‘and he was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. ‘ – NIVUK
Have you ever felt like you were in the wilderness?
Have you ever felt tempted or tested?
Jesus has just been baptised by his cousin, John in the River Jordan.
This was a significant event in the life of a Jew, as well as symbolising that Jesus was adhering to John’s cry in the wilderness, to repent for the Kingdom of God was close at hand.
Jesus is then guided by the Spirit of God to go into the wilderness – the wild and remote places – around where he lived.
This was a kind of ‘Bear Grylls’ style spiritual retreat. It is a space where he prays and meditates on God’s Word and will for his life.
This type of behaviour was common amongst many of the prophets, even if sometimes it was because they were being pursued by people trying to kill them because of what they had proclaimed.
As early as the 3rd Century, the Desert Fathers retreated into caves in mountains to better ‘hear’ the voice of God.
There are many tales of Saints and hermits doing similar over the life of the church.
We are told in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus fasted during this time. He ate little and drank sparingly.
Also during this time Jesus was tempted or tested by Satan. We know the three main tests from Matthew 4: the need for sustenance – does God really look out for you? – and the final, I will give you a much better life if you worship me instead of God.
Wild animals came close to him. In Jewish culture, anyone who wasn’t Jewish was classified as a gentile. A foreigner. Unclean and removed from God by religious standards. But as Jesus would show, God welcomes everyone who come close through his son.
Angels ministered to him. Guardian angels, or angels in disguise. The Old and New Testaments have many details about these heavenly creatures sent by God.
Some people make a point of going on retreats to spend alone and quiet time in prayer and meditation.
Some people under take pilgrimages as a period of reflection and coming closer to God.
The Romantic Poets of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries strode the hills and mountain tops, in an effort to experience the God’s purer created world and his creative spirit.
Any quiet and reflective time with God is a time of temptation and testing, whether you are in the wilderness or not.
Try it now.
Spend five minutes being quiet and praying, or reading a passage from the Bible.
Count how many non-focused thoughts you have, how many interruptions you get, how many times you are distracted by your phone, etc.
I often think of the wilderness in this verse as being not a rugged and hard mountainous terrain, but as our normal daily lives.
There are many stony pathways as we go about our daily lives. There are many times when the route we are on is difficult and we doubt our ability to finish the path. There are many times when we meet wild animals and wish we could meet angels.
Our image of wild animals can lead us to think of them being dangerous. This isn’t the case in this verse.
We probably all come to meet wild people during our lives, but how many are actually less encountered or unfamiliar. Like the animals with Jesus these too still may come close to Jesus.
There are many stories in the Old Testament where angels were sent to minister to people and they were not recognised as their true being, or until it was revealed to them.
Think about people you’ve met recently, who were strangers to you. Did any of them say things which particularly resonated with you? Did any of them offer a helping hand?
Remember that in the wilderness Jesus was not without company or help, despite the difficulties he had physically and spiritually.
So it is with us in our daily lives.