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  • Writer's picturePastor Brian Gordon

Wandering in the Wilderness

Let's hear together the Gospel as it comes to us from Mark, chapter 1, verses 9 to 15. 

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John and the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove, 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. After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God. The time has come, he said. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news. 

This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. You may be seated.

I will say as I stand here this morning, it's kind of a little bit surreal to be here. We're going to talk about Jesus call this morning and His journey out into the wilderness. 

I'll ask this morning how many of you consider yourself outdoors people or outdoorsy people? How many would prefer that the outdoors just stay outdoors? There's a few. I've always loved the opportunity to be outside and see new things, see new places and just to explore. 

On my first Sunday at Connection, I told the story of how, when I was at seminary, I went wandering. I went to Emory in Atlanta and I took a journey up into North Georgia. I think it was to close to Kennesaw Mountain and I just saw a trail and I started hiking. I went and I went. 

It was the afternoon and I didn't think about anything. I was just a single guy, had all the time in the world. I kept going and I thought, well, this is interesting. Over each hill looks one more opportunity to see something new, until I noticed it started getting a little bit dark and so I said, well, this might be a good time to turn around. I turned around and came back and they had well marked trails. But as I walked down I started hearing things in the woods. 

I don't know if it was my imagination or if it was something real, but I had my phone with me and I called home, in Mississippi. A lot of good that was going to do. But my mom answered the phone and I just told her. I said, just in case I go missing, this is where I am. 

Although I wasn't terribly scared of where I was at that moment, it was nice while I was walking, to hear that familiar voice, the voice that told me, just by hearing it, that it's okay. All of us, I think, have those or have had those voices in our life. When we hear that voice, we're like it's going to be okay. 

I can remember many years ago when I spent a year in England after seminary and I was away at Christmas and Granny and Granddaddy were at home with our big family meal and I called and she answered and I can remember just hearing her voice was a comfort. I was thousands of miles away but it was like I was there. 

As I think about those voices we hear, we know many of them. There was a day when we answered the phone we didn't know who was on the other end, but there are some voices that, no matter whether we knew who they were or not, those voices are a comfort to us. 

The scripture lesson this morning speaks to us of Jesus being baptized by John and the voice of God proclaiming in him that he was well pleased. And then a strange but key phrase comes. It says he was sent, or he was, depending on your translation, driven out into the wilderness. 

In our wilderness times, we need a wondrous God. So one of the big questions of this passage, at least for me, was you know why did Jesus need to be sent out into the wilderness? He had just had this wonderful affirmation of who he is and that he is God's Son. Why did he get sent out into the wilderness? And we'll kind of get to that in a moment, but we need to start at the beginning of where we read this morning. 

There's also a question about, it says that Jesus came to be baptized by John and, if you remember, john's baptism was a little bit different than that of Jesus in that John baptized with a baptism of repentance. 

So why would Jesus need to repent of anything? He was sinless, he was perfect. You know there may be several reasons why Jesus was brought out for this time. He saw John and if you remember the back story of John, that John knew who Jesus was even before he was born, do you remember when Mary and Elizabeth came together, that it says that the baby leapt in her womb. 

It was time. 

The time was coming for Jesus to really come into who he was called to be His God's Son and it's in line with all of Scripture. It goes back to Psalm 2 when God says you are my Son, I have begotten you, and when he says I am well pleased, it recalls the suffering servant in Isaiah.

All this may seem like something you can just pass on by in the story of Jesus' life, but do we need to? How important is this affirmation or approval as to who Jesus was going to become? Don’t we know enough from His birth story? But there is something that's incredibly important in this moment, when God calls His name as His beloved. 

How important is that parent-child relationship? And I would ask you, as you hear those words, when he says this is my Son and who I am well pleased, imagine Him calling your name, putting your name into that place, to hear God's approval on your life and your call that comes to you through Jesus as you begin to become the person he's called you to be. 

You know, science and studies and all sorts of things tell us that the love and affirmation we have from our parents helps set us on a good path in life. The words we speak, they are important and they set us on a strong foundation for our future. And you know the opposite of that is true also. If a child doesn't feel loved, if a child doesn't feel healthy attention from their parents, they act out in many different ways. And maybe there's some people here today that didn't feel that affirmation. They didn't hear “you're my dear child.” They didn't hear “you are my beloved,” or even just those simple words that “I love you.”

