The Gospel of Mark’s story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is extremely brief: so brief, in fact, that in order for today’s reading not to just be comically short, the lectionary fills that story in with a few verses before and a few verses after. As Deacon Chris read it, I’m sure some of you thought, “Wait, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan…. – didn’t we just hear that at the Baptism of Christ? And: Jesus came to Galilee, saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news’ – didn’t we just hear that on Annual Meeting Sunday?”
Well, yes and yes. But what we didn’t hear yet was what happened in between. “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.” I’d like us to just take some time this morning to study what happened in between.
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. The Spirit has just descended on Jesus at his Baptism, and the very first thing he does is to drive Jesus out. When you compare that language to some of the tame and sentimental images of the Holy Spirit we encounter, it kind of gives you pause, doesn’t it? The Spirit drove him out; there’s a violence to it, an impulsion; a sense that Jesus barely has a choice, the action of God is so forceful. This next step in Jesus’ vocation is important business and the Spirit is going to get it done.
So where does the Spirit drive him? Out into the wilderness. Now if you are familiar with the Bible you know that important stuff happens in the wilderness. It’s where Moses met and argued with God before he was changed into a great leader of Israel. It’s where the Israelites journeyed and grumbled for 40 years before they entered the Promised Land. It’s where the prophets, centuries later after the congregation had become corrupt and apathetic, promised that God would make straight a highway for himself to re-encounter his people. ...