Mark 1 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.
In the summer of 2006 I was driving through the desert of the Sinai with friends. Hour after hour passed with mile after mile of the desperately hot, desperately dry, desperately barren moonscape that must be the best example of true wilderness there is. It is a place of desperation and waning hope. So, I find it curious that immediately after God’s most beautiful and direct affirmation of Jesus as his own Son, the scripture says that the Spirit of God drove Jesus into the wilderness. The other gospel writers use more gentle language for the experience by describing Jesus as “led” or “led up” into the wilderness. Certainly, these two descriptions don’t contradict each other, but Mark doesn’t pull any punches. Being driven carries the feeling of inescapability and compulsion. But why? Why would a loving Father drive his beloved child into a place of suffering and trial?
The idea of suffering is unpopular, to say the least. We marginalize the poor who suffer economically, we prefer to spend our time with those who achieve career and personal “success”, and we isolate the elderly in self-contained colonies, all to avoid being reminded of our own potential for and eventual weakness and suffering. The gospel view of suffering couldn’t be any different. Though we should never rush head long into suffering, Christians are encouraged to receive it, and take it as a display of God’s care for our holiness. God uses the wilderness times of our life to train us in holiness and prepare us for more fruitful service:
Hebrews 12:7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons…., but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Isn’t it curious that God drove Jesus into the wilderness right before he appeared on the scene to begin his public ministry? The suffering of the wilderness trains us, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, to turn to God in our need and in the midst of temptation. We learn how to lean, depend on, and cherish the presence, in-dwelling and supernatural encouragement of the God who has himself suffered.
In this Lenten season, are you finding yourself in what seems like the wilderness? Are you searching for a job, but finding nothing? Are you hoping for a marriage partner, but remaining single much longer than you had hoped? Are you struggling to juggle work and love your family well? Perhaps you care for children day after day and feel lonely and exhausted? Have you followed what you though was God’s call, only to see everything turn to dust? If this is you, know that this isn’t a sign of God’s absence. He has not abandoned you! Our God deeply desires to use this time to draw you closer, to share with you his own strength for your weakness and exhaustion. Jesus has walked in the wilderness before you, and He will care for you and tend you during even the most difficult times.
Amy Atchison lives in Langdon Park with her husband Bryan and two children, Cade and Nora.