“The Difference Is…”
I enjoy hearing persons new to the Christian faith talk about how their lives have changed…How they were caught-up in an unhealthy lifestyle and coming to faith in Jesus as their Savior changed all that. These new Christians are filled with joy as they tell of being freed from addictions, mental illnesses, or other serious problems. I usually think that eventually somewhere down the road reality will hit, and they will experience life’s trials once again.
Welcome to our forty-day journey with Jesus to the cross—otherwise known as Lent. After having Jesus revealed to us as God’s Son during Epiphany, we now turn our thoughts toward following Jesus as He makes His way to the cross. Lent is our time to look at ourselves and our need for this Savior we have learned about.
We’re back in the first chapter of Mark as we hear about the beginning days of Jesus’ ministry. From the high point of His baptism to His 40 days of testing, Mark moves quickly to get into the heart of the Gospel: Proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God.
Immediately after His baptism, what’s the first thing that happens to Jesus?
The Holy Spirit drove Him out into the wilderness. He went from a time of great joy and purpose to a dangerous place where Satan, wild animals, and lack of food and water were threatening Him.
It’s not what you’d picture for the Son of God. Mark’s use of the word ‘drove’ in describing the Holy Spirit’s actions tells a lot. Jesus might not have been expecting this, nor was this any place He wanted to be for His first days of ministry.
It’s been a long time ago now, but I can still vividly remember running into a retired pastor as I ran some errands in town. In the course of our conversation he said, “The best legacy you can leave a congregation is a building.” What I took away from that conversation was the idea that: A) it is important to leave a legacy; and B) a building will stand as a sort of monument to your time there.
This flew right in the face of everything I have believed throughout my ministry. A lifetime of ministry, and you’re best remembered by a building? As a young pastor this was not what I was expecting to hear, and it did not sit well with my seminary education.
But the conversation that day helped me figure out what WAS important to me and has provided a bit of a focus for what I didn’t want to become. [But then of course, I ended up here with 3 major building projects! I guess either God has a great sense of humor about us, or He doesn’t want pastors to take themselves too seriously! Or both!]
This chance encounter with the retired pastor has helped me think about what really makes life meaningful and gives our vocations a sense of purpose.
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, as He was just starting out, He faced temptations to turn away from the whole reason and purpose he came here in the first place.
Jesus went from the momentous experience of his baptism to the depths of human struggle. He faced temptations from Satan. He encountered dangerous wild beasts. He needed the angels to care for Him. Remember last week’s Transfiguration story? Jesus and the disciples could not remain on the mountain top. They had to go back down to their lives and their routines.
So the real meaning of the Christian life is what? It’s not that once we are Christians and are baptized children of God, that our lives will be one big happy experience after another. In fact, our faith may very well lead us into experiences that are difficult, even dangerous. Jesus may be the solution to the problems you have experienced in life so far, but our faith can also drive us into places we don’t necessarily want to be.
Our faith in Jesus can bring more temptations. Satan is losing his battle, but it seems that the closer we get to Jesus, the more Satan tries to tempt us and pull us away. Satan went after Jesus with all he had, but Jesus resisted. We’re not as strong as Jesus. We still succumb to temptation. We try to do good, but it doesn’t work out that way always. We try to live a healthy lifestyle, but we still get sick. Our intentions may be good, but we can easily get sidetracked.
That is sin. That is the power of Satan and evil in the world. We’re not immune simply because we are Christians.
But the power and joy of the Christian life is that we do not face these things alone. Certainly the Holy Spirit is with us constantly, and our sisters and brothers in Christ are here to walk with us and sustain us through difficult times.
We are reminded in this Gospel text that Jesus faced the temptations, trials, pains, and struggles that we face. He was pushed to the limits of His human abilities, yet Jesus did not fail. Jesus relied on God to see Him through. Hebrews 4:15 proclaims to us: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”
The Christian life is no less filled with struggle, danger, sin, temptation, or sorrow. This may cause you to wonder why then it is worthwhile to be a Christian? What is it that we get out of it?
And of course, that is the wrong question. It’s not what we get out of it, but what we put into it that matters. Living with Christ and for Christ gives us the joy of fellowship with God, Jesus, and other Christians as we live out our faith with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Hebrews 4:16 states, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
We have a Savior who has suffered, lived, and felt the joy of a life that we also live. He knows us. He knows what it is to be human—to be tested, tempted, and harassed by Satan. Yet He overcame that and is the one we rely on for strength, hope, forgiveness, and life. He alone is our grace.
This Savior teaches us that a worthwhile legacy is a life lived for Him and for others. It is a life filled with joy because of Jesus, and a life of strength and peace in following our Lord.