We are two thirds of the way through Lent, the 40-day season prior to Easter which finds a pattern in Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, which was itself a recapitulation of Israel’s (post-Exodus) 40 years in the wilderness.
The wilderness is not the garden. It is not the promised land flowing with milk and honey. Rather, it is the desert place of empty barrenness and want. Those who find themselves there will soon find themselves hungry and thirsty.
Even Jesus was hungry in the wilderness.
Most of us have not had literal wilderness experiences, where we have suffered physical hunger or thirst in the heat of the sun. “Wilderness” may be used figuratively to mean those “dry” periods in which we lack some thing or other—something we need or think we need in order to be satisfied. (Of course, more than that, the wilderness is representative of life as a whole outside of Paradise.)
The wilderness tests our faith.
Like all tests, tests of faith have to do with questions and answers. The problem is that when we find ourselves in the wilderness, instead of submitting patiently to God’s questions, regarding the strength of our faith and our willingness to trust Him, we tend to start asking the questions.
Is God able to provide for me out here? Can He take care of me, when there are no resources at hand? When there seems no possible way for my lack to be satisfied, I worry: Is God able? Is He willing? Is He faithful? Can I trust Him?
Typically, my questions turn very quickly into grumbling that God is NOT willing or able to provide what I believe will satisfy. Why did He lead me out here in the first place? Soon I determine that if God will not satisfy my hunger, then I must take steps to satisfy myself. I may even determine to return to Egypt (to the slavery of idols), where at least my needs were being met.
In the context of Jesus’ hunger in the wilderness, Satan tempted Him to use the power within His grasp to take care of Himself, to turn stones into bread so that He might satisfy His own hunger. In Jesus’ response, we find the key to living in the wilderness: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
The wilderness is meant to help us as God’s children to discover that God is not only what we need, but that He is all we need. Life is found in trusting and obeying God’s word.
But we are not convinced. God’s word always appears less desirable and less necessary than the thing we lack. We reason if we could have that one thing we need to be satisfied, then we would be able to trust and obey God again. If only we could get through this dry wilderness back to the garden, then our faith will be able to flourish.
But what is faith if it doesn’t work when we need it? Of what profit is it to gain the whole world and still lose one’s soul? And do we not see that Jesus’ response is not only the key to living in the wilderness, but also to living in the garden. Indeed, it is the key to life, period.
Perhaps, it is worth remembering that despite having all the blessings of Eden, Adam and Eve still found it all somehow less desirable than the one thing they thought they lacked. They chose that one thing to indulge themselves. Through unbelief and disobedience to God’s word, they chose death instead of life with God in Paradise. The foolishness of such a choice is staggering. And yet in our quest to leave the wilderness, you and I repeat the folly, daily.
What is the one thing that you desire and consistently choose instead of life?
Jesus invites you to see that the one thing needful—in fact, the only thing that will satisfy for all eternity—is the Word of God.
By God’s grace, the Word of God became flesh, taking on our likeness. Instead of indulging His flesh to His own satisfaction, He gave Himself wholly in trust and obedience to God. Ironically (or rather, providentially) His obedience led Him to make the same choice as Adam, although for a different reason. Like Adam, Jesus also chose death instead of life with God in Paradise. (A seemingly foolish choice.) But the death He chose to die was the death you and I deserve for our foolishness. Jesus now offers us His flesh as the bread of life we need in the wilderness.
Are you hungry? Taste and see that the Lord is good. Come this Sunday to the Table of the Lord where you will be invited to feed on Him in your heart by faith and with thanksgiving—thanksgiving that you have been given this life sustaining manna in your wilderness wanderings until you finally enter the promised land.