Scripture: Deuteronomy 8:1-3, 6:16-17, 6:13; Psalm 40:1-8; Matthew 4:1-11
Have you ever walked in the wilderness? Sometimes we have an opportunity to actually visit a desert situation; sometimes we find ourselves walking, not in an actual wilderness, but in a wilderness feeling in our lives.
Today we journey with Jesus into the wilderness. Jesus has just experienced perhaps the highest spiritual moment in his life so far. After his baptism by John, there came the voice of his Father God saying, “this is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
Which one of us wouldn’t want to hear God say that God is well pleased with us? But just as it was with Jesus, our mountain top experiences sometimes are almost immediately followed by a walk in the valley. Jesus found himself being led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness where He would fast and pray for 40 days.
The Judean wilderness is a beautiful, barren, difficult place to spend any time. Biblical scholars date the wilderness experience of Jesus during the month of October. In the desert there is only Summer and Winter. September and October are considered transition months between the seasons. During the days that Jesus would have been there, the weather would have often changed and would have offered many challenges.
Meteorologists assure us that the weather patterns in the desert have remained much the same over the centuries. There would have been the hot dry east winds that would have blown for days at a time, having a withering effect on humans and animals. The air would have been filled with fine dust. The temperature during this transitional time averages 102 degrees. When the direction of the wind changes and brings in moisture from the Mediterranean, there comes what is known as the “former rains.” Twenty per cent of the annual rainfall will come during the months of October and November. This will bring flash floods coming down the wades, the ravines, between the mountains. To be caught in one of those floods is a deadly situation. These are the conditions that Jesus will endure for his time in the desert. His only protection will be a rock ledge or perhaps a cave that He can find.
We are not told whether the “fast” of Jesus was a total abstinence from food and water, or perhaps, as was the Jewish custom, a severe reduction in dietary intake. There would have been edible plants growing in the wilderness from which He could have foraged food. (Foraging was not uncommon for the Jewish people.) At the end of the 40-day period, Jesus would have been physically battered, exhausted mentally and physically, and hungry for a good meal.
In our imagination, we can see Jesus during that time of fasting and praying to his Father and meditating on the scriptures that He knows from memory, and struggling with what the next part of his life on earth will bring. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is revealing to Him more of what his mission will be and preparing Him for the testing that will happen during the 3 years that lie ahead, years in which:
- people will not believe who He is,
- people of his hometown will literally try to throw Him off a cliff when He identifies Himself to them,
- He will constantly be in the public places, surrounded at times with throngs of people who are pressing against Him with their many needs,
- some will try to force Him to become their King Messiah and drive out the Roman government,
- He will find it necessary to slip away in the night so that He can be alone to talk with his Father,
- even his earthly family won’t understand Him,
- He will be falsely accused many times,
- and finally, He will be crucified.
Can you imagine if that kind of information was put into your possession about the next three years of your life! If we had known 3 years ago all that we have experienced in those years, known all of it at once, it might have been impossible to bear.
And then Satan arrives on the scene. Satan is the supreme tempter who has been tempting humankind since the creation of Adam and Eve. He comes to Jesus and makes three offers:
- the first would satisfy the immediate physical needs of Jesus. Satan says to Him, “Jesus, you’re hungry. You haven’t eaten for how long now? Ah, yes, 40 days and nights. I’m here to help You.” And Satan says, “If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” “If” can also be translated as “since.” “Since You are who You are, You could turn these stones into bread and not only feed yourself but feed all of the hungry of the world. It would prove to everyone that You really did hear God saying that God was pleased with You. It would prove that You really are the Son of God. It would prove that You have the power of God in You.”
Jesus replies, quoting Deuteronomy, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Deuteronomy 8:1-3)
- the second temptation is dealing with the assurance that Jesus is the Son of God, and the temptation is that by some spectacular event people would believe that He is the Messiah.
Satan takes Jesus to Jerusalem and up to the highest pinnacle of the Temple, perhaps a watch tower, and again taunts Him, saying, “Since You are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “God will give his angels charge over You, and on their hands they will bear You up, so your foot won’t strike against a stone.” Satan knows scripture too, and he quotes a verse from the Psalms to Jesus. (Psalm 91:11-12)
Jesus replies, quoting from Deuteronomy “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Deuteronomy 6:16-17)
- a third time, Satan comes to Jesus and takes Him up to a high mountain and points out to Him all the kingdoms of the world.
I can hear Satan saying, ” You want power; I’ll give You power. You are the Messiah, but if You will worship me, I’ll make You the ruler, the political ruler, the King, over all of the kingdoms of this world.”
Jesus replies a third time, “Leave me, Satan! It is written ‘You shall worship the Lord, your God, and serve God only.’” (Deuteronomy 6:13)
All of these temptations of Satan are a test of power. Who will prevail? Will the world become the “kingdom of Satan” over which he allows Jesus to rule, and God’s plan of redemption be blocked, or will the world have the possibility of becoming the “kingdom of God” through the grace made possible by God’s Son?
We can say “Thank You, Jesus, for not yielding to temptation. Thank You for remaining faithful to the plan of God so that we might have God’s grace to forgive our sin and restore our relationship with God.
When Satan has departed in failure, the angels of God come and gently minister to the needs of Jesus.
Temptations of all kinds enter the lives of people today. Sometimes they are so subtle that they are hardly recognizable. Temptations still fall into the categories that Jesus experienced:
- a desire for personal satisfaction of many kinds,
- a desire for recognition that we are significant,
- a desire to have power over our own lives and situations and over our day-to-day encounters.
Of course, we all want and need these things, and there is nothing inherently wrong with any of them. The problem comes when we lose our integrity to gain. Jesus would later say to those gathered around Him, “What will you be profited if you gain the whole world and forfeit your soul? What will you give in exchange for your soul? (Matthew 16:26)
- a life filled with satisfying experiences,
- a life filled with using our significance for the benefit of others, and
- a life filled with power that brings healing and hope to others is a life to be desired.
When Jesus was asked by his disciples to teach them to pray, one of the lines of that prayer, that we pray every Lord’s Day when we gather to worship, says, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” “Don’t let us be led into temptation. By your power, God, deliver us from the evil one.”
With the help of the Holy Spirit that ministers to us, may our lives demonstrate the presence of God in our lives that enables us to live as holy unto the Lord.