Lessons From The Wilderness Part Five: The Revelation Of The Son

Close-up of a fluttering bridal veil against grey background

The Spirit that guides, counsels, comforts and shows us things to come is a Spirit of revelation (Jn. 16:13). He is a revealer. And that which He reveals is Christ. It is always the purpose and ministry of this holy, revealer Spirit who is the very living breath of God, to reveal Christ.

There is nothing that gives God more pleasure than the revealing of the Son. Try it some time. Tell God the Father, sincerely, how beautiful His Son is and then soak in the unmitigated joy that floods you. The natural created world around us, and the heavens, are all a revelation of Christ the Son. Everything to which God has ever set His mind centers on the revelation of the Son. And among all the ways that God has found to reveal the Son, none give Him more pleasure than to reveal Him within human beings.

But when it pleased God….to reveal His Son in me….Gal. 1:15

This is the essence, the nucleus, of the gospel. The gospel is not signing a card, raising a hand or repeating a prayer. It is not even doing what Jesus does. None of these come within lightyears of adequately representing the fullness of the gospel that was delivered to us by those who first preached Christ. The gospel delivered to us is Christ in us.

But when it pleased God….to reveal His Son in me….

There is a people on this earth, a tribe if you like, in whom God is actively revealing His Son. Many are wandering in what seems like an endless spiritual wilderness. It is uncomfortable for them. Many remain, for now, worshiping within the increasingly restrictive walls of local assemblies. It is uncomfortable for them. Wherever they may be following Christ, this tribe does not fit. It is becoming evident to them that there is only one place they can gather with a sense of belonging and oneness, and that is in and through the Holy Spirit, for those in whom Christ is being revealed recognize and seek out those in whom Christ is being revealed.

But when it pleased God….to reveal His Son in me….

The words were written by the apostle Paul to the Galatian church. He describes how the gospel he preached did not originate with man nor was it taught to him by man, but came solely through the revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:12). Revelation of Christ always comes to us via the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:15). In fact the original Greek word for revelation can be expressed as ‘to uncover, or lay open what has been veiled.’

Upon receiving this gospel Paul says he spent time in Arabia, then in Damascus. At a time when the Holy Spirit was doing this very deep work of revealing Christ the Son in Paul, he did not seek out the fellowship of other Christians but was led into obscurity, many believe in the Arabian wilderness, for nearly three years (Gal. 1:15-18). The gospel Paul received and taught, and which we regularly quote, came to him in isolation, alone with God, without the instruction of even those who had spent three years with Christ in the flesh.

And it came in this manner because God, at an appointed time, was pleased to reveal His Son in Paul.

Disconnected from other believers Paul had the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, the great Revealer of Christ. Today he would be inundated with emails from fellow Christians warning him of the dangers of being a ‘lone ranger’ believer. But the Spirit will not be restricted to man’s understanding of how things should be done. He chooses the time, the place and the way in which He will begin to unveil the Christ within each one of us.

My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, he stands behind our wall; He is looking through the windows, gazing through the lattice. (Sng. 2:9)

I became a disciple of Jesus Christ in 1963 at the youthful age of 13 through the witness of a friend’s mother. No one in my family was a believer. Nevertheless, wishing to be as good a Christian as I could be, I started attending church and reading my Bible. In due course I married and moved locations as my family grew, raising four children. Over the years, according to what was available locally, I sought fellowship in numerous denominational settings including mainstream evangelical, Pentecostal, and Charismatic. I was a card carrying, tithe paying, twice on Sundays plus mid-week meeting Christian. I thought that was all there was.

Until it wasn’t.

Some time in the mid-nineteen nineties, by the grace of God, it pleased God to reveal His Son in me. The beginning of this ongoing revelation, which by the way continues to unfold, didn’t come with a clap of thunder or voice from Heaven. It came quietly, with a gentle but life-changing awakening as the Spirit began to unveil a Christ I’d never known.

This was not the revelation of Jesus Christ as Saviour to me. It was the revelation of Christ Jesus, by whom, through whom and for whom all things are created, in me (Col. 1:16). Like the Shulamite who caught a momentary glimpse of the Beloved gazing through the lattice, I began to catch sight in the Spirit of this Son and it took my breath away. From that time on pursuit of that One the Spirit is revealing has become my greatest passion.

Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea. Jn. 21:7

How is it that John recognized the risen Jesus and Peter did not? Both of them had been as close to Jesus as anyone could be. They had run to the tomb together, discovering it empty. Peter had entered while John at first hesitated. But when John did at last enter ‘he saw and believed’ (Jn. 20:3-8). I think John saw more than an empty tomb and some bloodied, discarded linen cloths. I believe that moment was the moment God chose to ‘reveal His Son’ in John.

When God is pleased to reveal His Son in us, it is Christ, Messiah, who He unveils. We have known and loved Jesus Christ our Saviour, but this risen Christ Jesus, this glorious Son of God in His full authority, power and beauty, must be revealed in us.

Peter did not recognize this risen Christ calling to them from the seashore until John said ‘It is the Lord’. John was beholding the risen Christ Jesus, the One Who God had begun to reveal in him. Much later John would write ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’ (Jhn. 1:14)

Have You Seen the One I love?

‘I will rise now,’ I said,…..’I will seek the one I love.’ I sought him, but I did not find him. The watchmen who go about the city found me; I said ‘Have you seen the one I love?’ Song. 3:2-4

My heart leaped up when he spoke. I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer. The watchmen who went about the city found me. They struck me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took my veil away from me. Song 5:4-7

There is an unveiling, a revealing, of Christ Jesus to be accomplished in each of us at a time when it pleases God. It is not Christ who is veiled; it is we who need unveiling so we might begin to comprehend His fullness (2 Cor. 3:18). In pursuit of her Beloved the lovesick Shulamite lost her veil at the hands of the city watchmen. The watchmen were those who guarded the walls that kept her within the confines of their control (Sng.5:7).

But after her veil was removed the Shulamite could run without hindrance to pursue her Beloved. Where previously she had been wondering ‘Who is this?’ (Sng 3:6), freed of her veil she could now describe the excellence of her Beloved in minute detail (Sng.5:10-16).

After the unveiling she herself becomes so greatly transformed even those who know her are left asking each other ‘Who is this?’ (Sng. 8:5). So much has she been transformed from the immature Shulamite who began this love-journey, she has become unrecognizable.

When this Son, this Christ Jesus, begins to be revealed to us, He captures our heart so completely we are compelled to pursue, to press on and lay hold as Paul expressed it (Phl. 3:12). Along the way we are going to suffer the ire of those who find our new found passion offensive. They have not yet seen the One we love. And understand I am speaking of those ‘in the city’, that is those in the church.

They will wound us with blows of criticism and disdain and accuse us of being unbalanced in our pursuit of this One we have seen and now pursue, Whose voice calls us onward regardless. The unveiling of Christ to us will be costly. It will not come without affliction. If we would see Christ in His fullness we cannot avoid the fellowship of His sufferings. But from this lovesickness there is no turning back.

As new believers we have been taught to discern others of Jesus’ disciples through the lens of a certain question: ‘Do you know Jesus?’   But when God is pleased to reveal His Son in us a more pressing question ignites in our hearts, binding us together in the Spirit regardless of our geographical location or personal situation:

‘Have you seen the One I love?  Is He not altogether lovely?’

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016 and beyond.  All rights reserved. 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.

Related Articles:

Lessons from The Wilderness Part One

Lessons from The Wilderness Part Two

Lessons from the Wilderness Part Three

Lessons from the Wilderness Part Four

Lessons From the Wilderness: Part Four

The "Pinnacle" of theTemple

In the wilderness nothing is man-made.  All that is needed for survival must be provided by God.  In His wilderness journey Jesus would have sheltered in caves or one of the many rocky recesses to be found in the cliff faces.  He would have refreshed Himself at the small springs of water that occasionally break forth from beneath the arid terrain. He would have crossed paths with nomadic herders, tent dwellers who were content to make the wilderness their home.  As someone has wisely noted, not all who wander are lost. 

In his three major temptations of Jesus, Satan had by now used up two of his trump cards:  the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh.  Jesus has resisted each of them.  Having caught on that Jesus will not be detoured from the Word of God, Satan now cloaks himself in piety and for the first time quotes the scripture back to Him:

Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here.  For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’  (Luke 4:9-11)

But Jesus counters with: “It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” (Luke 4:12)

What’s going on here?  The place where this exchange takes place is pivotal to our understanding. Satan leads Jesus to the pinnacle, i.e. the highest point, of the great temple in Jerusalem.  It is from here that he once again invites Jesus to prove that He is God’s Son by the sign of leaping from the building and trusting God to rescue Him.

