FEBRUARY 20, 2015
Mark’s gospel doesn’t give us much information about the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness, or how Satan tested him there. Mark only devotes two short verses to these forty days:
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him (Mark 1:12-13).
That’s it. Before the water has even dried on his skin from being baptized in the Jordan River, Jesus is driven into the wilderness.
I have often imagined what that wilderness must look like, but now I know. We traveled to the Holy Land last month, and we saw the Mount of Temptation, where tradition holds that Jesus spent his forty-day fast (only Mark doesn’t tell us that he fasts – we get that from the other gospels). The mountain rises above the oasis of Jericho, city of palms and bananas and fresh springs of water. The barren hillside is pocked with little caves, and it’s easy to imagine Jesus spending his nights in those caves.
It hadn’t occurred to me, until I stood at the excavation site in Jericho, that while Jesus was up on that mountain for those forty days, he was within a few minutes’ climb down into the beautiful oasis of Jericho, and he could see that lush, fruitful valley the whole time he was up there. But the refreshing pleasures that were visible from the Mount of Temptation weren’t what Satan used to test Jesus. Instead of tempting Jesus with the availability of fresh fruit and clean water that lay below him in Jericho, Satan offered Jesus a chance to show off his divinity, to play God for a bit. Satan forgot that Jesus didn’t need to play God. He is God, God incarnate. Immanuel, God With Us.