Episode 1. The Essential Wilderness
Sometimes when we’re travelling through the wilderness, hungry, hurting, lonely, it’s the obvious thing to do to, do whatever it takes to end the pain. Logical really, or is it? God Does Some Strange Things Well, this week on the programme is the second message in a series that I’ve called, “Discovering the Hidden […]
Sometimes when we’re travelling through the wilderness, hungry, hurting, lonely, it’s the obvious thing to do to, do whatever it takes to end the pain. Logical really, or is it?
God Does Some Strange Things
Well, this week on the programme is the second message in a series that I’ve called, “Discovering the Hidden Things of God.” It’s a paradox. God does some really strange things sometimes. Have you noticed that? I don’t know if you have ever had this experience but it seems that it’s during the really difficult times in life – those wilderness experiences – that we seem to learn and to grow and to develop in our character.
And it’s a place and a time that, well, when we are there, we wish we weren’t in it because those wilderness times are painful. God prunes us and purifies us and changes us and makes us so much stronger. He teaches us humility and patience and how to wait on God but when we are there, it’s just never fun. And it never feels good and we always have this sense that we shouldn’t be there and it’s all too hard and what am I doing here?
We began looking last week at this very “wilderness” experience in the life of Jesus Christ. Just before He begins His public ministry, He has this amazing baptism and then God throws Him out into the desert.
When Jesus was baptised, He came up out of the water and at that very moment heaven was open up and He saw the Spirit of God descending down onto Him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.
And yet, even though He has this amazing baptism experience, straight after that, Luke’s Gospel – if you have a Bible grab it, open it at Luke chapter 4. Luke tells us:
that Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, where He was baptised and was led by that same Spirit into the desert where for forty days He was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and at the end of them He was really, really hungry.
See, it’s a strange thing for God to do. To pick up His one and only Son after this awesome baptism and throw Him out into the desert; into the wilderness where He had no protection, it was hot during the day, it was freezing cold during the night, He couldn’t eat anything, it was a time of complete vulnerability. And it’s in those places; those very places that we discover the hidden things of God.
Imagine. The devil was tempting Jesus for forty days while He was starving. Have you ever wondered about the devil? Why does God allow the devil to do that? Why did God allow the devil to tempt Jesus and why does God allow the devil, still today, to tempt and attack us? Isn’t God all about blessing us? Isn’t God all about leading us into a promised land of an intimate, wonderful and joyous relationship with Him? What role does the devil have to play in all of that? Why does it seem that every time we are in this wilderness he’s out there waiting for us, just as he was with Jesus? Aren’t we supposed to be living a life of victory?
Let’s us just look at that for a moment because the way I see it, when I read God’s Word is that the devil is part of God’s creation and therefore he’s part of God’s sovereign plan. See, God gives us a role to play and He wants us to know who we are and to know about ourselves and to give us this opportunity to learn and to grow and to decide to follow Jesus in our own right. This is what free will is all about. And we find this principle, about why God leaves these things there to tempt us, including the devil, way, way back in the Book of Joshua.
You remember that God promised this Promised Land to Abraham and that Abraham had a son called Isaac and Isaac had a son called Jacob. Jacob had the twelve sons of whom one was Joseph. And those twelve sons became the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel and they found themselves in slavery in Egypt and finally, after four centuries of slavery, they were a great and mighty nation.
And God calls Moses and does amazing miracles to Pharaoh and to Egypt and finally Moses leads the people out of slavery and out of captivity through the Red Sea which is parted. And then takes them through a journey of forty years in the desert to the Promised Land – a land that was promised to Abraham all those centuries before.
And as you read the Book of Joshua, you see how they cross over into the Promised Land and they take that Promised Land, battle after battle after battle. It was promised to them and yet they don’t take it completely. For example, if you read in Joshua chapter 15 and verse 63, it says:
But the people of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so the Jebusites lived with the people of Judah, in Jerusalem, till this day.
And actually, when you read this book of Joshua in the Old Testament, which is the book of how Joshua leads the people to take the land that God promised to Abraham all those centuries before. You see this happened several times, there are certain tribes that the Israelites can’t drive out of the Promised Land.
Now that’s really weird because God promises the land to the Israelites so why is it this way? I mean when I was reading through the Book of Joshua just recently it struck me – why does God promise them something and then He leaves this remnant of opposition behind? You see, it’s a bit like us! Jesus promises so much and yet the devil is left behind and sin and temptation are still there. Why is that?
Well, the answer is in the Book of Judges. That’s the book that comes immediately after Joshua. Flip over a few pages, go to Judges chapter 2, verse 22 and it says this:
In order to test Israel whether or not they would take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their ancestors did, the Lord their God had left those nations, not driving them out at once and therefore He had not handed them over to Joshua.
There is a spiritual principle here. It’s God’s way of letting us exercise out free will. It’s the same with the devil out in the wilderness. God takes us deliberately into times of testing. God promised the Promised Land to Israel and yet He didn’t allow them to drive out some of the tribes because He wanted to see whether Israel would follow God or whether they would start worshipping the gods of these tribes and nations that God left behind in that Promised Land.
