“Into the Wilderness”
Matthew 4:1-11 (4:1) – February 26, 2023
The program of recovery has a great deal of wisdom in it, including the wisdom of how addiction happens in the first place. Addiction and its close companions craving, habit, dependence and desire depend on “more.” If one is good, eight or ten is much better! One more, just one more. Does this sound familiar? One more, just one more. One more time. One more cookie. One more tv show. Does anyone here have that craving and that problem?
Let’s take a closer look at today’s Scripture reading. Here, Satan, the devil, the Tempter tests our Lord Jesus immediately after John baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River. Matthew tells us specifically “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
This is not comedy or a stand-up joke, like Flip Wilson used to say in the 1970’s, “The devil made me do it!” He would regularly get belly laughs and applause from the audience as a result of this ”hilarious” joke. No, the devil and his ways and wiles are sneaky and persuasive and seductive. The devil came to Jesus in the wilderness on purpose, for this exact reason.
We can listen to lectures, lessons, speeches and even sermons. So often, all they are is words. Words, words, words streaming over us, without anything to hang them on. However, if you really want to make an impact on your audience, tell them a story. Why do you think the Rabbi Jesus used parables and stories so often? He wanted His audience to remember!
Our Scripture passage for today tells us about the early part of that greatest story ever told. This is one of the first major conflicts recorded in the New Testament. The temptation of our Lord is a really significant event that happened to Jesus. It’s huge in His life experience. And, we can gather lots of spiritual principles and several excellent biblical examples for our hearts and lives. This temptation is a heckuva story!
One on one, in the wilderness, these two characters from the Bible are involved in one of the classic exchanges in the whole Biblical record. It’s happening right here, right now. Jesus is fasting, all alone, sent out into a wild, semi-arid place some distance from the place where He was baptized. This story has tension, drama, conflict! And, this story has a resolution, too. But more about that, later.
Let us consider that after the baptism, the Holy Spirit led Jesus out into the wilderness. Imagine, being in the wilderness all alone. I am not sure whether a lot of people today could survive in the wilderness, especially if they grew up in an urban area like Chicago. Perhaps Jesus was especially hardy or good at basic survival skills. We are not told much else, except that He was out there for a good long time. At some point, Jesus was tempted by Satan, the adversary. And all of us, like Jesus, have to deal with difficult times and wandering in the wilderness.
I have a really important thing to bring up, though. What about our internal difficulties? Approximately one in four Americans suffer from some sort of mental illness or mental difficulty like depression, anxiety, or some sort of compulsion, if not the more severe kinds of affliction like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. That’s a lot of people. And, those people often feel like they are all alone. All by themselves. These people are in a great deal of internal pain.
These times of sadness, anxiety, fearfulness, even downright despair sometimes threaten to overwhelm us. These are truly times of wandering in the wilderness.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we specifically pray “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” One of the newer translations of this same petition is “save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.” The key thing is that we often know very well what temptation is, and how seductive and persuasive and even sneaky temptation can be. How have you experienced temptation? Has it come back, again and again, and have you had difficulty facing it?
What did our Lord Jesus do, when He was tempted? For each of these three temptations that the devil mentioned, Jesus answered each one with a pointed quote from Scripture to answer the specific temptation that Satan brings up. Giving us a good example, Jesus shows us an effective way right here, in our Scripture reading.
We can also get familiar with the Word of God. We can read it on a regular basis, and get so well acquainted with it that we will also be able to answer the little and not-so-little temptations that come up each and every day. To quote from Psalm 119:11, “Your Word I have hid in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” Plus, reading God’s Word, the Bible, is a wonderful way of building a close relationship with our Lord. This is another tool that God gives to us, to help us along the wilderness way.
Different temptations appeal to (and tempt) different people. However, when people in recovery tell their personal stories, there is something about those stories of falling, hitting bottom, and recovery that resonate. They stick, deep down, and people can relate.
I suggest that you (and I) consider a spiritual practice for Lent, like bible reading or prayer. We can participate in prayer walks, works of service or acts of kindness. What might you do in Lent, the next 40 days plus six Sundays, to prepare for a deeper experience of the reality of Good Friday and a more joyous celebration of the truth of Easter?
Notice, the Holy Spirit is the Comforter and Sustainer who remains with Jesus throughout His time in the wilderness. Just so, the Holy Spirit can be with all of us through our times in the wilderness. Indeed, God can be at work both for us and through us during our wilderness wanderings and difficult times.
Certainly, we all have our own stories. Each is a day-by-day story, one day at a time. The best part is that Jesus is always by our side. That’s a promise, too. Even though life continues to happen, even though tough times continue to come, Jesus travels with us. As our personal stories continue, that’s a promise we all can trust.. Amen, and amen.
(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!
(Thanks to Carolyn Brown and her website Worshiping with Children for the 1st Sunday in Lent, http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/02/year-first-sunday-in-lent-march-13-2011.html . And thanks as well to Mark Roberts and his devotion from the series Life for Leaders, “The Dustiness of Lent,” https://depree.org/life-for-leaders/?mc_cid=37497859c9&mc_eid=6effffadbb )