Scripture: Mark 1:9-15
Adam is excited to begin a new chapter in his life. He was recently promoted in his job, has more responsibility as well as greater opportunities. He has just been given the opportunity to change the world as he knows it and he is ready to jump in.
As he starts this new endeavor he quickly realizes that he might have more trouble than he thought. The very next day everyone seemed to show up to his desk demanding his attention to fix their problem. The upper level managers demanded him to address the issues of productivity of his employees. The employees voiced their concerns about work conditions and unrealistic production goals. Everyone made it sound as if their issue if not addressed was going to cause the demise of the company. So many things were coming at Adam at once that he began to think that maybe he messed up, that maybe he wasn’t ready for this responsibility.
With every change in life new opportunities present themselves. These opportunities can be seen as challenges, problems, issues, thorns in our sides, or just about any other description. Opportunities are around us everywhere we look there are opportunities to make a difference. Yet we hold the power.
This passage opens our eyes to the life of Christ. We see a brief account of the life and relationships he may have had. He was there with John the great teacher on the Jordan who proclaimed that the kingdom of God was near, that repentance was necessary to come into that kingdom, and that no one was worthy and should be washed or cleansed from their unrighteousness. A powerful message. No one is worthy, not the most religious nor the most sinful. All needed to turn from their current path and adjust their course to reflect God’s goals. Jesus was there with John. Some would even say that Jesus spent time serving with John in his ministry. Although we do not have any indication that this happened, we do know that both of these men had knowledge of each other and their lives. There came a point where Jesus and His ministry opportunities took on a different course than that of the baptizer’s. Up to this point they walked the same path but now a new trail needed to be made. So Jesus in full view of everyone was baptised by John, publicly acknowledged as joining this aspect of religious teaching and then carried that with him to meet his destiny.
We could spend time debating the reasons and implications of this baptism because there are some interesting aspects to it, but I don’t think these arguments will encourage us at this time. What I will bring up is the issue of repentance. For the vast majority of us we understand this term as confessing our sins, but that isn’t the entire meaning, repentance and confession are actually two very different activities. To confess is to say something with our mouths. To repent is to change the course of action. It literally means to stop what we are doing and going the other direction. We look at Jesus and think what did he need to repent, but when we say this we are locked into the idea of repentance as confession of sins, Jesus did not sin he was and is the only perfect expression of humanity. He did however need repentance. For thirty years he lived his life one way. He had a career, most likely in the family business of carpentry or masonry. When he engaged in ministry he did it under the direction of others, not leading but playing a supportive role. He needed to repent, stop what he was doing, and go a different direction. The time had come for Him to leave the workshop and begin His ministry. He had to do this publicly with John. He had to show the community that he was expanding on the current understanding of faith, and bringing fullness to it.
The community saw this, they could record in their reports on that day a man named Jesus aligned himself with the kingdom teaching of the baptizer. Then he immediately went out to the wilderness. He was publicly acknowledged and then disappeared. For forty day he left the public eye to prepare for what was to come.
The number forty occurs often in the Hebrew history, and it usually precedes a great change in the expression of faith and culture. The flood was initiated by forty days of rain and God hit the restart button. Moses was on the mountain for forty days when receiving the law of God and Israel became a unified culture instead of just 12 tribes. Elijah spent forty days in a cave after publicly humiliating the queen and her false priests which was followed by a renewed vigour in the worship of the one true God. The nation of Israel spent forty years wondering the desert. The span of forty days or years can be seen as a preparatory time frame, or a time of purging. The nation needed forty years to gain a new generation of people devoted to the cause of God. Moses needed forty days of intense training in the application of the law. In many cases even today there is a term of 1 to 2 months of intense training for any job before they allow you to enter production or service without supervision. So Jesus goes out to prepare for this new course of action.
During this time of preparation, this time of fasting and prayer, he was tempted by Satan. The adversary or the slanderer was there trying to deter him from this mission, because if Jesus was allowed to proceed it would be the fall of the dark kingdom and the rise of the light.
I want to introduce you to a man named Anthony. Anthony was a man in the second generation or era of Christians so to speak, the first era of Christianity was marked by the persecution thousands of men and women willingly gave their lives to advance the kingdom of God. The second era was one of universal acceptance. With this universal acceptance a new or different challenge. How do you express your devotion to God in a world that embraces and accepts the Triune God. Anthony determined that the only way to express his devotion was to sell all he had and withdraw from society to the wilderness to devote his life to prayer, teaching and service. We can debate the aspects of this type of expression of faith but Anthony faced challenges unique to others. In his testimonies he describes having to struggle often with demons in the form of wild beasts sent to distract him from the path he was called. Anthony is seen as the founder or father of the monastics. Yet he faced struggles. He faced these struggles and was able to teach other how to overcome the advisory. He drew his strength from Jesus and His temptations. From Anthony many movements emerged many have become quite famous in the ministry and service they provide. I would almost say Anthony and the monastic movement is in the spiritual ancestry of the Friends movement. He faced struggles and through his experience we learn. Jesus faced temptation and through this we know that if we join the ways of Jesus we to can overcome our enemies.
Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness with the wild beasts and angels. He was about to change the course of history and right in the middle of it all was a battle between the spiritual forces. The wild beasts were there to feast on his flesh to kill the fulfillment of time, to prevent the rising of the kingdom of light. The angels as ministers of light were there to encourage and promote.
We each face struggles of these forms. When we confess and repent to follow the path of Christ it seems as if out of nowhere our life suddenly gets stressful. We want to follow Jesus, but this guy in front of us won’t drive the speed we want them to so we regress to our old self and our witness seems to loses its power. We want to follow Christ and serve and then suddenly our job situation changes and we no longer have the time. A wild beast just took a bite and the adversary strikes. We want to minister to a need and sometimes the doors open, tools and funds are suddenly available for us to use, the angels are ministering to the causes of light. Jesus faced struggles and temptations. Around every turn the situation changed and He again had to adapt to continue down the road. Jesus struggled every step of the way to bring hope and redemption to our lives. We have a God that understands what we are going through.
The struggle doesn’t necessarily mean we are going the wrong way. It may actually mean we are right where we need to be. The path, the journey is more important. Are we on the path with Christ or are we deterred by the wild beasts. We have great opportunities all around us to extend the kingdom of God, opportunities to bring hope, acceptance, encouragement, and redemption to many around us. But there are forces that oppose, there are wild beasts possessed by the goals of the advisory. How do we respond, how do we survive? By staying on the pathway of Christ. To listen to the light within us and to act accordingly. The beasts did not stop Jesus, the devil did not convince Him that the goal was unobtainable. The kingdom of God was at hand. The kingdom where God and humanity could once again live in peace and love was more important than anything else. No wild beast, demon, or the devil himself could keep Jesus from bringing about the redemption of the world. The kingdom is still at hand and those with Christ, who confess with their mouths that he is lord and king, those that see that their lives and actions often miss the mark and are willing to lay them down and turn from them, are the ones who live in that kingdom and they will live with the strength of God and the assistance of his angels to bring the influence of that kingdom to others. We who are with Christ are not alone we have a God who knows what it is like and friends to walk beside us, along the path.
Today as we enter this time of holy expectancy let us repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. Let us pursue his callings with the hope and assurance that he can see us through. Just as it was in the days of Christ and his apostles, just as it was with Anthony and his monks, with George Fox and the Friends of Christ, and just as it will be with Adam and all of us today in the current and future ages.