and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. –Mark 1:13
The idea of Jesus hanging out in the wilderness for forty days evokes images for anybody who has spent time in Sunday School. Painters love to create images of a rather sad and pensive Jesus kneeling on the barren ground, usually in the vicinity of a large stone, presumably the one that Satan offered to turn into bread. Another popular image is Jesus standing with Satan atop a mountain surveying the kingdoms of the world. For the third temptation, of course, Satan pulled Jesus out of the wilderness and to the “pinnacle of the temple.” None of that gets presented in Mark’s fast-paced account. Instead we simply learn that there was temptation by Satan at some point over that forty-day span.
What I’d like to focus on today is not the temptation but the wild animals. Why does Mark mention the presence of the wild animals? Mentioning the presence of the tempter and the ministering angels makes a great deal of sense, as those are not what you experience daily. But wild animals? My guess is that there wasn’t much else to mention.
Having recently concluded deer season, I spent a good bit of time out in my own private wilderness. Let me just say that passing two hours sitting in wait for the approach of a whitetail seems like forty days. In the process of waiting, you look around. You pray, since that seems like a good time for the activity. But the prayer seems to lose focus for me. I’ll stay on task for a couple of minutes and then I’m thinking, literally, of a squirrel.
When you’re in the wilderness, there’s not much else to focus on than the wild animals. You can worry about the predators or you can be startled by the small game. Since Jesus did not have a deer rifle, I’m fairly sure that he didn’t take any whitetails during his forty days.
Being tempted does not require forty days. I can be thoroughly tempted on a range of matters inside of forty minutes. Surely Jesus could have gotten through his three big temptations in a day, but instead he passed forty days in the wilderness hanging out with whatever birds and rodents populate the Judean desert.
Why? Why would the greatest teacher ever to walk the earth squander nearly six weeks of his three-year ministry–that’s about 4% if you do the math–hanging out with Thumper and Bambi? The answer to that question is simple but not completely satisfying to the inquiring mind.
The Spirit sent Jesus into the wilderness immediately after his baptism. In obedience Jesus went. Although we’re not told, it’s reasonable to presume that in obedience Jesus stayed for those forty days. To what end? That’s something God would know and didn’t feel compelled to tell us.
If you want, head out for your own forty days in the woods and see if God provides you with an answer.