“At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”
There is one way in which Mark’s account of what happens to Jesus just after His baptism catches me off-guard. “The Spirit” is credited with sending (other translations: driving, impelling, compelling, pushing) Jesus out into the desert. This is not the way we deal with the newly initiated, is it? We warn them that Satan will “really be after them” now that they have been baptized and so we try to protect them. We do our best to insulate them from the world. We pray that God would build a hedge around them.
But after Jesus is baptized the Spirit sends Him “out into to the desert.”
What happens next is not surprising, at least to me. Satan tempts Him.
Maybe I’m not surprised because I know how Satan comes after me when I am alone. Isolation breeds exposure and spiritual risk. Just as there is danger in seclusion, there is something to be said for the strength that comes with the territory of close fellowship. I am never more vulnerable than when I am alone (all the more reason I am startled that it was the Spirit who sent Jesus out into the desert).
Maybe I’m not surprised because it is Satan who is tempting Jesus in this passage. After all, that’s “his job.” Satan is our adversary. He lies. He does whatever it takes to tempt us. Sometimes I think we credit Satan with too much power and knowledge, bordering on a dualistic view of God with Satan being a “bad-God.” Other times I think we fail to acknowledge properly the adversarial role Satan plays in our lives. Make no mistake, Satan wants to destroy us.
For forty days Jesus battles Satan’s temptations. That’s no surprise, is it? We kind of expect that as we read the story. If Satan wants to destroy us, how much more must he have wanted to destroy Jesus? As Mark tells the Good News he records other times when Jesus clashed with Satan. Mark records how demons terrorized the people in whom they lived. He tells of Jesus driving out those demons. Again, this is no surprise. You expect demons to terrorize people and for Jesus to help people.
You expect Satan to be adversarial. You expect demons to terrorize. We see that coming from a mile away. But what is most unexpected as the story of Jesus unfolds is when religious leaders are revealed as agents of evil. We didn’t see that one coming, did we? And yet they are presented as adversarial to Jesus. The religious leaders terrorize people. Their teaching is rigid. Their Messianic expectations are misguided. Their reaction to Jesus is equal parts prejudice and jealousy.
Sad, isn’t it?
You expect Satan to be adversarial. But how sad when the religious leaders are adversarial! As sad as it is, we have the same unexpected agents of evil today as Jesus experienced. You expect demons to terrorize people. But how sad when the religious leaders terrorize people! How sad when religious leaders are so rigid they miss the point. How sad when religious leaders become completely lost as to the nature of the Messiah and His kingdom. How sad when religious leaders choose prejudice over truth. How sad when religious leaders allow jealousy to overcome them.
Have you ever met a religious leader who functioned as an agent of evil? Maybe the better question is, have you ever been a religious leader who functioned as an agent of evil?