Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tested by the Accuser
The Judean desert is beautiful from afar, but go there and you will find it is a dry, hot desolate place where you can easily wander for 40 days without seeing a fellow human being. You will find relief in the starry night-time when the heat abates for a while. You might see the shy desert animals that Mark mentions in his account – foxes, birds of prey, small underground mammals, maybe even a Judean leopard.
You would be thirsty. Water is scarce but if you know where to look you might come across a wadi, a steep mostly dry valley, with puddles of tepid muddy water – enough to survive, but not enough to satisfy.
But you might have a good day and find one of the rare oases, like the En Gadi oasis near the Red Sea.
And He went without food for forty days and forty nights, and later He was hungry
If you are not fasting, as Jesus was, you might do what John the Baptist did and raid a wild bees nest for honey or chase after a locust. Obviously these activities come with the cost of insect stings!
This is not a place for rich, majestic encounters with God. It is a place for fasting, for survival, hunger and thirst and for prayers that become more desperate as the time goes on.
We may not be in the Judean wilderness, but we can have a “wilderness time”. In the wilderness time we feel inwardly dry, thirsting for something, hungering for something. The wilderness time is a time of emptiness. A time when our spirits are troubled and even though we may have people around us, we feel alone. When we pray but don’t feel that God is there, or that God is not interested.
When Jesus walked into the wilderness he met with the Accuser (Hebrew הַשָּׂטָן ha-Satan, the accuser or slanderer, usually “Satan” in English)
The Accuser appears in both the Old Testament and the New and is a being sent by God to test a human. This could be a heavenly being, or another human, or a part of the person being tempted. So, we are not talking red tights and a pitchfork, we are talking about something much more elemental. An Accuser, a Slanderer.
We are talking about the voice that brings up things in our past that we are ashamed of, that voice that accuses us of being wrong, worthless, unworthy of God’s love. The voice that says:
You’re on your own.
God isn’t here
You did this.
You think you’re so special, don’t you?
You can’t do anything right.
No-one loves you
You are worthless.
These words might originally have come from someone else’s mouth – words that are ancient history. Words from our mother, or father, or brother/sister. Words from bullies or teachers at school. Words that hurt us and tested us whether they were meant to or not. And we believed them. We made them part of our internal dialogue. We turned in on ourselves, becoming our own Accusers. Now it is our own voice that wakes us, that follows us into the wilderness.
We stand accused.
We are vulnerable.
In this accused state, we are likely to do damage. To ourselves and to others.
And the Accuser came and said to Jesus, “If you are God’s son, turn these stones into loaves of bread.”
In our hunger, we try to fulfill our spiritual need by fulfilling our physical need.
We try to fill the hole with anything that might numb the pain.
I confess to comfort eating.
But it might as easily be alcohol, sex, the TV, the internet, plain busyness, relationships. A combination of these.
Something that is good but that is abused by being used for the wrong purpose. Anything.
But Jesus replied, “It has been written, We shall not live and be upheld and sustained by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
We might say “no” to replacing spiritual nourishment with earthly nourishment. But the hunger will still be there for a time. Jesus was still hungry. Our souls are still hungry. We may choose to wait on God, to rely on God, but we may be waiting for a while.
Then the Accuser took Jesus into the holy city and placed Him on a turret of the temple.
And he said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written:
He will give His angels charge over you,
and they will bear you up on their hands,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.”
We may have said “no” to turning to something other than God, but the voice of the Accuser will continue:
Where is he, then, your precious God?
Why doesn’t he come to help you?
He said he’d be here for you.
How do you know he even exists?
If he does, how do you know he cares for you?
One of the hardest things in the wilderness is that God seems to disappear for a time. It is just me and the Accuser. If I am being tested, one of the tests is whether I will continue to have faith in this time.
Jesus said to the Accuser, “On the other hand, it is written also, You shall not test the Lord your God.”
In Psalm 91, the same Psalm quoted by the Accuser, we are assured that God will come to the one who calls on him. This is different from testing God. This is crying out to God for help and then being able to wait for Him. Not taking matters into our own hands and trying to engineer the situation so that God comes now.
We are still hungry. We are still waiting for God. The Accuser might have one last try:
While you’re waiting, why not get on with things?
Absorb yourself in the world.
See – it is so beautiful. So magnificent. So REAL out there.
Why are you just sitting there?
Who are you waiting for?
Again, the Accuser took Jesus up on a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory (the splendor, magnificence, preeminence, and excellence) of them. And he said to Him, “These things, all taken together, I will give You, if You will prostrate Yourself before me and do homage and worship me.”
The Accuser only shows us the delights of the world – none of the suffering. The Accuser does not want us to make a difference – just to feel powerful and become safe. To gather possessions and be lulled into a sense of security. To forget we are waiting on God.
We must hold on and wait a bit longer. The sky is clearing, the angels are approaching. The rain is coming.
Then Jesus said to the Accuser, Begone, Satan! For it has been written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him alone shall you serve.
Then the devil departed from Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
We are hungry and thirsty and tired. We are lonely and desperate. We are frightened. We are broken and without comfort. We have waited on God, and prayed and prayed and prayed without an answer. We feel as though God’s presence is gone from us. We have heard the voice of the Accuser within us, coming when we are at our lowest point, testing our faith, our reliance on God, urging us to forgo this reliance and do everything in our own power to get out of there as quickly as possible.
And finally, there is respite. Angels. Messengers from God. Invisible or visible. Helpers around us – people coming to care for us. We emerge from the wilderness leaning on the everlasting arms. We are ready for the new things God has planned for us.
And there is a promise for all wilderness people. This is God’s promise, fulfilled by Jesus
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the rose.
It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice even with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the excellency of Carmel and of Sharon.
They shall see the glory of Yahweh,
the splendor of our God.