The Messiah Goes into the Wilderness with Israel

Rising from the waters of baptism, Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit. The Father affirms him, loves him, and expresses his pure delight with him. And, then, immediately the Spirit throws him into the wilderness (Mark 1:12).

No waiting. No down-time. No pampering. Jesus was immediately sequestered away in a wilderness bootcamp. The Spirit of God drove him into the wilderness. Once again, we see the Trinity at work: the Father sends the Son into the wilderness by the Spirit.

Why did the Spirit throw Jesus into the wilderness? Jesus passed through the water, just as Israel passed through the sea, and just as they spent 40 years in the Sinai wilderness, so Jesus spends 40 days in the Judean wilderness. Jesus is reliving the history of Israel.

Deuteronomy 8 provides some insight into the meaning of the wilderness for Israel. Jesus himself quotes from that chapter during his time in the wilderness.  Deuteronomy describes the wilderness as a place where God humbled Israel and discipled them. God’s firstborn among the nations was tested to reveal what is in their hearts. They were humbled in their dependence upon God. They were spiritually formed by the wilderness experience.

This, I think, is the meaning of the wilderness for Jesus as well as for us. Jesus is tested in a hostile environment–Satan was there. Jesus was tested, humbled, and discipled in the wilderness.

And so are we. The wilderness comes in many forms—depression, grief, loneliness, and sickness.  While those come to us without our consent, sometimes we also chose the wilderness as a place to know God more fully. The wilderness tests us in order to reveal our hearts, it humbles us as we recognize our powerlessness and dependency on God, and it disciples us as it trains us for the mission of God.

The wilderness revealed Israel’s identity and formed them as the people of God. In the same way, Jesus affirmed his identity the wilderness, and he chose the way of the cross rather than the consumerist path of wealth and power. Jesus refused the offers of Satan and submitted to the path God had set before him.

We are not abandoned in the wilderness. Israel was not left alone as God journeyed with them. Jesus was not alone as angels ministered to him and the Spirit rested upon him, and angels and the Spirit minister to us as well (cf. Hebrews 1:14). God is present with us in the wilderness and that presence strengthens us and empowers us to not only endure it but to be formed by it.

The wilderness story of Israel is also Jesus’s story, and Jesus’ story is our story. Just as we followed Jesus into the water, so we follow him into the wilderness. Or, perhaps, like Jesus, God will sometimes lead us into the wilderness. Whatever the case, God will be there, too. And, through the wilderness experience, God will form us into the image of Jesus.



2 Responses to “The Messiah Goes into the Wilderness with Israel”

  1.   cary daniel Says:

    Great article. Very, very Helpful.

    I left the wilderness struggle & traded it in for a life where I could walk by sight. I am a living testimony that walking by faith and not sight is the only way to live. My walk has taken me into The wealthy suburb s where I struggle to teach my children to be grateful and not entitled. My lifestyle has imprisoned me to work, work, work to keeps this lifestyle going. I have created my own desert and now realize how foolish of me to walk by sight & not faith. I thank you John Mark for always reminding me that with God all things are possible. He can take a wretched man like me and be gracious to the point where I can be so generous with my suburb life that I have to walk by faith & not sight.

  2.   Ernie Bishop Says:

    Good Stuff Brother!

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