The Barrel by John H. Pavelko

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Prepared for Anything

Mark 1:9-15


I grabbed the top bar of the frame to hoist the pack into the truck of the car. The pack barely lifted off the ground with my initial tug. "How heavy is this thing!" I yelled. My friend just gave me his classic Laurel and Hardy smile. "What, you've gotten awful wimpy in your old age Pavelko." Dean and I have taken many backpacking trips together but we take a completely different approach to packing. I begin by making three equipment lists-The Absolute Essentials, The Probables and The Possibles. Next I scratch out the list of The Possibles, and then sort through The Probables eliminating most of them. My goal is to pack only the items that I absolutely need for my safety and relative comfort. This saves wear and tear on this old body. My friend takes a much different approach. He exercises by biking and lifting weights. He has an amazing level of stamina and strength. He does not care how heavy his pack is. If he thinks he needs it, he packs it. He works for NASA and I teased him that if he had designed the space shuttle, the booster rocket required to launch the shuttle into space would push the earth out of orbit. His immediately response, "Yeah but it would never have blown up!"

My friend's approach to packing models the commercial climate of our culture. We are told to anticipate every eventuality and take the necessary precautions.

Economic pundits berate Americans for not saving enough money. Investment brokers warn us against relying on social security alone to provide sufficient income for retirement. Several times a month, I receive junk mail from companies wanting to sell me term or whole life insurance.... [Ironically,] People who are prudent, who invest wisely, who protect themselves against hardship and calamity are admired in uncertain times, even when they are not emulated.1

Most of us believe that we should be prepared for emergencies but few of us have actually taken the necessary steps. Today's lesson is a story about preparation but as we will see, Jesus takes a decidedly different approach to the way most of us prepare for a journey, a vacation or life in general.


The Scripture lesson takes us back to the beginning of Jesus' ministry. The fiery John the Baptist has begun preaching in the wilderness to prepare the people of Israel for the coming Messiah. He calls the nation to repent and be baptized. Mark writes that "...people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins." In this morning's passage we read, "In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee...." Mark appears to have placed verse 5 and verse 9 in juxtaposition. He seems to be showing a comparison between the people who came from the whole countryside of Judea with the one man who came from Galilee. Many had come to the water to be baptized. They came for the remission of their own sin but only one man came in perfect obedience, the one from Galilee.2 By his faithful response, Jesus demonstrates that the first step of preparation focuses on attitude.

Our society takes a different approach. Self-preparation succumbs to a reliance on technology. We trust in the tools that we have made to overcome crises. We store extra flashlights judiciously throughout the house in case the power fails. We pack extra clothes for changing weather. We put first aid kits and emergency flares in the truck of our car. Then we feel safe. We think that we can handle the crises. Jesus prepared himself for the unpredictability of life by adjusting his attitude. Jesus heard the voice of God speaking through the prophet John and walked to the water in obedience. Perhaps he understood that most emergencies could be avoid by simply obey the rules of life.

In the Middle East, the desert nomads understand the importance of obeying the laws of nature to their survival. No amount of preparation will substitute for an obedient stead, which is why they devote long hours to training Arabian horses. The trainer requires absolute compliance. The final test is almost beyond the endurance of any living thing. The trainers force the horses to do without water for many days. Then he turns them loose and lets them run toward water, but just as they get to the edge, ready to plunge in and drink, the trainer blows his whistle. The horses who have been completely trained and who have learned perfect obedience, stop. They turn around and come pacing back to the trainer. They stand there quivering, wanting water, but they wait in perfect obedience. When the trainer is sure that he has their obedience he gives them a signal to go back to drink. Now this may sound severe, even cruel, but when you are on the trackless desert of Arabia and your life is entrusted to a horse, you had must have a perfectly trained obedient horse.3

Peter T. Forsythe once said, "The first duty of every soul is to find not its freedom but its Master"4.

We can buy the latest equipment. We can spend many hours learning the newest techniques but we will not prepared for the journey through life until we are willing to obey the voice of God.


After Jesus comes out of the water, Mark tells us that the Spirit drove him into the wilderness. He chooses a very unusual word to describe the action of the Spirit. The NIV softens its tone by translating it to send. A better translation is to drive. The word is often used to refer to the exorcism of demons. Is Mark telling us that even the Son of God did not have a choice in this matter? Is Mark saying that even Jesus had no other option than to walk from the water to the wilderness?

We seldom if ever get to choose the wildernesses of life.

