12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. Mark 1:12-13
I have recently been spending time looking at the book of Mark. In the first chapter there is an interesting recurrence of the word wilderness. It frames the setting in which the subsequent events happen. In Mark chapter 1, we read of the way of Christ is proclaimed by one crying in the wilderness (vs. 3) how John appeared in the wilderness (vs. 4) and how people followed him there (vs. 5). Then after Jesus’ baptism, He is driven out to the wilderness by the Spirit’s leading (vs 12) and spent 40 days there (vs. 13).
What do we learn in the wilderness? What is it about this setting that creates a stage for God’s story in our lives?
The wilderness of the ancient near east is a bit different than the wilderness here in Tennessee. It is a barren place, with harsh beauty and radical shifts in climate. Yet, they share similarities. The wilderness is a rough place, in it you are made aware of your needs. It is a place of challenge, a place of exposure. We may go out on a hike to challenge ourselves for a day, maybe overnight, but few make their homes there.
So why does God call us to the wilderness?
The past few years in the life of my have been lived in the wilderness, not physically, but emotionally. They have been challenging and overwhelming, we have been made aware of our needs and have felt the pain of emotional hunger in our hearts. We have been exposed.
It is tempting when you are in the wilderness to think that it is a place void of God. We tend to view the wilderness as a penalty and not part of a process. It is important to note that Jesus was moved to the wilderness not because of sin, but because of the Spirit. It was not a passing visit, but he was there for a season. The quick day hike turns into a period of settlement, again not because of sin, but because of the Spirit.
A few years ago I remember my friend Matt saying “Dang B (he called me B), I just want something to go right for you all.” Little did Matt know that we were still at the beginning of our time in the wilderness. As the next few years unfolded we were faced with hardship, loss and pain. We wanted out. We wanted to live in the cities where our friends went about their normal lives. Seemingly void of extreme worry and not falling apart at the seams. Their lives appeared as if they were effortless, yet ours, a daily scavenge to find the emotional food for our next meal, and many times, going hungry.
God had moved us to a season of exposure. Initially, you try to live up to the good Christian role model and be a good example, after awhile your thought is, “get me the hell out of here.” Yet God keeps you there and the needs intensify.
It is in those moments that temptation comes. We see it in Christ life in the passage in Matthew 4. For many years I discounted this example from Christ life, thinking that He couldn’t really have been that tempted. This was a very immature handling of this passage. After living in the wilderness, I now understand the temptation to live in your own efforts because you feel like God has abandoned you (Matthew 4:4), to find a shortcut past suffering (Matthew 4:7) and to look for an escape (Matthew 4:10).
We only survive in the wilderness through the divine provision of Christ in our lives. Christ does not change the character of the wilderness, He changes our character. In the desolation and the pains of hunger He sustains us. Though we are exposed and the shivers of doubt and loneliness run down our spine, we are enveloped in Him.
He calls us into the wilderness. Will we follow? The journey is not comfortable, but it is meaningful. We must remember that the wilderness is not our final destination, however we may find ourselves sojourning there beyond what we thought was a mild excursion.
It is in these times we experience the truth found in 2 Corinthians 4:7-18
“…we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
May God bless us and keep us. May He cause His face to shine upon us and give us peace, even in the midst of the wilderness, through the seasons of exposure.
Take a few minutes to pause and think about your life. How has God been leading you or wanting to lead you? Have you been willing to follow? Take some time to not only pray for yourself, but also for others who may be in the midst of the wilderness.