Lenten Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus

Day 7, Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012

In the wilderness experience of Jesus, only Mark narrates in his gospel that there were “wild beasts” in the wilderness with Jesus (please read Mark 1: 9-13). It is not unusual for the wild beasts to be present in the wilderness. However, what is most remarkable is that Jesus was among the wild beasts for over a month, and yet, none of them touched Him, as He came out unscathed from the wilderness. This reminds us of Adam at the beginning of the creation in the book of Genesis. Before the fall, Adam, too, was in the Garden of Eden surrounded by all sorts of wild beasts and yet unharmed. Daniel was also unhurt in the lions’ den. So also, the second or last Adam, as Apostle Paul referred to Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:45-47), remained unharmed in the midst of wild beasts. He knew that those wild animals were gentler with Him than His own fellow Jews among whom he dwelt! It must have revealed to Him the vicious inhumanity of the people of that generation in whose midst He was to live and minister. He learned that they could be worse than the wild beasts in the wilderness when swayed by the sins.

We have seen from the Scriptures that wilderness experience is a must for the followers of Christ. Today, we realize that wilderness times have their wild beasts! The wild beasts represent the temptations and problems we often face as we try to draw closer to God. The wild beasts of aridity, despair, distractions, doubt, fear, loneliness, sickness, temptation, and so on, raise their ugly heads, and are just waiting for the opportunity to pounce and strike us. They will try their best to dissuade and discourage us from walking with Jesus. These wild beasts each present us with seemingly insurmountable challenges in our spiritual walk. However, when we find ourselves surrounded by such wild beasts we need to remember that Jesus’ innocence regarding sin, holiness, as well as the favor of God upon Him during this time helped Him overcome these wild beasts. He not only walked out unscathed from the wilderness but, afterwards, He also became a channel of blessings to many. Just as the heavenly Father cared for Jesus, protected, and preserved Him from the wild beasts, God will be with us when the wild beasts taunt us. God’s protection and security are ours when we completely trust Him and his provisions. Aren’t your wildernesses times complete with wild beasts? Take them as challenges to be overcome by your holy living and complete dependence on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Let God slay each one of these beasts and make you and me a blessing to others when we have come out of our wilderness times. As Apostle Paul writes, “We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 Contemp. Eng. Ver.). Amen.

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Lenten reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 6.

Day 6, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012

Jesus’s time in the wilderness afforded Him a period of solitude that is so vital to one’s spiritual growth. Jesus knew He was soon to embark upon a very busy and demanding schedule of ministry. Particularly in the gospel according to Mark, Jesus is portrayed as a very busy person moving rapidly from one place to the other. In Mark, Jesus is almost always involved in urgent action, which is obvious in the very frequent use of the terms such as “immediately,” “right away,” “at once,” and as soon as,” at least 42 times in the gospel (read a few passages in Mark to get the feel of it). Therefore, Jesus made the best use of the solitude He found in the wilderness by conversing with His Father. His time alone with God made Him completely depend on Him for everything in His life. The Father became the only and constant source of His might, ministry, and miracles in the coming days. The power of silence and solitude also equipped Jesus to face the temptations Satan brought before Him, to resist him, and ultimately to overcome and defeat Satan. Later on, Jesus cherished the time of solitude in the wilderness. In fact, seeking solitude became one of His spiritual disciplines. He sought time alone with God just before making significant decisions for ministry, such as choosing the Twelve Apostles (see Luke 6:12-16). Whenever He was grieved and troubled, Jesus withdrew to spend time in solitude with God, such as when He heard the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod (see Matthew14:10-13). Even when he felt the pressure of fame, Jesus immediately withdrew to spend time alone with God in prayer (see Matthew 14:23) because that is what he sought more than popularity.

Solitude and silence, therefore, is one of the best disciplines that you and I could cultivate this Lent. This is actually essential if we want to draw near to God in our busy, busy world of activities and programs. In the midst of myriads of responsibilities and doings in our fast paced world, the Lenten season offers us an opportunity to seek tranquil times of quiet to be just with God. It will certainly help deepen our intimate, personal relationship with God. Solitude will also help us get rid of the illusion of our possessiveness. It will help us look within and then to look up to God for everything, as we learn dependence on Him rather than on our material possessions. As Henri Nouwen, one of my favorite authors, says:

It is in solitude that we discover being is more important than having, and that we are worth more than the result of our efforts. In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared. It’s there we recognize that the healing words we speak are not just our own, but are given to us; that the love we can express is part of a greater love; and that the new life we bring forth is not a property to cling to, but a gift to be received (Renewed For Life, p5).

Lord, help us, therefore, to seek solitude and silence with you in the rest of our retreat with you. Amen.

