Posted on Feb 18, 2018 by Pastor Dave Whetter
As we begin the season of Lent, we begin with Jesus proclaiming the most critical point that he will proclaim throughout his life and ministry, “the Kingdom of God has come near…” (1:15). In Mark, as in Matthew and Luke, “the kingdom of God” is THE announcement around which the rest of Jesus’ words and deeds will revolve. But before Jesus can make this announcement, Mark also wants us to know that Jesus was tempted not to share this great news, just like you and I are often tempted away from this proclamation.
The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, which we always read about on the first Sunday in Lent, is almost overlooked in Mark. Unlike Matthew and Luke, where we hear the details of Satan’s temptations and Jesus’ responses, Mark’s testing in the wilderness is an almost non-existent. All Mark tells us is that “[Jesus] was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him” (1:13).
In some ways the lack of details in Mark’s account make it appear unimportant and meaningless. I would be much more comfortable with knowing the specifics of Jesus’ temptations. After all, if I could know the details of how Satan tempted Jesus and Jesus’ responses, maybe I would know how to overcome the temptations that Satan will offer me in my life. But, apparently that is “fools thinking” for Mark. The details are unimportant, and for Mark it is only critical that we know that Jesus was tempted to turn from God’s ways and he refused. And besides, as we all know this story is about Jesus, and to be honest, there is no way any of us could match Jesus’ fortitude anyway.
So, what can we learn from Mark’s almost silent offering of Satan’s temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. Well, first, I would argue that Mark offered us a very important piece of information that ought to provide us comfort and strength as we face Satan’s temptations in this life. Jesus was baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. In fact, it was the Holy Spirit that immediately drove Jesus into the wilderness. You and I have been given that same Spirit in our baptisms, and filled with that Spirit, we have the power to overcomes Satan’s temptations. Will we be as good as Jesus was as overcoming Satan’s temptations in this life? Probably not, but we do have all we need to turn away from Satan and return to God and God’s ways.
Secondly, I would suggest that Mark wants us to know that Satan works best in the little things and in our silence. My guess is that many of us have already started thinking about Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of this story. In those two stories, Satan tempts Jesus with some big things. He tempts Jesus to make food for himself by turning stones to bread. He tempts Jesus by offering him dominion over all the kingdom, and he tempts Jesus to jump off the highest point on the temple to get God’s angels to catch him, all big and almost miraculous feats, but Satan’s biggest temptations for us are not those grand things. No, I would argue that Satan is at his best when he tempts us with little things. In the quiet moments of our lives, Satan loves to tempt us into thinking that our ideas and our ways are better than God’s. Satan loves to tempt us into thinking that our busy lives are so important that we don’t need to make room for God. If we are too busy, then taking an hour this week to attend worship is not necessary. If we have too many activities on the agenda this week, then it is OK to ignore God and not make time for your faith community. Satan is at Satan’s best when he tempts us into believing that our financial wealth is ours first and that it is unnecessary to give to God first. After all, God wants you to be happy, doesn’t God? Just like in Mark’s almost silent temptations of Jesus, Satan is doing the same to you and I in the silence of our lives.
But with all that said, we need to also remind ourselves that we cannot overcome Satan’s temptations by ourselves either. But wait a minute! Didn’t I just say that God’s Holy Spirit is in us and we have the same power Jesus did? Yes I did, but therein lies another one of Satan’s temptations. Oh, I can do this on my own. No, we can’t! Never forget that Jesus was human, but he was also divine. It is critical for us to remember what Jesus did immediately upon returning from the wilderness. He began building a faith community. He began proclaiming the good news by saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15).
To live as God calls us to live and to overcome the temptations of Satan and this world, we need to be part of a faith community for support, love, and strength. To have the strength and the will fully repent takes community. It is easy for us to get caught up in the silence of our own lives and think we have all the right answers. It is easy to get caught up in our own “success” and think that we can do things our own ways and when we do that, Satan wins. When we don’t get our way, or when we don’t like everything that is happening in our faith communities and we insist on our ways or when we run away because things aren’t perfect, Satan wins.
Brothers and sisters, God’s kingdom has come near, but it is not, yet, complete. We, here in our own faith community, are part of that kingdom, but to expect it to be perfect now is unrealistic and is exactly what Satan wants of us. As we journey to the cross this Lenten season, we are being challenged to see that God is calling us into a very different future. But as we journey to that future, Satan will do Satan’s best to turn us away from that future. Satan will tempt us as individuals and as a faith community to ignore God’s ways and to find a simpler path. But as individuals and as a faith community, we need to help each other see that God’s ways won't be easy, but they will bring God’s kingdom closer.
Lent is a season in which we are called to prepare ourselves for change, change that will help us grow God’s kingdom, but our lives will be filled with temptations to draw us away from God’s ways and from God’s future for us. I pray we open our hearts and our minds this Lenten season to God and God’s ways. I pray that we might be willing to accept that God is calling us into a future that might be scary and hard to reach, but it will be worth it. I pray that as a faith community, we will follow Jesus’ example and refuse to allow ourselves to be tempted away from God’s kingdom. Amen.