February 18, 2018


Mark 1:9-15


You probably don’t know, but I almost become a professional mover. I mean, I have moved houses 9 times in 12 years. That’s almost moving to a new house in every year!

The hardest one is when you have to move from a bigger house to a smaller one, like the last one I did. Around two years ago, I moved from the manse next door, which is a four-bedroom-plus-study-room house to a three-bedroom house in a much smaller block of land. Needless to say, I had too much furniture for my new house. As the result, I had to sell some of my furniture either via Gumtree or Facebook, or give them away to the Op Shop...

One particular furniture that I really liked was a big dining table that I bought from the Op Shop many years ago. I can fit and serve more than eight people around the table easily. But the table was too big, way too big for my new house. So, reluctantly, I had to put it on the market. It took a while to sell, but I finally did. I wish I could keep the table with me, but my new place demands that I have to give it up things because it doesn’t suit my situation any longer.

Life in Christ is like an ongoing journey of moving into a new house from an old house. Every year, month, week, even day, we have to choose between the things we need to keep and to let go. We are to decide to let go of the things in our life that do not fit into our new life in Christ so that we can have more space for the Spirit of God.

It’s like my experience of transitioning from life as a single man to life as a husband and a father. There are so many adjustments that I have to make: financially, emotionally, socially, etc. They are not easy, but they are necessary changes.

Perhaps, this is the reason behind the practice of giving up things during Lent that some people like to do; things like chocolate or sweets or meat. The practice may be a symbol of our giving up of other things, which have often been embedded in our life, so that we can follow Christ more genuinely.

Perhaps, this was the reason behind Jesus’ journey into the desert. Perhaps, the journey served as the time when Jesus, deprived of all the things that usually nurtured and brought comfort to his body, could sort out what’s important from what’s not important in his life.

By going into the desert, Jesus had to learn to leave behind the things that used to define his previous life so that he could return from the desert as a new man. His journey into the desert and back may well have been his first significant experience of ‘death and resurrection’.

Indeed friends, resurrection is a process that happens all the time. We often expect that we die in Christ and are risen with him only once. But resurrection is not a one-off project; it is a lifetime project. Every day, we are invited to ‘die’ with Christ so that we all can be risen again with him.

The baptism that we receive, either as a child or as an adult, is the symbol, the sign of the beginning of this process of ‘dying’ and ‘rising’ again with Christ. Baptism is the symbol of the Holy Spirit entering into our life to begin the process of what John Calvin said as the process of sanctification. Remember that Jesus himself was tempted in the desert not before his baptism, but after. So baptism marks the beginning, not the end, of our journey of transformation to become more and more like Christ in what we say or do or think.

Likewise, the Confirmation that Angela, Immelda, and Immelsha did this morning, in the presence of the congregation, may mark the end of their course. But it marks the beginning of their journey as adult followers of Christ. The pledge that they made is the beginning of their lifelong journey to follow Christ and to be more and more like him all the days of their life.

Indeed, just like the desert - the place where demons dwelled and wild beasts roamed around - the world can become a dangerous place not only to our physical well-being, but to our spiritual well-being as well. To live a life like Christ in the world is not an easy thing. Every day, we are to challenge the forces in the world and within ourselves that are against the gospel. Every day, we are to face the power that will either tempt or force us to turn our back on God.

Mark told us that Jesus himself was tempted by Satan when he was in the desert. In Hebrew, the word satan means ‘an adversary’. Jesus had to come face to face with this malevolent and dangerous force that tried to break his will to follow the way that the Spirit had shown to him.

So, no, living a new life in Christ is not comfortable. When the Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove, which is a gentle animal, we may think that the role of the Spirit was to make Jesus’ life comfortable. Well, think again. Mark told us that immediately, the Spirit made him go to the desert immediately (Mark 1: 12 GNT). The Greek word is harsher than this English translation. Literally in Greek, the Spirit drove Jesus or threw him away into the desert. Jesus didn’t go to the desert willingly; he was taken by the Spirit to the desert by force.

Likewise, we too can be ‘thrown’ into a place or people or situation that we don’t like. Often, we don’t have a say in it. We can be compelled into a situation where we have to face our own vulnerability and weaknesses; where we are deprived of the safety and comfort in our life. But that can be the moment when, if we make the right choice, can transform our lives.

So, once again friends, life in Jesus is a constant process of dying and rising with him every day. Every day, there is a new lesson to learn. Every day, we are shaped and molded according to the image of our Lord. But we are not alone because countless of our brothers and sisters in Christ are also undergoing the same process. We are not alone because Jesus himself had the same experience and he is the one who can fully understand what we are going through.

Toby Keva