Under true stories of one’s first day at work on the Internet there is this story about the fellow who went to work for an insurance company. As part of their first day training they asked the young man to sell their product to them as best as he could. Well that was great because the young man was a born salesman. Immediately the man launched into a spiel on how important car insurance was and how easily it was to go wrong when one did not really check all the options or worse to know the options. He pointed out that this company was known for its integrity and how it would stand behind their customers. He waxed eloquent on how wonderful this company was before during and after a car accident had occurred. After he was finally finished he felt like he had really done an amazing job. But then his manager smiled gently and said, “You do know that we sell life insurance, right?” First days on a job can be tough.
In the Scriptures the ministry of Jesus begins at his baptism. And in our Gospel reading this morning in Mark 1 it is Jesus’ first day on the job. Right after his baptism he is driven out into the wilderness. And there he spends forty days. Jesus’ time in the wilderness for forty days is, in fact, our model for Lent.
Looking more closely at our Gospel lesson, Mark uses an interesting word that no other gospel writer uses to describe the process that brought Jesus into the wilderness. In the other gospels we read that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness; led is a fairly gentle verb. But Mark uses the word “drives.” We could translate it as expels or forces or even ejects by force! This same word is used also in the gospel of John when Jesus drives out the money changers in the temple; it is not a gentle verb. God is driving, practically shoving Jesus out into the wilderness.
Have you ever wondered why? Why does Jesus go out there into the wilderness? We find out why through what happened. Jesus was in the wilderness and he was tempted by Satan. Right away, as soon as Jesus begins his ministry, and in all the gospels, it begins with his baptism, he is sent out to be tempted by Satan. This often puzzles people. How was Jesus tempted by Satan? When we are tempted, we are lured or even urged to do something we ought not to do, right? And although we do not read about the specific temptations here, we learn from the other gospels that Jesus was urged by Satan to do something wrong. In the other gospels we read about the three temptations, but Jesus would not do them. He refused to do what was wrong.
But the Greek word which is translated as tempted can also be translated as tested. So we could also read this passage as saying Jesus was tested by Satan.
A test is done whenever we need to find out or prove something about a person or an object, right? We test cars to make sure that they will perform as we want them to. When I was a school teacher I would on a regular basis test my students. I did it not test them to make their lives miserable (although they might disagree with that statement) nor I did test them because I disliked them—no, I tested them to find out if they had learned what I was trying to teach them. I needed to know before we went on to something else. Now if I asked them “Do you need a test or do you really know this material?” they would say, “Oh yes, Mr. Wallace, we really know and we do not need to be tested,” but I would not be able to really depend upon their answers would I? No, they needed to be tested. So in the same way Jesus was tested by Satan to see how he would react. It was necessary to know if Jesus would crack under pressure. But the testing was not simply so that Satan would see if Jesus would do the wrong thing or if he would crack under pressure. It was so Jesus himself and God the Father and the whole company of heaven would see these things.
So what does that matter to us as followers of Jesus today on the first Sunday (weekend) of Lent? Let’s consider, how does God find out; and in fact, how do we find out what we are like; what we are really like? What are we like when the rubber hits the road? Do we know how we will respond when life gets tough? If we do not, how can we know? We could say, just like my students did, oh yes, I know the material, we can move on, but really? How do we know that we will love others like we are supposed to love them? How do we know we will be patient when we are supposed to be patient? How do we know we will be kind when we ought to be kind? How do we know we will have the courage to stand up for what is right when standing up for the right is not popular or convenient? How do we know we will still trust and love God when things fall apart around me?
How do we know? We find out the same way Jesus did. We find out through being tempted; we find out through being tested—when you are urged to do something wrong; when you are urged to respond wrongly—what happens? Do you in fact do the wrong thing or respond in the wrong way? When someone is rude to you or me, how do we react? Are we kind anyway or do we become rude in return? When we are in a hurry and someone is slowing us down, how do we respond? Are we patient or do we tend to get irritated? Here at church with our brothers and sisters in Christ, do we love them? Do we honestly care what happens to them and what is going on in their lives and try to help when we can? Do you even know what is going on with people around you? Do we go out of our way for each other? Do we have the courage to stand up for what is right? How do you and I respond when tempted and tested? You see being a Christian, being a follower of Jesus is not simply about what we say or about going to church. Those are certainly good and even necessary things, but in the same way that sitting in a chair in my classroom didn’t necessarily mean a student was learning anything, simply coming to church does not make you a Christian. Being a Christian is about who we are. As Christians we have committed ourselves to following our Lord Jesus and in so doing He changes us. Are you, are we being changed? If we are not being changed, it is because we are not following.
There was a Capital One commercial some years ago where Samuel Jackson turns to the camera and asks, “What is in your wallet?” As far as your spiritual life goes, it doesn’t really matter what is in your wallet. What really matters is what is in your soul. What is in you? Because what is in you and me is what comes out when we are tested. Sometimes that is good but sometimes, and well, sometimes it is not so good.
It is the first Sunday (weekend) of Lent. Let us spend some time considering who we are and how we react when we go through life’s trials. Let us pray that God helps us this Lenten season to follow Jesus better and be changed more so that what does come out of us is more like Jesus.