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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

Wilderness Experience

Luke 4:1-13

New Revised Standard Version

4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’

11 and

‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

People have different ideas of what wilderness is. For some, it is a forest with no one in sight, where wild animals might attack, and you have to figure out how to find something to eat. For others, it is a barren waste land with nothing but sand as far as you can see.

When I think of wilderness the place that comes to mind is the desert of Eastern California. The area is primarily rocky, some sand and dunes, and a few trees here and there. I spent six weeks there in a field mapping class while I was in college studying geology. Watching out for rattle snakes and scorpions was not a lot of fun let alone spending all day hiking rocky hills in the hot sun.

We stayed in a very small town named Darwin. There were maybe 25 residents, a post office, and a pay phone (cell phones didn’t exist then). You had to wear your boots to make a call because of the scorpions inside the phone booth.

(An aside: I met George there. You can imagine my mother’s reaction when I told her I met a guy in the desert!)

The wilderness as it is described here in Luke was a landscape of caves and sand. It was dry and lacked vegetation. People traveled through this wilderness only when they had to. Many thought it was the hiding place for the devil.

Jesus was led into this wilderness by the Spirit. Reading the text, he was intentionally led to this desolate place. It was no surprise that he encountered the devil there.

This text comes right after Jesus is baptized. After God says, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.” And since I am so pleased with him, I am sending him out to the desert.

The Spirit intentionally led Jesus out into the wilderness was a time of preparation for the ministry that lay ahead. A time when he would experience what it was like to be human in a different way – experience the temptations that humans face.

God knew that the devil’s temptations would put before Jesus’ human desires and the human need to be the center of everything. Needs for sustenance, power, and control.

We read in the text that the devil says to Jesus: “If you are the Son of God…” A better translation is: “Since you are the Son of God…” He wasn’t just wondering who Jesus might be. The devil knew exactly who Jesus was. This gave him even more reason to see if Jesus could stand up to what the devil offered.

The devil offers Jesus the things humans would want. Food and sustenance – someone who is very hungry would jump at the opportunity to have food. Power – you are shown all the lands and told they can be yours. A person might easily grab onto that offer. Control – worship me, the devil says, and you can be in charge of everything.

Sustenance can be described as the things we need, the ones we think we need, and the ones we want. As some have said, the toys we want and have. Isn’t that what people yearn for? We want the newest car, the biggest house, gourmet food, designer clothes. Things we think we must have to keep going and living – our sustenance.

Power is something that humans crave. We may not realize this is true. We think that power is what CEOs and high-level management seeks. Power is the desire to lord it over someone else even if we don’t think that is what we want. To one-up ourselves.

Control is one of the greatest desires. We all want control over our lives. We want to know what is going to happen and when. We want to know who is responsible. We want to have calendars that list exactly what we are to do. We want to be in charge of our own lives and our own situations. We want control.

Jesus’ responses to the devil’s temptations are God-centered. He quotes from the scriptures he had learned growing up and knew by heart. The scriptures that the writer of Hebrews describe as a two-edged sword that pierces until it divides soul from spirit, and judges thoughts and the intentions of the heart. These are the words Jesus draws on in resisting the temptations put before him.

Sustenance is more than food. That the bread we need is what God offers.

Sustenance is relying on God, knowing that God is always there for you.

Jesus responds that the only real power is God’s power. God, the Creator, is the one who has the power to change things.

Finally, Jesus responds that there is only one in control and that’s God. Even in the face of the devil quoting scripture back at him, Jesus notes that it is not about humans trying to fix things on their own with their own power and control. God is in control and we’re not. We need to be reminded of this constantly because even when we think we have given something over to God to be in charge of, we are good at tip toeing back and taking it back, thinking that God isn’t looking.

Reading this passage, we might consider it our wake-up call. Our opportunity to say, “Lord, I want life to be different.” The call that says “Hello…are you paying attention?” Paying attention to how you see the world. What is it you’re looking for? What is it you want to sustain you? What do you need to be in charge of? What is it you need to control?

This wake-up call tells us to look, see, and consider your own desires and life. The season of Lent is the time for us to take that look. We meditate, pray, and prepare for Easter. Part of that preparation is to take an inward look at who we are, how we live, and how God fits in our life.

It is appropriate that in beginning Lent we look at this time Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, the human desires put before him by the devil. We can consider this a time a chance to look into our own wilderness.

Wilderness isn’t always a place. Wilderness for many is often emotional and spiritual. Feeling disconnected from others. Wondering if you matter to anyone else, or even yourself. Wondering what you have to hold onto if you don’t matter. Wondering what matters to you. Wondering who really is in control. Feeling like you don’t have control of anything and your life coasts along, riding the waves as they come, bobbing up and down but getting nowhere.

During Lent we are offered the time to look at these questions. To consider who it is who made us. Who sustains us. Who we want to follow into the life ahead of us.

As we become more aware of what is really needed for sustenance, the power we do have in God, and the control God has over all aspects of life, we begin to look outward. We stop focusing only on ourselves. We say to God that we know who God is and that we want to live the life God offers. Show me how.

Help me to look at others. Others need for sustenance. Others who need to know that someone cares about them. Others that need to know that God loves them, knows who they are, and offers forgiveness. No questions asked.

Who are we looking to today? Are you looking only to yourself for substance, power, control? Do you think you have it all together and can fix whatever is wrong? That you are fine just as you are.

Are you willing to take that inward look that reveals that who I think I am is not the way I live? What we see leads us to invite God in again to show us what we need to change to become more like the person you want me to be. And to show us how we can shift from being self-centered to those who look outward to the needs of others.

Lent is a gift. A gift of the Spirit leading us intentionally into the wilderness where we encounter testing and trial of the devil. The Spirit helps us to say no to the temptations and yes to a life centered on God.

I invite you, therefore, to observe a holy Lent. A season where you take the time to meditate, pray, and fast from something that distracts you from God so that you can use that time focus more on God. Read the scripture Serve others in a way you haven’t before.

Honor a holy Lent. Allow the Spirit to work within you.


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