The temple in Jerusalem was the pride of all Israel. Its system of ritual and sacrifice was embedded deeply into the Jewish way of life and more than anything else defined Jewish history and culture.   At a later date, some of Jesus disciples excitedly pointed out to Him the grandeur of the great temple’s structure, but Jesus was unimpressed (Mark 13:1,2). The temple had a pinnacle that was extremely high, overlooking the deep Kidron Valley outside the city walls. Some scholars believe the drop may have been as much as 700 feet.  The historian Josephus described the distance between the pinnacle and the valley below this way:

“….the valley was very deep, and its bottom could not be seen if you looked from above into the depth……insomuch that if any one looked down from the top….he would be giddy, while his sight could not reach to such an immense depth.” -Antiquities, Book 15, Chap.11:5 

The pinnacle was also known as ‘the place of the trumpet”.  It was from this highest part of the temple that a priest would watch for the dawn, and then blow a trumpet signaling the commencement of the day’s activities, beginning with the morning sacrifice.   The temple pinnacle was easily viewable from large sections of Jerusalem and the Jews believed that Messiah would reveal Himself to Israel from this highest section of their temple (see Mal. 3:1).   

In effect, to paraphrase, Satan was saying: ‘Well of course you’re the Son of God Jesus.  I know that.  And to ensure everyone else knows it You should announce Yourself in spectacular fashion. If you throw Yourself down and miraculously survive, everyone in Jerusalem and beyond will hear about Your long awaited arrival.  You will be an instant celebrity.  Your Messiahship will be proclaimed throughout Israel. You’ll have so many followers You won’t be able to count them.  And You don’t have to worry about those natural laws of gravity at all because You know God’s infallible Word will never let you down. Go for it!”

Jesus called his suggestion for what it was:  testing God.  We can be sure when Satan can’t get us to disregard God’s Word he will then try to convince us God needs our help.  Going down that path will soon put us in the driving seat with God as our passenger.    Jesus knew and respected His Father too well to ask Him to prove Himself.  He would not test His Father. 

Notice when Satan quotes the word of God, that’s the best he can do.  He can only quote but never inspire, because the truth is not in Him (Jn. 8:44).  One of the most precious things we can learn in the wilderness is a new way of hearing and receiving the Word.  The Word of God is far more than moral instruction.  Above all it is living revelation to the human spirit. Many, both inside and outside of Christianity, can quote God’s Word, but only those who walk with Christ can utter it forth with authority as indisputable truth.

It is the expressed purpose of the Spirit to lead us into all truth, and it is Christ who is ALL truth (Jn. 16:13). The Spirit delights to continually reveal Him to us, building layer upon layer, glory upon glory.  Here in the wilderness, unrestrained by the will of man, He can do just that.  The different denominations and streams of organized Christianity present us with an incomplete Christ, emphasizing this or that aspect of His character and downplaying or denying His other facets.  Here in the wilderness we begin to behold the immensity of Christ in His fullness.  Previous mindsets, often erected over many years, must come crashing down to make way for a Christ who is fuller, deeper and greater than we had ever imagined Him to be.  The limited Christ we have known gives way to the Christ who is fills all in all.

I find it interesting that when Satan so piously quoted scripture to Jesus with the preface “it is written” Jesus did not reply “it is written’ but ‘it is said”.  It is then recorded that Satan left Jesus to wait for an ‘opportune time’ (Luke 4:12,13). Here is the Spirit filled rhema Word of God on the tongue of the living logos Word of God, rebuking a fallen angel.   Is it any wonder Satan got out of there fast?

The temple represents the religion of the flesh, where the pride of life masquerades as holiness.  It was the pride of life that finally ensnared the first humans in the Garden of Eden when they saw that the forbidden fruit was ‘desirable to make one wise’ (Gen.  3:6). The wisdom they received was not God’s wisdom but the counterfeit wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 1:19,20; 2:5; 2:7; 2:13; 3:19).

Every high and lofty thing that exalts itself above the knowledge of Christ has its roots in the wisdom (or pride) of this world.  History bears witness than whenever that pride is aligned with carnal religion, the outcome is oppression and spiritual death.  Too often in the man-made temple system of organized Christianity human pride masquerading as spirituality finds a welcoming embrace and is allowed to thrive.  The fruit is a shallow, compromising Christianity devoid of the power to truly transform the human soul.  It was this temptation to take pride in His spiritual credentials that was at the root of Satan’s invitation for Jesus to leap from the pinnacle of the temple. 

