When you think of the wilderness, what do you picture? I picture a place that is expansive, open, pleasing to the lungs to breathe in and refreshing. The wilderness is a place of freedom and isolation. It’s a place that can be beautiful and scary. It is intimidating, yet enticing. It is wild: uncultivated, uninhibited and harsh. The wilderness can often be a place of intimate encounters. It is common knowledge that it takes courage to step into, remain in and survive the wilderness. The wilderness, though known, is an unfamiliar place no matter how many times you step into it. It is ever-changing; constantly adapting to survive itself. It takes willpower, strategy, wisdom and endurance to survive the wilderness. Yet, Jesus willingly stepped into it.
He frequently withdrew to the wilderness to pray.Luke 5:16
In Matthew 4:1, the Bible says that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Led by God, only to encounter fierce attacks.
Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness
4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.Matthew 4:1-11
What are we being shown here? Why was Jesus drawn and why did he go into a dangerous, lonely, harsh place without counsel, community or protection to pray, not just once, but frequently? Throughout the Bible we see that Jesus would not just go into the wilderness for morning prayer, at times He was there for a season. I think it’s easy for us to discount the significance of this lesson scripture. Many of us simply think, yeah, He’s Jesus, He is different, maybe He needed that time to get away from the world or to refresh. But it’s quite the opposite, isn’t it? He would require less time than most to hear from the Lord, to commune and to refresh. What if this passage is about more than a relatable scripture to show us Jesus can relate to the temptation we face? What if He intended us to use this scripture to show us how to truly live.
In this wilderness season of 2020, I believe all people are being shown the importance of getting alone with God, getting out of the noise, getting still, so that we can really hear with our heart (our whole understanding). After all, we were created in the beginning, in the garden, to always have a necessary balancing element of wilderness about us. We must always remember that we are creatures of balance, designed by a God of order. What if there was a necessary element of wilderness that must remain in order for us to stay close to God. I know, most of our workplaces, and even some of our social environments, feel like we are in a den of hungry lions, but I am talking about the wilderness Jesus stepped into “often,” willingly, despite the attacks and danger that would undoubtedly ensue to draw close to God.
I believe that we are being shown that this was a necessary battle and trial for Jesus to show us that even Jesus had to face the condescending, negative, hateful talk of the devil along with hard choices, inconveniences, heartbreak, hardships, trials, loss, devastation, depravity and pain. Which leads me to my favorite part of this passage – how Jesus handled Satan. He immediately identified Satan, saw him for what he was, and responded with the sharpest weapon in his tool belt, called him by name and dismissed him. Often times, I know I struggle with doubting my discernment. I find myself asking, is that God, temptation or my flesh? Jesus knew in a moment who he was dealing with and he quoted to Satan’s games, lies and accusations the Word of God. I want to be so close to the Spirit of God that I know in a moment when Satan is setting a trap or whispering lies to me, and I want to know the Word so deep that it springs from my lips the moment evil comes upon me. There is only one way for that to happen, to stay close, to repetitively have intimate encounters with God.
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.James 4:8
The Bible teaches us that there will definitely be trials in this life, but it gives us hope, and reassures us that the trials are meant to forge us into Christ’s image and keep us on our path.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.John 16:33
As a matter of fact, Paul writes in 2 Timothy chapter 3, advising the Christian body, he states “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” as he had been many times in his life, and goes on to say, “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Paul is not only teaching us to use and live by the Word in all things we encounter, but he is conveying that trials and tribulations are useful for sanctification if we steward and survive them according to the Word of God.
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.Hebrews 4:12
This year, 2020, has been a season filled with nothing but wilderness. It has felt like a camp that is constantly falling prey to the wild in the middle of the night. For most of us, we feel out of balance, out of control, isolated and lonely, hungry for change, angry at inconvenience and circumstances. But I want to challenge those thoughts and feelings and ask you the question of “what if;” what if we are closer than ever before to how God always intended us to live, on the edge fo the wilderness? What if this year truly was fulfilling that notion of “2020 vision” that so many prophesied? What if 2020 was a necessary wilderness moment in time? What if the purpose was to challenge us and to show us that we need to “often” visit the wilderness, and with Christ we will survive it.
Will we come out of the wilderness transformed like the butterfly, or will we look like livestock running back to our old herd to learn how to live a different version of our pre-wilderness life? Have no doubt that the wilderness marked us. Rest assured that we will be tested on the lessons taught. Will we be maimed by the same lessons again and again? There is purpose in the wilderness. God will come back for you again and again, but how many times must we endure the same season before we catch hold of Him and cling to Him to pull us out of the storm?
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.1 Peter 5:10
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.Romans 12:2
I choose development and transformation. I’ll put in the work, because I have somewhere to go and I need those tools to get there. As this year comes to a close, I strongly encourage you to fast and pray for advent. As the Christian body celebrates the birth of our Savior, and in unison we sing His praise, He will be close. Draw near to Him. Willingly step into the wilderness seeking God alone. All it takes is a moment, a touch, for your heart (your understanding) to be enlightened to His vision, His will and His way.
To the wilderness season of 2020, may we never be the same.
A psalm of David
1O LORD, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief. 2Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you. 3The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead. 4So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed. 5I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. 6I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah 7Answer me quickly, O LORD; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. 8Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. 9Rescue me from my enemies, O LORD, for I hide myself in you. 10Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. 11For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life; in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble. 12In your unfailing love, silence my enemies; destroy all my foes, for I am your servant.Pslam 143