The reason He did that was in order to test Israel to see whether or not they would take care to walk in the way of the Lord the way their ancestors did. Exactly the same with the wilderness and the devil. God takes us through a time of testing just as He did with Jesus. Notice it wasn’t the devil who led Jesus into the wilderness, it was God Himself.
Jesus full of the Holy Spirit …
returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil.” This place of hunger and vulnerability and testing and wilderness is the place we discover the hidden things of God. This is where we discover what is really going on in our hearts. This is the place where either we pass the test as difficult as it may seem at that moment and learn and grow and develop in our relationship with Jesus or it’s the place where we fail the test and we have to go round for another turn and round again and round again.
See, that’s the scene! Today on the programme we are going to look at the very first temptation that the devil laid before Jesus – one that I have called, “The Logical Seduction” because this particular temptation makes such enormous sense when you listen to it.
Let’s see what Jesus went through and what we learn about Him and us and God in that place.
It Makes So Much Sense
It’s a funny thing but from time to time God does lead us into a wilderness and then it seems, He leaves us there to fend for ourselves. When I think of Jesus out there for forty days in the wilderness without food – I mean He must have been starving – literally forty days with nothing to eat. He would have been feeling dizzy and weak and completely vulnerably. All His natural support mechanisms and His defences were stripped away.
I mean, if that had been me, I’d wonder whether I wouldn’t have been sitting there after forty days thinking, “Alright God, so You told me that You called me and You told me that You had some bold plan to use me to change the world. And You told me that I’m Your Son, so why aren’t You providing for me? Why have You thrown me out here into the desert to starve? And the only person You gave me for company is the devil!” Imagine you are out there in that burning sun, starving, what’s the most logical thing for you to do?
I remember a time when I was training to be an officer in the Australian Army. It was four tough years and on more that one occasion they took us out on survival exercises and we didn’t eat for days. We’d be carrying a heavy pack, a machine gun and ammunition and everything it seemed except food. And they would give you a map and a compass and they’d say, “Look, we can’t get food through to you here,” so they’d give us a new grid reference over the radio and we’d have to navigate twenty five kilometres over hill and dale where they said there would be a food drop.
And you’d get there and there was no food and you’d radio in and they would say, “Oh look, sorry, the truck couldn’t get through there. Here’s a new grid reference” and so we’d have to march thirty two kilometres in a different direction, over hill and dale and this went on for days. And we had no idea when it was going to end and we’d get grumpy and hungry and weak and moral was pretty low and we’d sit there at night. I mean, our stomachs had given up rumbling we were so hungry. A small squad of four or five men and what we’d talk about these mongrels and how could they do this? And let’s walk out to the nearest highway and get out of here.
I look back on that experience now – it was so hard then but it built our characters – it’s something that’s hard to explain. And you know the obvious temptation when you are in the middle of all that is to grumble and complain and to do something to provide for yourself. You know it’s exactly the same when the Lord puts us into the spiritual wilderness.
The most tempting thing under the sun is to provide for ourselves – to seek provisions separate from God rather than relying on Him. To try and end the pain and the suffering as quickly as we can so it’s no surprise that the first temptation of the devil tried to hit Jesus in exactly that spot.
Let’s read it again. Luke chapter 4, beginning at verse 1:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and He was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and at the end of them, He was hungry. The devil said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
Doug Webster, in his book, “Under the Radar”, writes this:
The popular easy to read books on leadership are of no value out in the wilderness. They are not the kind of books you want to read when you are lonely and suffering. Titles like “Developing the Leader Within You” or “Leadership 101” or “Success One Day at a Time” – they never make good reading in the wilderness. Seminary degrees and graduate programmes may help but they don’t produce leaders. The best networking and mentoring in the world doesn’t compare to the importance of the wilderness experience.
Because what God was wanting to teach Jesus, here in the desert, wasn’t self-reliance. It wasn’t ingenuity or innovation or imagination or invention – it wasn’t the ability to forage on the land – it was none of those things. God threw Him out into the desert to starve for forty days – He was famished, He was weak, He was vulnerable before the devil and the greatest temptation of all was for Jesus to meet His needs in His own strength.
After all, He was the Son of God. After all, He was entitled. I mean, after all why the heck not? He was hungry, He was in need – no one could deny that. In fact, that first temptation probably didn’t feel like much of a temptation at all. It was purely and simply providing for His own needs. And in many respects this first temptation was a logical seduction.
The temptation to meet our needs; even the most acute need of starvation in our own strength, apart from God instead of waiting on God – WOW! That’s a strong temptation – to end the suffering because we can. It happens in our lives. We are in a situation, perhaps a relationship and it is hurting.
Doug Webster relates the story in his book, when he was pastoring a church and they were all giving him a hard time and his temptation was just to run away; to pack it in; to say, “Look, I’ve had these people. I’m going, I’m going to find another church to pastor. I’m going to find another job.”
But then he went to a man; another pastor who gave him some godly advice that went like this: “As I’ve continued to think and pray, I want to urge you not to be to eager to solve the problems and get rid of the suffering that is coming from a murmuring congregation, and to believe that God knew what kind of a congregation it was when He called you there. That perhaps the pain they inflict is being used to the purpose of a holiness in you.”
