What We Can Learn in the Wilderness”
INTRODUCTION: Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Jesus is almost ready to begin his public ministry, but first He must go through some things as final preparation. He had to identify himself with sinful humanity at the outset of His ministry, and He did this by submitting to baptism. Then He had to face temptation. Mark’s gospel doesn’t list any specific temptations such as we find in the gospel of Matthew or Luke. Perhaps that is because each of us face slightly different temptations and yet we do not have to give in to any of them because Jesus is sufficient to handle whatever life brings our way.
- Wandering in Our Wilderness
Immediately after Jesus was baptized by John and heard God’s voice from Heaven saying, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” things began to change for him. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Mark does not describe how Jesus felt about this, but Jesus was going from a very positive experience to an undesirable wilderness. A wilderness is any place we don’t want to be. This wilderness was Maybe He felt the aloneness intensely–maybe He wandered around for a while thinking, “What do I do next? Where do I go? “ Mark is the only writer who says He was alone except for the wild animals. And in this environment, He was surrounded by danger– someone out there alone at night could have been torn apart by the wild animals.
There are many interpretations we can apply to our own lives from this experience of Jesus. We also have wilderness experiences where we feel alone, feel we are wandering around without knowing what to do or where to turn. We are surrounded by many dangers and temptations that are every bit as threatening to us, or more so, than the wild animals that Jesus faced. The devil wanted to tempt Jesus there in His wilderness in order to destroy his work and cancel His mission on earth. Satan did not want Jesus to accomplish the mission he set out to do. He wanted to side-track him and he had a perfect opportunity to do so when he was alone in the wilderness.
Satan especially wants to side-track all of us from accomplishing our calling for God. He can side-track you very subtly and easily. We live in a world of many dangers–danger not only of crime and violence and physical dangers to us but even more so the subtle attacks on our faith. Many people are succumbing to these dangers–first of all by being led away from church, from the teachings of the scriptures and by a greater tolerance to questionable things. We begin to compromise–the wild beasts of indifference and apathy toward spiritual things eat away at us. People more and more say, “I believe in God and I am a Christian but I don’t go to church.”
The familiar hymn goes, “Through many dangers toils and snares I have already come,…” Jesus needed to experience a difficult wilderness experience in order to identify with us today and although the things he experienced were different from what we face in our 21st century technological age, there was the same pull of temptation for him to go ahead and give in to sin. Jesus needed to experience the invitation to sin because scripture tells us that He was “in all points tempted like as we are –yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15).
STORY: A man got tired of people telling him “Have a good day! He didn’t think it was sincere but just a routine saying.”
He began answering, “No thank you. I’ve got other plans for today.”
Jesus had the invitation to sin. He said, “No thank you. I’ve got other plans.”
Jesus was alone in the wilderness. He had no support group, and no one to give him advice. When things began to hit him adversely, he could have wondered, “Has God abandoned me? Is God not pleased with me? Does God not love me anymore?” These are things Satan uses on us to make us doubt and feel discouraged.
STORY: Bill Jones’ wife told her husband one day, “You never tell me that you love me. Why don’t you? Why are you not like other men to let me KNOW that you love me?”
He said, “Mary, I told you once that I loved you – when we got married. If it ever changes I will tell you.”
When God spoke at Jesus’ baptism, He had to rely on that Word, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” He was not hearing repeated confirmations of His Father’s love and concern while out there in the wilderness. God had spoken and He had to believe that Word. In the wilderness there was not the constant reassurance of God’s love. We, too, need to believe God’s Word to us because sometimes there are periods of silence when we don’t feel God’s presence and we don’t hear His Voice reassuring us of his love and concern. We need to hold fast to His promises and scriptures and not allow Satan to tempt us into believing that God has abandoned us or that He does not love us. We need to know what is in Scripture so that it is second nature to us and there when we need it. When God gives you a promise at least once, hang on to that promise. You don’t need to be reassured all of the time.
