Luke 4:1-2;14-15 NIV
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 . . . Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
A desert can lead to a destiny. A dark night can lead to a bright day. A wilderness can lead to awakening. Who would choose to take a 40 day, fasting-prayer-walk in a barren, wild, dangerous, and lifeless place? Probably none of us. But who needs that kind of journey, at least on a spiritual level, to shake us out of our dull sleep into full spiritual alertness to what the Father is doing? All of us. We all need that kind of ongoing awakening. The Spirit works to awaken us in the desert.
When Jesus went into the wilderness, he was “full of the Holy Spirit.” When he returned from the wilderness, he returned in the “power of the Spirit.” Something happened in that liminal space between death and life—that place where temptations rage to unseat us from our place of intimacy with the Father.
In his desert, the Son of Man resisted until both the temptations and the tempter lost agency (lost power) to extract him from the love of the Father. Lesser loves couldn’t move him; in his baptismal waters, the love question had been settled for the King of Kings—he knew who he was, whose he was, and why he was. The desert brings it all to the surface, to test if it’s real.
There is a painting of Jesus in the desert by the Russian artist Ivan Kramskoi. Created in 1872, it is called, “Christ in the Desert,” and it captures the Lord in one of the most “human” ways I’ve ever seen in a work of art. His eyes have the haunting look of one both fasting and fighting, all captured in the same image. I’ve felt that way the past few years; spiritually faithful and spiritually fitful—all in the same moments. Let’s apply the story of Jesus in the desert to you and me.
Personal challenges, pandemics, political unrest, polarizing issues, perfect storms in relationships—they can all serve as desert-to-destiny experiences for those of us who walk into them full of the Holy Spirit. We go into deserts like these one kind of person, and by the Spirit’s power, we can come out another. As a presidential candidate once said, “the campaign steels you for the presidency.” Without the formation that occurs in the desert, are we ever truly prepared to lead anyone in anything?
With so much isolation, anxiety, and anger streaming over the airwaves in our time, Christians continue to face a daily temptation to serve someone or something other than Jesus. We are challenged, as Jesus was in the wilderness, as to who we will serve, and from whom we will take our cues. This season is an opportune time to evaluate who we will follow into the future, and who will get our primary allegiance—no matter what it requires of us.
In the desert, the Spirit will help us choose Jesus—and the desert will lead us to our destiny, our destination, as a beloved child of God.
Jesus, I receive the Holy Spirit. I want to be filled with your Spirit, again and again, and to emerge from my deserts moving in the power of the Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit, empty me of myself in order to fill me with yourself. In Jesus’ name, amen.
What recent desert have you been through, and did you emerge stronger in the power of the Holy Spirit?
For the awakening,