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Desert Trials

February 23, 2021

“The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.” - Mark 1:12-13

Jesus, John the Baptist, and all those present at the Jordan river at the time of Jesus’ baptism witnessed a miracle. The excitement must have been overwhelming for them. Until John the Baptist, the nation of Israel had not had a prophet for four hundred years. With John came the call to a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins as well as the proclamation that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. The days of Israel’s waiting were finally coming to an end. Hope was here!

Hope must have escalated as the heavens tore open, the Spirit descended like a dove, and a voice came down from heaven. Jesus was the one, the very Son of God, the promised Messiah. Expectations for a new kingdom were high. The Jewish people could be free from the oppressive rule of the Romans. Finally, they could take their rightful place in the world as God’s chosen people. The way ahead looked so bright!

Unfortunately, the way ahead did not look the way many anticipated. Using one of Mark’s favorite words, “The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness” (v. 12). Jesus had no time to revel in the glory of his baptism; instead, he was driven into the discomfort of the wilderness where he spent forty days and forty nights fasting. After those forty days, Satan came to him with an arsenal of temptations.

Notice that when Jesus was baptized, he was already without sin. He had done nothing wrong, yet he still was led into this place of discomfort and testing. So many times, we think that our painful places or our times of temptation are the result of our sin; however, they are often not related to our works but rather to the work of our enemy. Just as Jesus continually faced the enemy and all his spiritual forces, so we will face that same enemy and those spiritual forces. In the Gospel of John, Jesus referred to Satan as the thief: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). This thief does not know us as the Lord knows us; however, he is quite familiar with the way of humankind. He knows our general weakness – things like hunger, fatigue, grief, and fear, and he is not afraid to attack us while we are down. On the flip side, he is not afraid to attack while we are up either. People warn about our mountaintop experiences and how glorious and uplifting they are, until we return home where all the temptations, habits, and systems are waiting to strip us of that glory and joy. Where Jesus came to give us abundant life, the thief came to strip us of that abundant life.

Jesus was driven into the desert. As we begin the Lenten season, we are ushered into a time of self-denial, confession, and repentance. It is a somber season that precedes the great victory we celebrate on Easter day. Before the celebration comes the humiliation of the cross. Humility precedes glory. That is the invitation of Lent: humility before the Lord. It is the time in which we throw off all our pretenses and excuses. Without those coverings, we can see our sin clearly. We don’t see our sin so that we can remain in it; we see in order to turn from that sin, to repent of it, and to choose God’s way.

The season of Lent is not a punishment for what we have done wrong. It is not a time in which the Lord wants us to feel guilt and condemnation; those are tools of the thief, not Jesus. Lent is a time of reflection, of self-assessment, of self-denial, and of surrender to the Lord. At the end of Lent is the glorious celebration of Easter. It is a celebration well worth the forty days of challenge.

How do you view these forty days of Lent? Do you see the opportunity to truly know yourself so that you can return whole-heartedly to the Lord?

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