Journeying With Jesus Into the Wilderness
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1)
The Gospel accounts according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke all contain some form of the verse above that describes a period of Jesus life just before He began His public ministry when He spent a time in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. Jesus went through this time alone, and so unlike other parts of the Gospels which could have been recorded via first hand observation by the disciples, the only way for the Gospel writers to have known about Jesus’ experience in the wilderness was for Jesus to have told them about it. The fact that three of the four Gospels all include this story means it must have made an impact on the writers of these Gospels, and I imagine the experience also left an impact on Jesus, the one telling the story.
“The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness.” Not many of us walk willingly into a difficult situation in life. We don’t willingly ask God to make us struggle financially, or to take away our comforts, or to take away our friends. For some reason, however, the Spirit propelled Jesus into this experience of being alone, of not having all those things. We might wonder why.
As Jesus spent at least 40 days in this barren place, the devil assaulted Him with temptations. Realizing Jesus was hungry, the devil tempted Jesus to give up His reliance on God and provide food for Himself. But Jesus countered: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone’” (Luke 4:4). Even if Jesus were to make food for Himself, that wouldn’t be enough. Jesus knew He needed God.
Then the devil tempts Jesus with the rewards of this world, perhaps as a way to shortcut the path of suffering the Lord was planning for Him. But again, Jesus counters by leaning on God’s command that says we are to serve God only. The devil says in a sense, “Why suffer?” But Jesus’ determination is to hold true to God by believing, “Because God said so, and so I’m going to obey Him.”
Last, the devil tempts Jesus to doubt the care of God. “If you are really the Son of God, then throw yourself down from here” (Luke 4:9). By asking the question, the devil is really begging another question: “If you do this, do you really think that God will catch you?” But Jesus didn’t give in to doubting God. He didn’t feel a need to test God in order to see if God’s promises to provide would come true. Jesus instead trusted God at His word.
Why did the Spirit propel Jesus into the wilderness? We can’t be sure; only God truly knows. But we can observe that this experience provided a means for Jesus to grow closer to His Father in the way He might not have otherwise if Jesus were left to His own. Taking everything away gave the devil the tools he needed — hunger, desire, longing — but it also gave God the opportunity to satisfy each of those needs as well. Each time the devil tempted Jesus, Jesus was given a choice: to choose God or to choose the devil. And each time Jesus chose God, God was given the chance to build on His relationship with His Son and to show Himself faithful. In the end of it all, we read that Jesus wasn’t left alone to continue hungering and thirsting, but that he was tended to by angels (Matthew 4:11). God didn’t leave Jesus alone, but gave Him everything He needed.
Sometimes it is through the hard times that we learn to develop a real relationship with the Lord, that we learn how to trust Him, that we learn to talk to Him, and we learn to love and lean on Him as we would a real person in our lives.
If you are in the wilderness right now, we encourage you to press in closer to the Lord and not give up. God may not be the reason you are going through your experience, but He sure won’t waste the experience. As we seek Him, the Lord will see to it that we lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10).
Join us Wednesday nights this Lent season as we further explore the theme of the “Wilderness Experience” during our midweek Lenten worship series at Schoeneck (dinner at 6:00 p.m., worship at 7:00 p.m.)
God bless you,
Pastors Garritt and Sanette