Today we begin an ongoing series of reflections on Mark’s gospel. Saddle up for a discipleship adventure!
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 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 desert,and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. (Mark 1:9-13)
The problem at the heart of the biblical narrative could be simply labelled “an identity crisis.” Ever since Adam the human race has been trying to figure out their true identity, and from that their true purpose on earth. The Israelites continually forget who and whose they are. And we follow in their footsteps daily.
Jesus is portrayed as the “second Adam” (Rom 5; 1 Cor 15) and the true, faithful Israelite throughout the New Testament. Here in Mark’s story Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness are meant to evoke both the 40 year period of the Israelites who forgot their identity and fell into temptation, as well as Adam and Eve in the garden surrounded by wild animals who also let temptation overcome them. In this episode, Jesus shows us the necessary pathway to and pattern for spiritual faithfulness.
The pattern is this: We first need to be reminded WHO WE ARE in order to withstand the snares of the evil one and all the temptations of the flesh.
Jesus hears the voice from heaven confirming his true identity as the beloved son of God, and then is led out into the desert for a period of testing and temptation. He is victorious over the evil one precisely because he is confident of who and whose he is. If you switch the order of this narrative and have Jesus tempted for forty days followed by a voice from heaven reminding him of his identity, and I submit you have torn apart a pattern that is of crucial importance for the people of God.
Our constant stumbling into sin and wandering off from God stems from spiritual amnesia and an identity crisis. We forget who and whose we are, and that spirals us into the desert land of misery and unfaithfulness. When we let things other than God define our identity, we are easy prey for Satan and all the other sins that would devour us like wild animals if God’s angels didn’t intervene and protect us.
On the other hand, if we constantly remind ourselves of our identity as God’s beloved children bought at a price and loved with an everlasting love, then when temptation and trials come our way, we can remain faithful and victorious by the power of the Spirit and God’s angelic attendants. So, let these words sink in for you once more today: