“And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”
Lent 2020 kicks off on Wednesday 26th February until Thursday 9th March. It’s a 40-day period (not counting Sundays) and is thought to have its origins in 4th century remembrance of Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness immediately following his baptism in the River Jordan, as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Lent is observed by many, though not all, church denominations, and aspects of it (especially the pancake bit!) are noted by those with no church connection or Christian faith. Traditionally it is a period of fasting which focuses on the themes of self-denial, self-discipline, repentance and deliverance from temptation.
According to Mark, as soon as Jesus’ baptism experience is over the Spirit of God drives Him out (or perhaps sends Him out is a better rendering) into the wilderness where He is tempted by Satan; the devil; the enemy of God. He lives rough for 40 days; He is attended to by angels which would be in keeping for someone who has just been identified as the Son of God.
But why was He tempted?
Doesn’t that seem strange? God, (albeit in human form), being tempted!?
I think Mark wants us to screw our faces up and question this event- and try to figure out the connection between Jesus’ identity and His destiny through events like this. Why was He tempted? Matthew and Luke’s Gospels give us a much fuller account of the temptation itself; revealing the schemes the devil employed to tempt Jesus and the means by which Jesus actually overcame those schemes. But Mark isn’t bothered so much about that level of detail.
I think that what Mark is getting at, in the succinctness of his record of Jesus in the wilderness – and the specific details which he does provide - is that Jesus was alone. Yes, there were wild animals. Yes, there were angels who took care of Him. Yet He was the only human who went through that experience. It was a lonely experience in that sense.
It had to be.
The point of the Gospel message is that Jesus’ destiny is tied up with fallen humanity’s need for forgiveness, and that He Himself is the only human able to fulfil that destiny. His 40-day wilderness experience serves as a metaphor for the ultimate, later event of the cross. Whereas Matthew’s Gospel emphasises Jesus’ overcoming the wilderness temptations and thus being qualified to represent us before God, Mark seems content to focus more on the lonely struggle element which He will develop further into His Gospel where He portrays Jesus as the suffering servant.
Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Messiah. But the way in which He fulfils His earthly ministry is anticipated His arrival; the earthly ministry of Christ involved the path of loneliness, sacrifice and suffering. And yet it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Isaiah had said it centuries before:
“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” (Isaiah 53:3)
As we move into, and through, this period of Lent, marvel at the lonely path which Christ Jesus willingly walked for all who would subsequently put their faith in Him. Offer up your worship as you take stock of His uniqueness: as God’s Son, as Messiah, and as Saviour of the World.