Jesus saw that His time had come and God's words were the stamp of approval on that decision, that moment.

When it says the dove descended, the heavens ripped open. He was a sign of a new world, a new coming and combination of heaven and earth, one that is not with an iron fist but one that comes with gentleness and with peace. 

You know, John, he was a stark contrast to that. He came and he boy, if he had anything, if he would criticize the rulers, he would criticize the politics, he would criticize the economics, he would criticize whatever he needed to. But in this moment, as the heavens ripped open, as that dove descended, it was unlike anything that had happened before. And Jesus was saying you know, my priorities are not going to be the priorities of this world. The rulers that are in place today are not my rulers. I'm not following their lead. I'm not a citizen of this world, but I'm the first citizen of the kingdom of God. 

So it's the end of an old world and the beginning of a new one. As he sees the heavens again torn open, a violent image. 

You know, sometimes in our own lives we have those moments, you know, when we see God's plan clearly and we know without a doubt that what we're doing is the right thing and what we're supposed to do. And then there's sometimes, when what we're called to live by faith and not by sight, that we might have to take a step without quite knowing where it's going to lead. 

But when we start from a place of love and grace and we have that as our foundation, as our beginning, it can make all the difference. And this is that place for Jesus. It's a high point in his life and ministry. 

I think back to beginnings. There's a special place for me at Camp Lake Stevens. 

Many here today may have been to Camp Lake Stevens, for as a child or as a youth or an adult. I remember going there with my dad when I was probably five years old- five, six years old and having the run of the grounds. I have pictures sipping on a bottle of Dr Pepper and I had a bow and arrow that me and the son of the director at that time we were running around doing whatever. 

And I came back for children's retreats and youth retreats and I can remember sitting at moments like they're like overflow. I think I was probably 15 or 16 and the worship songs that they sang and the speakers that came just were speaking into my heart and I knew, although I didn't know quite what to do with it yet, I knew God was drawing me close and I'm still learning to this day what all that means. And maybe you have those moments that you recall as God was calling you into a new life and a new way of being, where Jesus met you, where you were and changed your life. 

You have to have that beginning point and, as we see in the Scripture, Jesus' moments, you would have thought that this would have been a moment when he should be sent immediately out into doing the work of ministry, of doing the great and wondrous things, miracles instilling faith in his followers. But he was sent out into the wilderness, sent, driven, and it tells us the same spirit that came down upon him in his baptism was now sending him out. 

So why was Jesus needing to be sent out in this place? To be tempted, it says, by Satan. 

Now, mark isn't like the other Gospels in explaining what Jesus faced. Mark is kind of your bare bones. If you know your Scripture, if you've read the different Gospels, you know that Mark doesn't waste many words. 

If you look at Matthew, Jesus was tempted, Satan says will you make these stones become bread? And Jesus says one doesn't live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

And the devil took him up and put him on top of the temple and he tempted him to say jump off and let God deliver you. And Jesus says well, don't put God to the test. 

And then it says he took him on a high mountain and he tempted him with just being the ruler of all of this world. But all you have to do is worship me. And what does Jesus say? Get away, you shall only worship God, and him alone shall you serve. 

And it says then Satan left him and the angels attended him, and we see that also in the Gospel of Mark. The two main details he gives us are that he was with the wild beasts and the angels attended to him. 

Now we're kept a bit to our imaginations as what he means by this being with the wild beasts, but I kind of tend to look back and think about Isaiah when he says you know, the lion shall lay down with the lamb, but there will be a different kind of world, a different kind of peace, maybe signifying this new creation that God has brought, maybe a new garden of Eden, and how God is watching over him. 

It says he was, when we look at these three Gospels that attest to this, the 40 days that he was there. And I've tried to fast before, for sometimes I've gotten through it a couple of days, I can't imagine what 40. And it says he fasted for 40 days as he endured these temptations and those angels came to attend, attend to him. 

Another amazing thing that kind of I think gets overlooked is that as Jesus received this sending out, he didn't seek a way out. He didn't ask God for a special waiver. He said God, I'd rather not do that. Can't you find another way as he faced these temptations. 

What was Satan trying to do? And literally, if you go back, satan really means the adversary, you know the one that was coming against and he was trying to get Jesus to focus on human things and not divine things. 

So why did he need to go through that? It was preparing him for what was to come. 

