Monday, July 16, 2007

John, Jesus, and the Wilderness: Mark 1

Mark 1:4-13

The wilderness breaks people. Over and over in the Old Testament, the wilderness is symbolic of those times when God’s people were at their lowest or where their relationship with God suffered its greatest blow. When Elijah reached the depths of his own depression and anxiety about his future, he put himself out to pasture – he goes to the wilderness to die. Over and over the prophets and psalmists warn God’s people against doing what their forefathers did when they rebelled in the wilderness. And the ultimate example of this theme: after their consistent rebellion during the exodus, God turned his people back into the wilderness until an entire generation was dead and gone. God’s people struggle in the wilderness, they rebel in the wilderness, they die in the wilderness.

But then there came a voice. This one came crying from the wilderness saying the Messiah was on his way. This voice – the voice of John the Baptist - set up his ministry in the middle of the wilderness. What this voice did was baptize people for the cleansing of their sins. And what is more, “All the country of Judah and Jerusalem” went out to the wilderness to be baptized (Mark 1:5).

John’s baptism was unique in its day. Instead of a baptism of initiation into a religion, it was a baptism of repentance for those who already belonged. John’s baptism is a baptism of discipleship. It is powerfully symbolic that John the Baptist drew God’s people out to the wilderness – the location of their greatest failure and rebellion – to be forgiven of their sins and have their hearts and minds turned back to God. The repentance is not just symbolic, it is obvious. John’s sermon was clear, “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2).

During this brief story of Mark’s, the scene turns from the masses lined up east of the Jordan to a single man. Jesus traveled to the wilderness to be baptized by John. Why was Jesus baptized? Even John knew who needed to baptize whom, but Jesus persisted (Matt. 3:14-15). Jesus obviously did not need to repent and turn back to God like the masses did, but he was baptized just like they were.

I think the bottom line is that Jesus was baptized because I need to be. He was baptized not for his sin but mine, not for his impending judgment, but mine. Even when I turn my heart and mind back to God, I will, soon enough, fail and need to be “baptized” again. Jesus has no such weaknesses and was baptized once and for all for my sins.

At his baptism, the Spirit of God descends and rests “in” Jesus and God’s voice completes the circle of Trinitarian activity. Those witnessing this event know God is fully and completely present in this Jesus. And then an interesting move. Instead of sending Jesus into Judah with the masses in tow, the Spirit has a different task for the Messiah.

“The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” (vs. 12)

The same Spirit that was part of the beauty and glory of the baptism is the driving force behind his forty days in the wilderness.

Mark wants us to know something about what is happening now that Jesus is here. John the Baptist came in the wilderness baptizing people for the cleansing of their sins, but even John knew it was just a washing of the outside. Then the Messiah is himself baptized in the wilderness, and driven even further into the desert to be tempted by the enemy – and ultimately, to defeat him. Jesus exited the wilderness victorious.

That thing that overwhelms me 100% of the time, that nature that is constantly at my side separating me from my God, has been defeated by the Messiah. In Christ, the wilderness no longer needs to break me.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

What an insight. I never thought of what the wilderness means. Thank you.

Ginger said...

Wonderful insight! Thank you for posting the blog. I will be back (this is my first time reading).

Phil Steiger said...

Thanks, all for your kind comments. It reminds me I need to keep up with this blog--it has meant a lot to me as well.

led2preach said...

Pleasant insight. The wilderness is a place of testing, trial, and perfecting. During those trials of our life God uses the Wilderness to remove the elements within us that prevent us from serving him wholly.

Anonymous said...

The wilderness depletes our abilities and requires dependence on God. It is also unfamiliar and commands faith or be destroyed in fear.

Anonymous said...

As someone who is now in the wilderness of her life, you have no idea what this means to me. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

Abigail said...

Thank you for this beautiful post. In Joyce Meyer's book, "Battlefield of the Mind" she devotes an entire section titled "Wilderness Mentality" which digs deep into "wrong" thinking and the ways in which we can change our thoughts to align with God's intent for us. It has been extremely helpful for me as I am currently finding my way OUT of the wilderness. I highly recommend checking it out.

