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“Into the Wilderness” (Mark 1:9-15)

February 27, 2015

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “wilderness”? You may think of the wilderness canyon in the Arizona area as an Arizona whitewater rafting trip through the Grand Canyon is considered one of the finest wilderness experiences in the world. This is a fun part of wilderness experience. But for most of us wilderness is a place of desert, or waterless place, or without vegetation. For some people wilderness is a time of pain, or failure, or illness, or doubt, or despair, or trial. That is not a fun part of wilderness experience. So most people don’t want to go into the wilderness, and they want to get out of the wilderness. But we have to go into the wilderness because it is part of everyone’s life. The question is not why we are going to the wilderness, but what we learn from the wilderness experience.

The gospel passage from Mark tells us Jesus’ experience of wilderness. Jesus went into the wilderness and tempted by Satan for forty days (Mark 1:13). Mark doesn’t explain why Satan tempted Jesus. Mark only briefly mentions that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness and Satan tempted him in the wilderness, whereas both Matthew and Luke describe the three-fold temptation in details. Today’s gospel passage from Mark uniquely shows us an interesting geographic movement of three events: (1) From Galilee to Jordan, (2) From Jordan to the wilderness, (3) From the wilderness to Galilee. Jesus came from Galilee to be baptized by John in Jordan (Mark 1:9). Then he went into the wilderness from Jordan to be tempted by Satan for forty days (Mark 1:13). Finally, he came back to Galilee from the wilderness to proclaim the good news of God (Mark 1:14). Jesus is not the same person after his baptism in Jordan and his temptation in the wilderness. Notice that he was baptized by John in Jordan and was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, but he himself began to proclaim the good news of God in Galilee.

The temptation in the wilderness along with the baptism is an inevitable course for Jesus to begin his public ministry. Wilderness was a school for Jesus. Maybe, wilderness is a place of testing for Jesus. This reminds me of the wilderness experience of the people of Israel. It is a school for them to learn how to live as free people. In this way, wilderness is a place of testing for them. There is a Jewish saying about the reason why the people of ancient Israel had to spend forty years wandering in the wilderness. It says, “It took four days to take the Jews out of Egypt. It took forty years to take Egypt out of the Jews.” They are not Pharaoh’s slaves any more, but they became God’s people through the wilderness experience.

In her Lenten message, Bishop Dyck (“Well of the God who Sees You”) tells us Hagar’s experience of wilderness from the book of Genesis (Genesis 16). For Hagar, the wilderness is a place where she encounters God’s presence and a time of blessing as God made a covenant with her in the wilderness saying, “I will go greatly multiply your offspring” (Gen 16:10). And God doesn’t leave Hagar alone in the wilderness. Though Hagar had to go back to Sarah but she is not the same person anymore. I found the Bishop’ message very powerful and relevant to the new understanding of the wilderness; the wilderness is a “well of the God who sees you.”

I have several wilderness experiences in my life. One of them is the time to complete two master degrees and a doctoral degree in the U.S. I went through a lot of difficulties, struggles, and money problems for ten years. But I am grateful that I went into that wilderness because I’m not the same person any more. I learned a very important life lesson that it always takes time to be a new person. So it is an exciting thing to go into the wilderness.

What is your own wilderness experience? What did you learn from it? I want to invite you to come to the wilderness school for forty days of Lent. Learn about yourself by self-examination and repentance! Learn about the world by prayer and fasting! Learn about God by reading and meditating on God’s holy word! Remember the truth God will be with you as you are taking the holy classes in the wilderness school! Indeed, wilderness is a place of encountering God and a time of blessings! Amen.

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