First Sunday of Lent
March 5, 2006
The Gospel: Mark 1:9-13
Sermon: "Forty Days is a Challenging Pattern"

The Rev. William D. Oldland

The Gospel:

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.

Mark 1:9-13

Forty Days is a Challenging Pattern

First Sunday of Lent - March 5, 2006

Many years ago there was a television show about animals. I guess it was kind of a precursor to today's Crocodile Hunter. The show was called "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom". The show was really quite fun and interesting. The show was filmed in many interesting places from Africa and Australia to the Florida Everglades. There was a great deal of information about the local flora and fauna. Of course, the major point of the show was the capture of some local animals for study at zoos and other institutions. The main character was a gentleman by the name of Marlin Perkins and he had a sidekick of sorts that we all knew as Jim. As I grew up watching the show, I loved to see what animals they were studying and sometimes capturing from week to week. I also noticed something peculiar. Whenever they were capturing an animal Marlin was always in a place of safety. For example, while capturing a large alligator, Marlin made the comment, "Jim helped capture the alligator while I stayed in the boat." If they were catching lions, Marlin was in the truck. Whenever something difficult was being done Marlin was out of the way, way out of the way. He was not getting near those dangerous animals. 

In the Gospel lesson today we have an interesting comment about wild animals. Jesus had come to John the Baptist. As he was baptized the Holy Spirit descended upon him. Then God spoke calling him the Beloved Son. Then the Spirit led him into the wilderness for forty days where he was tempted. There is no information about how he was tempted. We do know he was in the desert forty days tempted by Satan. In the desert there were wild animals and the angels of God attended him. Jesus didn't have Jim with him and there was no truck or boat for safety. 

What is Mark trying to tell us with these sparse comments? What message is he trying to convey? First of all, he is trying to tell us that Jesus was not immune to temptation. Jesus was anointed by John for his ministry. He would have the ability to do many things. He could use the power of God to teach and to heal. He could also use his power to manipulate and become powerful in worldly terms. Jesus had to decide what he was going to do. He had to decide in his full humanity and full divinity how he would use the power of God. According to the story as it is recorded he chose to follow God's will and not get caught in the worldly views of power and authority. 

John was also making some very clear references to the history of the nation of Israel. After Israel was brought out of slavery in Egypt, they came to God's holy mountain. Moses goes up the mountain to receive the law of God for the people. While he is on the mountain, the people lose heart and they create a golden idol. As a result, they also lose favor with God. They spend forty years in the desert. The generation that sinned against God dies out. It is their children and grandchildren who will enter the Promised Land. Even though they wander through the desert, they are protected by God. Yes, they have troubles, but God takes care of them. They are under God's protection during the entire forty years. 

When John refers to Jesus being in the desert for forty days it is a clear reference to Israel's forty years in the desert as well. Jesus has his time to decide what he will do. Will he be the beloved or will he follow his own path? Will he give into temptation or will he stand with God against the temptations of the world? It is difficult to imagine Jesus' situation. He is God's Son and yet he is in fully human form. Being fully human, he has the exact same temptations we have. He has the temptation to want honor and glory. He has the temptation to want to be noticed. He has the temptation to want a life of real easy living and luxury. Furthermore, he can have all of this with great ease. How tempting that must have been. Jesus has forty days to work through the understanding of who he is and what he can do. Then he has to decide whether to give into temptation or not. 

Mark also makes reference to Israel's history when he mentions the wild animals. Jesus is in the desert. There are wild animals in the desert during Jesus' day. Mark's comments imply that Jesus was protected from harm as Israel was protected as they were in the desert. Jesus was protected from any harm while he was on his forty day spiritual journey. So, Mark was making definitive ties between the history of Israel and the beginning of Jesus' ministry. 

What does all of this mean for us? We have recently begun the season of Lent. Like Jesus' forty days in the wilderness this season is also forty days. Jesus' journey was one of spiritual exploration and discovery. The season of Lent for us is a time, a specific time, for spiritual introspection and reflection. While Jesus was in the wilderness he was always in the presence of God. We, too, are in the presence of God during these forty days. We can take comfort in knowing that God will be with us on our journey. 

Over the years our world has become increasingly busy. It has become harder and harder to find the time for deep spiritual reflection. Sometimes we let the world encroach on our spiritual lives by allowing worldly concerns to take up our time with God. With great wisdom, the Church has set aside this time for us. It is a time when the services change. The music changes. The colors change. Sometimes we don't like the changes. Somehow, I don't believe the Israelites enjoyed wandering through the desert for forty years. Somehow, I don't believe that Jesus' temptation was a picnic. Spiritual change and transformation is not easy. It takes dedication, willingness, and an openness to God. The rest of this Lent is an opportunity for us. Will we take the opportunity or will we let it pass us by? God is with us and that is comforting. Choosing to use this time wisely is our challenge?

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