Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. Matthew 4:1
For those unfamiliar with the liturgical calendar of the Christian church, one of the most important times of the year occurs during the 40 days leading up to Easter—a season called Lent. For Christians who take this season seriously, Lent is more than giving up chocolate; it’s a time of sober reflection on the sacrifice of Jesus; a time when we internalize Christ’s life and death by practicing self-denial and self-reflection.
During Lent, we seek personal (and corporate) renewal so that we might welcome the risen Christ with joy on Easter Sunday. Yet in order to feel that joy and fully experience the empty tomb, we must first feel the weight of the burden that was lifted. We must first journey with Jesus into the desert areas of His experience and ours.
Lent is influenced by the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness prior to beginning His ministry. Interestingly, Matthew tells us that immediately after John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, Jesus was “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil” (Matthew 4:1). It was during this time of testing and fasting that Christ’s resolve and identity were called into question by the Devil himself. But when Jesus emerged from His spiritual wilderness—His Lent, as it were—He began to preach and make disciples.
We don’t know much about the 40 days Christ spent in the wilderness, but we do know a thing or two about being in dry, foreign places. After all, who among us doesn’t know a thing or two about being physically and spiritually lost? Who among us, with any degree of life experience, hasn’t questioned the reality of God’s presence? Who among us hasn’t left the straight and narrow in search of adventure, only to find that, with the Prodigal, we had squandered our inheritance and taken to eating pig slop?
While we’re not going to imply that Jesus was technically lost during those 40 days in the desert—that He didn’t know His way out, or that He had sinned in any way—it’s clear He felt disoriented at times in His life. Take for instance when, “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, shortly before his death, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me” (Mark 14:34-36, NIV). He too was tempted to shy away from walking the difficult road of faith and obedience, just as we so often are.
And so the Lenten experience teaches us that being disoriented and tempted are not things to be feared, but are rather integral parts of the Christian experience. In fact, being in the desert can lead to renewal and restoration; being lost is actually a pre-cursor to being found.
We pray then, this Lenten season, that like Christ, we might emerge from our personal wildernesses prepared to make disciples. We pray that like Christ, we might remember that not all who wander are forever lost, and that life is found through death. With that in mind, may we die once again to that which would keep us from Christ.