In the wilderness, however, the pride of life is dealt a death blow.  In the wilderness too we learn spiritual warfare is not about proving who we are but about standing still while God proves who He is.

Every man-made temple has a pinnacle.  The temple system with its emphasis on hierarchy, law, ritual, tradition, and history still provides the perfect setting for men and women to proudly display their spiritual credentials.  Super celebrity apostles and prophets trumpet out their messages from the heights while the masses below gather to hear their latest ‘word’ or revelation.  Too often the message is ‘you can attain this height too by simply buying my book, following my plan or supporting my cause” etc.  Mega church leaders count success by the size of their building programs or efficiency of their marketing strategy.  Everywhere people are busy ensuring temple life continues as it always has been and that the temple agenda is uninterrupted. The temple atmosphere is ripe for self-exaltation. 

In the wilderness there is no man-made temple and precious few opportunities for sitting on pinnacles.  The temple where God resides cannot be seen with the human eye, but is nonetheless being built in the Spirit, living stone upon living stone.  We will find the atmosphere very different to that which we have come from.  Here the only way up is down, and the Cross is a daily reality, not a historical event.  In the wilderness even our desires are changed.  Where once we sought to emulate our favourite ministry leaders, now we delight to decrease that Christ might increase (Jn. 3:30). 

In the busy metropolis of organized Christianity life centres around the temple and its activities.  In the empty spaces of the wilderness, Christ Himself becomes our life and we become His temple.  

In the wilderness the religion of our flesh is revealed for what it really is and we are confronted with a radical choice.  We can consent to die to the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life, or we can follow the well-worn trail back to the comfort and soothing familiarity of the temple system, where such dramatic choices are rarely mentioned, let alone demanded. 

That’s the thing about the wilderness.  The Cross can be seen clearly from anywhere.

© 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.

Related articles

Lessons From the Wilderness: Part Three

_desert-of-southern-judeaWhen Jesus was led into the wilderness after His baptism at the Jordan, He was full of the Spirit of God (Lk 4:1) Many days later He returned from the wilderness to Galilee, this time in the power of the Spirit (Lk 4:14). Something happened in the wilderness that empowered Jesus more deeply to hear, obey and move in complete compliance with the Holy Spirit.    Later He would say “the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does… “(Jn 5:19).  His wilderness experience was instrumental in enabling Him to both live and walk wholly by the Spirit of God.   The scriptures record that often when Jesus was pressed by the crowds He would return to the wilderness (Lk. 5:16; Mark 1:35; Mark 6:32). For Jesus, the wilderness was not a forbidding desert, but a refuge of fellowship and intimacy with His Father.

It’s one thing to live by the Spirit but quite another to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).  In the wilderness there are no sign posts, ten step plans, or crowds to follow.  At best we may occasionally stumble across the footsteps of some who have walked ahead of us.  For the most part though, we must learn to attune our ears to the lone voice of the Spirit who will teach us what it really means to walk with God, doing only what we see and hear from Him.  Though we may have entered the wilderness full of the Spirit, we must now learn to walk in the Spirit. 

As we saw in Part Two of this series, Satan had sharply honed his temptation skills in the Garden of Eden when he successfully manipulated the first humans with a three pronged attack:  the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn 2:16).  Plan A, tempting Jesus to imagine stones as bread (lust of the eyes) had failed.  So Satan moved on to Plan B.

Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.”  (Luke 4:5-7)

What is this high mountain from which Satan showed Jesus the kingdoms of the world?  It is the mountain called ‘self’, the uncrucified flesh nature of mankind.  In a nutshell, it is the lust of the flesh. The vast kingdoms Jesus was shown are in fact the false systems that man has been building around himself since departing the Garden of Eden.   In humanity’s futile attempts to replace what was lost at the Fall, we have constructed a myriad of precarious kingdoms that continually seek to control and subjugate us.   We have kingdoms called ‘banking’, ‘government’, ‘the military’, ‘education’, ‘entertainment’, ‘leisure’, ‘career’, ‘religion’, to name just a few of the thousands of kingdoms that now surround us on every side.  Humanity in general now trusts in these kingdoms so thoroughly they believe they don’t need God.   The Bible calls this myriad of human kingdoms “Babylon” (Rev. 11:15; 17:5).

