Moses went to the mountain of the Lord in the Sinai wilderness and stayed there for 40 days and nights in prayer and fasting (Exodus 24:18). Elijah, after he was fed with bread from heaven, journeyed through the wilderness without any food for 40 days to the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:8). Jesus was without any food in the wilderness for 40 days to prepare himself for the mission that the Father had sent him to accomplish.
Forty days shows up a lot in scripture. And often, it involved suffering. The forty days of Lent parallels the forty days that Jesus went without food in the wilderness. It is one of the ways we identify with his suffering through the practice of self- denial. Whether it’s food or TV or “me-time,” we deny ourselves particular comforts and pleasures as a way of remembering what Jesus endured for us. The point is not to manufacture suffering, as if we could earn some kind of righteousness through self-denial. The point is to rid our daily lives of anything that takes more precedence than our Savior.
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry” (Luke 4:1-2).
The striking thing in this story is that Jesus went into the desert under the direction of the Holy Spirit. He chose this suffering. Indeed, his whole life was a choice to enter into our suffering. Why? Because God loves us so much! The testimony of Scripture is that Christians need to embrace suffering as part of our calling and endure it as part of our witness:
» “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
» “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29).
» “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Our wilderness is not literal, but it is very real. We are tempted – perhaps even determined – to sustain ourselves, to escape our vulnerability, and to chase our aspirations without thought of others.
But Jesus offers us another way. Despite the suffering he reveals to us what it means to embrace our humanity without short cuts. A minister wrote a book called What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be A Christian. It’s a portrayal of the very thing Jesus taught us not to do. Don’t give just a little to God in order to check a box. Give your entire life. All of it! There are no shortcuts because Jesus took no shortcuts.
“The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread’” (Luke 4:3). Certainly Jesus could have done this, but the lack of bread revealed a deeper hunger for God, and a deeper satisfaction of being sustained by God.
“And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him … worship me, it will all be yours’” (4:5-7). It would all be his eventually, but to have it now would be to have it without suffering and death. How often do we worship whatever promises to give us what we want now, without inconvenience or discomfort? But Jesus worships God alone, not because it is easier, but because it is truer and far better.
“And [the devil] took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you’” (4:9-10). Had Jesus done this, he could have ended all this temptation and trial. How often do we call upon God for miraculous solutions to our suffering, not because we trust him in our circumstance but because we want out of it? But Jesus would not put God to the test.
We live into our identity by surrendering to the Holy Spirit, wherever he may lead us. This season is about waiting, maybe even suffering the loss of things that have come to define us, because we know that our life is dust, and because we are looking forward to resurrection life.