Lauren said...

I don't enjoy the wilderness, or look forward to it, but I know what it can produce (or purge) in me. Thank you for reminding me what it meant for Jesus, and ultimately -- for us through Him. :-)

P.S. It's 4:30 AM and I couldn't sleep. I just found your blog for the first time, and have book marked it. I'll be back!

Sandra said...

Like Abigail, I too am currently going through Joyce Meyers, "Battlefield of the Mind" for my personal bible study, what insight she has to the different wilderness mentalities that we all have. This blog is confirmation in my heart that there definitely is a way out of the wilderness that I have been in for far too long. Thank you John, for your words. I realize Israel's mistake and see Christ's example of how to get through. Use GOD'S WORD to fight the enemy. God Bless!

Phil Steiger said...

Thanks again, everyone for your kind words. Sermons like these always impact me while I prepare and deliver, and I am glad they communicate to others as well!

Anonymous said...

The wilderness may be a place where we go to be broken of our sin, but more importantly it is a place where God desires to meet with us. Away from all the destractions of life. God does not take us to the wilderness to punish us, but to love us and show us His faithfullness, His grace, and His provision for a way out of the wilderness. If you find yourself in the wilderness, then it is time to be silent, and wait on the Lord, he is coming to meet you there.

Scot Beaird

Joybaby said...

That was a wonferful insight that it left me wanting more of Jesus's friendship.

Joybaby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

thank you so much for explaning that the word "wilderness" signifies..!
(this is my first reading)
:anupama, India

Gailedge said...

I heard a teaching about the Baptism of Christ, which made sense to me. Christ was not born into a Priestly Tribe. He was of the Tribe of Judah. In order for Him to be our Great High Priest, He had to have the mantel passed to Him by one in the lineage; John the Baptist. It makes sense to me, I hope it does to you as well.

Anonymous said...

so beautiful. I love this entry. I love this insight into one of my favorite Bible passages. This is the first time I have read your blog, but I will definately be back.

Anonymous said...

This was a great lesson. It's like one has already stated the wilderness in a sense should bring us closer to God, we should find ourselves more in need of Him during our time of trials. "If God takes you to it, He is the only One Who can bring you through it."
...With Honest Love...

KT4Him said...

In order to understand the wilderness you must understand the purpose behind Jesus' baptism. Yes, it was a beautiful example to us, but it was so much more. the baptism of Jesus was a picture of the Old Testament priesthood being transferred from father to son. there was a "cleansing" ceremony and the father would confirm the identity of the son as the next in the geneological line. John, the son of Zachariah, a priest, and Elizabeth who was of the lineage of Aaron, was most likely a true priest in the days of a corrupted priesthood. When Jesus comes to be baptized, the priesthood was being transferred from the order of Aaron to Melichizedek, as we read in the book of Hebrews. God the Father confirmed Jesus identity in His words, "This is my Beloved Son whom I love, with him I am well pleased." Matthew 3:17
At our baptism we are called sons of God and are "initiated" into the priesthood of believers.
The wilderness is more a time of making than breaking. It is hear we are honed and trained to listen to the voice of our Father to do nothing more or less that what He tells us. It is from the wilderness experience that we emerge ready for the mission that the Father has for us. Tested and tried and refined. We become less in the wilderness so that Jesus can become more.

Anonymous said...

This writing is truly insightful and can clarify many things in our pitiful lives if we remember tat Jesus was victorious over the wilderness, and that we can be, too, with His help.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this reflection, thank you for your obedience to the Lord. I also recieved from this, as long as one stay repented and prayed up, and stirs the Holy Spirit within, that one can live and survive in the wilderness, and maybe even change the atmoshpere.

Anonymous said...

A great insight. I always wondered why JESUS got baptized. It never came to my attention that HE did carry the sins of the world upon HIMSELF. HIS baptism wasn't for HIM it was for US!!!

Colt said...

