Thursday February 23, 2023
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.
Filled with the Spirit and covered by community, we must sometimes leave the familiar to face down the enemy—alone.
I like to think of the Jordan as the place of comfort, of ease, of familiarity and connection with others. The Jordan was a place of water, of crowds mutually agreeing on their need for repentance (from seeking other messiahs; that’s what John the Baptist knew), and of provision. Jesus’s dear cousin, John the Baptist, was being faithful and receiving him in the baptismal waters.
Would there have been deep friendship and comradery between them, sharing this “such a time as this” (see Est. 4:14) moment together in a way no one else (but Mary and Joseph) could ever understand? I think so.
The great German pastor and writer Dietrich Bonhoeffer—in his book on community, Life Together, suggested that sometimes the psychological energy from being with a group of people can displace true trust in God for many. He suggested that we must learn to be alone with God, which is different from loneliness, for us to become whole and to not confuse the energies of friendship and community with intimacy with God.
Jesus had to leave the familiar, the warmth of companionship and the world in which he was known and named by others, to face down the enemy’s challenges to his vocational call—his name in God. Jesus had to step away from being Mary’s son, John’s cousin, the best carpenter in his village (that’s a fun guess), in order to become God’s one and only Son—to inwardly affirm that call without others doing it for him.
In his baptism, it says that many heard the voice. John the Baptist surely did. But before they could pat him on the back, and get the discipleship party started, the Spirit led Jesus into the wild—the isolation of the wilderness.
Perhaps Jesus told this story, in part, for his disciples to understand why, as soon as everyone knew he was the Messiah, he disappeared for forty days.
Can you imagine many, including possibly John, asking: “Can I come with you, fast with you, as you apply this discipline of our faith and begin your ministry?”
If that did happen, I can imagine that Jesus would have said no with some degree of pain. He was beloved, yes. But he must have known the hard road that was ahead and would surely, as in the garden of Gethsemane, be encouraged by having a few friends with him as he faced the temptations of the enemy.
Who doesn’t want moral support? Who doesn’t need friends when the heart is most challenged to affirm our vocation, our calling, and to remind us who we are?
Jesus doesn’t want it, that’s who. Not at this moment. He knows it’s time to be in the solitary place, the wild, the alone. He knows that much of his entire ministry would have to be self-motivated, Spirit-powered, and that the applause and encouragement of fickle disciples (remember Peter and the “Get behind me, Satan” moment in Matthew 16?) would get in his way.
Jesus must face his accuser alone.
He knows it won’t be the last time. Gethsemane ahead, his baptism behind him, Jesus must leave the lush Jordan to enter the dry desert to face the one whose works he had come to destroy (1 John 3:8).
Has the deep gift of friendship, of companionship, ever been a source through which you chose a path that you now realize was not the best choice for your relationship with God? How did you reset your relationship with God while still receiving the blessing and encouragement of your companions on the journey?
Lord of the Wild, we have often found more comfort in friends cheering us on than in your words of courage keeping us on track. Forgive us; we want to know your words of affirmation in that way that enables us to trust you even in complete isolation from others. We don’t know what’s ahead, but we want to find comfort in being alone with you, so when the moment of temptation comes, even from the well-meaning heart of a friend, we can stay the course. In Jesus’s name, amen.
Songs for the Wilderness
First 15 through the season of Lent is adapted from Jesus in the Wild: Lessons of Calling for Life in the World available through Seedbed. If you or your small group are interested in using this resource for your Lenten study, you can find more information here or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The First 15
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