The gospel of Mark is a fast-paced story. Mark dives directly into the life of Jesus, with nary a genealogy or birth story in sight.
That doesn’t mean that we should fly through it, though. Sometimes, those of us who have been reading the Bible for quite awhile, can forget that. And you can miss some important stuff, if you don’t slow down enough to look.
I was reading in Mark, and something I read struck me for the first time. It’s in the very first chapter, verses 9-13:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
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.
Jesus is baptized, and God shows his pleasure with him (actually tore open the sky to do so, he was so anxious to show his pleasure!), and how he loves him, and the Spirit is resting on him and descends on him “like a dove”–gently, softly. God pronounces that this is his Son–Jesus, whom he loves completely, and with whom he is utterly delighted.
Then–do you notice?–immediately the Spirit drives him out into the wilderness. Drives him out. Immediately. To a time of deprivation, of temptation, of struggle with the enemy.
And not just for a little while, but for forty straight days of extreme difficulty: physically (hunger), emotionally (all alone out there), and spiritually (tempted by the devil himself).
Now, if it were me this was happening to, I would be tempted to say, “What’s going on? I thought you loved me, God! I thought you were pleased with me! And this is what I get?!”
Because, to tell the truth, isn’t that what I sometimes think?
When struggles and difficulty comes my way, I may say, “I don’t get it. Why is God doing this to me? Why are these things all going the wrong way (not the way I want them to)? Does he even care? Does he love me?”
(If I am trying to be slightly more mature, I may just think these in my head and not say them out loud.
Maybe I’m not more mature, but am just more worried about what other people would think of me if I did say it out loud.)
It’s all happening to Jesus. Here he is, Son of God, upon whom God just pronounced his love and favor, who has enjoyed intimate fellowship with the Father throughout all eternity—experiencing extreme hardship.
Not only that, but the Spirit drove him out there to the wilderness.
It wasn’t a mistake, wasn’t the wrong address.
God drove him there himself.
He was supposed to be there. He was supposed to go through those days of fasting, that time of temptation, that hardship and trial.
It was meant to be. It was a part of the Story.
It was for God’s glory.
And for our benefit.
One Bible translation puts it, “At once, this same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild.” This same Spirit who descended upon Jesus to show visibly to all who were there the full and lavish extent of God’s pleasure with him, this same Spirit led him, no, pushed him, into affliction and discomfort and loneliness and pain.
What can I learn from this?
Times of hardship and affliction are not indicative of God not caring or loving me. They weren’t indicative of that with Jesus, and they aren’t with me, either. Instead, they are a part of his plan, to make me more like him. To show me my need to repent. To strengthen my faith. To depend on him and his Word. To cling to him and his strength.
To build my faith.
To bring me through. To bring me to fall into his arms, and be ministered to.
To bring glory to the one who made me, and loves me, and delights in me.
This is what I can expect. (1 Peter 1: 6-9)
This is what I can hope for–
from this same Spirit.