We face situations in our everyday life all the time of one sort or another. We are not the strong person we think we are. The wild animals of temptation sometimes devour us. But they didn’t devour Jesus. Why? He could have given in. He had choices to make just like we do. He had constant conflicts throughout his future ministry, not just during the wilderness experience. We do too. So we shouldn’t be surprised when things hit us hard at times. We shouldn’t be surprised when our faith seems to be almost overwhelmed. So how do we tame the wild beasts that try to devour us in our daily life at work, at home, or anywhere else that we go?
- Examining the Darkness of our Lives
Jesus had to be alert to the dangers surrounding him as he walked around in his wilderness. He had to be aware of what was lurking around the bushes ready to pounce on him unexpectedly. He had to be aware of the deception of Satan who came to offer him “A good deal.” But we might say, “Well, what can I do about that? I don’t have any control over the circumstances of my life.”
We have to examine the wilderness areas of our lives and then begin to resist the devil in those areas just as Jesus did in His wilderness. The beginning of the Lenten Season is a good time to begin to ask ourselves questions. Just where do we stand in our relationship with Jesus? Have we allowed our faith to be devoured in certain areas? Have we allowed the things of the world to subtly tear us apart to where we no longer know what to believe? Have we become Christian in name only? Has our church attendance become “once in a while? and our Bible become lost somewhere in a stack of papers?
Let us examine our wilderness. Where are the places we are losing the battle? What are the things that are constantly attacking us–addictive habits, procrastination, conflicts and anxieties. Worries of all kinds that eat away at us? What is trying to come against us to tear us apart?
We should be thinking about the things in our life that really get us down? What are our greatest temptations? What do we give in to time and time again? We need to be able to identify those things in our own lives. Mark does not point out specific things. Maybe it is because there are all kinds of “wild animals” trying to get to us.
- Reclaiming God’s Call on our Life
Some will say, “Yes, Jesus was successful. He didn’t give in because He was Jesus.” He had the opportunity to make a choice just like we do. He made the choice. He could have made a bad choice and never have gone on to fulfil His mission to bring salvation to humankind. He could have opted out when the going got rough. He could have made other plans when he felt alone and abandoned by His Father. He could have “called 10,000 angels to get him down off the cross.”
During this Lenten Season, how can we reclaim God’s call on our life once we have identified the things which so easily tempt us and drag us down to failure.
In Psalm 25, David begins by saying “In you Lord my God, I put my trust”. These accounts of the temptation show us that Jesus did exactly that. Alone in the wilderness, where did he turn for help? Did he try to do everything himself? No, he put his dependency upon God and His Word to defeat the trickery of Satan. In the Old Testament times, David had also learned this–to look up in his wilderness–to deliberately look to God, to put his dependence in God.
Then in the next verse he asks for several things and rather than asking for a pat answer to his problems he asks for something better than that.
“Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me.”
Many people today just call the spiritual hotline for a specific answer to a specific problem. Here David is not asking for specific answers to one problem–he is asking for God to show him His ways continually.
He asks direction from God and also prays to God to teach Him. We can walk in the Spirit throughout our day, not just once in a while, because God will be showing us His ways, teaching us to choose one path over another and leading us into truth.
Remember that Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” When we follow Him we know that we are being led in His ways.
And when we ask Jesus to show us his ways, we must intend to follow them or why else would he show them to us. We could say, “Lord show me your ways and if I like them I will accept them or if not I will ignore them.” We must determine that we will make every effort to accept His ways.
We have the assurance that He will lead us. Psalm 25:8-10 says, “Good and upright is the Lord–therefore, he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right, And Teaches them his way.
CONCLUSION: On this first Sunday of Lent we can learn from Jesus’ experience in the wilderness. We, too, have wilderness experiences throughout our journey of faith. We mustn’t let these experiences throw us or discourage us.
Let us pray.
Father God, Help us to be willing to follow Jesus’ ways, be taught by His spirit, and to be consistent in our walk and choices.