Led by the Spirit into the Wilderness

Ivan Kramskoi, “Christ in the Desert,” 1872 (oil on canvas)

inspired by Matthew 4:1-11

Led by the Spirit into the wilderness
Jesus fasted from food
to the extremes of human possibility.
And it was then,
then, that the devil set to work.

Then the devil set to work
chipping away at Jesus’ identity:
“If you are the Son of God…”
Immediately after hearing the Father’s delight,
Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.

Led by the Spirit into the wilderness,
Jesus faced sharp temptations
toward false relevance, false spectacle, and false power,
all laced insidiously with the words of Scripture,
as the devil set to work.

Even as the devil set to work
Jesus stood His ground against temptation,
armed only with the Word of God
and His deep sense of belovedness,
as He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.

Led by the Spirit into the wilderness
Jesus began the long walk to the Cross,
finding the way up is down,
and playing the long, hidden game of the humble victory of God’s kingdom,
even as the devil set to work.

What If God Is Leading Us Into the Wilderness?

This is a repost of something I wrote back in February 2021. It ties in with some of what I preached about in my message this weekend at Eastbrook.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:1)

What if God is leading us into the wilderness? As I’ve written before, the wilderness is that place of judgment, purification, and renewal with God. What purpose does God have for such a work in our lives? In Deuteronomy, Moses offers insight about it:

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. (Deuteronomy 8:3)

Moses reminds the people that the wilderness was God’s way of humbling and testing them on their way to the Promised Land, and it serves a similar purpose in God’s work with us.

The wilderness humbles us as we are brought face to face with our weakness and inadequacies. God wants us to realize our own powerlessness, so that we might turn to Him. The Apostle Paul experienced a wilderness of his own weakness revealed with a persistent thorn in his flesh. While we do not know exactly what that thorn was, the wilderness experience led Paul into an encounter with the all-sufficient grace of God. In light of God’s grace, he declared: “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The humbling of the wilderness brings us into that true encounter with our need and God’s provision.

The wilderness also tests and reveals what is truly in our hearts. When we are brought to the end of ourselves—humbled more than ever before—what we love and who we are is brought out into the light. We cannot hide it any longer, even from ourselves. Of course, God does not need to test us to see what is in our hearts. He already knows it. But He tests us so that we, too, might honestly see who we are and what we love, and be moved toward change through that testing.

There is humbling upon humbling in the wilderness. It is not easy and we often resist it. But through the wilderness, God intends to bring us to a crossroads. At that crossroads, we grapple with many penetrating questions. Will we serve God or serve ourselves? Will we build our lives around love for God or around love for ourselves? Will we walk in obedience to God or obey other masters? Will we bow down to God or bow before other false gods? The wilderness forces us to wrestle with these questions beyond superficiality and into the deep places of our souls.

In the wilderness, we are humbled and tested. The wilderness is a great revealer in the spiritual life. When we find ourselves in the wilderness, we can be assured that God has a purpose. He takes us into the wilderness both for our good and His glory in us. May we respond to Him—and not flee from Him—when He leads us into the wilderness.

Beginning Lent with Jesus :: Ivan Kramskoi, “Christ in the Desert”

Christ in the Wilderness - Ivan Kramskoi.jpg
Ivan Kramskoi, “Christ in the Desert,” 1872 (oil on canvas)

The journey of Lent begins with attention on Jesus. We trace His pathway through incarnate life to death on the Cross. One of the first inklings we have in the Gospels that Jesus’ life will bring salvation at a great cost comes in the prophetic words of Simeon to Mary at Jesus’ presentation in the Temple: “a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35). This sharp word often fades away in much of our reflection on Christmas and Epiphany, but it stands out like a sore thumb. When He grows to adulthood, this theme of costly salvation stands out starkly in Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil” (4:1-2). The emptiness of Jesus’ stomach parallels the wilderness in which He wanders. There the devil comes to destabilize Jesus with slippery questions about His identity and purpose: “If you are the Son of God…If you will worship me…If you are the Son of God” (4:3, 7, 9). Ivan Kramskoi’s painting captures the emptiness and utter aloneness of Jesus during these encounters. The landscape seems beautiful but barren, the sun is setting and the day grows dark. Jesus’ demeanor displays a heaviness and perhaps even foreboding about what the night might bring. The encounter between Jesus and the devil echoes the story of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, caught between the land they fled and the land they hoped to reach. Hungry and tired, they began to lose their way geographically but, even more importantly, they began to lose their way spiritually. But this story of temptation does not merely reflect Israel’s exodus. This episode also echoes our own wandering in wilderness places as people destabilized and tempted, grasped by sin yet reaching for redemption, confused about ourselves and seeking after God. Jesus entered the wilderness for us that He might provide a way through it. Lent helps us see again our need for God but also that there is a way Jesus has made for us through the darkness of sin and death. We do not need to make our own way to the Promised Land. We couldn’t find our way even if we tried. Jesus went before us and carved out a road through the devil’s harsh terrain.

