Matthew 4:1-11 (NIV)
Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness
1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
It’s been raining in my town for the last few days, a rare phenomenon in the highveld where our rain is usually loosed in abrupt, fierce storms. From a mist to a persistent drizzle to a sagging downpour, the rainy weather has me longing to hibernate the grey skies away with books and warm socks and lots of coffee, responsibilities be damned.
I must admit, this particular season of Lent is having a similarly soporific effect on me: I want to hibernate through this season of waiting and busyness and preparation, and get to Easter Sunday. That’s the biggest temptation I’m facing this Lent: to let it wash over me rather than consciously submerge myself in it. You see, I’m hungry for the cross – for its power, its redemption and ultimately its victory. But the hard work of getting there? The hard work of waiting, trusting, hoping?
The international political meltdown has revealed an underbelly of ugliness in the world. Headlines are fresh with widespread anger, hatred, frustration, intolerance and ignorance. The political right is finding and building support in nations that were once beacons of tolerance and democracy. Globally we’re hardly facing a rosy future this Lent. In moments like these, who wants to do the work of waiting, trusting and hoping? Not me! I want the cross, stat. The world needs the cross, stat.
But if it’s true today it was as true back when Jesus followed the Spirit into the wilderness.
One wonders if he was impatient. Did the wilderness feel like a waste of time, time that could be better spent healing, teaching, reaching out to people? Jesus waited thirty years to start his ministry – yet still he had to spend more than a month away from the people he’d come for! Did he question the wisdom of the experience at the time? Or was he grateful for the opportunity to face down temptation, to obey God where humanity had failed to do so and gotten itself into a whole mess of trouble?
Well, knowing Jesus…
Are we grateful for the opportunity to face temptation, waiting, preparation, anxiety and longing this Lent? Are we grateful for an opportunity to be obedient, or do we resent it, resent having to wait for the cross? (Hooboy!) Are we grateful that we get to live in a time of danger, confusion and fear – a world in which the presence of the cross is needed all the more acutely?
Lent presents us with an incredible opportunity: to wait for the cross in the full assurance that it will come. Let’s be encouraged, and encourage the people around us, to wait with a longing and expectant heart for Easter morning in a world that seems darkest before dawn.