Into the Wilderness

Throughout Lent, I’ll be sharing a weekly devotion that draws on my travels to the middle east. Here is the first.

“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.”—Matthew 4:1-3a

From the edge of the ancient oasis of Jericho in the West Bank, you can see the Mount of Temptation in the distance. A Greek Orthodox monastery at the top marks the spot where Jesus fasted and prayed following his baptism. If you have the time, you can ride a cable car to the top, swaying in the hot sun above the Judean Desert. Within the monastery’s walls, you can visit the grotto where tradition maintains that Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread.  At the south summit of the monastery, now inside a chapel, is a stone where Jesus sat as Satan offered him all the kingdoms of the world, if only Jesus would turn away from God and worship him.  

From the summit, the spectacular view takes in the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea, and the mountains of Moab and Gilead in Jordan. It’s a harsh and hostile landscape. Beyond the oasis of Jericho, it’s all red rocks, sand, dust, scrubby vegetation, and nary a spring in sight. For an Adirondacker from this land of abundant waters, it’s tough to imagine an overnight camp-out there, let alone forty days and nights of prayer and deprivation.

It’s when we are in “the wilderness,” far from what is familiar and comfortable—when we are feeling stretched thin, inadequately supported, and vulnerable—that the diabolical voice of temptation speaks up. Temptation may sound like the critical voice that sabotages our best efforts—telling us we are not good enough, smart enough, or skilled enough to meet the challenge. Temptation may invite us to walk the easy path, doing what is expedient and convenient rather than taking the time to discern and do what is right. Temptation can be insidious, like the desire to put work, civic commitment, friends, or family before our love for God.

Jesus met temptation head-on with the sword of scripture. He rebuked the Devil’s three temptations with three deftly chosen readings.  If only we had been paying better attention in Sunday School when the teachers were handing out those memory verses!  While we may not be the Bible scholar that Jesus was, that diabolical voice is silenced in our understanding that we are not alone in the wilderness, for God so loved the world that he sent us Jesus, who promises to be with us, “even unto the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b).

Take heart, my friends. The season of Lent may confront us with the reality of temptation and our struggle to resist, but it also reminds us that we are not alone. Our success record with temptation may not be the best, but the Lord has got it covered. May we observe a holy Lent.

Question for reflection: How do you need Jesus’s help today?

Please join me in prayer . . .

Merciful God, we give thanks for your Son Jesus, sent into this world as a sign of your great love for us. Silence within us any voice but your own, that we may move past temptation and doubt to serve you with the fullness of who we are, to the glory of your coming Kingdom. We pray through Christ our Lord. Amen.

“Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole. Yielding is opening the door and inviting him in.”—Billy Sunday

“We usually know what we can do, but temptation shows us who we are.”—Thomas a Kempis

“The essence of temptation is the invitation to live independently of God.”—Neil T. Anderson

By יעקב – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,