Monthly Archives: December 2011

Preparation 101

“The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.  And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.”   Mark 1.12-13

I grew up in the “woods” of north-central Arkansas.  We lived with acres upon acres of woodlands all around.  I remember at night how the insects and birds would compete with one another as if to see who was the loudest.  After school, I would often spend the remaining hours of daylight hiking through the woods taking pictures and enjoying the adventure of discovery.  It was not uncommon for me to see copperhead snakes enjoying the fall sun on rocks and reddish-brown scorpions scattering for cover under a fallen tree branch that I rolled over.

Looking back, I’m surprised that I was so often on my own.  After all, the woods were a dangerous place.  In this part of Arkansas we had poisonous snakes, black bears, cougars, wild boars and the occasional coyote.  What was I thinking to just go and wander off by myself in the woods—and without a cell phone (we didn’t have them back then!).

In today’s scripture passage, we see the Spirit of God leading Jesus into the “wilderness” in the backwoods of Judea.  Really, the term “wilderness” would better be translated ‘desert wastelands’.  Imagine hot temperatures during the day plunging to cold extremes at night.  Imagine outcasts, thieves, and bandits.  And then try to get some sleep while the dangerous creatures come out at night (lions, poisonous snakes, scorpions, jackals, etc).

Here’s the takeaway for you.

Sometimes, God will lead you into desert places as a form of preparation for the next chapter of service to Him.  Jesus was on the verge of beginning his ministry.  And so God leads him into a time of spiritual preparation like no other.  He is isolated from the safety of family, friends, and creature comforts—to be surrounded by a hostile environment with threatening creatures.

When we look at this episode, we can see several metaphors being played out.

First, like the nation of Israel, Jesus must go through his own desert experience of “wandering” before he is on task with God’s mission to Israel.  Just as Moses led the people of God through the desert, Jesus will sometimes lead you through a desert.  The desert is a place in which you are confronted with your own limitations.  You are stripped bare of what you have come to rely upon—even finding basic food and water to be in jeopardy.  In other words, God sometimes leads you to be stripped bare of all the things in this life that you rely upon if you are to really follow Christ.

Second, the prophet Isaiah spoke of a new day in which the wolf would dwell with the lamb and the lion would eat hay like the ox (see Isaiah 11.1-10).  This day would be ushered in by the Messiah.  In other words, he has the power to take hostile elements and tame them.  In the same way, when we follow Christ into our desert places, he can take the hostile elements in your life—and bring peace.  He does this not by human reason or power—but by his Spirit (and only by his Spirit—see Zechariah 4.6).  The key here for survival is to develop a life of humble praise.  Stay humble before God and others—and develop a lifestyle of thankfulness and praise (even for the little things).  When you are in a desert, and suddenly see a little flower in a rocky crag, you are thankful for its courageous beauty to bloom in such a place.  In the same way, bloom in your desert by accepting your limitations and resting in the plans that God has for you—even when you don’t understand.

Third, to follow Jesus, sometimes less is more.  Our lives have a tendency to get cluttered with activity and things.  But often the path to renewal is once again finding the simple joy of simply knowing Christ and resting in his love and forgiveness for you.  Period.  When that is your center, then as you move out into the world around you, you are operating from a mindset of peace and simplicity instead of sophistication and complexity (which requires enormous amounts of human energy to maintain).

The key is to embrace your desert places.  Ask the Lord to transform them.  Don’t run from them, but truly allow the Spirit of the Lord to work in you during those times, trusting that Jesus will never let go of you—just as the Father never let go of him.

Application Questions:

1.  Are you in a ‘desert place’ right now?  What is it?  What do you despise about it?  How can you surrender this time to the Lord instead of fighting against it?

2.  What is God trying to teach you during this desert-place experience?  What is He putting His finger upon in your life?  Can you identify those key areas?

3.  In a real desert the key to survival is finding shelter and having water.  How is your intake of God’s grace to you through reading the scriptures helping you?  Have you shared your struggle with other Christians so they can pray you through this time of trial and suffering?  Remember, Jesus was alone in his desert so you would never have to be.

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The Hidden Question in the Gospel of Mark

My first car was a 1973 VW Bug.  It was sky blue and I loved it.  It had a four speed (manual) transmission and could go anywhere.  Because it had rear wheel drive with the weight of the engine over the rear axle, you really could go off-road.  I drove it down muddy roads and through snow drifts without any problems.

My car had character.  When it rained your pant legs would get wet from the water splashing up through the cracks and holes in the floorboard (you could actually see the road!).  The heat was always on, and you had to loosen six screws just to change the oil.  The wheels were always squatting out, and to defrost the windows I had to use a rag.

