Temptation in the Desert

Christ in the Wilderness by Ivan Kramskoi, 1872

Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:9-15, NIV)

We are in the season of Lent. Beginning with Ash Wednesday, we take a forty-day journey, leading to Holy Week and Easter. Jesus spent forty days in the desert being tempted by Satan. So, the church remembers this event with the season of Lent. This is the time of year in which Christians are to give awareness of the temptations we face on a regular basis. We intentionally seek to fast or give up something for six weeks so that we might see how much we attach ourselves to other things and rely on them, instead of trusting in God.

Just as it was important and significant for Jesus to be in the desert, it is necessary for us, as well. Jesus retraced the steps of his ancestors, the Israelites, who wandered in the desert for forty years. They had an extended time in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land because they needed to re-connect with God after having failed in their faith. Their trust had to be strengthened and developed before they could ever be ready to receive God’s promises.

Jesus faced down the devil and overcame temptation in the desert. The forty days were a necessary preparation for the upcoming three years of ministry that would culminate in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. But before any of that could happen, Jesus had to experience the desert.

We, like Jesus, need to have a desert spirituality. If we are not formed into followers of Jesus through learning to overcome temptation, then we are at risk to be shaped into followers of Satan. God desires to strengthen our faith. We, like Jesus, need to face down the devilish temptations which would impede our spiritual development.

In every sport, weightlifting has become a necessary part of athletic training. Athletes now know their muscles must be properly developed for their respective sport. Through weight training the muscle fibers are broken down with stress. Then, with proper hydration, nutrition, and rest, the muscles are re-built as better, stronger, and more agile. 

Christ in the Desert by Julie Lonneman

As Christians, the desert becomes the gymnasium where we are broken down through the stress of temptation so that we might become spiritually stronger in our faith. Without this kind of spiritual training, we become vulnerable to satanic accusations and become easy targets to demonic seduction.

After the baptism of Jesus, the Spirit “sent” him into the desert. The word is perhaps better translated as “thrown” or “hurled.”  It is an extraordinarily strong word conveying that the Spirit flung Jesus out into the desert.

Being tossed into the desert demonstrates how important spending time there was for Jesus. It was in the desert he learned to resist temptation in his ministry. There was real danger in the desert, wild animals, and vulnerability to the elements. Yet, put in that situation and having come through it, Jesus was able to deal with the crafty pursuits of Satan to distract him from his mission. 

Throughout the Gospel of Mark, after tossing demons out of people, Jesus would tell the unclean spirits not to tell anyone who he was. Part of what was happening is that Satan wanted to tempt Jesus to gain fame and power through popularity and accolades. And that was not the way of Jesus. Our Lord was not going to bring in the kingdom of God through the usual avenues of careful marketing and brand recognition.

Another practice Jesus kept up throughout his ministry was to seek places for solitude and prayer. The needs Jesus daily saw and dealt with were large and vast and never ending. Jesus resisted the temptation to continually work without any rest or guidance in prayer. It was through solitude and prayer that Jesus connected with his Father and would move from place to place traveling and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.  Jesus never gave in to the temptation to settle in one place and build a petty kingdom of his own, apart from the Father.

As Jesus went about the countryside telling people to repent and believe the good news, he often spoke in parables designed to encourage thought and reflection. He did not succumb to the temptation to always be black and white about everything, giving just the bottom line of his teaching to people. 

Jesus did not teach to get immediate results or to let people know which side of the fence he occupied concerning the issues of the day. Instead, Christ understood his business – a ministry of building something permanent that would far outlast his mere three years of ministry. Because of the desert, and through his Father’s affirmation, Jesus lived a unique three years on this earth that has never been equaled before or since.

Some years ago, I went on a leadership retreat in the Canadian wilderness.  We were so far out in the sticks that we needed special first aid training before leaving because if someone got severely injured it would be hours before any medical attention could be received. There was no cell phone service, no towns, no anything except mile after square mile of wilderness. We had to be continually vigilant to not attract bears. The wilderness can be a dangerous place. On one of the days in that week, we were each dropped off on our own personal islands for an entire day, alone. Being face to face with yourself can be hard to deal with, which is what a desert experience does – it exposes the idols of our hearts and the ways in which we are tempted.

A person need not be in the Canadian wilderness or in a real desert to experience the effects of desert life. The Holy Spirit has a way of throwing us into the desert through changes of circumstances so that we will flex our spiritual muscles to get into spiritual shape.

The top three temptations of people today are worry, procrastination, and gossip. So, how do we face down those temptations (and others) and retrace our steps back to the path of God?  Here are some lessons I have learned in my own wilderness experiences through God’s Word:

  • Know your weaknesses. Know yourself. Know the temptations of Satan. The three temptations just mentioned all come from a tendency toward perfectionism. We worry about the future and not saying or doing something perfectly. We procrastinate saying or doing things for fear of screwing up and not being perfect. And we gossip to others about their faults and weaknesses because it maintains the illusion that our perfectionism is intact, at least as compared to others. However, perfectionism is slavery. 