Lenten reflections 2012: Retreating Into the Wilderness with Jesus, Day 5, Feb. 27

Day 5, Monday, Feb. 27, 2012

 Please read Exodus chapter 16-17 for today. The wilderness experience of Jesus was identical to the experience of Israelites. Jesus and Israelites both saw the manifestation of God’s power and glory just before the Lord led them into the wilderness. However, there is a contrast in their responses to the reality of wilderness. A few days into it and the Israelites “murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness” (Exodus 16: 2). They all began to worry about food. Soon, they accused Moses saying, “You have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex 16:3 RSV). God fed them with manna but soon after that they again grumbled: “Therefore the people found fault with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink’” (Ex 17:2 RSV). This went on and on for the rest of their journey in to the wilderness.

 Jesus, however, responded with fasting for forty days and nights during His wilderness experience. Unlike Israelites, Jesus was alone in the wilderness and He knew there was hardly any possibility of getting food or drink. Although He was God Himself and He could have produced anything He wanted to eat or drink, as He was the Creator, yet, He decided to fast. He was the One who brought forth the world and everything in it out of nothing (Genesis 1-2), as Apostle Paul said:

“For in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16).

And yet, Jesus chose to adopt a spiritual discipline of fasting to pass through his wilderness. Thus, Jesus laid the foundation of the tradition of fasting during Lent. Out of all spiritual disciplines, fasting is perhaps the most effective way of taking away our dependence on material stuff and fully focusing on spiritual matters. Fasting helps us deny ourselves and our physical needs for a certain period in order to teach us that “man shall not live by bread alone!” Fasting made Jesus quite week for a few days as a human being in the flesh; however, it strengthened Him spiritually and prepared Him well for the task of ministry for the future. Fasting also equipped Him to face the greater temptations that the devil was about to bring Him into. That’s why Jesus was able to come out of them victoriously and became a blessing to all those who are facing a wilderness or being tempted just as He was. So, if today you find yourself all alone in a challenging wilderness. If today you’re facing an insurmountable temptation, learn from Jesus and respond by adopting a discipline of fasting and prayer. And you, too, will come out victorious. Amen.

Lenten reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 4

#4. Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012

We saw in the scriptures, yesterday, that wilderness is integral to the spiritual life of believers. It works like a furnace to refine us and to make us stronger Christians. Keeping with the long tradition of the Old Testament, Jesus, too, was led into the wilderness experience. We need to be clear though that it was not the devil but the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness. All three gospel writers are quick to point out this fact (read Matthew 3:16, 4:1, Mark 1:10-12, Luke 3: 21-22, 4:1-2). It teaches us that God permits suffering and pain in our lives for a purpose.

Jesus being fully God did not need penitence. He did not need to repent of any sins, as He was completely sinless even when he was completely human in His earthly days. Even though Jesus was sinless, God the Holy Spirit led God the Son to experience wilderness in order that He will be completely dependent on God the Father. Thus, the triune God was involved in the  wilderness experience of Jesus Christ because it was so significant for the salvation of humanity. That’s why we read in the book of Hebrews 5: 8—“Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (KJV). Through Christ’s suffering which began in the wilderness and continued throughout his life until his painful death on the cross, He completely identified with us human beings. Therefore, He fully understands whatever your wilderness experience may be today—be it pain, sickness, death of a loved one, financial crisis, uncertain future, concern for your loved ones, unemployment, underemployment, insecurity, misunderstandings, marriage on the rocks, and so on. Whatever it may be, Jesus Christ, our Lord knows and understands it fully because He has been in the wilderness Himself. He knows what you are going through today; He knows that God has permitted this time in your life. But He also knows that God is omnipotent to bring you through it and through this experience, make you a better vessel suited for His purposes. Once again, the book of Hebrews says in 4:14-16:

“Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (New Revised Version). Amen.

Lenten reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, day 3

#3. Friday, Feb. 24, 2012

The first three (synoptic) gospels record that after Jesus’ baptism He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness (Read Matthew 4: 1-2, Mark 1: 12-13, Luke 4: 1-2). The wilderness where Jesus spent those forty days was most probably in Judea along the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, to the northeast of the city of Jerusalem. Unlike what we think of wilderness today as a long stretch of forests, it was a desert where hardly any plants grew and that mostly remained unsettled. It was a rocky, mountainous area where John the Baptist had also lived and ministered (see Matthew 3:1).

Wilderness has played a very key role in the life of God’s people. That’s why they believed that most significant things for their spiritual life actually originated from the wilderness experience. Moses was in the wilderness tending sheep when God appeared to him and called him to deliver people of Israel from the slavery of Egypt. However, after their liberation from slavery, the Israelites had to wander forty years in the wilderness before the Lord led them into the Promised Land. That’s why the Jews believed that “the law, they say, came from the wilderness; the tabernacle from the wilderness; the Sanhedrin from the wilderness; the priesthood from the wilderness; the office of the Levites from the wilderness; the kingdom from the wilderness; and all the good gifts which God gave to Israel were from the wilderness” (Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 13. 3).

