By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
February 21, 2021
Mark 1:9–15 (ESV)
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” 12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
This past couple of weeks have been rough. It has been colder this past week than it has ever been during my son Albert’s life. I worked through the cold, and it seeped deep into my bones. It has affected people nearly over all North America. People in areas that rarely see snow, faced not just extended freezing temperatures, but also a lack of energy. Frozen pipes are found throughout south Texas, and this comes after many were required to rebuild after a hurricane. These struggles can cause, or more accurately they force us to look at things from a different perspective.
Throughout this past week I have heard stories of struggle and grace. I have listened to people complain, and I have also heard stories of amazing hospitality. Just last evening I read an article about a grocery delivery person that lost control of her vehicle while she was out delivering groceries to a family. Her vehicle slid down a hill and became stuck in the customer’s flower bed. They made attempts to move the car but realized that it was in vain. The delivery driver called AAA but after hours of waiting they realized that the truck would not be coming that night. She began weighing her options. She lived in a different city and was delivering groceries in this city for better pay. She considered getting a room in a hotel, but how would she get there. She sat in the car stuck in a flower bed, and the storm just kept coming and the temperatures kept dropping. As the evening came, the family she delivered the groceries too came out to her vehicle and asked her to join them for supper. She continued to try to get ahold of AAA and a hotel room to no avail. The family finally told her to stop trying to get a room because their spare bed would be better than anything she could find. So, she stayed. She said stayed with them not just one night but through the entire storm, for five days.
It is a wonderful story of hospitality. A new family of sorts was formed. Struggle can bring out the best and the worst in people. It can cause us to question what we really believe and it can also drive us to question those around us. The family in the article invited a stranger to live with them for five days, and I drove past several cars in a ditch without even bothering to ask if they needed help.
This is why I love today’s passage. Jesus made his public debut at around the age of thirty. He went out to the wilderness to be baptized by his cousin John. The other gospel accounts give a more detailed story about this event, but it is in all the accounts so it is important. In each account there was some sort of proclamation about who Jesus was, but oddly after such a public interaction Jesus did not immediately jump into the ministry.
In the world today we like to jump on opportunities as they present themselves. We can see this all around us, but one of my favorite examples is Dick Van Dykes character in Mary Poppins. What is Bert’s job? Well, when its sunny out he is a chalk artist, or a one-man band. When it begins to rain, he quickly becomes an umbrella salesman, when the rain stops, he is selling something to warm the body. He capitalizes on whatever presents itself. And that is the expectation in the world. When the pandemic began, every store rushed to get facemasks and cleaning supplies, and within the first months we had not only paper masks, but designer mask with specialized features and patterns. We do not let an opportunity go to waste.
Jesus did not work that way though. After his baptism, the spirit descended on him like a dove, and a voice from heaven spoke informing all those around that could hear, that Jesus was God’s beloved son, in whom God was well pleased. If something like that happened, we would immediately hire an agent to start booking venues to begin a speaking tour. We do that for almost anything, if a book starts to look like it is going to sell more than expected, the author goes on tour. If a sports team is making some impressive plays, the schedules are reconfigured so that a larger television audience can be reached. Jesus did not immediately go on tour. He eventually did tour Galilee but the first thing he did was go out into the wilderness for forty day.
Jesus went out into the wild for over a month. Mark tells us that the Spirit drove, or compelled him, to go out there. I want us to think about that for a moment. Jesus was compelled not to engage in ministry but to withdraw to pray.
What drives us? What do we feel compelled to do? For people in positions like mine, we often say things like I am called to be a pastor. That is another way of saying I am compelled to do it. There are times where I must write a sermon even if I will never give it. During some of my most stressful days, I gained comfort when I wrote sermons. When my grandmother passed away, I wrote a sermon, I would never be able to have spoken the words that I wrote, but I had to write. It was the only way that I could process the grief I was experiencing. I posted that sermon, but there are others that I wrote only for me. I do not even know if I save them on my computer, and I know that there are sermons written in notebooks that maybe James and Albert will find after I pass beyond the veil.
Jesus was compelled to go to an isolated place, and we know from his lifestyle that when he went into those places, he would pray. He prayed for forty days. And who would not if you knew what Jesus knew? He had lived for thirty years as a local construction worker. He had a place in the community, he had family and friends. He had a life, and He knew that he must not begin a journey that would eventually lead to his death. And he was compelled to pray. He had to pray.
This gives us a great insight into the character of God. What does God want the most from humanity? Does God want great cathedrals? Does God want global ministries? Does God want spectacular worship experiences? These things in themselves are not bad, because clearly God does what the best, because he commissioned the greatest artists from among the twelve tribes to craft the instruments of worship. But what God wants more than anything, is to talk with us, to have a relationship with us. We see this in the story of our first parents. God would walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. And then one day the humans did not show up, and God cried out for them. Where are you? More than anything God wants to talk with you. More than your tithes, more than sacrifice, God wants to spend time with you.
Jesus was compelled before his ministry to pray. This was Jesus’s priority. I often mention the holy rhythm of Jesus’s life. A rhythm of worship, prayer, and service. Right in the center of worship and service, the visual aspects of righteousness, is something intimate, prayer. Do we make this a priority?
