Mark 1:12-15 (King James Version) 12And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness. 13And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him. 14Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.
Verse 12 starts with “and immediately.” Your Bible may translate this as “at once,” “quickly,” or “just then.” The Greek word that is translated “and immediately” is used about 47 times in the Gospel of Mark.1 “And immediately” is very characteristic of Mark’s style.2
If you were looking for a video in Beth Video in the first century holy lands, Mark would have been in the action section. Mark moves quickly from one event to another.3 The Gospel of Mark is an action-packed narrative,4 a rapid, machine-gun gospel. The stories of Jesus are spit out, with power and force.
According to the Word, the Spirit immediately drove Jesus into the desert. Your Bible may translate this “impelled.”5 Drove carries with it more of a sense of urgency than impelled. I prefer translations that use a word like drove, because I think that portrays the real passion of Christ. This is the same word that is used to describe the Messiah’s casting out demons.6 I don’t think the demons leave a person by just being impelled. Drove is more like it.
Into the wilderness Jesus went. We have all sorts of spiritual retreats. Some of them are held in God’s wilderness. In some cases, spiritual retreats are held in wonderful mountain or park settings. Those retreats are in romantic places. This was not a romantic spiritual getaway. To Jesus’ contemporaries, the desert was a gloomy place, a place of terror, where unclean beasts and the devil lived.7
Some people feel Jesus literally spent 40 days in the wilderness. That tends to be my position. The literal 40 day period parallels the children of Israel’s 40 year period in the desert.8 It could be a symbolic reference to Israel’s 40 year desert experience.9
Other people feel it was not literally 40 days. They base that on the fact that 40 days is a Hebrew phrase meaning a “considerable time.”10 Neither position changes the important ingredients of the passage or lessens what we can learn from this passage.
Mark does not record the specific desert temptations Jesus faced. In the Gospel of Mark, we see a continual struggle against Satan.11 The struggle started with temptations in the desert.12 Demon-possessed people seem to pop up regularly. Through the book of Mark, Jesus casts the demons out of numerous people.13 One demon-controlled man interrupted Jesus’ teaching.14
The Devil went beyond trying to stop Jesus’ teachings. He tried to prevent Jesus from being our sacrifice. Some people who were demon possessed tried to reveal Jesus’ true identity before it was the right time.15 Many people wanted the Messiah to set up an earthly kingdom. They wanted the Messiah to come as a political power. If they had seen Jesus was the Messiah, they may have tried to prevent Him from going to Calvary. The Devil even used a disciple, Peter, to try to convince Jesus not to suffer and die for humanity’s sins.16
Being tempted is not a sin. Jesus was blameless, without sin, and He was tempted. The Devil constantly bothered Jesus and Jesus flawlessly served the Lord. Having temptations, facing the Devil does not prevent you from serving God. Yielding to some temptations may, however, limit your service for the Lord.
Do you struggle with temptations? Feel under constant spiritual attack? You enjoy the mountaintop spiritual experience. And then comes a relentless spiritual attack. The Savior knows how you feel.17 The experience at Jesus’ baptism was awesome. Nothing short of spectacular. What a time for temptation to strike! Jesus faces the Devil, in the desert. For forty days too! You’d better believe the Savior understands what you are going through.
Only Jesus, the second Adam, was able to stand up to temptation and not fall. The first Adam failed. Noah managed to get through the flood and then fell - big time. Moses failed. He lead God’s people out of slavery, but he was not able to enter the promised land. And David was a failure,18 a dazzling failure.
And when we are in a spiritual struggle, it may seem like we are in the same situation Jesus was in - all alone, in the desert, surrounded by vicious animals. That feeling might be all too vivid and real for any gay, bisexual, or trans-identified person who was in the closet while attending a conservative Christian church. You’ve been there - feeling all alone, in the desert, sounded by the vicious. Jesus understands how what you’ve been through, and how you feel. But wait. Was Jesus alone?
The text reads says “the angels were ministering to Him.” The Lord ministered to the children of Israel when they were in the desert. Remember, the Lord provided food (manna - Exodus 16:31) and water (Exodus 17). Just like the children of Israel, Jesus was ministered to in the desert. Angels served Him.19 I realize you may not feel like God has cared for you. You may feel God deserted you. But God did not desert you. In the depths of your personal struggles and despair, the Lord provided for you. Angels served you.
Jesus, the Son of God, did not fight against the powers of darkness alone. All heaven was on His side. And heaven is on your side when you are tempted,20 because you are a son, a daughter of the King of Kings.
Just as Jesus was not left alone to face the temptations, we are not left alone either. God does not forsake us. Even when it seems like God is not near, the Lord is ministering to us. Divine reinforcements are ever present “in the hour of trial.”21
As when the children of Israel were in the desert, there were evil and good forces. The children of Israel rebelled in the desert. Their rebellion brought death and alienation. Compare that with Jesus. He obeyed God and that brought humanity eternal life. And it helped created a new Israel,22 an Israel made up of Jews and Gentiles, straights and queers, who believe Jesus is the Messiah.
Verse 15 tells us the kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God was at hand, because the King was present.23 Time had come for the Messiah to be revealed.24 And the beautiful part is that the kingdom of God was salvation through grace, just as the prophets foretold.25
The same verse tells us Jesus went around preaching the gospel. Gospel means good news. The good news from God, about God.26 That is how some of the oldest manuscripts read.27
First, it was a news of hope. Ancient humanity was rather pessimistic. With Jesus, hope came to the hopeless.28 Within the queer community is an element of spiritual pessimism. Into that atmosphere comes Jesus Christ, offering hope to those who have felt hopeless.
