Summary: Time in the wilderness of life doesn't have to be bad news. It may be a time of spiritual renewal
The wilderness is indeed a strange place.
It’s a place we feel we need to avoid.
And how many of us have been there and not enjoyed it?
That feeling in our Christian walk that we are lost and alone.
The wilderness experience is a place we feel we need to get out of when we are there.
We feel distant from God.
We feel that our devotional life is in ruins.
We feel our prayer life is non-existent.
We feel like hypocrites in our Christian example.
We feel like we just don’t have faith.
We feel there is something wrong in our relationship with God.
We feel as if, perhaps, that God is punishing us and we have to get ourselves right again.
But if we look at our bible reading we find something quite interesting.
If we look closely we see that being in the wilderness was not some sort of going off the track for Jesus.
It wasn’t that Jesus had gone astray.
No, it was the Holy Spirit who actually led Jesus into the wilderness.
So there are some important details that we draw out of our bible reading that also relate to us:
The first words in our Gospel are: after his Baptism.
In Baptism one of the questions asked is – do you reject the devil and all his works and all his ways?
The devil’s works and ways want us on a path away from God.
He tempted Peter to go the glory way rather than the cross.
Jesus then rebuked him and said – get behind me Satan (Matthew 16:23)
Our baptism is that dividing point where we reject whatever is against Jesus.
When we are tempted then we should look to our baptism and remind ourselves that we have rejected that way of life.
Like Israel who constantly wanted to go back to Egypt when the going got tough in the wilderness, sometimes we are tempted to go back to the life we have left behind.
Any lifestyle or decision that is against God’s will we are to reject.
And when we fail and end up sinning then we also look to our baptism and remind ourselves that in Baptism God washes away our sin.
We don’t try and balance the evil we do with good – no we look to God’s grace.
The Holy Spirit
We hear a lot about the Holy Spirit.
We hear about people’s experiences of the Holy Spirit where they speak in tongues – or they feel so excited about their faith and refer to it as an infilling of the Holy Spirit.
Others associate the Holy Spirit with healing and if you’re suffering then it’s because you don’t have enough faith, otherwise the Holy Spirit would heal you.
But here we see that the Holy Spirit doesn’t prevent Jesus from going into the wilderness but leads him there.
This isn’t something you’ll hear a lot about when you hear charismatic speakers talk about the gifts and working of the Holy Spirit.
No they’ll talk about excitement and moving emotions – but here the work of the Holy Spirit is to lead Jesus and us into wilderness experiences.
The wilderness is not a place of punishment or evil.
The wilderness is a place where we are emptied in order for God to grow our Christian faith and awareness.
It’s not a nice place but it’s a place where we often find ourselves.
It’s a place that is sometimes necessary to realise our human frailty and need for God as we hear in Psalm 130:
Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
It’s what Paul discovered in his wilderness experience as he cried out to the Lord 3 times:
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses – not my healings -, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9).
It’s what Paul wrote about Jesus who “emptied himself and become obedient unto death – even death on the cross”. (Philippians 2:7,8).
And by that suffering Jesus was given the name above all other names. (Philippians 2:9)
The number 40 is a significant number in the bible.
Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness until God led them into their new promised land.
It was 40 days that the rain fell as God prepared the new land for Noah and his family.
It was 40 days that Moses spent with God on Mt Sinai.
It was 40 days that Jesus spent on earth after his resurrection prior to his Ascension.
40 days warning to Nineveh that God was going to destroy them.
40 always speak of a time leading up to something extraordinary with God.
Times of wilderness sometimes take us on a journey deep into the heart of God’s presence.