Luke 4: 1 - 13
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you,’
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Luke 4: 1 – 13
Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
And Jesus,…. was led by the Spirit in the wilderness
Two people went on a camping trip in the outback. After a good meal, they lay down for the night and went to sleep. Some hours later, one of them woke up and nudged his friend. And said: “look up and tell me what you see”.
The friend said: “I see a fantastic panorama of countless stars”.
The first one said: “And what does that tell you?”
The friend pondered for a moment: “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Chronologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.”
“Why? – What does it tell you,?”
The first one was silent for a moment then spoke: “Someone has stolen our tent.”
The desert – the outback – the wilderness – the dusty red soil plains – the expansive blue sky and stars like you have never seen before.
The wilderness /desert is often depicted as a barren, arid and dry place, a void, and a place where no life grows or thrives — it is a place cut off from life; In the Hebrew scriptures is was seen as a place inhabited by monsters and demonic forces; a scary place; a place of chaos; a place of wandering and restlessness.
In our vincula, we talk about politicians being “out in the wilderness” when they have down something wrong – they are out of the inner circle where influence can be wielded.
The metaphor of desert/wilderness is also used for those times in our lives when we feel isolated, alone, devoid of life, a scary place – a place of chaos, wandering and restlessness. They could be self inflicted or the desert times may be forced upon us through hurt, despair, depression, grief, loss, trauma, long term illness. Sometimes there can be a spiritual desert where God feels far away, distant, absent, and unresponsive… faith feels doubtful or uncertain… we feel alone, vulnerable, lost, and unprotected… there is often a sense of hopelessness and a lot of unknown… and it’s the place where the Devil resides.
If you look closely at the text of our bible reading today you will see this sentence.
* Jesus was led out to by the Holy Spirit to this wilderness.
He was led out – He was not lured into the wilderness by the Tempter. He was driven there by the Spirit. Evidently the wilderness was exactly where he was supposed to be.
For those of us who have gone through a wilderness time in our lives we know that you would not go to that place of your own free choice?
Yet for Jesus to have been led there means that there must be a purpose in this place.
Desert Spirit journeys are holidays where people go into those vast, red, dusty, isolated places in outback Australia. Rev Ian Robinson started these tours and he says “people find something more in the desert” “for everyone of us, our journey through life crosses many ‘deserts’, the harsh terrain of the soul. Each of us wears the subtle effects of dispossession, tragedies and trauma, of cruelty, failure and illness. Our inner deserts are hard places. But I have good news for you. We need not be so afraid. Deserts are not barren, god-forsaken, waterless wastelands. Real deserts are full of life. “
One of the participants of these desert journeys said “The dictionary says desert – uninhabited, desolate: uncultivated, barren. So it came as a great surprise to find that the desert is not a place of desolation but warmth and wonder. This ancient red land is teeming with life though apparently arid. The magnificent river gums tell of a hidden life source.”
The wilderness is a place of testing but it is not a place where God has abandoned you.
For in Romans 8: 23 Paul says:
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. “
Your wilderness experience is that place where God hides you from public view and prepares you for “His purposes.” You may feel that the darkness of the wilderness will never cease, but the time will come when the Lord will bring you out of hiding to the place He desires for you.
John Stendahl, a pastor in the US has said
“the desert is not God-forsaken nor does it belong to the devil. It is God’s home. The Holy Spirit is there, within us and beside us. And if we cannot feel that spirit inside of us or at our side, perhaps we can at least imagine Jesus there, not too far away, with enough in him to sustain us, enough to make us brave” (New Proclamation Year C 2001).
Nina Mason Bergman struggled with multiple sclerosis and wrote a book of meditations about her experiences. In her book she explains that for a long time she saw M.S. as an obstacle that prevented her from truly loving God. She blamed all her spiritual defeats and defects on her disease. Today that is not the case. She claims that she is grateful for the invasion of multiple sclerosis into her life. She says she can hardly believe that it is so, but it is so. She uses this analogy:
She says their home is nestled on an acre of land back a short way from a main highway. A gravel road is the only approach. Sometimes the city sends a man and equipment to smooth out all the existing bumps in the gravel road. Then weather and wear shape new potholes and dips. The jarring places are not pleasant. Their car shakes and groans as they pass over the road. But she is glad to have that road, for it leads home.
So it has been with MS: a rough pathway to be sure, yet it has led her, she says, to an awareness of God she would not have known otherwise. She writes, “The promised grace is sufficient, and God’s power does abound in my weakness. I discovered that in having less of me, I gained more of the Lord–a good trade.”
It seems remarkable to you and me, almost incredible, that a person could give thanks for M. S., or cancer, or any other such horrible disease, but it happens often enough that we are forced to accept it as real. Some people discover a faith, a peace, a joy in the wilderness that they could not have found anywhere else.
The Spirit led Jesus out to the wilderness – Jesus was tempted by the devil for 40 days, he was tested at the most basic level – to satisfy his hunger, to satisfy his relationship with a higher power and to satisfy the need for authority. Jesus came through this testing by relying on the word of God. Jesus passed that test.
So can we. It will not be easy, but it can be done. It often seems that time spent in the wilderness is a prerequisite for a deep experience of faith. God has a purpose for the wilderness, not that we shall stay there, but that we shall move through it and, in doing so, experience new faith, new hope, new love.
God has a purpose for the wilderness – Jesus was led to the desert before the start of his ministry. Jesus had a mission which we heard about in chapter 4 of Luke. (Put on screen)
As followers of Jesus this is our mission as well.
The goal of temptation, just like with Jesus, is to pull you off the mission of living a life that’s obedient to God and gives glory to God. Instead, Satan wants you to walk through life gratifying yourself. The hope is that if he can get you to do it enough, he can get you off God’s team altogether.
Scholars tell us that during his time in the wilderness, Jesus was replaying the struggles of Israel and being the faithful child of God that they weren’t, so that through him, they might be restored to God. During his time in the wilderness, Jesus was also “reliving” the struggles and temptations of you and me and being faithful in our place so we, too, might be counted as righteous in the Father’s sight. Therefore, when you fall to temptation and prove yourself unfaithful, you have the ability to hold on to the faithfulness of Jesus. You can cry out to God, saying, “I have fallen, but Jesus is strong. I am rebellious, but he is obedient. Forgive me for his sake, and set me again on his path.
Are you in the wilderness today? I wonder what that wilderness is for you? It might be illness, unemployment, a sense of aloneness or lack of purpose, a spiritual isolation. Each of us wears the subtle effects of dispossession, tragedies and trauma, of cruelty, and failure. Our inner deserts are hard places. Our message this morning is that whatever the wilderness we may feel, Deserts are not barren, god-forsaken, waterless wastelands. The wilderness is where God is with you and by the grace of God, you can make it through. Relying on God’s word, looking carefully for the signs of life amidst the aridness and dryness.
During the wilderness experience it is time to “focus on the goodness of God.” Reflect upon the truths of Scripture… audibly affirm them over and over again, until they settle in your mind and heart… as you accept & identify with the truths of God’s Word in the wilderness, you will develop a faith that greatly pleases God.
In the desert you can see the vast expanse of stars that you can’t see in the city. Space and time take on a new perspective.
As we follow Jesus into the wilderness, we can see that our own wilderness time can be an important time of testing our values, looking at what is most important, and making decisions about our life’s priorities.
For the next 6 weeks of Lent, you have the opportunity to journey with Christ into the wilderness and on the journey to the cross.
Will you allow yourself to be led into the wilderness by the Spirit? Will you trust in Spirit’s leading in your life today knowing that this journey will lead to the empty tomb?