Notice at this point Satan is no longer casting doubt on Jesus’ credentials as Son of God.  All he wants is a little compromise….the kind of compromise where you take something that rightfully belongs to God and give it to someone or something else.  And when Satan gets what is God’s, that’s worship.

And Jesus answered and said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’  (Luke 4:8)

In His reply Jesus laid bare a profound truth: worship is really about who you serve.   There is no question that we, as the Body of Christ are each called in mutual servanthood to one another.   Unless that servanthood flows directly out of the worship of Christ, however, it is simply human flesh dressed up in religious clothing.  Much of the “servanthood” that takes place in organized Christianity is simply worship of man and his kingdoms, rooted in the carnal life of man’s flesh. 

Why is it that Christian history has been (and still is) peppered with multitudes who have blindly followed, served and financially supported false leaders who deceive and mistreat them?  It is because those Christians serve such leaders from a place of carnality within themselves.  Believing they are obeying Christ, they are instead worshiping the flesh of man, both in themselves and in those they follow.  The Word of God can only be lived out through the Spirit of God, and the Spirit will only ever exalt Christ.  If we are not serving one another out of the depths of the knowledge of Christ, we are indulging the lust of the flesh no matter how pious and holy we may appear to be.

From the beginning Satan has sought for humanity to serve him because he understands service is worship. Unimaginable authority on earth was offered to Jesus by Satan.  Many men and women throughout history have craved that level of authority and sought it at any cost.  Gaining authority, recognition, wealth and greatness in this world can even seem like we are being rewarded by God.  But the kingdoms of the world currently are overseen by our enemy who seeks to share them only to gain our worship.  In refusing to compromise, Jesus chose the pathway to the Cross.

In the wilderness we too will come face to face with the kingdoms of the flesh we have allowed to be built within ourselves.  Each one of these kingdoms must be exposed to us by the Spirit, and with His help confronted, uprooted and toppled.  This process is vital to our wilderness experience.  In the great metropolis of organized religion we were trained to serve the kingdoms of denominationalism, tradition, law and fear of man.  But the wilderness is about transitioning from the kingdoms of the world to the Kingdom of God.

In the wilderness the flesh life is denied and starved of nourishment:  the things that previously were feeding it are removed.  We are increasingly dependent on the fellowship of the Spirit, intimacy with the Bridegroom and communion with the Father.  These now become our nourishment and sustenance, the ‘food you know not of’’ that Jesus spoke about to His disciples (Jn: 4:31-32). And to our delight we are learning that serving God is living for Him, not working for Him.

The Bride’s greatest enemy may not be what we think it is.  It is not persecution, because persecution purifies and strengthens her, transforming her into an overcomer.  It is not even sin because sin has been defeated (Rom. 8.2,3).  Her greatest enemy is compromise, those small daily compromises over matters of truth, righteousness, mercy and justice that nobody else seems to notice.  No one likes a flirtatious bride except the one with whom she is flirting.  Every small compromise  where the values of God’s Kingdom are not honoured is a spiritual flirtation with the world.

In the wilderness we are immersed into the value system of the Kingdom of God.  The lip service and double standards of false religion will not pass the test here.  Here, where Christ is all, we learn to desire and value what He desires and values.  We will seek to be righteous because He is our righteousness; we will love truth and justice because He is the Just and True; we will demonstrate mercy because He is merciful.  And none of these will bear the hallmarks of religious works. Instead they will flow freely and in unlimited supply because we are learning what it is to not only live in the Spirit, but walk in the Spirit.  Only as we learn to walk in the power and strength of the Spirit of God can the lust of the flesh be overcome (Gal. 5:16).

In Part Four of Lessons from the Wilderness we will continue to follow Jesus in His own wilderness journey to understand more about our own!

© 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.

Lessons from the Wilderness Part Two

wilderness2Imagine, 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.

Lessons from the Wilderness, Part One

Landscape

Wilderness….you’ve either been there, are there right now, or don’t want to go there….. ever!  I remember being taught the only safe place for a Christian was ‘in the fellowship of other Christians’, meaning a thriving church scene surrounded by people who dressed in the same clothes, spoke the same language, sang the same songs and apparently had their Christianity all sorted out.  Wilderness was a place for sinners, rebels and ‘lone rangers’ they said.

