“At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” – Mark 1:13-14

Following the very high profile baptism of Jesus by John, the text says that the Spirit “at once” sent Jesus into the wilderness.  From a place among the crowds, with a ready platform to begin his public ministry; Jesus is sent into the lonely isolation of the wilderness.

To the modern mind with its posses, press secretaries and promoters; it seems to be squandering a big moment and its motivation. As always, in human terms, God seems to operate counter-intuitively in His approach.

So why the wilderness?

Between the center of Judaea and the Dead Sea lies one of the most terrible deserts in the world. It is a limestone desert; it looks warped and twisted; it shimmers in the haze of the heat; the rock is hot and blistering and sounds hollow to the feet as if there was some vast furnace underneath; it moves out to the Dead Sea and then descends in dreadful and unscalable precipices down to the shore. In the Old Testament it is sometimes called Jeshimmon, which means The Devastation. (From Gracepoint Devotions)

It was a place of solitude and desolation.  It was a perfect place to hear the voice of God.
Jesus had spent 30 years in Nazareth, among its citizens, his family; very probably carrying out the trade of his earthly father, Joseph. No doubt busy with the business of life–squeezing in his time with God, hearing many voices seeking to shape him and influence him.  We know from the Gospel of Luke and from this chapter in Mark that Jesus was a student of the Old Testament, filling his mind with the thoughts of His Heavenly Father.

The wilderness becomes a place of “sorting out.”  It is a place of reflecting, focusing.
It is also a place of dependence.  No food, no human companionship, no self-reliance.
It is a place of resolution.  Of asking nagging questions.  Of being clear about the answers.
And as we see, it is a place of testing. Forty appears in the Bible as a number tied to testing.  Think of the children of Israel wandering in the desert before they are finally prepared to enter the Promised Land.  Jesus “passes” the test and emerges from it to take on the work that He has been sent to do.

Too often we are too proud to be of use to the Lord.  Humble obedience is not in our menu of choices.
Too often we are too independent to be of use to the Lord.  Self-reliance takes us completely away from the arena where God provides.
Too often we are too busy to be of use to the Lord.  We do not take the time to take measure of our lives and its values.
Too often we are too connected to be of use to the Lord.  Solitude is the place where God’s voice is heard most clearly.

Perhaps we all need some time in the wilderness to restore our effectiveness for the Lord.

This post originally appeared in one of my classroom teaching blogs NEW TESTAMENT EXPLORER 2.0  on September 10, 2013

© 2015 by Stephen L Dunn

Permission is given to reprint this post as long as it is not included in material that is for sale, that it is reproduced in its entirety including the copyright notice, and that a link is provided to this blog.

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