In the Wilderness

Sermon, 9.13.09"In the Wilderness" Rev. Erik Bonkovsky Mark 1:1-13

In this passage we see a distinct shift of attention to the wilderness by Mark.  Speaking of a prophet such as John the Baptist, previous prophets are brought to mind.  These "wild men" were out there just a little bit.  And John the Baptist's style was the same; he seemed to herald the coming of wilderness with his camel-hair shirt and breakfast of locusts and wild honey.  All of these wilderness clues would have meant one thing to the Jews: "Oh, he wants us to think about RESCUE."  Because it was in the wilderness that God saved his people.

This story of Jesus' baptism occurs at the beginning of his ministry.  Directly afterward, he goes into the wilderness.  This is a snapshot of what his entire ministry is about: facing down wilderness.  Going into the wilderness of sin and brokenness and bringing hope and peace.  Christ calmed storms and exorcised the wild demons from people.  In death, when he headed to the cross, there was a true moment of him entering the wilderness, of entering God's wrath and all that's evil in the earth -- so that he could bring peace to us.  He came in an epic battle of good vs. evil, war vs. peace, and he won.

Why does it matter?  Why does Mark start his story here?  Because we know about wilderness; we relate to it.  That's where we start.  That's what got us into these church doors.  Loneliness, disorientation, feeling threatened, being tempted.  As George Alexander Chadwick wrote, "Surely we may believe that He Who was tempted at all points like as we are, felt now the deadly chill which falls upon the soul from the shadow of our ruined earth."

This is why the happy, clappy Christianity that's sold in some places feels so hollow -- because we know it doesn't ring true.  Here are some ways in which Christ's experience with wilderness help him to relate to us:

  1. He is familiar with wilderness.  What we're going through isn't news to him.  As it says in Hebrews 2:14, he "partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death."  Because he suffered when tempted, he can help those who are tempted.  He's not just this guy in heaven giving out platitudes.  He came here and experienced it.
  2. He takes part in wilderness.  His experience here wasn't one of those idyllic nature excursions where he reached the top of a mountain and took a bit out of a Nature Valley bar.  He was hungry and thirsty, he was dirty and tired.  He faced down the devil, and did battle in the dark places.
  3. He has tamed the wilderness.  He was victorious!  He gained this victory on the cross -- a cross that was outside the city of Jerusalem, on a hill that was really a symbol of wilderness to the people.

Christ's baptism, or knowing to whom he belonged, is what allowed him to face down the wilderness.  God affirmed him by declaring "This is my son, in him I am well pleased."  When a child is lost in the woods or at the mall, what does he cry for?  Not a map, or GPS.  He wants his mommy.  Because the answer to wilderness is relationship.

This week, who will you listen to?  Threats from the wilderness, or this voice from heaven, saying "in him I am well pleased?"