Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness…
From Matthew 4:1-11
The desert wilderness never seemed so enticing. After weeks on end of the gray skies, the cold downpours, and the sharp winds … forty days of desert doesn’t seem so bad. It feels good to get out of the rain. I can see myself shedding a few layers I’d put on like armor for protection. I don’t think I’ll need them out here. Maybe you’ll join me? We’ll be exposed to the sun’s warmth. We’ll let the bright light reveal what it might have to show us. There’s nothing to hide behind out here in the desert. There’s no hiding from God, from one another, not even from ourselves—just plenty of wide open space. Lots of room to stretch and grow. As John the Baptist might say, “If you want to know God, you’re going to have to go to the desert.”
There’s good company out here in the desert: just over yonder lies Moses, fasting and praying that we’ll stop settling for the molten calf and awaken to abiding presence of the living God. The hot air rising up from the sand gradually melts away his righteous anger.
Elijah’s here too. You can watch his profile move on the southern horizon, steadily walking to the mountain of God. Each of his steps is a bit lighter. He used to be so confident he knew God’s heart, but the winning at all costs and the utter annihilation of the other side left him feeling empty to the core. He’s heading toward a real encounter now that won’t disappoint. Not in heavy wind, or an earthquake, or fire. It’ll be in the tiny whispering sound. Can you hear it?
We’re out here together, all God’s people. This desert wilderness is schooling us how to be free after years in bondage, how to dream bigger dreams and claim hearts that are ready to hold more. We’re slow learners, but God is patient. God leads the beloved son out here to teach us, to show us the way.
Everything’s building to a high noon showdown in the middle of the expanse. It’s Jesus eye to eye with the father of lies—the same tense duel that pulls inside us all as the soundtrack swells and the tension builds. It forces us to come to terms with all the time we spend plotting how we might increase our comfort, our security, our power, and gain the approval of others. Everything revolves around this. Turning stones into bread couldn’t hurt. Feats of daring like throwing ourselves from the parapet of the temple couldn’t hurt either. Or we could take it all by force and violence; we could have power over all the nations of the world in all their magnificence. And yet, like a desert rose, the teacher is steadfast, unwavering in the Spirit. He answers riches, honors, and pride with simplicity, humility, and other-centeredness, showing us what’s really real about ourselves.
The living God. The tiny whispering sound. The school of freedom. Discovering our interdependence anew.
His way leads us deeper into this meager landscape, where his hunger, loneliness, and woundedness meets our own. “It’s okay to be vulnerable,” he says. “These are struggles we all go through. I go through them too!” When we see each other out here in the desert there’s enough affection in his big bright eyes to fill the cosmos. We’ll keep on praying, walking, learning, and growing, with the hope that we’ll arrive at the promised land side by side: a city of destiny characterized by mutuality and compassion.
Dwelling Among Us
Is there a word or phrase that stands out to you? What is it calling forth?
What about the wilderness appeals to you? What invitation do you hear being whispered in your life right now?
Walk to a place of wilderness. It could be a vacant lot, the detention center, the city jail. What woundedness do you encounter there? How does it connect with your own?