It's kind of like an athlete who is training to become the best that they can be. Or if you want to have somebody who's got a great amount of potential to get better, do you put them against the let's say they're a let's do first, second and third string? If you have a second string player, do you put them against the third string to play all the time where they can beat them up and dominate. It might seem fun for them for a little time, but what makes them better is when they face a test. 

And as Jesus faced these tests, his faith muscles those things were growing, becoming stronger as he. There were many things he was going to have to face in the future. 

At a former church, I had a man who was a good, strong tennis coach. He raised a son who went on to be a Division I tennis player and he said when he was a teenager, a young teenager he would, he would find the best player he could to put him up against and he would let him just kick his butt, because he knew that he always had more to learn. He knew he always had more that he had to, had to do. 

And over the over the course of the last years, and in particular the last year, we've experienced things, wilderness things, that we likely didn't ever imagine, from from the worldwide pandemic in 2020 to to the splintering process in our denomination and and in local churches that kind of came to a head last year. And there were times that we've adapted to changes with with relative ease, and and there were times when we were angry and we were exasperated at having to go into that wilderness, because where would we rather be? 

We'd rather be at that high moment. We'd rather be at that moment like Jesus was at his, at his baptism, to where everything's normal and everything seems good and everything seems right with the church and with the world. And you know, in our families we remember days of old when everyone was well and everyone got along and every holiday was a great celebration of joy. 

But I know, during the last year or so, there were times when I cried out like the Psalmist in Psalm 13, how long, oh Lord? How long, oh Lord, will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 

No, I didn't believe that God had forgotten me, don't get me wrong, I didn't. But I did sure keep wondering how one thing after another that was just beyond my comprehension kept happening, one thing after another that had great impact on my life, that I had very little control of how it was going to turn out, except in the faith that God has always been good and that I trust in His steadfast love, as has promised. 

I kept reminding myself that faith is an integral part of our walk with Jesus and that I was being called to trust Him through the wilderness, through the valley or whatever it's called. God was saying to me you've preached it, now believe it, now live it. Now. 

I think it's in those times when things aren't going our way that we most learn to depend on the power and grace of God, and in those moments, god can do things that we couldn't have ever imagined. Those wilderness moments need a wondrous God. 

So we've seen this coming of age, this time of decision for Jesus. And as the scripture closes, it says today John is put in prison and he knows it's definitely the time when God is calling him into the fullness of who he is to be. The dove descends, the heavens are ripped open and the voice calls out this is my Son, in whom I am well pleased, and he's sent out into the wilderness. 

Now, maybe today, you find yourself in the wilderness. Maybe you're not, maybe you'll say I'm not, that's not where I am right now. But we're called to be followers, to be ready at the beginning of our spiritual journey. When we're called, we're called to be ready in the midst of life and health, and we're called to be ready in the midst of sickness and of death. 

The final verse today tells us three things. It says that the time has come. Maybe today is a day that God is calling you to make a decision. Maybe it's a decision to follow him for the first time. Maybe it's a decision to dive deeper into serving serving in the church or in your community. The time has come. 

It tells us the kingdom of God has come near, that it's not yet here, but it's coming near. It's one of those things that we can see it, we can maybe hear it, maybe we can even taste it. Maybe it's like a banquet or a church dinner when you were growing up and you were the preacher was going on a little bit too long and you could smell the food wafting in. The kingdom of God is coming near. It's oh so close, but not quite yet. 

As we wait, he says repent and believe the good news. Repenting means we turn around, we change our way when, faced with the wilderness we can turn to God or we can run. 

What is the trail that you will choose today, wherever you may be? Sometimes it's of your own choosing, sometimes it's beyond our control. We may hear things out around us, we may hear dangers that we don't feel capable of dealing with, but no matter how far into the wilderness we may be, we're never beyond the reach of God. 

So today I just want you to remember this: 

Remember that if you find yourself in the wilderness, that God is calling your name and he's saying you are my son, you are my daughter. Come home. You are my beloved and I want to get to know you better. 

Let us pray. Most gracious God. We thank you for the gift of life that you've given us through your son, Jesus and Lord we just pray, wherever we may find ourselves, whether we're on top of the mountain or whether we're in the wilderness or the deepest valley, that we may turn our faith and trust in you or to lead us into the future. You have called us into Lord. Thank you, lord, for who you are and for calling our name. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen. 

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