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Recalculating, Recalculating, Recalculating, / First Sunday in Lent

Mark 1:9–15

The Spirit immediately drove Him out into the wilderness.

When we’re on the wrong path, we need someone to tell us, and it’s a good thing we have Jesus!

Sooner or later, almost everyone experiences that uncomfortable feeling that, no matter how confident we were at the start of a journey, we become lost.

The feeling may come on gradually. Something doesn’t seem quite right. There’s this odd feeling we’re traveling the wrong way. The landmarks don’t look right. The signs are all wrong.

Or it may come as a jarring shock: we are way out of our reckoning. Translation? We are good, old-fashioned lost, lost, lost!

When that happens, we have to get back on the right track. And that may be easy, as easy as making a couple of quick turns, or it may mean having to backtrack for however long we have been going the wrong direction. Either way, there’s no use waiting. We’ve got to start getting “unlost.”

Or, as those little GPS units are fond of saying, “Recalculating, recalculating, recalculating ….”

Don’t we all, at some point, need a loved one, a friend or even that annoying acquaintance, who will tell us what we don’t want to hear? Something like, what were you thinking? The people who tell us we need a course correction may be individuals we love and admire. Or they may be people we consider adversaries, rivals or even enemies. But if they set us on the right track, we owe them hearty thanks, no matter how much we resent hearing the truth.

In this short passage from Mark, there are not one, but two spiritual forces that set Jesus on a major course correction. At least that’s one way of looking at this passage.

The four gospels all agree that for Jesus, His Baptism was a major turning point. The Father says to Him, You are My Son, the Beloved; with You I am well pleased. Imagine hearing that from a voice from heaven! How would you feel?

This is a high point! It’s so wonderful it makes me wonder: What if Jesus had chosen that moment to enter Jerusalem, to the adulation of the crowds. What if He jumped ahead to the Triumphant Entry into the Holy City? We’re told in the Gospels that there were those who wanted to make Him king! Why couldn’t He have been king? Wouldn’t He have been a great king? Would there have been a greater king?

As I said earlier, we all need someone to tell us we’re on the wrong path. Sometimes Jesus may be that someone. The temptation in the desert was to set Him on the right path, to show us that the road to kingship required that He be a suffering servant. For that was God’s will for this ministry. The way of Jesus was to be the way of the Cross. It seems at least possible, that, at this moment, Jesus had a choice. Or perhaps it would be better to say, a temptation.

You will more than likely say, that could never have happened, that Jesus could’ve only chosen to fulfill God’s will perfectly. But if His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is any indication, finding another way besides the cross crossed His mind on at least one occasion.

This is where the recalculating takes place, getting Jesus back on the right track. First of all, we read in Mark: and the Spirit immediately drove Him out into the wilderness. If Jesus had any thought of taking advantage of God’s good pleasure at His baptism, those thoughts were immediately erased.

Mark uses the term “immediately” on many occasions, and certainly in this case it shows how quickly everything turns. The Spirit didn’t gently lead Jesus into the desert. The Greek word here is ekballei and is used to mean “expel”, “ejection” “drove”, and it suggests He was tossed into the desert with force. It’s the same word that described the way the first martyr Stephen was tossed out of town before they threw stones at him. What a rude awakening! What a quick turn of events!

From the safety of the heavily populated region of Jerusalem, Jesus is cast into the wilderness, which was a place of danger. Water is scarce, the animals are dangerous, life is precarious and there are bandits, among the many other difficulties that await.

C.S. Lewis makes the point that it seems like God deliberately follows our experience of a high moment with a low moment, almost as if to test our obedience. Has that ever happened to you? And it is here that Jesus meets the other spiritual personage who forces Him to recalculate His route.

There are times in the scriptures where it’s clear that Satan is our ancient enemy. There are other places, such as in the book of Job, or in a scene described by the prophet Zechariah, where it almost seems that Satan is part of the paid staff of heaven, an Adversary, a Prosecuting Attorney, whose job it is to ask disturbing questions, to raise uncomfortable truths.

At this point, it is almost as if Satan is asking Jesus, Just what is this Jesus Project all about? What does it mean for God to take on flesh and become one of us? Will there be cheating? Does the Son of God really suffer? Is Jesus going to bail out of the struggle at the first sign of trouble?

It’s important to know this in advance. You’d better test everyone and make sure. During World War II, a group of conscientious objectors, anxious to do more in their service to the country, volunteered to be a part of a Starvation Experiment. As the war ground to a close, one doctor felt there needed to be more data about starving people to guide the Allied relief assistance to famine victims in Europe and Asia, so they could be properly restored to health. He tested the volunteers on many occasions, as they slowly wasted away to near skeletons and found in almost all cases their idealistic dedication to serving humanity meant they were prepared to suffer. They wouldn’t cheat, no matter what the temptation! Their willingness to serve as human guinea pigs provided invaluable data, not only about starvation, but also about eating disorders.

The temptation of Jesus proved at least one thing; Jesus was really prepared to suffer. There are 40 days of fasting, 40 days of testing. He’s not going to drop the experiment in salvation at the first sign of trouble. He’s not going to excuse Himself for a quick vacation in the middle to be restored to luxury.

Though the wilderness and the wild beasts are a symbol of danger, through Jesus’ sufferings they are transformed into the place where He meets angels. He’s not lost. He’s on the right track.

Our willingness to be tested, to suffer, can transform a tough school for a teacher into a place of blessing. A hospice care facility can become a haven of hope. A workplace can be transformed into an outpost of heaven.

It’s only after a trial and tribulation that Jesus can say, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news ….” Or, as we can translate it, the season is fulfilled! The time is up! The kingdom of God is near to us. The word “near” has two meanings, the kingdom is nearby, it’s all around us. And it’s on the way, it’s not fully realized yet, but it will be soon.

Jesus then calls us to repent and believe in the good news. We need to recalculate our route because we’re in danger of getting lost. The word for repentance means turning around our way of thinking, the way we’re looking, recalculating our route! Sometimes that’s easy, but if you’ve been traveling along a wrong, winding, mountain road, where there’s no alternate route, or discovered the path you want to take is under construction, it may be difficult to repent and return.

And sometimes the only path of return is the difficult road of trials and temptations. John Naas (1669-1741) preached the gospel of peace throughout Germany and Switzerland, before immigrating to America in 1733. According to the story, representatives of an elite Prussian regiment tried to force him to enlist because he was tall. Despite the fact he was tortured with thumbscrews and was hung by his arms, he refused, insisting he already had a captain, Prince Immanuel. His stubborn faithfulness led to his release.

Lent is a time for all of us to turn around. It’s a time for us to accept the fact that our road may lead to trials and temptations. God’s word is our road map in this journey, the life of Jesus our signposts. Don’t trust the world’s GPS, but be prepared to hear the word of God’s Spirit, whose voice we may hear, Recalculating, recalculating, recalculating…