Today’s Lectionary reading illustrates the economy of Mark’s Gospel.
The baptism of Jesus is followed by:
- His affirmation as Son by God the Father.
- The ordeal and temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.
- The inauguration of his ministry.
The essentials of Jesus’ message are all summarized in just one verse (verse 15).
The simplicity of Mark is one of the reasons that many scholars believe it was written earlier than the others, on the theory that later retellings are usually elaborated upon over time.
The arc of this account leads from the heights of Jesus’ initiation into ministry through baptism, to the depths of his testing by Satan, to his mission as he announces that:
The time is fulfilled, and God’s Kingdom is at hand! Repent, and believe in the Good News.
God affirms the Sonship of Jesus; Satan tests it; and Jesus confirms his identity through his ministry.
This is a passage selected specifically for Lent, so we move quickly from the triumphant moment of affirmation in the baptism of Jesus to his temptation.
It is interesting that Mark says:
Immediately the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness.
This language implies that the ordeal in the wilderness for forty days is compatible with God’s plan for Jesus. Perhaps this experience is almost a kind of “boot camp” for Jesus, preparing him for the rigors of his ministry that await.
Although he has no human company in the wilderness, Jesus is never quite alone. The Spirit has driven him; Satan tempts him; he is with the wild beasts; and finally, seemingly when the ordeal is completed, the angels wait on him. The sense is that this is no ordinary man – he is in touch with supernatural as well as natural forces that surround him.
He also seems to begin his ministry as though on cue. Mark suggests that Jesus doesn’t start his ministry in Galilee until after John is arrested. A transition has been made. A baton has been passed. John has fulfilled his purpose in baptizing Jesus; now Jesus must inaugurate the kingdom of God.
And this is where Jesus begins to impact us:
The time is fulfilled
The word used for time is not chronos, which in Greek is a measure of chronological time, but kairos — the “decisive, critical moment.” Morever:
God’s kingdom is at hand!
The time is fulfilled because the reign of God has come near. The reign of God is near because the King has arrived! As a result of his presence, we are made aware of our need to respond appropriately:
Repent, and believe in the Good News.
As Lent begins, I am made aware that in the baptism and the temptation of Jesus I find my awareness of my sin, and my hope for salvation.
Jesus’ baptism reminds me that despite his inherent nature as the Son of God, he identifies with me in my sin. His holiness makes me aware of my unholiness and my need to repent. And in his victory over temptation, he makes me aware of his power over sin. Because his kingdom has drawn near, I can believe in the good news! Sin and Satan have already been defeated, at the very beginning of the story!
Lord, I do repent of my sin. I thank you for suffering on my behalf — the righteous for the unrighteous. Not only did you suffer on the cross on my behalf, but also in the battle with Satan in the wilderness and throughout your ministry. Your time has been fulfilled, your kingdom has drawn near, and I believe in your Good News! Amen.
"Baptism and Temptation of Christ" by Paolo Veronese is in the public domain.