Mark 1.

As John pulled Jesus up out of the water at His baptism, the Spirit of God came down on Him and a voice—the voice of God!!—said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). God was happy with the adult Jesus, with Who He had become in the thirty years of His life on earth.

Here’s a picture-perfect moment: Jesus dripping wet and blinking a little to clear the water from His eyes, the clouds parting and the sun shining through (that’s what I think “heaven being torn open” must have been), Jesus almost glowing in the fresh light and John the Baptist stepping back in awe. Jesus turns His face toward the light, and The Voice booms out.

Just picture it in your head…

But what happens next? As the sky closes back and Jesus’ beard begins to dry, it seems like Jesus should march out into the crowds, healing people and preaching powerfully.

That’s not what happens.

Transition #1: Into the Wilderness

In God’s economy, His pleasure with us doesn’t mean we get off the hook for the hard stuff. This is not a favorite-son-doesn’t-have-to-scrub-toilets scenario. Jesus doesn’t get a reward for making God happy. Check out Mark’s wording here.

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.  -Mark 1:12-13 (emphasis added)

Immediately (ESV and NASB) or at once (NIV), the same Spirit that had just descended onto Jesus drove him (ESV) into the wilderness. This was going to be the most difficult part of his time on earth except for the crucifixion. I imagine He got a weird look on His face, then He just walked up out of the river, past all the onlookers, and into the countryside. No time to prepare. No time to enjoy His most-favored status. What’s more, there was some force to this. (The AMP actually says forced.) Not that Jesus didn’t want to obey but that the urging was so strong it felt irresistible. The Spirit almost drug Jesus into that desolate, dangerous, diabolical place.

The Spirit almost drug
Jesus into that desolate,
dangerous, diabolical place.

Matthew says the angels only came at the end (4:11), so Jesus was alone. He had nothing to eat and nowhere to hide. That’s desolate. There were wild animals and the aforementioned lack of sustenance. That’s dangerous. And then, just when it couldn’t get any worse—when he was parched with thirst and literally starving, when He was at His very weakest—here comes Satan to tempt Him in three distinct and powerful ways. That’s diabolical.

I bet you’re like me, and you would love for God to be “well pleased” with you. You and I both look forward to that “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21) we hope to hear when we get to Heaven. (Want to digress here? Read my post, The Cake and the Icing.)

God’s pleasure with us doesn’t
predict our comfort level.

I can bet you’re also like me, and you really don’t want the “wilderness experience.” (I don’t even want a camping experience, so…) We need to realize, however, that God’s pleasure with us doesn’t predict our comfort level. It is precisely those with whom He is well pleased who are pulled into difficult times of testing. There’s a great purpose in it (our strengthening and/or refinement and His increased glory), but that fact helps little when you’re in the middle of it. (Another possible digression: But Lord, This Stinketh. Yeah, I’ve written about these things before.)

In these days of easy-going Christianity, is it not well to remind ourselves that it really does cost to be a man or woman whom God can use? One cannot obtain a Christlike character for nothing; one cannot do a Christlike work save at great price.  –Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret by Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor

Too many people are
surprised when they obey
then difficulties arise.

We should, therefore, expect difficulties to arise precisely when and because we experience the favor of God. I’m not trying to be fatalistic or pessimistic, and I’m not trying to create problems where there are none. I just think far too many people are surprised when they obediently respond to the Holy Spirit’s pulling, then instead of getting rewarded, difficulties arise. If it happened to Jesus, we should expect it to happen to us.

Transition #2: Into Ministry

Sometime after the forty-first day, when Jesus had returned to civilization, when He had rehydrated and recuperated, He began proclaiming the good news of God (Mark 1:14). He loved to talk about the Kingdom of God, didn’t He?

Recall the sequence of events here:

  1. Jesus got baptized.
  2. God was pleased.
  3. Jesus was tempted.
  4. Jesus started preaching.

God was pleased with Jesus’ heart
prior to anything Jesus did.

Did God express His happiness after Jesus did a bunch of things for Him? No. It wasn’t the successful resistance to temptation or the powerful, spot-on preaching that pleased God. He was already pleased before any of that happened. In fact, besides getting baptized, Jesus didn’t do anything. God was pleased with His heart—with Who He was—prior to anything He might do.

This is nice, but what’s it mean for us?

  1. We don’t have to meet a standard of behavior or go through a series of “qualifying rounds” before God likes us. Remember David, the shepherd boy who was chosen to be king? As Samuel stood in front of David’s good-looking brothers, God told him, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
  2. His pleasure empowers us. This isn’t in the Gospels, but I think the presence of the Holy Spirit on/in Jesus gave Him the strength to withstand Satan’s temptations and the wisdom to proclaim the Kingdom so boldly. He was a man, tempted as we are, yet He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). He always knew exactly what to say to the people in front of Him—friend or foe (e.g. John 3 and 4). Now we have that same Spirit and that same accompanying power!

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.  -John 14:16-17a

That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead…  -Ephesians 1:19-20

When we read between the lines, or at least between the paragraphs, of the Gospels, we discover God’s pattern at work in humanity. We can expect trials, even when we feel closest to God, but He will empower us to overcome them.

What can we learn from the transitions in Mark 1? Probably more than you think. (click to tweet)

Have you experienced that intimacy of God’s pleasure only to feel like you were thrown to the wolves the next moment? Did it surprise you? What advice would you give others who face similar circumstances? Let’s share our stories for His glory! Check out the comments below.

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