Hope came from God’s promise. The good news is news of the Lord’s promise. That promise is to bless all nations through Israel.29 The blessing was to extend salvation to non-Jewish people through Christ (Ephesians 3:6). The promise is wonderful. Most religions feel God is demanding. Because of Jesus Christ, we are able to see a God who is more willing to give than we are to ask.30
It was good news about the love of God.31 John 3:16 (King James Verison) For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
That good news can be summarized like this. God is not out to get you. Jesus does not need to convince God to love us. Calvary was not about Jesus’ attempt to appease a god who hated humanity. And Calvary definitely was not about Jesus trying to buy God’s love for God’s queer children. The Savior is not in the heavenly begging God to accept us. God loves us! The Father loved us so much He gave His only Son for us. Think about that mother. Think about that father. That takes love.
Knowing that gives us peace! God’s good news is news of peace.32 Paul refers to the gospel as the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15).
James Smith, who wrote a series of books outlining sermons for each chapter of the Bible, feels it was good news of the death and the resurrection of the Messiah that brought atonement for sin and acceptance by God.33 Some people argue Jesus’ death did not buy God’s acceptance, because God loved humanity from before the time the world was created. That is a good point. What Calvary really proves is the depth of God’s love for each person. In reality, Calvary was much more about proving God’s love for humanity than it was about getting God to accept humanity.
Good news about the Holy Spirit.34 The Holy Spirit is very good news. One of the Spirit’s roles is as a comforter. Any comforting power is very welcome. But the Spirit is more than just a comforter. The Spirit is the down payment or the guarantee of our salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14). An assurance of salvation is awesome news!
Probably most wonderful - good news is about immortality through Jesus Christ. The Messiah’s message is that you can be on the road to life, instead of the road to death.35
Good news about the coming Kingdom of God.36 When the Kingdom is fully here, Jesus will reign. Good news, because this Kingdom, unlike others, is unending. It is the eternal Kingdom prophesied of in Daniel Chapter 2 (verse 44).
With Jesus, the Kingdom was here, not completely fulfilled, but here. That was good news. Generations of waiting were over. No more waiting. The Kingdom of God was at hand, because the King, Jesus, was present.37 Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom and preached out the Kingdom.38
In some respects, the Kingdom is here, is at hand now, for each of us. When we accept Jesus as the Messiah and our Savior, the Spirit of God lives in us. You cannot find the King much nearer than when the Spirit of God is inside you, a part of your heart, soul, and being. And that Kingdom will be completely fulfilled when the Messiah returns.
Because the Kingdom was at hand, people were asked to repent and believe God’s good news centers around Christ. The Lord requires repentance and faith from those who wish to be God’s servants39 - then and now.
What is repentance? To repent is simply to change one’s mind. That is literally the meaning in Greek.40 Repentance is changing your mind about God.41 No longer is God to be feared. No longer do you fear God, because you are gay, bisexual, or trans-identified. The Lord is no longer considered to be your enemy. And the reality is God was never your enemy! God was never the enemy of any queer person.
Repentance is also changing your mind about Jesus.42 To believe good news, is to believe in Jesus.43 Instead of thinking Jesus was a weird man who lived in ancient times, a teacher, a moral person, or an example, Jesus becomes your Savior. He becomes important to you. And you live your life in service to Him.
Repentance is changing your mind about sin.44 Instead of enjoying sin, you come to dislike sin. Repenting is not hating the results of sin, the problems sin creates. Real repentance is not liking sin.45
Repenting does not mean you instantly stop sinning, never to be tempted again, fall, or make a mistake. Those who repent still fall, still make mistakes. But there is a big difference. The life of the non-repentant is oriented toward sin, toward enjoying sin, not toward God. When God becomes important in your life, sin starts to become less important. It no longer has top priority in your life.
Repentance is changing your mind about yourself.46 Instead of relying on yourself, your goodness, your deeds of mercy, your attempts to change your sexual orientation, or efforts to change your gender identification to buy God’s love, to buy salvation, you rely on the Savior. Repentance also means appreciating yourself as much as God does. Those who are repentant understand their God-given worth and value, and they start to love themselves.
Some people feel belief is OK, because it is not legalism. But somehow, they think repentance has a legalistic ring. Neither belief nor repentance are legalism. They are both acts of faith.47 Generally, when people find the only thing worthy of faith, God, they turn from shoddy substitutes.48
Repenting is not hard work. Repentance is something rather automatic. When you turn to face Jesus, you turn away from something else, and you turn your back on something. The act of turning toward Jesus and away from other things is repentance.49 Turning toward Jesus is not that difficult. When people look toward Jesus, they notice there are small changes in their behavior. We call that sanctification and it is how we live out the risen Christ.
We spent a lot of time discussing definitions. We looked at what the Kingdom of God, what the Gospel, and what repenting are. That is really basic stuff. The problem is that many people are afraid when they hear some sermons, because they do not understand the basics.
The next time you hear a sermon about Christ returning right away, there is no need to be afraid. The Kingdom of God is good news. You can be happy when you hear about it. And you can rejoice that God could return at any time.
There is no need to be afraid of the word repent. When you hear a call to repent, it only asking you to change your mind. That is not hard work.
So today, you can leave here without fear. You leave with peace, because you are Spirit driven. Because what awaits the Spirit driven, those who are in Christ, is good. And it starts easily, with the change of your mind.
Oh Lord, thank you for changing our minds, changing our minds about You, and changing our minds about ourselves.
You are awesome God, because you rule the universe. Thank you that the Son came to earth to bring us Your Kingdom.
We are looking forward to a time when there will be no pain, no suffering, no separation. Establish Your Kingdom in our hearts, our church, and our community.