Mark 1:9-15 – Desert Spirituality

Welcome, friends! We begin the Christian season of Lent through recognizing that the desert is a very necessary part of resisting temptation and becoming strong in faith and patience. Click the videos below and let us together follow Jesus…

Mark 1:9-15, Pastor Tim
Advent Birmingham is a diverse group of musicians who lead worship services in song on Sundays at Cathedral Church of The Advent in Birmingham, Alabama. They also write and record modern hymns of their own and set ancient Christian hymns and songs to modern settings.

Sin is defeated. So, may we become the people we were always meant to be,
by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Temptation in the Desert

Christ in the Wilderness by Ivan Kramskoi, 1872

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.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:9-15, NIV)

We are in the season of Lent. Beginning with Ash Wednesday, we take a forty-day journey, leading to Holy Week and Easter. Jesus spent forty days in the desert being tempted by Satan. So, the church remembers this event with the season of Lent. This is the time of year in which Christians are to give awareness of the temptations we face on a regular basis. We intentionally seek to fast or give up something for six weeks so that we might see how much we attach ourselves to other things and rely on them, instead of trusting in God.

Just as it was important and significant for Jesus to be in the desert, it is necessary for us, as well. Jesus retraced the steps of his ancestors, the Israelites, who wandered in the desert for forty years. They had an extended time in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land because they needed to re-connect with God after having failed in their faith. Their trust had to be strengthened and developed before they could ever be ready to receive God’s promises.

Jesus faced down the devil and overcame temptation in the desert. The forty days were a necessary preparation for the upcoming three years of ministry that would culminate in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. But before any of that could happen, Jesus had to experience the desert.

We, like Jesus, need to have a desert spirituality. If we are not formed into followers of Jesus through learning to overcome temptation, then we are at risk to be shaped into followers of Satan. God desires to strengthen our faith. We, like Jesus, need to face down the devilish temptations which would impede our spiritual development.

In every sport, weightlifting has become a necessary part of athletic training. Athletes now know their muscles must be properly developed for their respective sport. Through weight training the muscle fibers are broken down with stress. Then, with proper hydration, nutrition, and rest, the muscles are re-built as better, stronger, and more agile. 

Christ in the Desert by Julie Lonneman

As Christians, the desert becomes the gymnasium where we are broken down through the stress of temptation so that we might become spiritually stronger in our faith. Without this kind of spiritual training, we become vulnerable to satanic accusations and become easy targets to demonic seduction.

After the baptism of Jesus, the Spirit “sent” him into the desert. The word is perhaps better translated as “thrown” or “hurled.”  It is an extraordinarily strong word conveying that the Spirit flung Jesus out into the desert.

Being tossed into the desert demonstrates how important spending time there was for Jesus. It was in the desert he learned to resist temptation in his ministry. There was real danger in the desert, wild animals, and vulnerability to the elements. Yet, put in that situation and having come through it, Jesus was able to deal with the crafty pursuits of Satan to distract him from his mission. 

Throughout the Gospel of Mark, after tossing demons out of people, Jesus would tell the unclean spirits not to tell anyone who he was. Part of what was happening is that Satan wanted to tempt Jesus to gain fame and power through popularity and accolades. And that was not the way of Jesus. Our Lord was not going to bring in the kingdom of God through the usual avenues of careful marketing and brand recognition.

Another practice Jesus kept up throughout his ministry was to seek places for solitude and prayer. The needs Jesus daily saw and dealt with were large and vast and never ending. Jesus resisted the temptation to continually work without any rest or guidance in prayer. It was through solitude and prayer that Jesus connected with his Father and would move from place to place traveling and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.  Jesus never gave in to the temptation to settle in one place and build a petty kingdom of his own, apart from the Father.

As Jesus went about the countryside telling people to repent and believe the good news, he often spoke in parables designed to encourage thought and reflection. He did not succumb to the temptation to always be black and white about everything, giving just the bottom line of his teaching to people. 

Jesus did not teach to get immediate results or to let people know which side of the fence he occupied concerning the issues of the day. Instead, Christ understood his business – a ministry of building something permanent that would far outlast his mere three years of ministry. Because of the desert, and through his Father’s affirmation, Jesus lived a unique three years on this earth that has never been equaled before or since.

Some years ago, I went on a leadership retreat in the Canadian wilderness.  We were so far out in the sticks that we needed special first aid training before leaving because if someone got severely injured it would be hours before any medical attention could be received. There was no cell phone service, no towns, no anything except mile after square mile of wilderness. We had to be continually vigilant to not attract bears. The wilderness can be a dangerous place. On one of the days in that week, we were each dropped off on our own personal islands for an entire day, alone. Being face to face with yourself can be hard to deal with, which is what a desert experience does – it exposes the idols of our hearts and the ways in which we are tempted.

A person need not be in the Canadian wilderness or in a real desert to experience the effects of desert life. The Holy Spirit has a way of throwing us into the desert through changes of circumstances so that we will flex our spiritual muscles to get into spiritual shape.