St. Augustine on Overcoming Temptation

Saint_Augustine_PortraitHere St. Augustine of Hippo comments on Psalm 61:1-2, reflecting on the reality that Christ was tempted in the wilderness to show us how to overcome temptation and trials.

Hear my cry, O God;
    listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you,
    I call as my heart grows faint;
    lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

Hear, O God, my petition, listen to my prayer. Who is speaking? An individual, it seems. See if it is an individual: I cried out to you from the ends of the earth while my heart was in anguish. Now it is no longer one person; rather, it is one in the sense that Christ is one, and we are all his members. What single individual can cry from the ends of the earth? The one who cries from the ends of the earth is none other than the Son’s inheritance. It was said to him: Ask of me, and I shall give you the nations as your inheritance, and the ends of the earth as your possession. This possession of Christ, this inheritance of Christ, this body of Christ, this one Church of Christ, this unity that we are, cries from the ends of the earth. What does it cry? What I said before: Hear, O God, my petition, listen to my prayer; I cried out to you from the ends of the earth.  That is, I made this cry to you from the ends of the earth; that is, on all sides.

Why did I make this cry? While my heart was in anguish. The speaker shows that he is present among all the nations of the earth in a condition, not of exalted glory but of severe trial.

Our pilgrimage on earth cannot be exempt from trial. We progress by means of trial. No one knows himself except through trial, or receives a crown except after victory, or strives except against an enemy or temptations.

The one who cries from the ends of the earth is in anguish, but is not left on his own. Christ chose to foreshadow us, who are his body, by means of his body, in which he has died, risen and ascended into heaven, so that the members of his body may hope to follow where their head has gone before.

He made us one with him when he chose to be tempted by Satan. We have heard in the gospel how the Lord Jesus Christ was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Certainly Christ was tempted by the devil. In Christ you were tempted, for Christ received his flesh from your nature, but by his own power gained salvation for you; he suffered death in your nature, but by his own power gained glory for you; therefore, he suffered temptation in your nature, but by his own power gained victory for you.

If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcome the devil. Do you think only of Christ’s temptations and fail to think of his victory? See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him. He could have kept the devil from himself; but if he were not tempted he could not teach you how to triumph over temptation.

[Source: Commentary on the Psalms Ps. 60, 2-3: CCL 39, 766]

Jesus, Light to the Nations

As we continued our series “Power in Preparation” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church my good friend and colleague here at Eastbrook, Pastor Femi Ibitoye, explored Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4:12-17. I appreciated the insights that Femi shared in this message, as well as the personal testimony he shared from his life about Jesus being the light.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16)

Jesus, light of the world to the nations

  • Jesus is light to the gentiles
  • Jesus is the Light that overcomes the darkness (Matthew 4:16)
  • Jesus is King in this Kingdom (Isaiah 9:7)
  • All people (including the Gentiles) are invited into this Kingdom
  • All have sinned and must repent to enter it (Matthew 4:17)

What does the Light of Christ do?

  • It gives life
  • It sets people free from fear, darkness and death
  • It exposes sin and brings healing
  • It illuminates (provides wisdom and knowledge)
  • It provides direction and guidance

What should our response

  • Pray-Repent
  • Worship God- Like the Magi, 1 Peter 2:9, like Jesus mentioned in his temptation in Matthew 4:10, Deuteronomy 6:13
  • Reflect the light of Jesus. Matthew 5:16
  • Let the Word of God be a priority (Matthew 4:4, Psalm 119:105