“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. After He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, He was hungry. Then the tempter approached Him and said, “If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” – Matthew 4:1-3
First, that wilderness is defined as a lonely, solitary place. And that word tempted means to test someone’s faith or character by enticing them to sin.
Second, have you ever gone for 40 days without food? I have. Once. Trust me, the word ‘hunger’ doesn’t begin to describe what your body feels when you have not fed it in over a month.
So this is what we’re looking at: Jesus, led by the Spirit of God, has just spent over a month in a desolate, lonely place, going without physical sustenance. But then again, He has also just spent over a month in communion with His Father (because Jesus, of all people, would know that fasting without prayer is simply starvation).
By the end of 40 days, He’s hungry, physically weakened, perhaps emotionally weakened, since the wilderness is a lonely, desolate place. And then the devil comes to tempt Him. But, though He was physically hungry, Jesus was spiritually full after spending His time in the wilderness in fasting and prayer. Communing with His Father.
So, is that what happens to us? When we find ourselves in a wilderness that leaves us physically or emotionally vulnerable, is that when the devil comes with temptation? Or maybe that’s just when temptation has the strongest pull. I think back over my life, to the times when I have answered the temptation to sin with a “yes”. It was during wilderness seasons, during circumstances that depleted me physically and/or emotionally. Long seasons. Multiple seasons, with lots of hard lessons in them. Through multiple trips into the wilderness, and the temptations that come during that time, I can make this conclusion, which is probably a no-brainer for most people. But I’m pretty special.
Our strength to resist temptation will never come from our flesh.
The unraveling of my marriage, having a prodigal child, uprooting our lives from our familiar community to go where we knew no one, general discontentment with my life — all created wilderness seasons for me. I often felt depleted and alone during those times. And then temptation would come to entice me to any number of things…to fix it myself, to find my own comfort, to find my own worth, to get something I thought was being withheld from me, to elevate myself, to walk in fear or anger, to walk in unbelief (the list really does go on and on).
What tripped me up every time was my response to what was making me vulnerable. Instead of spending my time with God, I spent it trying to escape what was going on. I filled my time with distractions, usually in the form of television or internet. Or I filled my calendar with social or church activities. Whatever it was, I was not fixing my eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2); I was not coming boldly before the throne of God (Hebrews 4:16); I was not meeting my Father in the secret place (Matthew 6:6); I was not fasting (Matthew 9:15). So not only was I vulnerable physically and emotionally, but spiritually as well.
Graciously, God has led me again and again back to Matthew 4, back to Jesus in the wilderness. Each time, I have discovered a new treasure. Here are two of those treasures ~
- We fight the devil and temptation with the Word of God
- Sometimes, we are in a wilderness because the Spirit of God led us there, which means it will be for our good
And now I am digging for the next treasure.
There will be wilderness seasons throughout my life. Times of feeling depleted, physically and emotionally. Times when I will feel alone and vulnerable.
What I do with my wilderness times will determine my ability to overcome the temptations that will come with them.
Let me just put this out there, because I can’t be the only one who has experienced this. When I am in the wilderness, I don’t want to spend time with God. I don’t want to read my bible. I don’t want to spend time in prayer. And I certainly don’t want to fast. But I can choose to do all of it regardless of how I feel. I really can. I’m free like that.
I can either spend that time feeding my flesh, or feeding my spirit, but only one of those will give me the power to overcome temptation.
That point is made in the gospel of Luke, and is actually where I have found the treasure.
“After the Devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him for a time. Then Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…” (Luke 4:13-14)
This. This is my treasure.
When I return from my next wilderness, my flesh may be depleted and weak, but I can still return in the power of the Spirit.
How do you normally respond when you find yourself in a wilderness?
How do you typically battle temptation?
Is there a treasure in this passage for you today?
Wilderness times are difficult, no doubt, and we usually view them with disdain. But they can be opportunities to deeply commune with God. Fix your eyes on Him, go boldly before His throne, meet with Him in the secret place of prayer and fasting. You may be physically and emotionally depleted, but you can be spiritually strengthened to overcome the temptation of the enemy who wants to entice you away from God and into sin. Instead, you can return from your wilderness in the power of the Spirit, and be launched into God’s plans and purposes for the next season of your life!
Previously: Matthew: trusted by a sovereign God