The top three temptations of people today are worry, procrastination, and gossip. So, how do we face down those temptations (and others) and retrace our steps back to the path of God?  Here are some lessons I have learned in my own wilderness experiences through God’s Word:

  • Know your weaknesses. Know yourself. Know the temptations of Satan. The three temptations just mentioned all come from a tendency toward perfectionism. We worry about the future and not saying or doing something perfectly. We procrastinate saying or doing things for fear of screwing up and not being perfect. And we gossip to others about their faults and weaknesses because it maintains the illusion that our perfectionism is intact, at least as compared to others. However, perfectionism is slavery. 

We have freedom now because Christ made us free. So, stand strong in that freedom. Do not go back into slavery again. (Galatians 5:1, ERV)

  • Understand the importance of timing.  When are you at your weakest, at your most vulnerable time? What triggers you to sin?  We know that when our kids and grandkids act up, we first wonder if they are tired, hungry, or have some other need. It is the same with us. Carrying a massive sleep debt, skipping meals, or eating poorly because we are constantly in a hurry will set us up for temptation.

Be clearheaded. Keep alert. Your accuser, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8, CEB)

  • Look to God and others.  Do not rely solely on your own willpower or think you ought to resist temptation all by yourself, all the time. Even Jesus looked both to his Father and his disciples. During a time of intense stress, Jesus said:

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:38-41, NIV)

  • Have a plan. Flying by the seat of your pants will not always work. One of the major ways I personally resist temptation is by having a daily plan of worshiping God, praying, and reading Scripture at set times throughout the day.

A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences. (Proverbs 22:3, NLT)

  • Overcome evil with good. If we apply this to the top three temptations people face, that means the worrier will love his/her enemies and pray for those who persecute. It means the procrastinator will take intentional steps of faith and risk, being real and vulnerable with others through accountable relationships. It means the gossip will seek to speak words of encouragement that build others up.

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21, NRSV)

  • Realize you are never alone.  Angels attended Jesus. Even the Son of God was never on his own.  Whatever you are facing is likely not unique to you. Others face similar struggles. Our brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of problems when they seek to walk with Christ.

Let the desert shape and strengthen your faith. If the Holy Spirit has thrown you into a dry place, learn all you can about resisting temptation so that you can come out the other end a stronger, more faithful follower of Jesus Christ. 

Mark 9:2-9 – The Transfiguration of Jesus

Welcome, friends! On this Transfiguration Sunday for Christians everywhere around the world, let us celebrate the good changes which come from our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our ultimate Deliverer and Revivalist to new hope and new life. Click the videos below to worship Christ and listen to Jesus…

Mark 9:2-9, Pastor Tim Ehrhardt
“Transfiguration” by Hillsong Worship. From the album “Open Heaven / River Wild”. Written by Scott Ligertwood, Aodhan King, Brooke Ligertwood, and Taya Smith. Worship leader is Taya Smith.

Not all is as it seems. There is glory hidden in everything, waiting to be revealed to the eyes of those who believe, beyond what seems inevitable, who do not want to live in the status quo but in the promises of God.

Hold onto this vision as we turn towards Lent and walk the more difficult path. There is yet a greater glory still to be revealed. Go in peace. Go in hope. Go in love, to serve the Lord Jesus, who is love incarnate. Amen.

The Transfiguration of Christ

Transfiguration of Jesus by Macedonian artist Armando Alemdar

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. (Mark 9:2-9, NIV)

It is quite possible that in reading this account of Christ’s transfiguration (or metamorphosis) that this all seems very strange, even confusing.  Maybe you just have no categories of thought to explain such an encounter.

In a Peanuts cartoon Charlie Brown, Lucy, and Linus were lying on their backs looking at the sky. Lucy says, “If you use your imagination you can see lots of things in the cloud formations. What do you think you see, Linus?”  Linus replies, “Well, those clouds up there look to me like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean… That cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor… And that group of clouds over there gives me the impression of the stoning of Stephen… I can see the Apostle Paul standing there to one side…”  Lucy responds, “Uh huh… that’s very good… what do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?” Charlie Brown sheepishly says, “Well, I was going to say a ducky and a horsie, but I changed my mind.”

Perhaps your spiritual life seems more like Charlie Brown than Linus. Compared to the experiences of others, you may not have had any defining moments of ecstasy, no shining Jesus right in front of you, or no spectacular vision of Christ. Maybe your life seems rather mundane and ordinary considering the many stories we have in the Gospels of Jesus doing the miraculous. 

Most of life is lived in the daily grind. In the week in and week out monotony of life, especially when one is sheltering in place, we need a bit of hope, maybe even a lot of hope. In fact, we need an occasional mountain top experience because those are glimpses into the future of what it will be like someday when the kingdom of God comes in all its fullness.

