Angels Watching Over Me

Scriptures: 1 Kings 19:1-8; Mark 1:12-13

As we continue on our way through Mark, I admit I felt almost a little guilty because this is only two verses This is like the first sermon, which was one verse but at least I had the excuse, if you will, of it being an introductory sermon, so I went through some of the history of things. But all Scripture, as I have noted before, has something to tell us. And in this short little commentary by Mark on this part of what happened to Jesus, I think we can find some really important things for us today.

It is connected with what we spoke of last week, Jesus’ baptism. Last week we talked about how Jesus identified with us through baptism, and the Father declaring both Jesus’ unique nature and His being pleased with what Jesus is doing in so identifying with us.

I noted in my studies that most preachers and scholars effectively skip over these two verses here. Not that they’re not important, but they do this by going to Matthew, usually, who has much, much more detail on the temptations themselves.

In Bible study, we’ll take a look at those details as part of our expansion of what’s going on here. But I think that there’s a message even without knowing the details of what exactly those trials were. For today, I want to focus on three things: Jesus being driven into the wilderness, Jesus being tested, and the Father’s ministering to Jesus during and after this test.

Jesus went from a spiritual high there at the baptism, if you will, to a time of extreme testing right after. He didn’t even have the time to sit back and enjoy the mountaintop view. He didn’t go into the valley so much as the valley arose around him.

We see something similar in the story of Elijah. Elijah just want to stunning victory for God over the priests of Baal, and therefore against Queen Jezebel. When she didn’t respond well to this, Elijah ran for his life and proceeded to outrun chariots to get to Jezreel. The Scripture says “the hand of the Lord was on Elijah.”

Then he has an emotional and probably physical crash. How many of you have ever experienced a true adrenaline rush, because of your life being in danger or if you’ve ever been involved in a car accident, or even a near accident with a deer? Afterward there’s always a bottoming out that occurs. Elijah is out in the wilderness, and he says he wants to die.

I ask you to think, as we work through the sermon today, how often are we subject to the same kinds of sudden reversals. How do we handle it? We’re having a spiritual high, we’re having a good time, we feel really close to God. And then bam! Life smacks us in the face with something, and we just go crashing down and say, “What happened? What did I miss? How did I get here?”

Well maybe, likely, it’s not your fault. Some of it could just be the world, but sometimes it’s the Holy Spirit’s action. We like to think of the Holy Spirit as the wonderful Counselor and Advocate and Comforter. And He is all those things. But He also carries out the will of the Father to accomplish the Father’s plans.

At this moment in time for Jesus, it says Jesus was driven – not invited, not encouraged, but driven – by the Holy Spirit. Right after being praised by the Father and experiencing communion with the Holy Spirit, that same Spirit puts him in the middle of what becomes a war zone.

It was extremely dangerous. Being in the wilderness, Jesus was alone – except for all the wild beasts that would normally eat people like him that were foolish enough to go out there. He was continually in danger of being wounded, rent by teeth and claw, suffering from thirst and hunger in that barren desert. And also, frankly, of getting lost, which I’m sure I would have.

Then while he’s out there with all of this, the Father tests the Son, through Satan. Satan comes and gives him three trials. Again, this allowed Jesus to identify with us in every way except he did not sin. Hebrews 4 says that he was tempted in every way like us except without sin.

The temptations or trials were no easier for Jesus than ours are for us. He was tested in his sense of call, his sense of identity, and his faithfulness to the path the Father was calling him to – no short cuts. You might say, as hard as it is to wrap our minds around it since Jesus was also God, that he was refined in the fire, if you will. And at the end of it, he proved his pure faith and dedication to answering God’s call.

However he was also tired. Sore. I’m sure that he was emotionally drained. Hurting. So was Elijah after his adventures. And so are we, after ours. But if we look back on those trials, if we look back on Jesus’ trials here, what happened there and afterward, we can note a couple of things.

