Wilderness: Renounce, Reject, Repent
At the start of Lent 2018, this is a question worth reflecting on: Can a Human Being Resist Temptation? This short reading from Mark's gospel has Jesus experiencing what must have been one of the spiritual highlights of His life, His baptism in water, followed by His baptism in the Holy Spirit, followed by His hearing the very voice of God ... it really doesn't get much better than that, does it? But the first thing this Spirit does in Him, is compel Him to go alone into the dangerous Judean wilderness for forty days. Mark implies that when Jesus came out of the
wilderness, He heard that the same John (his cousin) who had baptised Him had been put in Herod's prison and He senses that it is now the right time to begin His ministry. He goes out and proclaims good news, news that the Jewish nation had been waiting hundreds of years to hear, namely that the Kingdom of God is now at hand. All of that, Mark squeezes into 6 verses.
Matthew and Luke tell the same story, but with much more detail, particularly regarding how the devil tempted Jesus ... and I must stress here, Jesus the human. If Jesus was not human, like you and me, this story means nothing. The 4 gospels mean nothing if Jesus was not fully human ... if there is absolutely any possibility that Jesus could decide: I'll fast for 40 days, but I will tell my body not to feel hungry ... and I'll make my body not feel the dreadful cold of the wilderness night ... and later on I'll tell my body that it won't feel the pain of nails and whips, I'll just look as if I'm suffering. If any of these are possibilities, then the gospel story is a load of rubbish, meaningless to us humans.
Tom Wright tells the following story: I saw an advertisement the other day for a particular car. The car makers were very proud of the fact that this car had been put through all kinds of tests to see what would happen to it under the most extreme conditions. The car had come through with flying colours.
That's what you do with a car. But we don't often think about it happening to you and to me.. And yet that is what this passage is all about. It's about Jesus going through the test and coming out with flying colours. And since it's a test we have all failed, it's worth pondering, prayerfully,what Jesus was actually achieving and how it can help us, this Lent and through our lives.
First, He was very hungry; but He had learnt self-control over His own body.
Second, He knew (because He had been told at His baptism) that He was indeed the one whom God was calling to be Messiah, King of Israel and the world; but there was a right way and a wrong way of becoming what God wanted Him to be.
Third, He knew He had to bring God's people on side with what He was called to do; but again there would be a right way and a wrong way of doing that.
To say 'this can't have been easy' is a huge understatement. There's a sense in this story of a deep wrestling, a heart searching, a personal struggle with the powerful pull of bodily appetites, prestige and ambition. All of Satan's temptations are aimed at getting Jesus to focus on Himself and His own desires instead of on the will of God ... be relevant Jesus, be spectacular Jesus, be powerful Jesus ... and the people will just love you. Most of us know only a little of that struggle, because we tend to give up and give in, early on in the process. We forget or perhaps we just don't care to believe that the Scripture "I can do all through Christ who strengthens me" is actually true. We don't believe that God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.
Paul will later remind the Romans, and us, that if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
That Spirit we read of in Mark, remember, Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him, that Spirit is the same Spirit who is in you and in me.
Why do we so often put another spirit on display to the world? Why do we give in to temptation? Can a human being resist temptation? Can a disciple of Jesus Christ resist temptation?
Jesus went all the way through the tests and still didn't break. If we believe we will break in the face of temptation, we will break in the face of temptation. If we believe we can do all things in Christ who strengthens us ... WOW, can you imagine what such belief, such faith, will do in us?
A recent devotional reading startled me at first, but I've lived with it for a while and now I share it with you:
What tests are you facing right now?
How are the whispering voices trying to lure you off course, into doing the right thing in the wrong way, or the wrong thing altogether?
Where will you look to find help and strength?
"The Christian life is not hard to live
- it's utterly impossible to live !
Only One can live it !
Let Him ! In you."
Let us pray:
Lord, give us the strength not to give up; to reach for your word, to remember what you are calling us to be and to do and, with your help, to persevere through whatever tests may come.