“With Wild Beasts”

1st Sunday of Lent, February 21, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized 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 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.”

Prayer.

Welcome to Lent;

Our 40-day period of preparation by

Prayer, confession, repentance, charity, and self-denial.

This is what we, as Christians, do.

Prayer, confession, repentance, charity, and self-denial.

These are the disciplines we practice,

With focused intentionality,

During Lent.

What are we preparing for? You ask.

These traditional disciplines prepare us annually

To receive the message,

To be spiritually strengthened by the message,

That we might join with Jesus in proclaiming the message.

This is the message:

That by dying, Jesus Christ removes

Our sins and the sins of the world, and

That by rising from the dead, Jesus Christ

Saves us and saves the world into eternal life.

This is the Good News of God,

The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Hear the message.

Proclaim the message.

Become the living message.

There is another dimension to Lent.

Our annual journey through Lent is an opportunity to be transformed.

By reliving and retelling the story

We make space in our existence for the Spirit to enter,

To warm our soul, open our mind, and reveal God’s will.

With the Spirit’s entry,

We are drawn closer with one another and closer to God.

With the Spirit’s strength, daring, and direction

We are transformed into God’s people

Called to transform the world.

Be transformed

That God might transform the world.

The first Sunday of Lent

Always begins with the Gospel account

Of the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

Matthew and Luke give elaborate, detailed accounts

Of the confrontation between Jesus and Satan.

You’ve heard the story of Satan’s temptations before:

‘Throw yourself down from this mountain and call up angels to save you.’

‘Turn those stones into bread to satisfy your hunger.’

‘All these kingdoms can be yours, if you but fall down and worship me.’

You know the details.

I can still recall as a child in Sunday School wondering

If Jesus was alone with Satan those 40 days,

Who was writing down the details?!!!

Our Gospel of Mark is quite a study in contrast.

There are no details in Mark.

Mark is the shortest of all the Gospel books, and

Is believed to be the source document

Upon which other apostolic traditions authored their own Gospel accounts.

Over time and

By means of great effort and councils,

The Church concluded Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

Best reflected the core message of Christian faith,

And included them into the collection of sacred texts

That today we call the Bible.

The brevity of Mark

Gives us a little bit more room for interpretation.

We can allow the Spirit to influence our imagination,

To lead us where it is too difficult to go

If mired down in tedious details.

Today, we follow Jesus

1. First, at his baptism, receiving the Spirit, and

The affirmation of God’s words, to,

2. Secondly, Jesus is immediately driven by the same Spirit

Out into the wilderness,

Where he was “tempted by Satan; and

He was with the wild beast; and

The angels waited on him.”

3. Thirdly, Jesus emerges from his harrowing ordeal,

Goes north to Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God.

A few revealing thoughts.

1. The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness

To be tempted by the strongest source of personified evil, Satan himself.

This makes me wonder.

I mean, on whose team is the Holy Spirit playing?

What possibly could be the motive for the Spirit of God

To drive Jesus into a confrontation with Satan?

The two greatest opposed sources of power in the world

Are destined to clash in a cataclysmic confrontation

In the Judean wilderness.

Why? is a question I cannot answer.

What we can learn by observation, however, is

Living faithfully,

With the Holy Spirit present and active in your life

Sometimes means blessings,

Sometimes means confrontation,

Nearly always, it means mystery.

Living in relationship with God

Means getting comfortable with the fact

That there is much more we don’t know about God than what we do know.

Divine wisdom has no parity.

God’s memory never fades.

The Lord’s motives can never be fully known.

The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness.

Why do you suppose the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan?

Have you been driven into the wilderness?

Did the Spirit drive you in?

See you through?

Bring you out?

2. The site of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River is

In the Southern Jordan valley, near Jericho.

The wilderness land to the West leads straight uphill 18 miles to Jerusalem,

A difference of 3,320 feet in elevation.  

That’s a linear slope of 3.5% … quite a steep hike.

When riding from the Jordan up to Jerusalem today,

Ears are constantly plugging and popping

Due to the change in altitude.

This is the wilderness where Jesus was tempted.

Think rocks, cliffs, brown compacted gravel, and steep mountains paths.

Think dry, sediment filled stream beds at the bottom of impassable chasms.

These dry wadis see water only once or twice a year,

When rare Mediterranean storm clouds

Make it over the central mountains.

Think hot in the day and near freezing at night.

Think danger behind every scrub bush,

Bandits and Bedouins, around every turn,

Lurking in every canyon and cave,

Ready to beat you up, rob you blind, and leave you for dead.

Simply being in the wilderness places Jesus in mortal danger.

The Divinity of Jesus is never on the table or up for discussion.

However, the humanity of Jesus is placed at risk.

3. Forty days.

Forty days, or five weeks and five days,

Is a long time to

Roast in the heat of day and freeze in the dark of night.

Sprain an ankle and you’re done for.