We have freedom now because Christ made us free. So, stand strong in that freedom. Do not go back into slavery again. (Galatians 5:1, ERV)

  • Understand the importance of timing.  When are you at your weakest, at your most vulnerable time? What triggers you to sin?  We know that when our kids and grandkids act up, we first wonder if they are tired, hungry, or have some other need. It is the same with us. Carrying a massive sleep debt, skipping meals, or eating poorly because we are constantly in a hurry will set us up for temptation.

Be clearheaded. Keep alert. Your accuser, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8, CEB)

  • Look to God and others.  Do not rely solely on your own willpower or think you ought to resist temptation all by yourself, all the time. Even Jesus looked both to his Father and his disciples. During a time of intense stress, Jesus said:

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:38-41, NIV)

  • Have a plan. Flying by the seat of your pants will not always work. One of the major ways I personally resist temptation is by having a daily plan of worshiping God, praying, and reading Scripture at set times throughout the day.

A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences. (Proverbs 22:3, NLT)

  • Overcome evil with good. If we apply this to the top three temptations people face, that means the worrier will love his/her enemies and pray for those who persecute. It means the procrastinator will take intentional steps of faith and risk, being real and vulnerable with others through accountable relationships. It means the gossip will seek to speak words of encouragement that build others up.

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21, NRSV)

  • Realize you are never alone.  Angels attended Jesus. Even the Son of God was never on his own.  Whatever you are facing is likely not unique to you. Others face similar struggles. Our brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of problems when they seek to walk with Christ.

Let the desert shape and strengthen your faith. If the Holy Spirit has thrown you into a dry place, learn all you can about resisting temptation so that you can come out the other end a stronger, more faithful follower of Jesus Christ. 

Matthew 24:45-51 – The Master is Coming

Expert explains about plagues, Armageddon and Jesus' return

Jesus said, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (NIV)

Satan once called on some demons of hell and wanted to send one of them to earth to ruin some souls. One demon came forward and said, “I will go.” The devil said, “If I send you, what will you tell the humans?” He said, “I will tell those humans that there is no heaven.” Satan said, “They will not believe you, for there is a bit of heaven in every human heart. In the end everyone knows that right and good must have the victory. You may not go.” 

Then another demon came forward, darker and fouler than the first. The Accuser said, “If I send you, what will you tell humanity?” He said, “I will tell them there is no hell.” Satan looked at him and said, “Oh, no; they will not believe you, for in every human heart there’s a thing called a conscience, an inner voice which testifies to the truth that good will be triumphant and evil defeated. You may not go.” 

Then one last demon came forward, this one from the darkest place of all. The devil said to him, “And if I send you, what will you say to women and men to aid in the destruction of their souls?” The demon said, “I will tell them there is no hurry.” Satan said, “Go!”

Most people’s crime in not gross sin but in plain indifference, without much thought to a future judgment day. Jesus said that such persons will not know what hit them because the Day of the Lord is coming, and it may be soon. Therefore, the question for Christians is not “When will Christ return?” because no one knows the answer.  Rather, the question for us is:

Are you ready for Christ’s return?

Today’s Gospel lesson is part of what is known as the Olivet Discourse, Christ’s final sermon before he faced the cross. Jesus was looking for his disciples to keep watch, to stay alert, to be ready, like a watchman on a tower scanning the landscape for an invading army.  We are to remain vigilant and remember Jesus is coming again.  We are to live each moment considering the promise of Christ’s coming, not knowing the day when it will happen.

Keeping watch, being ready, and staying alert means being witnesses to a world going about their merry way unaware that there is a doomsday.  We are to be active, like Noah building the ark, anticipating the great flood of coming judgment. We are not to waste time creating prophecy charts and trying to connect current events to the Lord’s return. Instead, we are to prepare for the coming judgment through living godly, upright lives. (2 Peter 2:4-9)

We keep watch by being faithful stewards in God’s household. 

We are to avoid being like the unfaithful teenager who, when given the responsibility of watching over the house while his parents are gone for the weekend, has a big party and trashes the house.  The parents will come home at a time the teenager does not expect, and then there will certainly be weeping and gnashing of teeth! 

The faithful and wise steward is busy doing the master’s business – the mundane work of taking care of the master’s house. Preparing for Christ’s return leads to down-to-earth acts of love and care, without passively or nervously sitting around and waiting.  The unfaithful servant in Christ’s story is careless, cruel, and carouses because he pays no attention to the fact that the master could return at any moment.

When Christ returns, none of us knows who will be taken and who will be left – because people might look like the same on the outside, doing the same work side by side, but can be very different persons on the inside.

As believers wait for their Lord’s return, they may become impatient and get caught up in petty day to day problems, losing sight of what is tremendously important.  One day, a man named Denis Waitley, was trying to catch a flight but was running late. So, he ran through the airport terminal.  He got to the gate the split second the gate agent closed the door.  Denis explained his situation, that he had a speaking engagement to get to, but the agent did not budge. 

