In the Desert

Name something that tempts you….as in, REALLY tempts you. Something that causes you to go weak in the knees trying to resist. Money? Power? Fame? Immortality? Gossip? Drama? Chocolate-covered caramel bars? CHEEZE??

The Greek myth of King Midas comes to mind when I think of temptation. He loved and worshipped gold. Gold was his kryptonite. He was granted a wish that everything he touched might be turned into gold. What joy! What bliss! Until the very food that he needed to survive was turned into gold and he couldn’t consume it. He cursed his power then, and sought relief from that which had once tempted him so strongly.

Today we read about Christ’s forty days in the desert where he was tempted by Satan. This reading falls in the first week of Lent for a reason. We are challenged to face the things that tempt us and have the power to pull us away from observing a Holy Lent.

Mark 1 (Common English Bible)

About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. 11 And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

12 At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.

An oversimplification of this passage would point out that God finds happiness in all of his children at the moment of baptism. He experiences joy when we commit to a life of resisting evil in all of its forms and promise to walk a righteous path. Temptations don’t come from God. He is not trying to ensnare us, but rather will send angels to take care of us in those moments of weakness….if we allow it. Sometimes our addictions block us from receiving help.

These 40 days of Lent are an exercise against temptation…the temptation to give up on our Lenten disciplines. The temptation to step off the path of righteousness. The temptation to succumb to evil in the form of gossip, sin, anger, betrayal, and shutting out God. The temptation to withhold forgiveness.

14 After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, 15 saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”

Jesus calls us to something better. He invites us to change our hearts and lives. We are encouraged to trust the good news of his life, death, and resurrection. Don’t be tempted to do anything less….that’s how Satan wins.

Wilderness Wonderland by Mary Anne Mong Cramer

Restoring the Desert Places

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung.
It came, a flow’ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind;

These beautiful words from the traditional German carol “Lo, How a Rose ‘Ere Blooming” set the stage for the Old Testament prophecies that take us straight to the manger. Jesse’s lineage was indeed sung of men of old, recounting the family line from Ruth and Boaz to Jesse, then to King David, and finally to Jesus. And so this “rose” is firmly established as Israelite royalty….of a kind.

It was Isaiah who foretold it. We pause the beautiful hymn at just this spot to consider this: what exactly did Isaiah foretell about the Messiah? Would he be a conquering hero who would deliver his nation from the grip of Roman tyranny? Would he establish his rightful throne and rule with power and might? What did God anoint the Messiah to do when he came to reign?

Isaiah 61 (Common English Bible)

The Lord God’s spirit is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me
    to bring good news to the poor,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim release for captives,
        and liberation for prisoners,

It must have been startling to the original hearers of this passage to see their anticipated anointed-one described in such a way. He will come to speak to the poor? Tend to the broken-hearted? Liberate the captives?

Where are the royal power and might here?

    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
        and a day of vindication for our God,
    to comfort all who mourn,
    to provide for Zion’s mourners,
    to give them a crown in place of ashes,
    oil of joy in place of mourning,
    a mantle of praise in place of discouragement.

Isaiah continues to paint a very different picture of what the Savior will be like. This description was not in keeping with Israel’s expectations. And yet, Jesus looked just like this. Jesus came to comfort those who mourn. He came to uplift the discouraged and vindicate God. Those who wore the sackcloth and ashes would be rebuilt…from the inside out.

They will be called Oaks of Righteousness,
    planted by the Lord to glorify himself.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins;
    they will restore formerly deserted places;
    they will renew ruined cities,
    places deserted in generations past.

The promise that the formerly deserted places would be restored really alludes to spiritual landscapes rather than physical ones, wouldn’t you agree? Jesus came to renew people with justice, peace, unity, and goodwill. The deserts he came to fill were the empty hearts, the cold attitudes, the lack of humanity, and the absence of compassion that were prevalent in his time…and in ours.

Oh, how we need him now!

In Luke 4, we see that this passage from Isaiah is the very one that Jesus quoted in his first sermon. That day, he stood up in the temple and read it aloud. He closed the scroll and said, “Today, these words are fulfilled in your hearing.“

May these words be fulfilled in our hearing as well.

This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

Lo, How a Rose by Jan Wilson