Rick Sweeney
7 min readMar 11, 2021



FEBRUARY 21, 2021


A. Do you ever pay attention to warning labels? Some of them can be pretty strange assertions that we have no intelligence. You might remember the infamous case of a woman suing McDonalds because the coffee they served her was hot. Now every cup says, “Caution, contents are hot.” There are others. A baby stroller had a warning label that read,” Take the child out of the stroller before folding for storage.” I would never have thought of that. A can of Planter’s Peanuts warns, “Caution, may contain peanuts.” And my favorite is on a car battery. It says, “warning do not drink battery acid.” How thirsty would you have to be to say, “Honey pop the hood and hand me that drinking straw.” But there are times when we should pay attention and heed the warnings.

B. In this first Sunday in Lent. We have three short but important stories in just six verses in Mark. It starts with a wonderful affirmation. Jesus allows himself to be baptized by John to further identify with the humanity he has come to save. Baptisms are always celebrative in nature. Grandma and grandpa bring their cameras to church and everybody smiles as the baby is presented. It’s like a party.

C. And it’s the same when Jesus is baptized, God makes an appearance although it seems that only Jesus is aware of it. God says to Jesus, “You are by beloved son and I couldn’t be happier with you.” Then the heaven gets ripped open, more about that later. So, it’s party time at the Jordan River. But watch out for the warning.


A. Immediately, Mark’s favorite word, immediately Jesus is driven out into the wilderness. His clothes are still dripping with Jordan River water and he is forced to go where nobody would go by choice. Jesus doesn’t say, “Look guys, I need some time alone. I am going to head out into the desert for a while to think.” Mark says he is DRIVEN out there. Who would do such a thing? Who spoiled the party?

B. My first thought was that it must have been Satan. He was no fan of the baptism party. Satan is the great liar. He wants to use this wilderness time to lie to Jesus about who he is and what he should do. “Come on Jesus, you know you are not cut out for this, your family will think you have lost your mind. The authorities will come after you if you challenge the status quo. This plan that God has for you will not end well for you. You are the son of God. You deserve better than this. Let it go. Enjoy your life”

C. But alas, it wasn’t Satan that drove Jesus out into the wilderness. Oh, he tried to use that time out there in the desert with wild animals and nothing to eat to tempt Jesus. And Satan would continue to whisper in his ear. When Peter did not want to hear the warnings, Jesus called him Satan. A preacher and his wife did not have much money. One day, she came home with a new dress. The preacher said, “You know we can’t afford that. When you were tempted to buy it why didn’t you say, “Get behind me Satan?” And the wife answered, “I did. And he said it looks it looks good from the back too.” Temptation is always with us. It is a part of our old nature. Satan tempts Jesus all the way to Gethsemane.

D. And guess what? Satan whispers in the ears of any who would follow Jesus as well. There is the warning. But no, it wasn’t Satan that made Jesus go out to the wilderness. Mark says plainly, it was the Holy Spirit of God that immediately drove him out into the wilderness. Why? It was for testing. Like old Abraham and Isaac. Jesus needed to figure out who he really was and what his life was really all about. Was he going to choose God’s way or the easy way?

E. Have you ever been to the wilderness? Has there ever been a time when you felt totally alone or threatened or unsure of your identity? Have you ever been tempted to say the hell with this living faithfully? It’s too hard. I am the master of my own life. If so, then once again you are identifying with Jesus the human being. Commission is always accompanied by conflict. Following Jesus is always dangerous. Are you going to get serious about following Jesus? Be warned! Lookout!


A. After the celebration of His baptism and the warning and testing of the wilderness, the third short story in this passage is the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. He speaks his first words in the gospel of Mark, the first lines in red. And what he says is, TIME’S UP! What did he mean by that? The time of the prophets and their preparation is over, John the Baptist is a goner. The time for being wishy-washy is over. The time for riding the fence is over. The time for being indecisive is over. And that is as true now as it was that day in Galilee.

B. When Jesus is present, the time is now. When Jesus is present it is time for all who would follow him to truly become disciples. When Jesus is present it is no longer OK to be a nominal Christian. It is no longer OK to just play church. Kids play church. Once a few kids found a dead mouse. They decided to have a funeral. The one little girl said she knew the words. She said, “In the name of the Father and the Son and into the hole he goes.” (Ghost instead of Spirit)

C. Time is up for us. We need to take the call of God in our lives seriously. Be warned, that will not be easy. The power of evil will work overtime on you the more your commitment to Christ grows. The lies of Satan are strong, but they are limited by the truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Pontius Pilate wanted to talk philosophy with Jesus. He said, “What is truth?” And Jesus said, “You are looking at it.”

D. Lamar Williamson wrote, “It is Gospel time.” Is that party time or a warning time? It’s both. Remember what happened after the baptism? Heaven is ripped open and not just for Jesus. Heaven is open for you and for me and for anyone who decides to take following Jesus seriously. You too, are God’s beloved daughter or son. And even if you are in the wilderness, God will never stop loving you.


A. When I was a boy growing up in the old U.P. Church, I didn’t know much about Lent. My Catholic friends would all talk about what they were going to give up for Lent. One said he was giving up chocolate. Another said he was not going to eat any desserts. And a third said he was giving up watching TV. I thought, well I think I will give up Brussel Sprouts. My mom was not on the same spiritual wavelength and made me eat them anyway.

B. Giving up some trivial pleasure might be helpful if it makes the person think about sacrifice and temptation. But it is rarely life changing. Peter was unwilling to give up his dreams of glory with Jesus. He could not hear the warning.

C. Fasting is one way that some people focus on Jesus and sacrifice. It is designed to turn your thoughts from hunger to repentance and faith. But Pope Francis has written an alternative to going without food. (List of Fasts From Pope Francis)

D. But whether you choose to fast or not, I would like to challenge you to consider giving ups something life changing for Lent. Maybe you could give up something like your independence, doing what you feel like doing, or your pride or your self-centeredness. Maybe you could try to give up hopelessness or your unwillingness to believe that God can accomplish much more than we could ever dream. Maybe Lent is a good time to give up hatred or old grudges or stubbornness. Maybe Lent can be a time for you to get serious about your commitment to Christ. (Talking to the mirror.) Jesus is present. Make a decision. Time’s up.



Fast from hurting words and say kind words

Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude

Fast from anger and be filled with patience

Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.

Fast from worries and trust in God

Fast from complaints and move toward simplicity

Fast from pressure and be prayerful

Fast from bitterness and be filled with joy

Fast from selfishness and be compassionate

Fast from grudges and be reconciled

Fast from words and be silent and listen


The other day I was hanging with a friend of mine. This friend calls himself a Christian, but he doesn’t always act like it. Somedays he seems to be on fire for the Lord. Other days it seems like life’s struggles get the best of him. So, as our eyes met, I really wanted to say something about it to him, but I decided to just let the Lord speak to his heart, knowing that nothing I could say could ever match the impact that the Lord, making himself real to him in his heart would make. So, I prayed with him and finally, after some time, I winked and walked away from the mirror.



Rick Sweeney

The Reverend Dr. Richard Sweeney, Rick, is a retired Presbyterian pastor and author. Rick lives with his wife, Prudy, in Greensburg, PA.