JESUS IN THE DESERT
It will be helpful at this point to take a closer look at Biblical accounts
of experiences God's people, even His own Son, had in the desert. Time in
the desert seems to be very important. Both Jesus and Paul began their
public ministry by going out to the desert. The journey through the desert
for the Israelites was not only a necessary geographical area to be
crossed, it also was a time of testing and preparation (see Hebrews 3).
The Israelites were free from their bondage and slavery. They were out of
Egypt, but they were not in the Promised Land. It was during this time in
the desert that God tested and prepared them to enter the Promised Land.
Hebrews 3 says that the Israelites saw what God did for them in the desert,
yet they hardened their hearts and rebelled. Of all who left Egypt, only
Joshua and Caleb entered the Promised Land.
Jesus spent forty days in the desert at the beginning of his public
ministry. This was a time of testing and preparation for him. The New
Bible Commentary tells us "Before He even entered upon a ministry whose
purpose was to challenge and ultimately to break the power of Satan in
others, that enemy had to be met and defeated on the battleground of his
own life." Remember that Jesus is not only fully God, but also fully
human. He had the same body that we have. Jesus had to develop
physically, emotionally, and spiritually just as each one of us do. In
fact, Luke tells us that "Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour
with God and men." (Luke 2:52 NIV). Jesus had to grow in awareness of who
He was: The Son of God, and of what His mission was. His time in the
desert was the last step of testing and preparation before fulfilling His
We too, have a time in the desert -- a journey of testing and preparation
before entering the Promised Land. One can not, may not, leap out of
bondage to a dominating sin -- such as homosexuality (or any other sin) and
enter into the Promised Land. This time in the desert is an important time
of preparation to be able to live in the Promised Land.
Life in the Promised Land is very different from life in the desert. As
the Israelites entered the Promised Land they needed to take possession of
the land. Slowly they secured one piece of land after the next until they
possessed it all. After all the land was theirs, they returned to their
new homes and settled in. Is not this the same in our Christian walk? We
come to know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, then we enter basic
training (a time of testing and preparation in the desert), then we go to
war -- for others and against Satan. Christians have come under the
delusion that once they give their life to Christ, He will make everything
nice and fine. They continue to pursue their "new way of life," which in
reality is just the old way with a little Christian morality thrown in.
The Gospel of Mark tells us that immediately after Jesus' baptism, "the
Spirit sent Him out into the desert, and He was in the desert forty days,
being tempted by Satan. He was with the wind animals and angels attended
Him." (Mark 1:12,13).
Lets us look at Jesus' experience in the desert. First, we note that Jesus
was alone. There were no other human beings with him. How often do we
feel the same way while we are going through severe temptation? Even if
there are people around, it seems that they can not help us in our
struggles. Jesus' aloneness and the strength of the temptations is
intensified when Mark tells us that "He was with the wild animals." When I
go for a day hike in the mountains, I often fear meeting up with a bear,
snake, or mountain lion. And I stick to the main trails! Can you imagine
being out in the desert with the wild animals for forty days? Jesus was
exposed to real danger. He could become lonely, have given up, or He could
have been devoured by the wild animals.
Second, we note that Jesus was "being tempted by Satan." Satan was not
waiting at the edge of the desert for Jesus' return before he began his
temptations (see Matthew 4 and Luke 4). Satan buffeted Jesus continually
for forty days. We like to believe that we can handle an occasional
temptation -- but it is the continual onslaught of temptation that leads to
despair -- that leads to the cry "Will it ever end?" Winter storms
buffeted the Midwestern part of the United States this winter. One storm
came on the heels of the last. The people could not get rid of the first
pile of snow before they had to face the next. This is only an example of
how a continual onslaught can get people down. Maybe our own experience
with homosexual temptation is not so different or unusual. Jesus had to
face the same thing.
Third, we note that Jesus was fasting -- not for a day or two, but for
forty. Fasting will affect a person physically as well as spiritually.
Beside enduring hunger pains, a person on an extended fast will tend to
become dizzy when he moves quickly. There is a certain amount of weight
loss and a decrease in physical strength. The spiritual benefits outweigh
those side affects, but let us not forget that Jesus was in the hot, dry
desert, with the wild animals, alone. The intensity of Jesus' struggle was
great. It was as intense as our own struggles against homosexuality.
Jesus was identifying and becoming one with us.
The time in the desert may well have been the second most important event
in Jesus' life. (The most important being His death and resurrection.) It
is in the desert that we see Jesus as a very human man going through very
human temptations. Jesus was identifying and becoming one with us. Jesus
had to defeat His personal devil just as we do. As the writer of Hebrews
says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with
our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as
we are -- yet was without sin." (Hebrews 4:15 NIV). Jesus not only knows
about our temptation to sin, He has experienced it! Jesus not only knows
about our battle against Satan, He has experienced that battle!
In the desert, the Israelites were prepared to enter the Promised Land.
They needed that experience to be trained and prepared to drive out the
enemy living in Canaan. So too Jesus had to be trained and prepared. He
had to know our battle. Then Jesus could go out, meet the enemy, and
defeat him -- which He did through His death and resurrection.
In the desert we will be trained and prepared. We will meet the enemy, we
will defeat that enemy. Then, we will enter the Promised Land and drive
him out. We will lead others into that Promised Land. When all are in,
and the enemy is totally wiped out, then we will have our eternal rest. Do
not be dismayed when Satan buffets you with homosexual temptation. You are
being prepared for greater work. And remember Jesus Christ has already
walked through the desert -- and He is with you.
-- Douglas A Houck, M.S.
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