About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him. (CEB)
We stand at the beginning of the Lenten season, the six-week 40-day period leading to Easter and the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. But now is a time of preparation. Just as Jesus identified with his people Israel in their desert sojourn for 40 years, so Jesus wandered the desert for 40 days. Our Lord’s entire earthly life was devoted to identifying with lost humanity and leading them to the Promised Land of forgiveness, peace, and joy.
Lent is our 40-day journey in the desert, identifying with Jesus. Perhaps you think such a season is optional, even unnecessary. It’s likely that God will put you in the desert whether you recognize the season or not.
In a wondrous event, Jesus is baptized and comes out of the water with some of the most gracious words you’ll find in Scripture: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.” In this story of identification with God it’s not a stretch, but intended, that we see our own identification with Christ. Jesus so closely links himself with God’s people that when God expresses his love to the Son, he is saying words of grace to us, as well.
If the story ended there, it would stand as a glorious account. But a hard transition follows, and the language indicates a swift turn of circumstance. Immediately after the baptism and the loving words, Jesus is “forced” into the wilderness by the Spirit. The word quite literally means “to hurl.” We are given the picture that as soon as Jesus is up out of the water, the Spirit picks him up and hurls him into the desert.
The desert is a place of solitude where the greatest temptations occur: coming face to face with oneself. If Jesus needed the desert experience, how much more do we? How much more do we need to observe and practice Lent and submit to the 40-day experience of the desert?
God desires to meet with us in the secluded backside of the desert. He has some things to teach us. He has a work of preparation to do in our lives. The way in which we respond to the desert we are aggressively thrown into by the Spirit will set the course of our lives.
O Lord, you have demonstrated and shown love to your Son and to your people. You have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing. Send your Holy Spirit to hurl us into the desert time of teaching so that love might be poured into our hearts. Grant this humble request for the sake of the Son whom you love, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.