One of the Biblical stories I turn back to time and again is that of Jesus’ testing in the desert.
Let me give you a bit of context. The book of Matthew chronicles the life, ministry, and death of Jesus. It opens with the traditional Christmas story, some riveting 1 genealogical discussions, and carries through His baptism and the beginning of His ministry.
The thing is, there’s a telling break between the baptism story and the start of the ministry. It’s also a bit of a depressing break.
At the end of the third chapter of Matthew, we see Jesus baptized. He’s with his cousin, John the Baptist, in the Jordan river. He’s just used himself as an example for everyone and, upon coming out of the water, is formally recognized and blessed by God:
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 2
It’s a beautiful picture, one that brings images of doves, rays of glorious light, heavenly voices, and peace. Everything seems perfectly in place for Jesus to begin sharing the good news of the kingdom of God.
Except he’s called to do one thing first.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 3
Keep in mind, Jesus was just baptized. He was just blessed by his father in heaven and getting ready to go out into the world and preach. Instead, the Spirit sends him to the wilderness (the desert in some translations) to meet and be challenged by the most wicked antagonist in the history of scripture.
It blows the feel-good ending of the previous chapter out of the water.
I’ve been to the wilderness – by choice. I enjoy going there for a week or two at a time to relax, reflect, and recharge. But I go with supplies. I have bedding, a tent, food, water. It’s the wilderness, but I’m relatively comfortable while I’m there.
Jesus was in the wilderness fasting. He was foregoing food to further meditate on scripture, spirituality, and the mission laid before him on Earth. It wasn’t a fun camping trip in the woods, he was sacrificing and suffering throughout this ordeal.
And his companion left much to be desired. Remember, Jesus was speaking to the devil while he was in the wilderness. Not only was he hungry after not eating for over a month, but there was someone with him actively challenging him to abandon his mission.
He persevered, though, and after standing firm through the devil’s advances, he began his ministry.
Often, we’re called to this or that wilderness for a time of testing.
We’ve reached a place of comfort – friend surround us, heaven appears to open its light upon us, everything feels perfect. Then something changes and, whether by our own decision or not, we’re thrust from our comfort zone into the unknown. It’s painful. It’s challenging. It feels like an unending, uphill battle against the world.
Voices from all sides – not just a single challenger – tell us to stop. To give up. To take the easy way out and abandon the goal after which we’re chasing.
How often have you found yourself called away from the bliss of accomplishment, recognition, and comfort and thrust into the wilderness? How often have you found yourself wandering this wilderness asking aloud, “how much more?”
Jesus ordered the devil away and was instead attended by the angels before he began his ministry in full. Order the devil away from your own ambitions in the wilderness and, through the strength of Jesus, you too can make it through this ordeal.