Denis’s frustration turned into fuming.  He stormed out of the boarding area and back to the ticket counter to register a complaint and reschedule his flight.  The anger intensified as he waited for more than twenty minutes in a line that barely moved.  Just before he got to the counter an announcement over the intercom changed his life.  The flight he missed, flight 191 from Chicago to Los Angeles, crashed on takeoff and killed every person on board the plane. 

Denis Waitley never registered his complaint.  In fact, he never returned his invalidated ticket.  He took it home and pinned it on a bulletin board in his office to remind him whenever he got frustrated or upset that life is more than day to day impatience, worry, and complaints.  It is about serving a lost world destined to slide away from God apart from the grace that can turn judgment into blessing.

We are to keep watch for the Lord’s return because it could be today. 

In the meantime, we are to be faithful by serving a world in tremendous need of getting on the ark and being saved from the coming judgment. Perhaps the best way to overcome our own chronic unhappiness and struggles is to serve the world and be the servant God wants us to be.

God Almighty, you are our hope in this life and the life to come, as we wait for Christ’s return, help us to work for the good, as if each day is our last; and let our hope for a new day shape how we live now. We look forward to the time when all will be made right. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Are You Ready?


Satan once called to him some demons of hell and said he wanted to send one of them to earth to aid women and men in the ruination of their souls. He asked which one would want to go. One creature came forward and said, “I will go.” Satan said, “If I send you, what will you tell the children of men?” He said, “I will tell the children of men that there is no heaven.” Satan said, “They will not believe you, for there is a bit of heaven in every human heart. In the end everyone knows that right and good must have the victory. You may not go.”  Then another came forward, darker and fouler than the first. Satan said, “If I send you, what will you tell the children of men?” He said, “I will tell them there is no hell.” Satan looked at him and said, “Oh, no; they will not believe you, for in every human heart there’s a thing called conscience, an inner voice which testifies to the truth that not only will good be triumphant, but that evil will be defeated. You may not go.”  Then one last creature came forward, this one from the darkest place of all. Satan said to him, “And if I send you, what will you say to women and men to aid them in the destruction of their souls?” He said, “I will tell them there is no hurry.” Satan said, “Go!”
Most people’s crime in not gross sin, but just indifference without much thought to a coming judgment.  After all, why do today what we can put off till tomorrow?  We need to be deeply concerned for the Day of the Lord which may come sooner than we think.  The question for us is not “when will Christ return?” because no one knows the answer to that question (Matthew 24:36).  Rather, the question for us is:  “are you ready for Christ’s return?”  We are to remain constantly vigilant.  We are to live every moment of our lives in light of the promise of Christ’s coming.  We are to be faithful because we don’t know the day or hour it will occur.
            We are to be faithful and busy, like Noah, building the ark of the church instead of being just like the world and indulging in our lives as if Jesus weren’t coming, nor wasting our time trying to connect current events to signs in scripture as if making prophecy charts is God’s will for us.  We are to be faithful by being servants in God’s household (Matthew 24:45-51).  We are not to be like the unfaithful teenager who, when given the responsibility of watching over the house while the parents are gone for the weekend, has a big party and trashes the house.  But the parents will come home at a time when the teenager does not expect, and then there will certainly be weeping and gnashing of teeth!  
            The faithful and wise steward should be busy doing the master’s business – the often mundane work of taking care of the master’s house.  Are we being faithful to our household responsibilities?  How are we caring for the people in our lives?  Preparing for Christ’s return leads to down-to-earth acts of love and care, and not just sitting around and waiting passively.  
            As we wait for the Lord’s return we are not to become impatient and simply get caught up in our petty day to day problems to the point of losing sight of what is really important.  One day a man named Denis Waitley was trying to catch a flight but was running late so he literally ran through the airport terminal.  He got to the gate the split second the gate agent closed the door.  Denis explained his situation that he had a speaking engagement to get to, but the agent didn’t budge.  That’s when his frustration turned into fuming.  Denis stormed out of the boarding area and back to the ticket counter to register a complaint and reschedule his flight.  The anger intensified as he waited for more than twenty minutes in a line that barely moved.  Just before he got to the counter an announcement over the intercom changed his life.  The flight he missed, flight 191 from Chicago to Los Angeles, crashed on takeoff and killed every person on board the plane.  Denis Waitley never registered his complaint.  In fact, he never returned his invalidated ticket.  He took it home and pinned it on a bulletin board in his office to remind him whenever he got frustrated or upset that life is more than day to day impatience and worry and complaints.  It is about serving a lost world destined to slide away from God apart from the grace that can turn judgment into blessing.
            We are to keep watch because the Lord’s return could be today.  In the meantime, we are to be faithful servants of God by serving a world that is in tremendous need of getting on the ark and being saved from the judgment that will come.  What does God want you to do?  How does he want you to be a faithful servant in his world?  The best way to overcome our own chronic unhappiness and struggles is to serve the world and be the servant God’s wants us to be.
            So, live with the end in mind.  Live without regret and without procrastinating.  Jesus himself has said, “Yes, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.