Jesus Driven Out

With the Christmas season passed and a season like Lent quickly approaching, it seemed appropriate this week to turn to the next story in the Gospel accounts. For many of the authors, one of the first events in the life of Jesus recounted is the baptism and subsequent venture into the wilderness.

When I last preached during advent, I mentioned that each person walking this earth finds themselves in a place of exile- feeling far from home, isolated, and afraid. We looked at how the birth of Jesus provides rescue from this state as his incarnation (becoming human like us) demonstrates that we are seen and valued. His presence with us is evidence of this. One of the things I did not mention in as much detail though was the fact that this kind of valuing and love brought exile on Jesus himself. In order to demonstrate this love and enact this rescue, he would be forced to enter fully into our condition.

I was struck by this as I was reading the aforementioned story in Mark, preparing for a youth group lesson a week ago. It is a scene many of us are familiar with. Jesus goes to John in order to be baptized, and as he comes out of the water, the Heavens open and the father declares “this is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased”. I have to imagine this was significant for Jesus, because what was about to happen is painted as quite a dark moment in Mark that would test Jesus’s belief in that statement.

Read literally, Mark 1:13 states that Jesus is then “driven out” by the spirit in the wilderness. This is not the first time we have seen this language in our story. In Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve seize authority for themselves and plunge the world into chaos, the narrative ends with God driving them out of the Garden into the wilderness where they will live life apart from him. Using very intentional language, Mark suggests that Jesus has just experienced the same thing. He had not sinned like Adam had, yet he enters into the same fate that Adam did. Jesus spends the next 40 days alone, vulnerable, and suffering in the wilderness. Some theologians believe that this is when, in prayer and fasting, Jesus came to see the fullness of his mission, and the dark end that it was leading towards. Those 40 days represent all of the exile and isolation that we feel regularly. The darkness that we face in the wilderness of a fallen world. The story isn’t just some arbitrary event in Jesus’s life. It represents the fact that he became fully like one of us, willing to experience years of pain and rejection on our behalf. Saving us from exile involved experiencing that exile to the fullest, and I am continually struck by the depths of love that this demonstrates.

The fact that Jesus walks through pain and exile is profound in its own right, but it also means we get to watch as Jesus faces it as well. He enters this exile with the reassurance that he is loved by the father. His lifeline in years of painful ministry is to set aside time to walk away and remind himself of this as he prays and addresses God. In many ways the life of Jesus, the advent season we just passed, and all of the story of the Gospel is for us what that post-baptism declaration was for Jesus. As we continue in exile we have before us a reminder of the fact that we are deeply loved by God in Jesus, and as we soon enter the lent and Easter season, I hope you will make a practice of getting time alone with these stories and reminding your fellow Christians of them. They become a lifeline to us in our own wilderness wanderings, and a reminder that in a mysterious way, Jesus walks with us even as we await the coming of his kingdom in full.

Dan Vandzura