The Gospel Begins in the Desert
Mark portrayed John beginning his ministry in the desert, calling men to repentance, and he portrayed Jesus beginning his ministry in the desert, enduring forty days of temptation. The gospel finds its genesis in the desert—the place of wasteland, the region of quietness, where all temptations are overcome, where the outside world can provide no distraction. Where God is most free to speak to the soul.
If the new word gospel is the vocabulary by which we learn of the dawn of God’s kingdom, and if repentance is the act of will and the new mindset whereby we become open and free to accept the new rule of God breaking into our lives, then the desert is the place where we do it. The desert is a sign of our poverty and the world’s emptiness. It’s a symbol of our nakedness before God and our willingness to leave all and follow him.
When we wish to read a good book and immerse ourselves in it, we do not go to a noisy bus station to read. Rather we retreat to a quiet, private place to give ourselves completely to the book. When we wish to talk with someone who means much to us, we take him or her to a place where there will be no interruptions. When we want to let the life of Christ make a revolutionary impact on our life, we go to the desert.
Geographically it is not always possible. But we can do it spiritually by recognizing the terrible distraction of the ambitions, the standards, the music, the talk, and the noise of this world to our attempts at spiritual concentration—and then do something about it. The desert we begin in will have to be one of our own making, but it can be made. Some people fast to remind themselves that the bread of this world is not the primary nourishment of their lives. Some people make sacrificial, disciplined acts to train themselves in a mental and an emotional way for the spiritual life they profess.
We have the clear witness of Mark that the gospel begins in the desert. It is a place to sharpen goals and renew perspectives. In the clearer, cleaner air of obedience and discipline, we can see His life impinging on ours. We see the emptiness of all the world and the fullness of the reign of God. Amen.