Its really encourageing to know that God went to that extreme to show us how much He Loves us. This is truely inspiring for anyone that is just begining to know Jesus or someone that has been following Jesus for years and already knowing how much He loves us.
AMEN!
From Your Friends:
The Hamon Family
coltsidea@yahoo.com

anna said...

o um i love this site um i think more teens should go 2 it especially in hard times when they don't know were to go just to go right into God's arms and that we are welcome to it but i'm getting off subject well we do go into the wilderness because um well we leave God's protecttion and try to rough it on ur own and God's word says that he will protect us when we call on him. because no other name can save but the name of Jesus !

Anonymous said...

The is one thing the wilderness never broke the Israelites when they were in the wilderness for 40 years... it destroyed them.

jr said...

this is my first time on here as well and the passage really helps me to understand my own wilderness,thank u

CG said...

This site blessed me. I have been watching all the political shows, and I dare say it has taken some of the wind from my sails. I had been struggling to get through some sad spells.

Nevertheless, it is like a mini wilderness I have been in. This will be overcome by Gods grace...thank you for reminding me that the battle has been fought and the victory has been won. I can go now.

Lacey said...

I believe that Jesus went into the wilderness because he was guiding a league of sinners to witness infront of God (who created heaven and earth in 6 days)that the world was bigger than themselves. In the wilderness you have to hear, see, feel, taste everything that adam and eve had once incountered. It's a place of insignt to break your evil ways and repent for those sins in order to rebuild your spiritual foundation. In my opinion, the wilderness is a defining moment or event in your life where you let all pride and arrogance go to allow the spirit to work within your heart, mind and soul.

Shiju said...

Good I like this.. hope i will join all of you ..
thank you.

EN3 said...

Just to add on to what others are saying... the wilderness can symbolize something either good, or bad. Bad in the sense that that is where God's people were sent as punishment. Good in the sense that (and Jesus even did this) you could go into the wilderness to worship. You didn't have all of life's distractions around you. It was just you and God's wonderful creation! I'm an avid outdoorsman, so this blog really hit home for me. Keep on doing the Lord's work and God bless!

preacher44320 said...

Interesting, very interesting! Never looked at "wilderness" in that way. Very informative and enlightening.

Anonymous said...

Living in Arizona, I understand the meaning of the wilderness. The hardness, isolation, suffering and the harshness that is involved in living in such an environment transforms one's physical and spiritual reality.

In the wilderness you become aware of your weaknesses and limitations. This awareness moves the person from self reliance to an awareness and understanding of our dependency upon an external power(God) for nurturing and support.

A person alone cannot survive in isolation in the wilderness. Survival is dependent upon our partnership and grace with others. Without such support survival, personal and spiritual growth is not possible. In this process of wilderness transformation we come to understand the power and presence of God, and its movement within one's life.

The wilderness will can bring one closer to God, allowing a person to experience the bounty of the wilderness and the living presence of God's living grace in the harsh land.


The wilderness is a time of testing and growth, which changes one's awareness of God and ourselves. One cannot experience the wilderness and not remain unchanged.

tbljoe said...

Two comments suggested that Jesus' baptism was the transfering of the Aaronic priesthood to Jesus. I think that is not right.
I read in Heb.7:11 that Jesus was of a priesthood different from Aaron, Melchizedek.
"Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron?"

maxine said...

I love your comments. I noticed that the Israelites were dismissed to their wilderness because of lack of faith and disobedience. Jesus, on the other hand was led into his wilderness experience where he was set free from every fear and temptation satan could use against him in his ministry. Looks like we all got a date with the wilderness.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. I would like to ask a question. Was the temptation of Christ done as a symbolic example for us? As a Christian myself, I believe Jesus to be the father, son and holy ghost, (the trinity)and I believe he was aware of this. That being the case, how could Satan ever of tempted him? Everything Satan offered him and more was already his and he knew it. I mean could You be tempted by someone offering you what was already yours? Please give me you opinion. shackelfordhunter@yahoo.com