I was told that Christians were like burning embers that only remained on fire as long as they gathered closely together.  Remove one ember from the Body of Christ, they said, and poof! that ember would  grow cold and inevitably lose hold of their Christian faith.  I must admit it sounded logical at the time.  It was several years before I came to understand the Body of Christ is knit together not by physical proximity but by the Spirit of God; that my membership in Christ’s Body means I am of His flesh and of His bones irrespective of church attendance; and the Good Shepherd is well able to keep His sheep despite the absence of any other ‘embers’.

Nevertheless, horror of horrors, a day arrived when I woke up to find myself out there in that most forbidden of places, the dreaded wilderness (with a capital “W”)!   How had I made my way into this twilight zone of backsliders, unteachables and spiritual fringe dwellers of every type and shade?     Well, that’s a story for another day.  Let’s just say I had too many questions that no-one in the safe, thriving metropolis of Christendom wanted to hear, let alone answer.   Know what I’m saying?

It was about then I discovered some of the Bible’s most notable characters, as well as Christ Himself, had long ago preceded me into these stark wilderness wastelands.  In fact the wilderness was integral to the spiritual development of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David,  Elijah, John the Baptist, Paul, and don’t even get me started on the children of Israel!

Like any desert, the wilderness is a place of precious treasures hidden just below the arid surface….treasures rarely found elsewhere.  There is also wisdom to be gained in the wilderness that is not available to those who have never trod its desolate pathways or weathered its unpredictable terrain.  If you have never been to the wilderness do not disdain the wilderness dwellers you may know.  If they are genuine Christ-seekers, they are learning to follow Him in ways you have yet to experience.  All who genuinely seek to know Him in the deepest places of the Spirit will at some time be driven away from the crowd and invited to walk a while with Him in the wilderness.   And many, having savored the rich fellowship of Christ in the wilderness will choose never to return to the big city atmosphere of mainstream churchianity. 

Wilderness dwelling is costly.  It can cost relationships, reputation, and criticism and misunderstanding from those whose support and acceptance is important to us.  Wilderness dwelling can also be extremely lonely.  The programs and structures of organized religion which formerly provided for our social needs are no longer available to us.  Life no longer revolves around the local church timetable.  In the wilderness you learn what it really is to live and walk in the Spirit, or you don’t last long.

So, with all this cost counting, why on earth would anyone leave behind the comfort and seeming safety to be found in the regular routine of normal church life?  It’s simple:  the love of Christ compels them.  They simply haven’t found the depth of communion they long for with Him within the four walls of a church building or the historic traditions of denominationalism.    Of course there are exceptions, but many who have been judgmentally labeled “out of fellowship” by regular churchgoers are simply following the Spirit’s call to come aside and learn more of Christ.  As we shall see in Part Two, Jesus Himself was driven deep into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit.  Is it so strange that His followers would share the same experience?

Membership in Christ’s Body is not defined by what goes on inside the four walls of a church building.   For those who have found a local assembly where the Spirit of God is free to minister, the love of Christ flows through the membership and the Word of God is taught truthfully and without compromise, count your blessings and give thanks to God.  However, the sad truth for many Christ followers is that the institution known as the church is no longer a place of safety and refuge.

Do not take personal issue when someone genuinely seeks to go on their own pathway with God and that pathway leads away from your local fellowship.  Do not join with the frenzied religious mindset that seeks to ‘bring them back into fellowship’ at all costs.  They may have left your fellowship, but that doesn’t mean they have left God’s fellowship.  And do not judge, gossip, condemn or stop loving and praying for them.  If they are headed for the wilderness they will need all the prayer they can get!  But let your prayers be unselfish, seeking the best God has for them, not merely praying them back into your personal fold.

If you are one who has been led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness, take heart.  Though the journey may prove costly, Christ has brought you out to bring you in (Deu. 4:37,38).  He has led you out of spiritual city dwelling not to abandon you, but to bring you deeper into Himself.  He will not disappoint you and over time you will find He is more than worth whatever the cost may prove to be.  If you have been wounded in the church system allow time for healing and give no place to bitterness.  You have been chosen to join with Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings.  If you will learn to be still His love will heal you while His fellowship sustains you. 

In the next post, Lessons from the Wilderness Part Two, we will be delving into Jesus’ own wilderness experience.  Your constructive comments and input are welcome as always!

© 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.