Summary: The wilderness temptation was about Satan offering Jesus 3 opportunities to reject God’s idea of what the Messiah should be.
The dad was trying to teach his 6-year old son how to shoot a basketball. The boy would push the ball as hard as he could toward the basket but always the ball would fall short. The dad would effortlessly toss the ball toward the basket and say, "Just do it like this, son. It’s easy." The boy would try and fail again. The father would show him how again. Finally the boy said, "It’s easy for you up there. You don’t know how hard it is from down here."
Dads are famous for sending their sons forth with words of wisdom:
"Be a man, son."
"Make us proud of you son."
"Hold your head up high son."
"Write if you find work son."
God sent forth his son with these words, "I am well pleased."
With those words fresh in his mind Jesus went empty handed into the unforgiving world surrounding the Dead Sea. It is the lowest point on earth, 1200 feet below sea level. It is hot, dry, and void of life. It is a region without fresh water and life giving plants. The monotony of this barren desert is broken only by rocky hills and dark caves. It is a world fit only for wild animals that prowl every night looking for food. It is unbearably hot in the daytime and unbelievably cold at night. It is a place of incredible loneliness.
David’s graphic descriptions of life in the wilderness would unnerve a timid man. He described it as a place where he was in the midst of lions, cobras, and wild dogs. He called it a "dry and weary land where there is no water."
So, off He goes, this Son of God, who is so pleasing to his Father. Off into a 6-week crash course in human suffering. Off into a world where he has no support, no disciples, no food, nothing but his memory of the will of God.
Finally came the 40’th night and He was, again, alone in the desert. It was the worst night of the entire ordeal. He was so tired, so hungry, so cold. Nighttime in the desert is miserable. The insects come out. The rodents scurry about. The wild animals prowl. The reptiles slither. Isaiah’s metaphor that when the Messiah comes "the wolf would lie down with the lamb" was all too literal for comfort. The lamb was attempting to lie down for the 40’th consecutive lonely night but the wolf wasn’t interested in lying down. He was interested in his ever-weakening prey. The prowling wolf that night wasn’t merely one of the carnivores that lived in the desert caves but more so the great wolf in sheep’s clothing, the roaring lion that walks to and fro on the earth seeking whom he may devour. The wolf that prowls about in the darkness of men’s souls. That wolf was restless that night in the Judean wilderness.
Finally the sun dawned on day 40. Someone approached. At last a break in Jesus’ long 6-week solitude. His visitor was quite a Bible student and understood all too well why Jesus has come to this planet. But the visitor would offer no comfort to the emaciated lamb of God. Instead he offered seduction. The wolf has come to attempt leading Jesus off course. He attacked Jesus, as he does you and me, at his moment of greatest weakness and in his areas of greatest vulnerability.
One of the great truths of life is that after every great moment there comes a moment of reaction. A moment of great testing. After Elijah’s great victory over the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel, he immediately went into a period of depression and doubt. Satan consistently picks such times following spiritual highs to test God’s people. Jesus’ baptism was a spiritual high for him. God spoke audibly for one of 3 times in Jesus’ earthly life. He spoke words of blessing to his beloved son. The Holy Spirit came. The 30-year wait was over. At long last his ministry was to begin. But first comes the wilderness.
It is in such dry, lonely times of life that Satan comes most strongly. He comes to you in your wilderness. When you are away at college for the first time, alone, friendless, lonely. When you enlist in the armed services and find your self-esteem attacked by the very organization that promised to make you into a man. When business calls you away from your family night after lonely night. When you are so tired of being alone that a smiling anonymous waitress makes your heart wander into forbidden places. When the dearest person in the world is suddenly removed from your life forever and you are left alone, heartsick, and surprisingly angry.
At such times, it is imperative that you be able to remember a God who is pleased with you. A God who loves you and believes in you. A God who puts you on your honor and reminds you, "Make me proud of you son."