It’s very interesting to note that both Israelites and Jesus were led into the wilderness soon after they had experienced the favor of God and the manifestation of His power. Jesus experienced God’s favor at His baptism (see Matthew 3: 16-17, Luke 3: 21-22), and the Israelites had just seen the most potent manifestation of God’s power at work in their deliverance from Egypt. But in the very next step of their journey with God, they found themselves wandering and starving in the wilderness—Jesus for forty days, and Israelite for forty years! It’s not a coincidence for believers; rather, we learn from it that in order for us to grow in Christ and to be Christlike one has to go through the wilderness experience. This works as a refiner’s fire for our faith to shine for Christ and to make us victorious Christians rather than mediocre ones. So, what’s your wilderness today? Instead of complaining about it, let us be grateful and live expectantly that one day God will bring about something definitely good from out of your wilderness experience. Amen.

VJ

Wilderness in the Jordan valley in Judea

 

Lenten reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, day 2

#2. Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012

As we continue our retreat with Jesus into the wilderness, please read the Gospel of Luke 3:21-22 and 4:1-2. When Jesus was baptized at the Jordan River, Luke says, he was “full of the Holy Spirit.” And then, it was the Holy Spirit that led Jesus in to the wilderness (4:1). Once there, the devil tempted Jesus for forty days. It’s not that the devil tempted Jesus only at the end of His fast; rather, it was a relentless temptation from the devil throughout this period of lent. And towards the end of the fast, the devil intensified his temptations as he wished to break Jesus during his frailest point in life and thus thwart the plan of God for humanity if he could. It seems quite odd here. How could Satan tempt Jesus, the Son of God, who has just been baptized thus fulfilling “all righteousness,” on whom the Holy Spirit has just descended, and whom God has declared publicly as his “beloved son” and with whom He is “well pleased” (Matthew 3: 15-17, Luke 3:22)? How could God let that happen, we ask.

Most of us feel that if we draw near to God during Lent, if we grow spiritually, and if we fulfill all the external things during the Lenten season, then, we would not face any temptation or suffering. We assume that God should not let problems and pains come in our lives. Many prosperity preachers also tell people today that just believing in Jesus will solve all their problems and heal all their diseases. Friends, it doesn’t work that way! As we just saw, none of us have done or can ever do what Jesus did and yet, the Holy Spirit led Him into the wilderness by  to be tempted by the devil!

Beloved child of God, if today you find yourself in the wilderness of pain, suffering, disease, loneliness, lack of financial resources, marital discord, or any other trouble, please ask the help of the Holy Spirit. Even if we draw near to God, we will still face problems and temptations in our life on earth. But the good news is that God has given us a helper and even an advocate called the Holy Spirit (see John 14:16-17). God has promised His Spirit to those who ask, as it is written: “As bad as you are, you still know how to give good gifts to your children. But your heavenly Father is even more ready to give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks” (Luke 11:13 Contemporary English Version). So, the Spirit will help us in our walk with God and help us overcome our troubles and temptations. Therefore, let us travel with Jesus in the rest of this season with the confidence that the Spirit is with you to the will of God. Amen!

VJ

Lenten reflections 2012: Retreating Into the Wilderness with Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11)

Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012.

The English word “lent” comes from some European roots that simply mean “spring” because of the season of the year in which observance of the Lent falls. However, in the original Latin and Greek languages, “lent” meant “fortieth” day before Easter. Lent is observed from the early days of Christianity for six weeks or forty days excluding Sundays. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). The Sundays are excluded because each Sunday is a mini-Easter that reminds us to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. These forty days remind the believers of their Lord’s forty days spent in the wilderness of Israel just before he began His earthly ministry. Therefore, the theme of our Lenten devotionals will be “Retreating into the Wilderness with Jesus.”

The church has historically set aside the Lenten season for a time of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season for reflection and taking stock of lives. It’s a preparatory time for the celebration of Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves and when converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the forty days of Lent, believers try to follow Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness to spend time in solitude with fasting for forty days (Read: Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13).

Thus, Lent helps us take Jesus’ life and death more seriously, and celebrate his resurrection more fully. Let us resolve, therefore, that with the help of the Holy Spirit we will set aside some time in our clogged schedules to read the Scriptures, meditate on it, and pray. Spending time in the Word of God is significant for Lent because you will notice in the passages above that in every instance of temptation Jesus fought back Satan by saying: “It is written!” As we journey together with Jesus during this solemn season, let us begin by asking ourselves a few questions today, such as: When I wake up on Resurrection Sunday morning, April 8, 2012, how will I be different? Is there sin in my life that gets in the way of loving God with my whole heart? What am I going to do about that sin in the next forty days? Is there anyone in my life from whom I need to ask forgiveness or pursue reconciliation? What are some things in my life that I can give up for Lent that will help me draw near to God? How does giving it up draw me closer to God and prepare me for Easter?
May God be with you in your forty days spiritual journey! Amen.