On his way from the Baptism waters to the ministry he came to dispense, Jesus passed through the wilderness of temptation. It wasn’t his idea, In fact, Mark tells us that he was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. Something needful took place during the 40 days and nights he spent being tempted by Satan. This means that our imitation of Jesus will also send us into a place of desert and temptation. There’s no getting around it, the path to the Kingdom life passes from our Baptism identity through the wilderness of temptation. It’s a direct road.
In describing Jesus’ temptation, Mark is the Hemingway of the gospel writers; fast paced, sparse words, facts presented, details neglected. Thank goodness Matthew’s account gives the the details of what happened between Jesus and Satan in the desert. Because of his narrative we know the nature of Satan’s temptations, always questioning our identity, God’s power and God’s plan. Mark tells only the necessary facts, with no explanation: the amount of time he was there, that he was with tempted by Satan, was with the wild beasts and the angels waited on him.
What do we do with that?
The Holy Spirit leaves this telling sparse, so we can project our own experience with temptation into the story. We, too, are going to enter the wilderness, but ours will not be the specific barren landscape of Judea, instead our wilderness exists within the vastness of our hearts. We enter the wilderness every time we are tempted to doubt our identity of God’s beloved, disbelieve God’s power or distrust God’s good character.
Your heart is crowded with wild beasts; undomesticated, threatening, dangerous. Animals that freely roam, roaring, devouring, frightening you into doubting God. It is with these internal beasts you must wrestle. They represent the parts of your soul yet to be tamed by the love of God and trained to live for the love of God. These beasts must be faced, defeated and managed. Your temptation will be to avoid them, (which would cause you to live from fear and limit the love of God from reaching all of you); to pretend they aren’t there, (which would keep you in denial and cause your kingdom life to be shallow and narrow); make a spectacle of them, like putting them on display in the zoo, (which would hurt you, because although you think you have them under control, they are still wild and dangerous at heart and would hurt you if they had the chance. You’d have to live constantly on guard.)
The temptation is to think that God is not loving, powerful or intentional enough to strengthen you to tame these beasts. Believing that you remain captive, ineffective and full of fear. With God’s help, and with your agreement and cooperation, these beasts are able to be defeated. God sent angels to minister to Jesus. He’s sent you the Holy Spirit.
Will you join Jesus with the wild beasts and angels?