On the highway if I floored it while going downhill I could push the speedometer past the “85 mph” limit—and the ride was smooth as glass.  I put a lot of money in that car—but God only knows how many brain cells I lost driving it.  The gas tank was in the front—so as you drove you would continually smell the fumes.

I don’t know what you drive, but every one of us is on the move.  We go to school, to work, to the store, to the doctor’s office, to church, to a friend’s house, etc.   We’re all busily moving here and there—but have you ever stopped to ask yourself where you’re really going?  Better yet, how does your faith in God give you direction?  How does your faith in Christ set the direction?

This is a “hidden question” Jesus is asking each of us in the Gospel of Mark.  It’s a very important question—one with eternal consequence.  The gospel writer Mark makes it simple for us by using the metaphor of being on a journey so we can all answer this question with honesty and authenticity.

In Mark 1.2, we see this question first appear.  The text says, “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way…”

The word in the original language (Koine Greek) for “way” is hodos.  It was often used to refer to a road or pathway.  But it also had a common usage to mean “the way home”.   In a spiritual sense, I think that’s the main sense of Mark’s usage of this word as we shall see below.

After 1.2, the next time this word appears is in 8.27 which reads, “And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi.  And on the way (hodos), he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’”

Here we see the disciples traveling with Jesus, and on the road he asks them a simple question.  Obviously, they weren’t “on the way home”—but then again, maybe they were… keep reading.

Skip forward in Mark to 9.33 and we see hodos appear again.  Mark writes, “And they came to Capernaum.  And when he (Jesus) was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way (hodos)?’  But they kept silent, for on the way (hodos), they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.”

The disciples were jockeying for position in the new kingdom that Jesus kept talking about.  They wanted to outdo one another—so they were arguing about who should be the Prime Minister, Vice President, etc.   I doubt anyone was arguing about the Janitorial position…

This word appears again in 10.32, “And they were on the road (hodos), going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them.  And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.”  What’s different about this verse?  Jesus isn’t walking with them—he’s actually walking ahead of them.  He’s leading the way—and they are fearful for where he is taking them (Jerusalem = the place of extreme danger for Jesus and his disciples).

Moving on, we see the final occurrence of hodos in 10.52.  In healing a blind beggar named “Bartimaeus”, Jesus says to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way (hodos).”

Here we find Jesus and his disciples on the outskirts of Jerusalem.  They were passing through Jericho, and Jesus took takes the time to heal a blind beggar.  Notice the subtle change in tone for Mark’s commentary contrasting this new believer in Christ with the timid disciples who seem to reluctantly follow Jesus on his mission.  Bartimaeus is commended for putting his faith completely in Jesus, which leads to action in following Jesus “on the way (hodos).”

If we read this with spiritual eyes, we see Bartimaeus now has true vision—and his new sight enables him to follow Jesus.  It doesn’t matter where Jesus is going.  It doesn’t matter what the costs of following will be (after all, Bartimaeus had already given up his only cloak to follow Christ in this story—a prized possession in the ancient world).  Bartimaeus is on his way home—because home is wherever Jesus is leading.

Did you catch that?  The disciples were always following Jesus, but they weren’t really home until they had abandoned their own understanding to follow Jesus completely by faith.  Ironically, their faith didn’t really come alive until after Jesus had risen and ascended to Heaven (and thus had become invisible to them).   But for Bartimaeus, for the first time in his life—he was home.

Notice the progression in Mark’s gospel of how faith comes home in Jesus.  Ancient prophets talked about it, the disciples wrestled in trying to understand it, but a blind man was able to experience it for himself because he put his faith completely in Jesus to follow him.  He may have grown up in Jericho his whole life—but now he’s finally coming home—because home is wherever Jesus is leading him to be.

Think of your faith as a car.  My old VW Bug was of no benefit to me unless I completely got into it, closed the door, and turned the key.  I couldn’t drive it partially.  I had to be committed.  I had to shut the door, turn the key, and drive.

In the same way, Jesus is asking you a hidden question in Mark’s gospel.  How committed to him are you?  Have you truly sat down, shut the door, and turned the key?  Or, are you trying to do your own thing and follow Jesus at the same time?  Try driving your car that way, and you’re asking for trouble.  Try following Jesus that way and you’ll end up frustrated, confused, and disenchanted.

Application Questions:

1.  If following Jesus is “the way home”, then how does this change what you previously thought was “the way home” for yourself?  How does the world try to offer a different “way home”?

2.  Who do you most identify with:  the disciples who struggled in their understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus?  Or the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, who seemed to put understanding aside in order to completely dedicate himself to Christ?

3.  Bartimaeus is never mentioned again in Scripture.  What do you think happened to him?  His name means “Son of Honor”.  For years he must’ve felt a ‘son of dishonor’—but then one touch of Jesus changes all that.  If you could receive just one touch from Jesus, what do you need?  Ask him now…

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