Spiritual Training Grounds

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” 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 1:1-13)

There are a lot of sermons on the different parts of this passage. For instance, God’s affirmation of Jesus as His Son; Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit; the message and mission of John the Baptist; Who was John the Baptist; John’s humility; the Holy Spirit descending onto Jesus like a dove (and what that means)…but as I read this passage this time, I couldn’t help but notice how uneducated the flow sounds (which is a good thing). I mean, it actually sounds like when somebody (I) explains an event, then realize that they (I) had forgotten to mention something important, so they (I) go back and mention it out of order. For example, verse 6: …everybody came from all around to hear John and be baptized by him” ‘…oh, and by the way, John wore…and ate…His message was…’ or verse 12: “The Holy Spirit led Jesus out into the wilderness.” Yet, He was already in the wilderness, as explained in verses 3-4. So Jesus stayed out in the wilderness for 40 days, or He remained in the wilderness and the Holy Spirit led Him deeper into it, or around throughout it to be tested by Satan.

This passage also reminded me this time of when I had first begun to hear Jesus’ voice, and the fact that the Holy Spirit would often lead me down different streets to and from work. Sometimes it would be dark and I had to decide on whether or not I would follow (I believe I always did, also). Instead of the wilderness, I was in downtown Chicago (under and behind buildings). Instead of wild animals, I had the homeless people. Also in both cases, such was the prelude to our ministries.

Please understand, I’m not comparing myself to Jesus, just to His training grounds. But going back to my post about why Jesus needed to be baptized, as Jesus was baptized, so are we. As Jesus was tested and led into the wilderness for training, so are we (although not always in that same order). And as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “When Jesus calls us to the cross, He bids us to ‘come and die’.” As with the cross, we too will be persecuted, mocked, hated, mistreated and maybe even led to our deaths, ministering and witnessing until our dying breaths.

Reflection:

  1. What do you suppose it was about John that attracted “the whole Judean countryside and people from all around Jerusalem” out to be baptized by him in the Jordan River?
  2. What’s your wilderness? How long do you normally stay there? How do you get through it?
  3. Discuss your boot-camp training for ministry (or the Christian life). Was it in the order of Jesus’ (as described here in Mark) or different?

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