See, our view is to end the pain. God’s view is that,
He knows that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and that character produces hope and it’s a hope that doesn’t disappoint us because the love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit whose been given to us.
That’s what Paul writes In Romans chapter 5, verses 3 to 5.
See God in that wilderness was teaching Jesus something – not self-reliance, God reliance. Faithfully waiting in the desert because that was where God had put Him and called Him to wait. And Jesus answered the devil so rightly:
Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
God is teaching us to rely on Him and His Spirit within us not to solve our own problems our own way when we are in that wilderness.
God At Work in Our Lives
You know the hardest thing about wilderness and temptation is that we don’t expect it. And that’s why we are working our way through Jesus’ own wilderness experience on the programme over these few weeks because God’s Word is an awesome thing. He equips us with wisdom in the good times so that we are ready when the hard times come, which they inevitably do.
Let me ask you a question. What does this first temptation teach us? What hidden jewel of God does it uncover for us? Jesus told a parable in Matthew chapter 13, verse 44. He said:
The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, when a man found it, he hid it again and then, in his joy, he went and sold all he had to buy that field.
See, the hidden treasure that the Lord opens up to us through His Word is awesome. Well, what does He want us to learn today? What does He want to write onto our hearts to equip us with His wisdom? Lets look at that temptation again, Luke chapter 4, verse 3:
The devil said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.“ And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “Man does not live by bread alone.
As you read the Bible, over and over and over again you see how God wants us to rely wholly on Him for everything. It doesn’t mean that we become spiritual couch potatoes. Not that, but that rather than racing off and doing things in our own strength and going our own way rather than doing logical thing and ending the pain and the suffering, He wants us to trust in Him.
Out there in the wilderness, when we are hungry and we are weak and it doesn’t fit with our worldly images of success because, you see, we are programmed to succeed. The world says, you know, if you are lying there in the wilderness, vulnerable to the devil, you’re a failure; you’re a wreck; you’re not good enough.
It’s so different to the plan that God has for us. All the people around us are programmed to tell us when we’re not fitting in with their programme for success and at those times we sometimes want to go out and do things in our own strength.
Recently in our ministry, I just felt that we were going through a difficult time. We were working hard and we were tired and yet, in my heart I sensed God leading us to take our programmes into a new country. A huge opportunity, lots of work and my heart is just to grow the reach and … it’s just me. I want as many people around the world to hear the good news of Jesus Christ through this programme, as possible.
But one by one as I pushed the doors, I found that they were shut and at the same time, I was tired and exhausted. I had this wilderness experience. And you know what the logical seduction of the devil is in that place? “Berni, this is God’s work, just go and do it.” And my answer to the devil is, “God’s work is done in God’s strength and with God’s provision.” And racing ahead in Berni’s strength is not the right thing to do.
See, it doesn’t fit with the worldly plan for success – drive, go, do, achieve, succeed, get recognised. You see how easy this seduction is? I know this particular country is going to open up to us and it’s already begun in a small way but it’s not quite God’s timing yet. And I need to listen to Him and not the world – Him and not the devil – to do it in His strength and not my own.
What’s going on in your life right now, where you are tempted to go it alone – to just push ahead – a new job or a new house or a new ministry or a new this or a new that? Or perhaps you’re in a difficult place right now and finding church hard or you are tempted to walk away or you are finding a relationship hard and you are tempted to end the pain by walking away.
Jesus’ answer to the devil was simple and straight forward. He said, “Look, it’s not about what I want or what I need, it’s about Me honouring God in the wilderness.” What do we discover there? What’s the hidden thing of God that comes to light? Well for me, as I look back on all the wilderness experiences that I’ve walked through, the hidden thing that I’ve discovered is God’s faithfulness, when I put my trust in Him.
The hidden thing that I have discovered is that actually, I can make a decision in that wilderness to say, “No, it’s not time for me to run away. It’s not time for me to end the pain. It’s not time for me to turn the stones into bread because I can. It’s time for me to wait on God and let Him provide – ending the pain and ending the suffering and taking the initiative in our own strength, whatever that means.”
Sure, it fits with the world’s plan for success. We may get adulation and slaps on the back from people, but the hidden thing of God is that He is looking for men and women to worship Him with their lives, no matter what the cost, according to His plan no matter what the cost.
And it’s in that place that He readies us for His purposes. Remember Jesus had gone through all this – He had to be in the wilderness to starve, to be tempted by the devil before He began His public ministry. His public ministry was going to be really tough. His public ministry was going to take Him to crucifixion on a cross.
Jesus had to learn obedience through what He suffered in that wilderness. It was God’s plan. It was the equipping time. It was God’s time in the wilderness. And when we turn to God in that wilderness and say, “Lord, what do You want?” Sometimes the answer He gives back to us is, “I’m not finished with you here yet. Wait on Me, wait on Me. Stay in the wilderness. I am a faithful God.”
And that’s when we turn round to the devil and say, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”