The account of Christ’s transfiguration comes after a hard frank discussion Jesus had with the disciples about his impending death. Jesus clearly taught them that he must suffer, be rejected, and killed. But in three days he would rise again. The disciples did not want to hear that, and Peter even rebuked Jesus for saying it. In response, Jesus said to them all:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:34-35, NIV)

Jesus identified himself as the Suffering Servant, as the One who must suffer and die. However, he is also the One to be glorified. For Jesus, there had to be suffering before glory. And it is the same for us: There must be suffering before glory. The Christian life is filled with the difficulty of walking through the valley of the shadow of death but is also punctuated with mountain top experiences that give us hope to keep doing what Jesus did. In other words, we must listen to Jesus and follow him. The nature of our Christian walk is up and down. Both the mountain and the valley are spiritual realities of great importance.

We may have a lot of questions about Christ’s transfiguration. Jesus had a metamorphosis in front of the disciples’ eyes. Why?  What is the significance of this?  Was it just a demonstration to get the disciples’ attention?  Why are Moses and Elijah there?  What is really going on here?

Jesus intentionally took Peter, James, and John up the mountain to have this experience. Up to this point, a lot of rumors had been circulating about Jesus – that maybe Jesus was really Elijah come back, or some other prophet, perhaps even Moses himself, since no one knows where his body was when he died. Moses and Elijah showing up next to Jesus meant that Jesus is not them. 

In the Old Testament, Moses was the person used by God to deliver the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land.  Centuries later, when the Israelites had been in the land for quite a while, Elijah was the person used by God to bring about a great repentance of the people from the false god Baal, and a mighty revival to the exclusive worship of the Lord. 

As good as Moses and Elijah were back then, having them with Jesus on the mountain meant that it gets even better with Christ. Jesus is the Messiah, the True Deliverer, who saves the people from their sins. What is more, Jesus is the Ultimate Revivalist, bringing the true grace and love of God to people and calling them from legalistic religion back to the true worship of God.

Deliverance and revival were what Jesus was all about in his ministry. And he expects those who follow him to do the same. In the ministry of every believer, there will be suffering because we must take up our crosses; and there will also be glory, experiencing and seeing the deliverance of sin that comes from genuine revival. 

When I was a college student, a group of us Christian brothers met each week for encouragement and prayer. For a solid two-year period, at least one person a week was added to our group, having had a dramatic conversion to Christ. That was an incredible time of being on the mountain with Jesus and seeing him manifest himself in all his glory through changing people’s lives.

Yet, inevitably, the valley must come. What goes up must come down. And what we do when we are in the valley is crucial and important. It seems effortless to be a Christian on the mountain. It is a different thing altogether in the valley. Coming off the mountain can lead to all kinds of temptations, like wishing you were back on the mountain – looking back to some Golden Age where everything seemed to go great and people were enthused and excited about God. But the revival fires may have waned, and the glory departed. Then what?…

“This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!”

mark 9:7, ceb

Here is what Jesus said…

“The right time is now here. God’s kingdom is very near. Change your hearts and lives, and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15, ERV)

“Come, follow me! I will teach you how to catch people instead of fish.” (Mark 1:17, GW).

 “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Mark 2:17, NRSV)

“The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away. The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they do not have deep roots, they do not last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced. And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (Mark 4:15-20, NLT)

“Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?” (Mark 4:40, MSG)

“Don’t you know that nothing from the outside that enters a person has the power to contaminate?… It’s from the inside, from the human heart, that evil thoughts come: sexual sins, thefts, murders, adultery, greed, evil actions, deceit, unrestrained immorality, envy, insults, arrogance, and foolishness. All these evil things come from the inside and contaminate a person in God’s sight.” (Mark 7:18, 21-23, CEB)

“All things are possible for the one who believes.” (Mark 9:23, ERV)

“So, you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35, MSG)

“I tell you the truth, you must accept the kingdom of God as if you were a little child, or you will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15, NCV)

“The Son of Man will be betrayed to the religious leaders and scholars. They will sentence him to death. Then they will hand him over to the Romans, who will mock and spit on him, give him the third degree, and kill him. After three days he will rise alive.” (Mark 10:33-34, MSG)

“The Son of Man did not come to be a slave master, but a slave who will give his life to rescue many people.” (Mark 10:45, CEV)

So, I tell you to ask for what you want in prayer. And if you believe that you have received those things, then they will be yours. When you are praying and you remember that you are angry with another person about something, forgive that person. Forgive them so that your Father in heaven will also forgive your sins.” (Mark 11:24-25, ERV)

“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15, NRSV)

“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”  If you have had a mountain top experience with Jesus, let that encounter with him give you the drive and the hope to keep carrying the bucket through the valley, without living in the past. If you have never been on the mountain, today is the day to listen to Jesus and follow what he says. For us all, the answer to what is vexing us is found in Jesus Christ. 

May we all go to Jesus, listen to him, and obey what he says. May we know the Word of Christ, and bank on it. May we understand that our light and momentary sufferings will result in praise, honor, and glory when Jesus Christ is revealed.