Imagine, after a long period of relative obscurity, you suddenly become a spiritual celebrity. The greatest prophet in the nation publicly affirms your calling to ministry, the Heavens open and it seems God’s highest favour rests on you, while the anointing of the Holy Spirit is poured out on you mightily. In the church or conference where you have gathered with the saints to seek the face of God every eye now turns to behold this newly revealed mighty servant of God. At last, your moment of recognition has come! The ministry you have so been craving is at your fingertips. The atmosphere is electric with expectation. Whispers are heard among the crowd: “What will he do now?” Will he heal us? Will he perform miracles? Will he become our leader?” Ask yourself, would you have the humility, the courage, or the focus to simply walk away, leaving behind the newly opened opportunities, or the pressure and sheer neediness of the people……to be alone and unknown in a very hard place with God?
That’s exactly what Jesus did. Right when it seemed He had finally ‘arrived’, ready, willing and anointed, He said ‘no thanks’ and wandered off into the wilderness, not to be seen again for many long days. All Israel awaited their Messiah and Messiah turned up and said: “You’ll have to wait a bit longer”!
One of the first things we are asked to surrender on our wilderness journey is the need for the approval and recognition of our fellow humans. This includes other believers with whom we have enjoyed friendship and fellowship. People will not understand why we need to be alone with God. Some will accuse us of ‘separating’ ourselves from the Body, and it will hurt.
But Jesus was not walking off in a fit of rebellion or pride. According to Mark 1:12 it was the Spirit of God who immediately “drove Him” away. The scriptural implication is that Jesus was compelled urgently by the Spirit to remove Himself from where He was and follow the Spirit into the wilderness of Judaea. Some would find it hard to imagine that the Holy Spirit could lead us away from the crowd and into desert places, but that’s because they have a very limited view of the Holy Spirit. Unless it is the Spirit who leads us into the wilderness, better not to go there.
The Holy Spirit was Jesus’ constant companion in the wilderness (Luke 4:1). Learning to both live and walk in the Spirit of God is a vital lesson for wilderness dwellers (Gal. 5:25). Everything we have previously learned in man built religion must be carefully examined under the intense scrutiny of the Spirit so what is carnal may be discarded, and only what is Spirit and truth remains. That which is from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil must be revealed for what it is and rejected. The Spirit’s objective is that we shall never again be satisfied with anything less than Christ, who is our Tree of Life.
There is a common misconception that Jesus faced only three temptations in the wilderness. However, both Matthew and Luke record that Jesus was first tempted for forty days by Satan and afterwards was hungry. It is at this point, after the forty days, that Satan tempts him to alleviate his physical hunger by turning stone into bread (Luke 4:2-4; Matt. 4:1-3).
It is interesting that in his final three temptations Satan first focused in on food. 1 John 2:16 describes three kinds of major temptations to which humanity falls prey: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. It was these three specific temptations that Adam and Eve succumbed to in the Garden when they ate from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, for the tree was said to be good for food (lust of the flesh) pleasant to the eyes (lust of the eyes) and desirable to make one wise (the pride of life) (Gen. 3:6). Satan cunningly highlights Jesus’ need for bodily nourishment by emphasizing His physical hunger. Jesus, quoting from the law because Satan is a legalist and understands nothing of grace or truth, counters that man’s greater need is for spiritual nourishment.
There is a spiritual hunger for the deeper things of Christ that can only be satisfied in the loneliness of the wilderness. When all the religious props, programs, and traditions that comfort our souls but never quite fill our need are no longer available, we find ourselves deeply hungry. Where once we thought we were so full of Christ we discover we had been existing on a diet of milk and candy floss. We now long only for the ‘true bread from Heaven”. Christ is being revealed to us as the spiritual food and the drink He promised He would be (John 6:53-58).
Satan also attempts to cast doubt on Jesus’ identity. “Who do you think You are, Jesus? The Son of God? Really? Well, that’s easily proved. Just show me a miracle and I’ll believe You.” But Jesus has no need to prove to anyone, man or fallen angel, Who His Father is.
In the wilderness we finally find out who we are. Sure, you may have heard countless sermons on being seated with Christ, ‘training for reigning’, and other motivational spiritual pep talks. You can read all the books, listen to all the CD’s, sing all the songs, say and do all the right things to make yourself think and act like a child of God, and still wonder what’s missing. It’s easy to believe you’re a ‘son of God’ when the worship’s booming, the crowd’s buzzing and the preacher’s so very convincing, but who are you when the music dies, and the crowd disperses? Are you truly convicted that you’re a child of God with all that may imply?
In the wilderness the rubber hits the road. There’s just you and God and this nagging voice demanding you DO something to prove you’re who you say you are. The wilderness, though, is where you stop doing and start being. Here the false identity we found in the relentless activities of organized religion must be laid on the altar and we must stand naked before God, devoid of our works, titles and positions.
Here we will learn what it is to be clothed only in His Blood bought righteousness with nothing added. Here we find our true identity lies in the fact that we were known, cherished and called into our Father’s embrace before the foundation of the world. Here we finally see what has previously alluded us, that our identity as children of God is not, and never has been, about who we are. It is about Who He is. Here we truly begin to lose ourselves and find ourselves in Christ.
In Part Three we will continue to dig more deeply into Jesus’ wilderness season and hopefully discover truths that will encourage and edify us on our own wilderness journeys.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2013 Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.