First of all, the Father kept Jesus safe, as He had Elijah in the reading from 1 Kings. Elijah was given the speed of horses to get away. Jesus was given endurance and kept safe from the ravages of wild animals. Forty days out there, with angels watching over him for the Father. Forty days of hunger. Forty days of weather. No protection, or little protection.

After the trials, the Father sent angels, it says, to minister to Jesus. The word used for “minister” in this verse in Mark is one that refers to waiting at table or servicing. So we can therefore suppose that the angels brought him sustenance, much as one did for Elijah. We don’t know that it was bread cakes cooked over a fire and a jug of water, but he was treated. He was ministered to, to strengthen him in his recovery process, to replenish what had been used up.

Since we don’t see angels watching over us, or bringing us even as much as a hard-boiled egg after a particularly hard time, how does this apply to us? One thing is, why must we go through this in the first place? We’re not Jesus, nor even a great prophet like Elijah.

Again, it will be explained more in depth in Bible study, but I believe that the reason we go through this is a process of growth, maturation, and service. We only grow through conflict, as you’ve seen if you watched any baby grow up. Growth causes pain.

Maturation requires a change in view that comes only with experience and understanding, and service comes from humility. And as the liturgist said, being out in the wilderness and realizing that we are not self-sufficient, but that we depend on God.

More importantly, we are Christians, disciples of Christ. We’re called to live like him, teach his commandments, share and reflect his love. We cannot do that if we cannot identify with him. He warned us of the likelihood of hardship. But he asks nothing of us that he has not already been through himself and beyond.

When the Spirit drives us into the wilderness, or the world starts making it really hard for us, as hard as this may be, again, to wrap our minds around, we should take it as a positive sign. Now I’m not saying to enjoy it like some kind of masochist, or someone with a martyrdom complex. But Scripture tells us to count it all joy when we undergo trials and tests, because there is a purpose for it. And we gain from it.

We need to take a figurative step back, remember whose we are, what our faith is about, and look for what God is trying to do through this. And by the way, and I find this personally frustrating, we may not understand it this side of eternity. But we should at least try. And remember, even Jesus went through this process.

Where can we look for and experience that support and ministering that angels gave in this passage? I would remind you of the series I did last spring, on how and where to see God when the world is just wrong. I’m not going to go into it, because it’s all on the internet. You can print out transcripts of the sermons from our church website. You can see videos from the Morning Sun church website. And that took me thirteen weeks to explain, so I’m not going to try to explain it in a couple of minutes.

Today is World Communion Sunday. We’re going to have Communion. Let me suggest to you that not just people but Communion can minister to us, much like the angels. We have the spiritual presence of Christ feeding us, we believe. We have that sense of unity with the believers through all times and places, comforting us with the knowledge that we are not alone.

There is nothing that we have experienced or will experience that has not been experienced before. And we can take heart, that others, relying on God – particularly Christ himself – have got through it. And so can we.

Communion is the remembrance that for Christ, this testing was the beginning of a transition that led to both his ultimate show of love on the cross and his ultimate victory over death and sin. We are a part of that victory. We gain from what Christ did.

As we take communion today, in a few minutes, and as we leave from this place today, I want to challenge you, not to look for a wilderness to go into – I really don’t think you have to look for one, it will come – but to be aware of the wilderness you might be in.

It might be a spiritually arid dry time. It might be one where you’re just beginning to feel overwhelmed by the storms of life and all the changes that are going on. It might be a time of uncertainty, where God may be calling you in a different direction than you are comfortable doing and going.

Look for the angels. Look for the leads that God has given you, the ropes to hang onto, the anchors to keep you safe in the storm. Look for where God is working, so that you can count it all joy. And then once you get through it. Let God minister to you. It’s OK to be vulnerable. It’s OK to be tired. It’s OK to be weak and need love.

And when you receive it, as you inevitably will, may you praise God, not only for His goodness but the good people and good things He has put in your life, that you might grow in relationship with Him.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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