Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
In forty days, Jesus did what Israel could not in forty years—he resisted the temptation to exchange his identity for the promises of the world.
God works with numbers. Not always, but often. Does the number forty sound familiar to you in the Bible?
The number forty comes up a few times in the Scriptures, and one of the most memorable is in the story of Israel, wandering for forty years in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. The story of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days—probably told by Jesus directly to his disciples so that they would connect the dots with their people Israel—is intimately connected to that covenant story in the Bible.
Let’s recount it again, in summary. Israel, God’s people, were led out of Egypt under the guiding leadership of Moses and Aaron. They saw God’s work in a mighty deliverance through pestilence and plagues. They saw miracles as they plundered the Egyptians (who willingly gave them their treasures), followed pillars of cloud and fire in their escape, and experienced the Red Sea parting before them and closing back on the Egyptian army.
Then, it happened. More disobedience. From grumbling to golden calves, the Israelites found every way possible to disbelieve God’s vocation for them (to reveal his covenant love to the nations of the earth) and to retreat into their love of food, comfort, and even the arms of their oppressors (sounding familiar to the temptations of Jesus in our story?).
Israel failed to keep covenant hesed, loving-kindness, with Yahweh—though Yahweh kept his covenant with them.
Jesus will keep the covenant as a representative of his people Israel. He will embody their calling to the nations and will spread the good news they were intended to spread in the world, the Luke 4 calling to preach good news to the poor (“The Spirit of the Lord is on me” [Luke 4:18]).
Israel wandered in the wilderness of Sinai for forty years, forgetting the covenant name God had given them. A blessing on their identity, affection for his people, and affirmation of their value (see Jesus’s baptism for the blessing the Israelites spurned as God’s chosen family).
Jesus went into the wild for forty days, resisting the covenant-killer’s taunts, full of the Holy Spirit and coming out victorious. Jesus did, in microcosm, what Israel could not do—keep covenant with Yahweh in their own season of testing.
While you and I don’t need to mark forty days for enemy-resisting in our own lives—as we don’t have the same mantle as Jesus—we can mark off times on the calendar as seasons for reorienting. In the Ignatian tradition (a spirituality with an openness to seeing God at work in all people, in all moments of life), many do retreats based on Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises for a similar time frame. Others write their own “rule of life,” a code of personal values and spiritual practices that they will refer to again and again in their life of ministry.
What if we marked the calendar this year, even for just a long weekend or week, to meet with our Creator to renew our covenant relationship, resist the devil, and to come out oriented for the next season of our lives?
Lord of the Wild, thank you for leading the way in doing what Israel could not do, and modeling both covenant love and intentional practices of devotion in a season of being set apart. Guide us in our own planning of a shorter number of days for a yearly retreat or quarterly getaway to devote to remembering who we are in you. In Jesus’s name, amen.
If you took out your calendar now and planned a private retreat to get away and meet with Jesus, reaffirming your devotion to him, learning at his feet, and remembering who you are in him, where would you go and for how long?
For the Awakening,
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My private retreat to learn at Jesus’ feet is when I first wake up and sense His voice while I’m still in bed every morning. As I listen, it focuses me on what He wants to say throughout the day. As you said, God’s good news is intended to be spread in the world. I woke up with this conformation of that truth running through my heart and mind this morning:
Revival is the wake-up sound of God sending . . .
Too many Christians
To the culture
Without a hint
That God’s intent
Is that we’re all sent
To show and tell
Go into the world
And make disciples.
Setting the time aside might not be as difficult as knowing what to do with that time and being comfortable being quiet. Are there good resources from Seedbed that cover those things during a personal time away to be with Jesus for a day?