Forty days is a long time to go without eating

(as reported in the other Gospels, but absent in Mark).

Forty days is a long time to be in search of water,

And when water is found, to manage it properly.

Forty days is long time to be exposed to wild beasts.

Forty days is a long time to think.

Forty days is a lot of time for the mind to wander.

Forty days in the wilderness makes Jesus very vulnerable.

4. Temptations.

Mark gives no details.

According to Encyclopedia dot com

The religious form of temptation

“Primarily denotes a trial in which (one) has free choice of being faithful or unfaithful to God;

Only secondarily does it signify allurement or seduction to sin.”

(https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/temptation-bible)

For the Jewish mind

Faithfulness to the Law

Is faithfulness to God.

Satan is attempting to get Jesus

To break righteous adherence to Jewish Law.

Satan was attempting to elevate the human nature of Jesus

To the detriment of his Divinity.

Tempted by Satan.

It is impossible to know

If this was one temptation drawn out over a full forty days,

Or, if this is multiple temptations over the course of forty days.

What can be observed, however,

Is the fact that temptation was for forty days and nights.

That’s enough to break anyone down.

40 days of continuous, relentless temptation

would make even the strongest person weak.

5. Wild beasts.

Therion in the Greek,

Meaning dangerous, life-threatening carnivores.

Meat eaters.

Imagine being

In the wilderness for forty days surrounded by animals that want to eat you.

Think jackals, wolves, hyaenas, leopards,

And, yes, even lions and cheetahs

Patrolled the Palestinian countryside

Before they were hunted to extinction.

(http://natureisrael.com/mammals.html#predator)

Darkness falls.

Cold descends.

Insects and birds fall silent

As wild beasts approach and surround.

Listen to the sounds of animals creeping and stalking.

Eyes blink in the dark.

I can imagine the night coming to life

With the sounds of circling, hungry, wild beasts

Salivating in the shadows.

It is interesting to me that the detail

About wild beasts is left out of Matthew and Luke’s accounts.

Is this intentional? Or an oversight?

Does it make a difference? Or not?

Forty days in the wilderness is forty days living in anxiety and fear.

6. Angels waited on Jesus.

No. I don’t suppose they took his order

Or served him the daily special.

Angels.

Angels waited on Jesus.

Waiting, or Diekonoun in the Greek,

Which, of course, contains the same root as deacon,

Means “to minister, to serve.”

This is what deacons do; they serve.

Much the same way as Simon Peter’s mother-in-law

Served Jesus after he healed here of her fever.

(No, I don’t believe she brought Jesus a sandwich

Or did his laundry, either.)

At the conclusion of his temptations

Angels ministered to Jesus,

Replacing his weakness with God’s strength.

Though shrouded in mystery,

Exposed to mortal danger, vulnerable, weak, anxious, and living in fear,

God takes care of God’s own.

God takes care of God’s own Son, Jesus.

And, in my experience, God can and will

Take care of you and me, too.

Those angels God places in your life?

Angels are not accidents or coincidences.

Living angels are sent as God’s gift to you

To replace your weakness with God’s strength.

Certainly, on this first Sunday of Lent

There are many unanswerable questions from the Gospel of Mark.

Pay attention to those pinch points where we can align ourselves with the life of Jesus.

Consider times and places in life that are shrouded in mystery,

(Like when the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness).

Are we capable of trusting in God to send us His angels

Even though we don’t know Why? How? When?

Even though we don’t know God’s will or motives?

Beloved, it is a sign of faithful maturity

To be at peace with the mystery of God,

Especially when apparent contradictions cause the stomach to churn.

Consider times and circumstances in life

When anxious, frightened, vulnerable, weak, or in mortal danger.

Are you able to trust that God will carry you through

Every crisis, every temptation, every disaster?

When face-to-face with death

And personal faith is in danger of failing,

Can you place your entire dependence upon God,

And come to peace

Even in the presence of remaining uncertainty?

Know this Gospel truth

Taken from Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by Satan himself,

If we depend on God,

God can take the strain.

God will carry your burden.

The Lord takes responsibility for creation.

The Lord makes it, maintains it, and, when necessary, recreates it.

God takes responsibility for humankind,

Making each person in the Lord’s image,

Giving life by the Spirit’s breath.

The Lord strengthens the weak.

God protects the vulnerable.

God calms every fear.

God is willing, able, and eager

To strengthen the sick and bring back to health the broken of this world.

After all, our God is a God of healing and restoration.

At the end of the day,

Let us discipline ourselves.

Find rest.

Find peace.

Just as the Heavenly Father took care of Jesus,

God takes care of God’s own.

God is taking care of you, too.

At the end of this 40-day journey

Through the wilderness of Lent,

Be prepared to proclaim the Good News of God:

Though Jesus was tempted, suffered, died, and rose again,

He did it for the redemption and salvation of the world.

Amen.

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