Standing at the Crossroads
(Mark 1: 9-15)
We’ve all been there at one time or another in our lives. We’ve stood at the crossroads where we’ve wrestled with which way we should go. We’ve prepared our whole lives for this experience or this day and we have a pretty good ideal what lies ahead. We know there is an easier way out. One that will spare us pain, humiliation and loss but we also know that the true path is the one we must take. No one would blame us if we took the easy way out, the path of least resistance. But there are those times when you just have to go into the wilderness and face your fears and innermost demons hoping that you will come out on the other side a stronger and better person for the experience.
I’ve often thought that about the decision Jesus had to make when he came to his crossroads. By all accounts, he grew up in a good home and received a proper education and was well on his way to becoming a good and respected man. The dream of every mother and father that their child would grow to be a responsible citizen, meet their life’s companion, support their family and provide them with plenty of grandchildren.
To me, our scripture for today is that crossroads for Jesus. He knew what lied ahead and he knew that if he took that next step there would be no turning back. He knew the weight of the world would be placed upon his shoulders and that, one day, people like you and me would look to him for guidance and comfort.
The Gospel of Mark was probably the first gospel to be written as the other three all reference Mark. John Mark, we are told, was not one of the original disciples but accompanied the Apostle Paul on his first missionary journey. It was written to the Christians in Rome somewhere between 55 and 65 A.D. and it begins right away with John the Baptist and the baptism on Jesus. As it was written to new Christians in Rome it was not necessary to get into all the Jewish history that we find in Matthew which was written for a primarily Jewish audience. Mark wants to get right to the point. What you really need to know.
We learn that Jesus had just come up from Nazareth of Galilee where John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordon River. When Jesus came up out of the water heaven split open and the Spirit, like a dove, came down upon him. And there was a voice from heaven that said: You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness. Have you ever thought about Jesus’ baptism? I know why I was baptized. I had a confession to make and sins that needed forgiving. If Jesus didn’t need forgiveness, why was he baptized? Fortunately, my study Bible gives several reasons. His baptism marked the beginning of his mission to bring the message of salvation to all people; it allowed him to show support for John the Baptist’s ministry; it allowed him to identify with our humanness and sin; and it gave us an example to follow.
Mark then tells us that Jesus was immediately taken out to the wilderness by the Spirit. There are several translations of this incident. My study Bible, an NIV, says that the Spirit sent him out into the desert where he remained for forty days. My Wesley Study Bible, Common English Bible, says that the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. Either way, it looks like Jesus had no say in the matter, or maybe he knew that he had no choice at this point. For more on the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness you need to read Matthew 4: 1-11 or Luke 4: 1-13. Suffice it to say, Jesus was alone, without shelter or food. He was alone with his thoughts with Satan coming at him from every angle trying to get him to stumble and fall. Jesus had to experience this so he could better understand us in our humanness but, I think, more importantly, he had to experience it so we could identify with him. To identify fully with human beings, Jesus had to endure Satan’s temptations. Although Jesus is God, he is also man. As fully human, he was not exempt from Satan’s attacks. Because Jesus faced temptations and overcame them, he can assist us in two important ways: 1) as an example of how to face temptation without sinning, and 2) as a helper who knows just what we need because he went through the same experience.
Jesus’ wilderness experience is very symbolic for us and weak and fallible human beings. The wilderness times in our lives is when we face our brokenness. We’ve fallen and we can’t get up on our own. We’ve lost our way and are facing unimaginable trials and temptations that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. During our time of testing we need help, we need a savior. The wilderness represents the desperation we face when we are backed into a corner. It’s those periods in our life or our state of mind when we feel lost, when we’re wandering without a clear direction and we are tempted by various attractive options that we know, in our souls, are wrong and, at times, deadly. There are those times in our lives when we knowingly have to head into the wilderness in order to achieve reconciliation, healing and wholeness. It is our first step towards recovery, towards righting ourselves. Often times, the hardest part for us is making the lifestyle change we know is in our best interests. Coming to the realization that there are just some things you can’t do anymore and there are people out there that you just cannot associate with for your own good. You are called to make a radical departure from what you had before, the creature comforts, the usual bad habits, the normal way of being that is acceptable in the secular world. The wilderness will force you to change. With the help of Jesus Christ, you will experience those small changes that will become part of a permanent lifestyle change. A change, a transformation, for the better. An unimaginable freedom from sin and guilt.
The sign that really brings us to faith is the power of God’s message to answer the cry of the heart. To the confused, God offers a mind enlightened by faith. To the depressed, God offers a reason for joy. To the lonely, God offers eternal companionship.
The good news is the knowledge that whatever sort of wilderness challenge we might have to face, we don’t have to do it alone. Jesus has gone on ahead of us. He understands how difficult it is to take those steps, to resist the temptation to take an easier route through our troubles, or detour around them completely if we can. He understands our temptations to bury our feelings, to hide our truths, to seek the path of least resistance. He understands because he has been there himself. He has been there, and he persevered.
Grace will find you in your wilderness and will deliver you.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, we are forever in your debt because of the sacrifice made by your son on the cross. The decision he made to take that step leading to him bearing the weight of the world for our sinful behavior is beyond human comprehension. We know that what he experienced on our behalf gives him a humanness to which we can relate. We know he understands our pain, our fears, our doubts and our desperation because of the suffering he endured for us in human form. It is because of his understanding and compassion that we know, when we stand at the crossroads and have to make that difficult decision, that we can do it with the confidence that your son, our brother, is right there with us. For this, all we can offer is our heartfelt thanks and undying love. In the name of your son, Jesus Christ, our savior, we pray, Amen.