It is hard to make space to pray. We must make a conscious effort to make the space, because if we do not, we will fill that space with other things and often those things are good. It is not wrong; it is even a good thing to provide an income through work. St. Paul when he wrote his letters even said that he was glad that he worked to support himself while he spread the Gospel so that the church would not have to be burdened to support him with the basic needs of survival. It is good and honorably to earn an income to provide for your basic needs. But can we work too much? Do we take the time off that we are allotted if we work for a company, or if we run our own business do, we make space to be away from work? We are encouraged to rest on occasion so that we do not fatigue our bodies, because when we begin to fatigue our bodies and increase our levels of stress the good of work begins to depreciate and suffering begins.
When I changed jobs recently, the first thing that I noticed was something physical. I have chronic headaches. I get headaches pretty much every day, and usually by the end of the day the pain is so great that I do not have an appetite, and all I want to do is sit in a dark room. I would say sleep but often when you have great pain rest does not come easy. I loved my job. I loved the people I worked with, but my body did not like it. When I changed jobs, I cut my hours down. And I had days where I did not have a headache. It was phenomenal.
Fatigue also leads to other things. When Jesus was out in the wilderness he was tempted. Jesus had stress. Jesus knew what he was going to face, and he knew the toll it would take on his body. Even though Jesus is God, he is also human. He feels pain as we do, and he understood the pain and sorrow his future held for himself and everyone he loved. And that stress is what compelled him to the wilderness to pray. But there are other forces at work as well. Forces that are driving us to do other things. Mark does not tell us how Jesus was tempted, while the other Gospel accounts do. Mark simply tells us that the forces of evil, or Satan, tempted him.
When we are fatigued our moral fortitude becomes weakened. We have less self-control, and those things in our lives that we have weakness toward begin sound more appealing. We have a stressful day at work, and there might be a bar on the way home. We begin to think it would not hurt anyone if I just stopped for one drink. We might even justify it in our mind saying things like, “Its ok, even Jesus turned water into wine.” But if we have a weakness in that area, one drink leads to another until what we thought might have been a harmless way of blowing off a little steam becomes an addiction. And when something becomes an addiction, we no longer have self-control, we are in bondage.
Jesus was tempted. He was tempted just as we are tempted. I find this comforting because I am always tempted. In many faith traditions the season of Lent, which began last Wednesday, is a time of fasting. The fast is a spiritual discipline that shows us our weakness. And in many faith traditions, the season of Lent, which began last Wednesday, is a time of fasting. The Friends tradition does not put a great deal of emphasis on fasting but it can be a great discipline for spiritual growth. When we fast, we say to ourselves that we will abstain from something for a period, and this abstinence should draw us closer to God. The fast reveals our weakness. It shows us how little self-control we have. When we purposely give up something, suddenly that become the very thing our mind focuses on. A few years ago, I participated in a fast at Lent. In my life I noticed that I was drinking a great deal of pop. I would drink multiple bottles a day, so I decided that I would fast from my favorite soft drink, Dr. Pepper. The first few days went well, but then I had a day where nothing was going the way I planned. And the first thing I wanted was to walk to the check lanes and purchase a Dr. Pepper. I was stressed, and I wanted a substance to help me cope. The first response was not to pray but get a soft drink. At that moment, my dependance on Dr. Pepper was just as spiritually devastation as anything else. I struggled during the fast, I prayed when I got the craving and I was praying a lot. And at the end of the fast, I did not rush to buy a case of Dr. Pepper, I abstained more often.
These fasts show us our vulnerability to temptations, and our attraction to the things that can cause us to sin against God. Even something as innocent as a soft drink can be sinful if used improperly. We might make it a discipline to fast on occasion but much of the time we do the opposite. Instead of abstaining we justify our actions.
I admire several people in history. I admire people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Karl Barth, and Ravi Zacharias. I think that these men are some of the greatest minds in history. Barth inspired the next generation of theology. King was the figurehead of the civil rights movement. And Zacharias always seemed to be able to answer tough questions with grace and truth. Each of these men had a dark side. Each of these men were adulterous. Each of these men justified their sin, because their good outweighed the bad. But their sin causes problems. These men faced temptation and they were weak. We cannot look at humanity to be our sources of truth. We all sin. We all sin. And we need to be better.
The sin of King nearly derailed the civil rights movement. And the sin of Zacharias has many today thinking their faith is a fraud because they trusted a man that was so sinful. Both men were relying on their own energy to carry them forward. They both traveled extensively, working themselves beyond what is healthy. King, Barth, and Zacharias all used their training in their field to justify their indiscretions. And it has caused harm, a great deal of harm. We must admit that they are sinners and point not to them but to the God that can heal and forgive.
Jesus was tempted, just as we are tempted. Some of the greatest men and women of faith are just as weak as us when it comes to temptations. And some will compound sins to cover other sins. What can we do to break this cycle? How can we move away from this double life and become of the same mind as Christ that Paul encourage us to be? We walk the path that Jesus walked. We become his disciples and take on his lifestyle.
Worship, Prayer, and service. If we do not keep this balanced, we will find ourselves weakened spiritually and we will justify all manner of sin. If we do not keep a balanced lifestyle, we in our desire to do good, will cause harm, because we are doing it in our own strength and not his.
As we enter open worship. I encourage us all to examine our lives, and our lifestyle. Are we justifying sin or are admitting to our weakness and crying out to God for help? And are we able to admit that we are weak and confess and repent? Jesus worshiped, prayed, and served. Prayer is central in that statement and it should be in our lives as well. Jesus shows us that it is in prayer that we find our strength to face the trials and temptation as we serve.