In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
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 1:9-13 (NRSV)
Of the four Gospels, only Mark completely omits any kind of nativity story. Only Luke and Matthew go into details on the nativity, while John, in his rather otherworldly and ethereal way, makes the parallel between Jesus the Light of the World, and the Genesis creation narrative.
Mark goes right to the rubber hitting the road. Jesus was baptized, approved by God, and no sooner than He could turn around, He was stranded in the wilderness. Thanks, Mark. No fanfare or singing or shepherds or Mary pondering in her heart. Mark gets down to the nitty gritty right away.
This sort of sounds like the story of most of our lives. We just sort of end up plopped down in the wilderness at times. We should expect Jesus in His humanity to be put in that wilderness situation. God put Him in this world not to stash Him in an ivory tower and shield Him from all the dirty, painful and nasty aspects of humanity, but to immerse Him completely in the human experience. How else was He supposed to be Emmanuel, God with us?
It’s telling that God equipped Jesus to sustain Him. He gave Him what He needed to overcome the challenges He faced. He did not take Jesus’ challenges away from Him. He did not just snap His fingers and give Jesus an easy, uncomplicated life. God did not play the old literary device of deus ex machina- literally “the god in the machine” in Jesus’ life. He didn’t just lift Jesus up out of troubles as if He were a hero in an action movie. Jesus had to endure, and fight and suffer.
God gives us the resources we need to overcome temptation. He gives us the strength to endure and overcome challenges, but normally He doesn’t just “magically” lift us out of them.
In the words of the great theologian, Mick Jagger, and the Rolling Stones, “you can’t always get what you want/ you can try sometimes / you just might find/ you get what you need.” God might not give us what we want, but He does provide what we need. He doesn’t always give us what we need in the ways we expect, either.
I’m not sure why God allows us to go through suffering or trials. That to me is a mystery of faith that I will not understand this side of Heaven, and perhaps not even on the other side. I do know that in suffering and trials He does sustain us and He does give us what we need to overcome and grow through them. That answer just has to be good enough for now.
If the goal in our earthly sojourn is for to become more like Jesus then we too, have to trust God and hang on when the rubber hits the road. We aren’t called to a pristine, clean and untested faith, but one where we get dirty, make mistakes, suffer, cry out in pain, and struggle with questions and doubt. Those are also parts of the journey- the one that Jesus came to earth to travel as well.