Mark moves quickly on from his description of the forerunner, John the Baptist, and gives us a shorthand description of the baptism of Jesus and his testing in the wilderness. In this passage we are introduced to Jesus the son of God, messiah, who stands in the place of God's failed son Israel.
v9. This verse parallels verse 5. John, the forerunner, calls out Israel to gather at the water's edge in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. The day of reckoning is come; the day of judgement is at hand. It was in leaving Egypt, through the waters of the Red sea, that the children of Israel met the living God at Mt. Sinai and where they were confirmed as God's unique people. From Nazareth in Galilee, a place of lawless Judaism, secularized, synchronized, comes a true Israelite. He heeds the call and comes to John by the river Jordan. Although he, of all those who came to John, had no need to undergo a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, he none-the-less faces God on behalf of a broken people. On behalf of the "lost" he undertakes a repentance acceptable to God. In the perfection of this one true Israelite there will grow a new Israel, gathered to him by grace through faith.
v10-11. The Exodus theme continues as the reader is given an insight into the divine confirmation of Jesus' unique sonship; he is the only faithful one, the true Israel, the messiah. As the people of Israel gathered before Mt. Sinai on that day when the heavens were rent and God spoke, so again the heavens are torn asunder and God speaks. Now, a new son is confirmed, a son faithful through and through. In Jesus, the new Israel, God's new community (represented by the dove) will be built in the power of God's Spirit. "Because you are my unique Son, I have chosen you for the task upon which you are about to enter", N.B. Stonehouse.
v12-13. The faithful son, the new Israel, is now thrown into the midst of a cosmic struggle between Satan and God. Jesus is driven into the wilderness and there, like Israel of old, is tested. Mark implies that Jesus stands the test, yet unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not say the test ends after the forty days. Nor does he give us any details, other than Jesus was "with the wild animals." The wilderness is Satan's realm, a place of horror, loneliness, where wild beasts roam. Jesus, the true Israel, must struggle through the darkness to the promised land. Yet, just as the angels ministered to Elijah during his forty days in the wilderness, so they minister to Jesus. For Mark, Jesus' wilderness struggle is but a foretaste of the coming three years which will involve an unending assault from demonic forces. As Jesus is sustained and affirmed in the wilderness, so he is sustained through the wilderness of his ministry. Thus is constituted the new Israel of God, a people who stand the test in Jesus.
Lent is a replay of Elijah's and Jesus' wilderness experience. It is all about repentance. On Ash Wednesday we hear the words "turn away from sin and rely on the grace of God." So, in the old English Collect we pray "Forgive the sins of all who are penitent; create and make in us new and contrite hearts." We must turn away from our own godless independent self-reliance, and we must turn to the living God in dependent reliance. Repentance involves turning away from self to Jesus. So, Lenten penance is all about refocusing on Jesus, of getting the weight of our life back on Jesus.
To help with this shift we have to focus on an element of our life that we don't often look at. God's creation is a wondrously beautiful thing, a grand experience. Yet, there is a wilderness to it. When things go wrong, sickness and worries abound, then the horror and loneliness of the wilderness is close to us. We sense the ravenous animals about us. It is for this reason that the ancient liturgical services for Ash Wednesday carry the words, "remember, O man, you are dust and to dust you will return", Gen.3:19. Oh yes, the touch of "father time." So, before we refocus our lives on Jesus we must first remind ourselves of the "old Adam" in us, face the darkness and loneliness of our sinful self. We have to return to the desert and feel Satan's touch.
It is then we can repent, turn to Jesus, rest on him again, look to him, rely on the one in whose perfect repentance we rest. In our repentance the angels will attend us, or as Jesus put it, "I will be with you always, even to the end of the age."
In light of our study, apply the Lenten sentences found in Psalm 91: 4, 15-16.