Littlewell
Christ Centered Church Resource Site

Driven ... tempted ... and fed

Genesis 9:8-17
Mark 1:9-15
Sun, March 12, 2000
Rev. Ed Searcy
Driven. The word jumps off the page. Jesus is
driven into the wilderness. Jesus ... driven into
temptation. There's no doubt about it. It is the
same in every translation. Oh, according to
Matthew and to Luke Jesus is 'led' into the
wilderness ... but not here. Not in Mark's telling
of the story. No, Mark says that there is no
turning back for Jesus after the Jordan ... no
chance of avoiding the no-man's land across the
border. That's what the wilderness is, remember.
It is not a place of quiet meditation ... there is no
cabin in the woods where Jesus 'gets away from
it all'! The wilderness is full of danger ... home to
wild beasts ... a place of terror. Out there, out
beyond the safety of the Jordan, you might get
lost ... you might lose your faith ... and your life.
Here, in the heart of a modern city we can soon
forget how dangerous ... and how near ... the
wilderness is. Watching 'Super Natural British
Columbia' on those television ads makes it all
look so inviting. But, then, a young women gets
lost on Cypress Bowl ... and dies of hypothermia.
Lost ... in the wilderness. And not just over that
ridge of mountains, either. The wilderness is
much closer than that. Ask the student struggling
to survive the wild beasts of depression and
despair ... the beasts that claim too many victims,
victims who have gone searching for meaning and
purpose here ... in the wilderness. Or ask an
elder, a senior ... one who has lived long enough
to know more than most of us how close the
wilderness always is. They have been mauled by
sudden tragedy, starved by lingering grief, beaten
down by long dry spells of lovelessness and
loneliness. We may not like admitting it ... and
we sure don't care to advertise it ... but we know
full well that, on the other side of this font of
living water there often lies more arid wilderness
than green pastures and still waters. Maybe it is
good ... even right ... that Jesus is driven into the
wilderness. He, too, must enter the wilderness
and confront the wild beasts. For, if he comes
back alive ... if he endures the valley of the
shadow that lies out there ... then he will have
earned the right to speak with the authority of
experience. Driven into the wilderness by the
Spirit ... driven into danger, by God. He has no
choice. He must go.

Tempted. He is tempted out there in the
wilderness. Well, actually, a more accurate
translation of the Greek word 'peirazo' might be
'tested'. Jesus is not so much tempted to do
wrong as he is tested to endure. Tested. Jesus is
tested by Satan ... not a devil all dressed in red
with pitchfork in hand and flames licking at his
heels. No, Jesus is questioned by God's very own
prosecuting attorney ... the original 'devil's
advocate', so to speak. He asks all the hard
questions ... questions we know only too well.
Remember that famous chapter in Dostoyevsky
... or perhaps you didn't take Arts One and could
use a quick refresher. Here it is ... Brothers
Karamazov, volume one, part two, book five,
chapter five: 'The Grand Inquisitor'. That most
famous of scenes in western literature in which
Jesus himself is arrested and detained by the
Spanish Inquisition. Jesus, quesioned in his jail
cell by the accusing inquisitor out to prove him a
heretic. An inquisitor who belittles Jesus for so
foolishly rejecting Satan's urgings to accept
power and authority as his right. The church,
boasts the inquisitor, "has corrected your great
work" and built a great edifice precisely by
accepting the devil's terms. The church,
Dostoyevsky knows, achieves its power and
authority by making a deal with the devil. It uses
the measures of success - dollars and numbers
and influence - to judge its progress as an
institution. It forgets altogether the measures of
faithfulness - endurance and sacrifice and risk - to
judge its constancy as the living Body of Christ.
But there are other trials and temptations, too.
In the book 'The Last Temptation of Christ',
Nicos Kazantzakis suggests a different
temptation ... another test. Kazantzakis imagines
Jesus tempted by the lure of anonymity. He sees
Jesus longing for family ... for children ... and,
most especially, for no cross on the horizon.
Anonymity. No more rocking the boat. A life of
comfort and of ease. It sounds a little too familiar
for our liking. We know what it means to be
tested like this. God knows, we'd rather not get
too inolved ... rather sit quietly by and watch as
another carries the cross ... rather accept the title
'Anonymous'. Jesus is not alone in facing the
tempter - the tester - in the wilderness. We are
there, too. And not only in the forty days of
Lent. Lent is but a reminder of the lifelong
season which always confronts us with questions
that threaten to distort, and to destroy, our trust
in God. Life, like Lent, is a test, a trial, an ordeal
... and Jesus cannot escape the test.

Thank God, he is not alone. Thank heavens, he
is fed. Did you notice? According to Mark there
is no fasting for Jesus out there in the wilderness.
Did you hear it? "...and he was with the wild
beasts; and the angels waited on him". The
angels waited on him. Here we have been
imagining a terrifying, hostile, horrible journey
full of danger and risk ... but we have been
forgetting the waiters serving up their plates of
manna. Jesus is not alone in the wilderness. Nor
does he go hungry. This is a different Lenten
journey than we expected to discover. We were
ready for sackcloth and ashes, for fasting and
prayer ... but not for angelic waiters serving up a
heavenly banquet! The wilderness is not only the
place where Jesus confronts the greatest
challenge to his trust in God ... it is at the same
time the place where he discovers that he can live
out of trust in God. Remember Noah and the
ark. Forty days of trial. Forty days of waiting for
a sprig of hope in the beak of a dove. Forty days,
trusting in the promise of God. Remember the
people of Israel wandering in the wilderness of
Sinai. Forty years of trial. Forty years of waiting
for the Promised Land of milk and honey. Forty
years, trusting in the promise of God. Now Jesus
... living for forty days in the wilderness by the
grace of God. Do you see? The wilderness is not
only a place of great danger ... it is also the home
of great faith and hope. Out here in the
wilderness we come upon a table of food ... bread
and wine, served up by a company of angels. In
the midst of our great grief over loss ... or our
great despair at life ... or our great worry about
the earth and its people ... we discover an oasis of
hope. And when God's angels provide manna
out in this God forsaken wilderness ... well, then
it isn't God forsaken anymore, is it! No wonder
Jesus heads back across the Jordan telling anyone
who will listen that "the time has arrived ... God's
promise is near at hand, turn and trust the good
news". Can we do any other? Leaving the table
of reconciliation, going home from this taste of
the Holy in the midst of the wilderness, we carry
the news ... the news that God is near. As near as
the wilderness.