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Text: Matthew 4:1-11
How many of you have ever found yourself in the wilderness, so to speak?
A place in your life where you seem somewhat adrift; not knowing the next steps and maybe even unsure how you got there.
Where the ground seems to be shifting
And the usual comforts and supports seem distant and far away
Where nothing seems familiar
And you’re craving direction
Some sort of map to lead you out of your pain.
You’ve lost job and not sure how long it will take to find a new one or
maybe you have reached this stage in your career where you want a change; a more fulfilling existence, but you’re not sure what that is or even how to pursue it.
Maybe you’re experiencing or have experienced the end of a relationship; and suddenly everything you have known about yourself, about life, is sort of up in the air. Who are your friends when it has always been our friends? how will I provide for myself now that I can no longer count on 2 incomes? These are questions you might ask.
Or maybe its a Life transition / you’re now an empty nester and no longer feel confident in your identity -for years you’ve been the caretaker; running kids here and there; scheduling activities, soothing wounds, and celebrating victories. Now the kids have moved out and starting lives on their own and no longer appear to need you
Perhaps you’re recently sober and are unsure how to navigate the complexities of the world- professionally, socially— it’s all new and unknown; frankly its scary
There are many types of wildness experiences.
And none of them are comfortable.
We spend our lives avoiding the wilderness places
In fact, We employ every possible strategy we know
We try to chart our own courses
creating this illusion of control in our lives
We spend countless hours calculating our decisions and trying to reduce our risk
We remain guarded emotionally so we aren’t vulnerable and maybe won’t get hurt
We temper our opinions so we never “rock the boat” socially
We stay in “dependable careers”, even when they aren’t life-giving, so we can be “safe”
And even with all this effort,
no matter how hard we try
we occasionally still find ourselves in the wilderness.
Off course, and searching for our true north.
We might be tempted to cry out WHY? Why am I here? Why did you send me here, Lord?
That’s a normal reaction I would say.
I’ve said the same thing at various times in my life when I’ve found myself in the wilderness
But whether or not God sent you there is missing the more important point—
and that point is that God meets you there and is there with you
And as difficult as it might seem at the moment
It’s important to remember that
God uses this time in the wilderness to strengthen us.
To prepare us for the next stage in our journey
The text says “Jesus was led UP…into the wilderness”
In Scripture, any time the movement of the narrative was to go “up”
up the mountain
up to Jerusalem
this was usually a cue that teaching was about to take place
or a type of revelation
Wilderness time is a time of preparation.
Nelson Mandela watched his friends humiliated, tortured, and murdered as a result of the brutal oppression of his country’s racial segregation system known as apartheid.
He himself endured this abuse but decided to fight back, using non-violent resistance.
As a result of his role in an attempt to overthrow this oppressive government, he was imprisoned for 27 years in Cape Town.
But rather than wear him down and defeat him, the 27 years in the prison emboldened Mandela.
It deepened his resolve.
Upon finally being released from prison, Mandela went on to become the first black president of South Africa.
He eventually won the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the country’s apartheid
He Became an International emblem of dignity and forbearance
and a Prolific writer and world renown advocate for social justice and HIV/AIDS awareness.
When he eventually became president of South Africa, he went as far as to invite one of his white wardens to his inauguration
People are usually astonished by the sense of grace he displayed after being robbed of 27 years of his life.
But Mandela experienced the 27 years in captivity as a time of preparation.
The Apostle Paul had a similar experience;
having wilderness time in the form of prison time
According to biblical sources and biblical scholarship, Paul was likely in prison from between five and six years’ total. He was probably imprisoned in Rome at least two years, two-years in Caesarea and additional prison experiences noted in the Book of Acts.
Seems like a long time in the wilderness.
But consider this-
if Paul had not been imprisoned, we would not possibly have the epistles like Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Paul used the time that he was in prison to write these powerful books of the New Testament.
For Paul, being in prison was a huge inconvenience but for God, it was an opportunity for God to prepare Paul for God’s glory.
Both the Apostle Paul and Nelson Mandela could have just given up while in prison
But God had other plans.
God would use this time in the wilderness for good.
We don’t know why we find ourselves in our varied wildernesses.
But oftentimes we become keenly aware of God’s presence there with us.
In fact, sometimes, the wilderness is when we experience God the most fully.
When we’ve found ourselves in a place where none of our strategies of avoidance, none of techniques of control have worked.
and we are there
in our wilderness.
No map to follow.
No compass to guide us.
Perhaps that is God’s intention
To lead us away from the distractions and the idols to have us experience God more fully
to finally depend on God.
When have you been in a wilderness?
Are you there right now?
While Jesus was in the wilderness, the devil kept at him with temptations.
In fact, many of our bibles have a heading for this passage that reads, “The Temptation of Jesus”.
But I argue this story is about much more than temptation.
Yes Jesus was tempted in the wilderness
But what did the temptation mean?
It wasn’t to prove that Jesus was the Son of God— the devil already knew this.
And it wasn’t to provide an opportunity for Jesus to prove to God that he’s up to the test.
Maybe the temptations reveal to us what our idols are
And to show us that the only real dependable source of security and comfort-
the only true guide-
is God and God alone.
Oftentimes temptations are the false promises
The easy way out
That usually offers short term relief but long term pain.
This surely was the case with Jesus-
The devil offers him several opportunities to turn away from God for immediate relief.
The same temptations tempt us today.
But they usually look quite different:
It’s that recently single ex-girlfriend or boyfriend to occupy the emptiness of a struggling marriage
It’s the elicit website glaring in the darkness to fill the void of intimacy
It’s the credit card-fueled shopping sprees to soothe a battered self image
There are many things to reach for when we are in the wilderness
All for the instant relief of avoiding pain
But God meets us there in the wilderness to fill the voids in our lives in a way nothing else can.
Maybe that’s what Jesus is trying to show us in this story today.
You might find yourself in the wilderness
But you won’t be there forever.
Today is the first Sunday in Lent.
Lent offers us the opportunity to recreate this experience of wilderness
to draw closer to the one who can truly satisfy our souls.
Lent is a time of preparation
So may you
Look to Jesus as the strength to resist the temptations and false promises that lead to death
Trust in God to use your time in the wilderness to strengthen you and prepare you for whatever comes next in the adventure we call life.
And may you
Find in Christ the only true, dependable map to lead you out of the wilderness
And may you be awakened to the truth that this map and only this map
will lead you home.
Thanks be to God.