Today is Ash Wednesday. On the historic church calendar, this day marks the beginning of Lent and the 40 days leading up to the Resurrection of Christ. Lent is a time of fasting in correlation to the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert preceding his public ministry. Ash Wednesday marks a time of fasting, repentance, and contemplative worship. More importantly, it reminds us of why the desert or wilderness seasons are an important part of Kingdom living.
In the gospel of Matthew, we come into a beautiful passage that corresponds with today and tells us all about the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry. As Jesus was being submerged in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, we read that the Holy Spirit descends visibly in the form of a dove, and the Father audibly speaks words of affirmation over His beloved Son. This was a moment marked by tremendous power and love.
What happens next is what is surprising…
I would imagine this would be the perfect time for Jesus to launch into a ministry tour of Israel to celebrate this new season. Instead, we read almost the opposite. Matthew tells us that the Holy Spirit actually leads Jesus into the desert and more specifically – to Satan. Not only would this be a lengthy 40 day fasting sabbatical, but Jesus is driven straight into the tempter’s hands. Really?
I’m not sure this passage is the best marketing strategy for the Spirit-led life. “Be filled with the Holy Spirit and the first thing he will do is lead you straight to the devil.” This is not what we say to our kids when we tuck them in at night! :)
But never-the-less, this is what needed to happen for Jesus to be fully prepared for public ministry. Though we celebrate Jesus as FULLY God, our comfort is that He was also FULLY man. Jesus himself was tested in character, integrity, and needed to be assured of his identity. And His identity is exactly what the devil attacked 3 times. Jesus transcended these temptations by announcing and embodying the truth of Scripture even though he had the power to do everything Satan challenged him with. Jesus was sure of His mission on earth and was given the opportunity to trust the voice of the Father and lean into the power of the Holy Spirit.
Today, I take comfort in the fact that Spirit-led life doesn’t mean the absence of obstacles, opposition, and temptation, but the provision of grace and power in the face of those things. I am reminded that just as the Holy Spirit led Jesus to a place of where His identity was tested, He does the same for us. God’s intention for us is to grow in the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ, and His method is to sometimes take us into hard places for spiritual formation.
His desire is for us to be sure of who we are and sure of how He sees us. The desert brings us back to the whisper of His voice. It can feel both barren and beautiful to be alone with God for this long. But when we walk the desert well, we come out the other side with a fresh sense of the Holy Spirit’s power in our life.
So, in the face of wilderness wanderings, spiritual and creative dry spells, relational isolation, and emotional grief – be reminded that God is at work. He is developing character, strength, & the identity needed for greater works. And just as Christ was victorious over temptation and sin, we too through the power of the Spirit and the resurrection power of Jesus are able to walk in supernatural peace and joy, right now.
What has your experience been with the “desert”?
How have you found God at work in those seasons of life?