Often I hear in the hospital room, "Oh, I just wish he could have stayed healthy until summer!" "Oh, why did this have to happen now." We would like to be able to control every dimension of our life but in reality, we do not have control of emergencies, crises, problems, or trials. We do not get to choose when our spouse is stricken with cancer and dies. We do not get to dictate when the price of apples will fall to their 10-year lows. We do not get to choose when a wood chip renders us blind in one eye. We do not get to choose when our company decides to cut costs by eliminating our job. The only thing we get to choose is how we will respond to the emergency.

A violent earthquake shook Anchorage Alaska during the early morning hours on Good Friday in 1964. Homes were smashed, streets were torn apart and tidal waves ravaged the coast. When the earth stopped moving 117 people died and $750 million in property was destroyed. In the aftermath, sociologists were amazed by the resilience of the Alaskans to pick up the pieces and rebuild. The scientist determined that the pioneer spirit required to survive the harsh conditions of the state had prepared them to handle adversity. They also discovered that those who stayed through the six months of the aftershocks had few problems. Families who left the state soon after the initial quake suffered higher divorce rates and emotional instability. The Alaskans who stayed and faced their wilderness were better able to overcome their fears and restore the broken pieces of their lives.5 

We may not get to choose the wildernesses into which God drives us but we do choose our response. We can stay and allow the barrenness of the desert to strengthen us or we can try to escape. Our flight may lessen the stress but only by staying, are we able to enjoy the attention of angels.


Have you ever wondered how the disciples learned about the temptations that are Lord suffered at the hands of Satan? He obviously had to tell them later when they were together. They were not with him in the desert. Only heaven knew if Jesus resisted temptation. That is also true with the temptation we face.

In China's later Han era, there lived a politician called Yang Zhen, a man known for his upright character. After Yang Zhen was made a provincial governor, one of his earlier patrons, Wang Mi, paid him an unexpected visit. As they talked over old times, Wang Mi brought out a large gold cup and presented it to Yang Zhen. Yang Zhen refused to accept it, but Wang Mi persisted, saying, "There's no one here tonight but you and me, so no one will know." "You say that no one will know," Yang Zhen replied, "but that is not true. Heaven will know, and you and I will know too. "Wang Mi was ashamed, and backed down. Subsequently Yang Zhen's integrity won increasing recognition, and he rose to a high post in the central government. Human nature is weak, and we tend to yield to temptation when we think nobody can see us. In fact, if there were no police force, many people would not hesitate to steal. This is not to say that when we do something bad, we feel no compunction at all, just that humanity is weak and prone to yield to temptation. But even if nobody witnesses our sins, and not a soul knows of them, we cannot hide the truth from the eyes of our God.6


Jesus prepared for the journey by obeying the voice of God. The Spirit prepared him for the crises that were to come by driving him into the wilderness. Jesus prepared for the emergencies of life by resisting the temptations that Satan offered in secret. After all the plans and preparations were made, Jesus walked out of the desert and proclaimed the Good News of God.

Allow me to ask you a rather silly question. Have you ever gotten your suitcase out of the closet, laid out on the bed, enough underwear, pants, dresses, shirts and blouses to have a fresh change of clothes for a week, purchased an airline ticket and then spent the week sipping tea on you back deck. It sounds absurd but unless we are engaged outreach, the time we spend praying, reading the Scriptures, fasting, and worshiping become meaningless activities.

Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty were walking along the sidewalk. Peppermint Patty tells CB that her father has been reading a lot of books in theology, history, and philosophy. CB asked if it has helped him Peppermint Patty replied, "Oh, yes it has taken his mind off his bowling."7

Prayer, Bible study, fasting, worship, and the other spiritual disciplines are not exercise merely to relieve us of our anxieties and fears. They are not intended to make us into more successful business people. They are not intended to boast our productivity on the job or help us forecast which new stocks will quadruple in price over the next two years. Our time of preparation has one end, to prepare us for service, to step out beyond these four walls, and bring the Good News of the Gospel to the broken and shattered lives of people who are walking in darkness.

1 Carol Noren, "Ready for Anything," Pulpit Resource, ed. William H. Willimon, Vol. 28, No. 1, p. 44.

2 William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, NICNT ed. Ned B. Stonehouse, F.F. Bruce, Gordon D. Fee, (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 54.

3 Online: from an unidentified source.

4 Online: quoting Warren W. Wiersbe, The Integrity Crisis, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991), 22.

5 Phillip Yancy, Where is God When it Hurts?, (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 1977), 145. 

6 Online: quoting Konosuke Matsushita, founder of Panasonic in his book Velvet Glove, Iron Fist (PHP Institute, Tokyo), Bits & Pieces, June 25, 1992.

7 Robert L. Short, The Gospel According to Peanuts, (New York: Bantum Books, 1964).

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