of Jesus on the first Sunday of Lent. I’m guessing that’s because we have had four whole days of giving up chocolate or crisps or alcohol or whatever you might have chosen to go without for Lent and we all know that making it beyond the first few days is the hardest part. So, we get Jesus, alone in the wilderness for 40 days, surrounded by wild animals, with nothing to eat. I think that’s maybe supposed to be encouragement? Look, Jesus managed 40 days with nothing, so step away from the M&Ms!

And of course there is something in all of that. We fast in lent to help wake us up from our regular pattern. The grumbling tummy is supposed to point us back to the purpose of fasting… to help us focus more on God. For us, the constant battle where we unconsciously go to the fridge and the voice that reminds us that we have given up the thing we are going for is supposed to have the same effect. Oh… I’m not eating this… and that’s because I’m supposed to be focussing on God… and now I am. At, least that’s supposed to be how it works.

And that’s all fine. In fact it’s good. Anything that reminds us to think more about God must surely be a good thing.

The other thing that’s missing is an account of the three temptations Jesus faced. You need to look in Matthew and Luke’s gospels for those. Mark, as usual, takes a much more sparse approach. So, to boil these two verses down to giving up crisps would be to miss out on more than a packet of cheese and onion.

As usual Mark packs an amazing amount into just two sentences in verses 12 and 13. Although I think he cheats a bit with the second one with all the semi colons, but still… his economy with words is impressive.

Mark tells us that immediately after Jesus’ baptism “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”

Drove him out.

This wasn’t a decision by Jesus to go on a silent retreat. He was driven by the Holy Spirit, out into the wilderness.

But why? Why not just get on with his ministry? After all, God has just said that he is pleased with Jesus.

Perhaps Jesus is a bit like an athlete? You can be fit, but not quite competition ready. In football they call it ‘match ready’. Jesus has been preparing for this his whole life, but now is the time for that final preparation.

The wilderness is a place of huge significance. It’s where Moses and the Hebrew slaves became the nation of Israel, God’s people. But it took them a while to work it all out. 40 years of mistake after mistake until they finally realised that God was serious about them. But they didn’t leave behind the slavery of Egypt without some persuasion.

The story tells of the angel of death killing the first born Egyptians and as the Israelites crossed the water they were chased by an army. They were driven into the wilderness too. There was no choice. No going back.

It’s not a place you would choose to spend any length of time, never mind 40 days! Jesus didn’t pack for the trip. We don’t hear that he pitched his tent, set up his camping stove and settled down in his down-filled sleeping bag to enjoy a good book.

He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”

Forty days. That’s the biblical number for ‘ages’. Longer than a month. Longer than the time it took for the moon to complete a full cycle because out there in the wild that’s pretty much the only thing to mark the time. Day after day after day of… well… days.

They say the devil makes work for idle hands so perhaps it’s no surprise that Jesus was tempted by Satan, The Accuser. Unlike the other gospels with their three big moments of temptation for Jesus to turn a stone into bread, to jump and let the angels catch him, or to bow before Satan and rule all the kingdoms of the world, we only have this short mention that he was tempted but it seems that the temptation lasted the 40 days. Which for me seems more likely. Temptations aren’t often one time only things, are they? If I was to give up chocolate then every time I saw the bag of M&Ms chocolate with peanuts sitting on the table I’m going to be tempted. And sometimes that temptation will be stronger than others. But unless I throw it out it’s still going to be there… with its bright yellow wrapper and delicious chocolate filled with crunchy peanuts…

But I don’t think chocolate was Jesus’ problem. He was there with the wild animals.

This is where we really start to miss stuff. Yes, there are wild animals in the wilderness. Lions and wild dogs and even bears. So on one level, their mention is just an acknowledgement that they are there and the wilderness is a dangerous and unpredictable place, but there’s more.

Mark’s Gospel is linked closely to some other writings in the Bible and those links might also give us some hints about what could be going on here.

Mark quotes the prophet Isaiah just a few verses earlier and Isaiah paints an amazing picture of what’s known as the peaceable kingdom, where the lion and the lamb will lie down together. So, Jesus, sometimes called the lamb of God, could be literally living side by side with the lions, in harmony. It’s a sign of the coming of the new kingdom where peace and harmony will reign. After all, Jesus is the Word who was with God at the creation of all things.

Mark’s Gospel is most similar to the book of Daniel in the Old Testament. They are both what we call apocalyptic writings. And remember, apocalypse doesn’t mean the end of the world in some disastrous fashion. It means revelation. These books reveal something important about God.

If I was to ask you what story about Daniel you remember I’m guessing it’s Daniel in the lion’s den, the story where a man faithful to God was put in a lion’s den, but no harm comes to him. So this mention of wild beasts in Mark’s gospel could be an echo of that story, showing us that God is with Jesus, protecting him.

But the wild beasts might also be a metaphor for the world. Mark has already set out his challenge to the empires of the world from verse 1. The dangerous beast and wild animals could be the kingdoms and rulers of the world who Jesus has come to challenge with this radically new way of thinking in the kingdom of God which has come near.

The final part of the puzzle is that the angels waited on him. That’s the same thing we are told about Simon Peter’s mother in law when she is raised up from illness and the same way Jesus will describe his own ministry… a ministry of service.

John the Baptist called on people to repent and believe. Repent means to change your way of thinking. To have your mind blown! These two lines of wilderness temptation are conformation that the empires of the world have been given notice. Things are about to change.

But how will that happen?
How could such powerful nations, such powerful ideas, be overcome?

Our usual response to something dangerous is to either run away or avoid it or to kill it. Jesus isn’t about to take either approach. He will confront the empire head on… with love.

So, repent and believe because Mark, once again, in just two sentences, manages to blow our minds with an idea that is at the same time wonderful and terrifying…
The kingdom of God has come near… so hold on to your hats!!!

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