Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness . . .
The Spirit can lead us into seasons of testing, but always does so for our good.
The wild is a place where Jesus, having lived for thirty years and having been baptized and blessed by his Father, could have lost everything.
Really? Everything? Perhaps that is too strong of a statement? And we’re talking about the Son of God here, right? The more I walk with Jesus, learn about Jesus, and understand what it meant for him to be the Son of God and the Son of Man, the more I believe that if he truly faced every temptation that we do, but was without sin (Heb. 4:15), then, yes, he could have lost everything.
Many people derail their entire lives (though never without the possibility of healing and redemption) in a moment of choice, giving in to a temptation they should have had the sense to avoid. In a moment of choice, they forget their blessing, their name, their calling as a child of God and their reason for living. People even take their lives in those moments of forgetting their name before God.
And this is where our theology of testing itself gets tested. Biblically, it is difficult to deny that God leads us into times of testing. Abraham was tested. Moses was tested. Jesus was tested and tempted. In the New Testament, we see these passages:
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6–7)
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2–4)
Yes, we say, but is God bringing us the tests, or is Satan, who also tests and tempts, doing that work? The book of Job makes it even more unclear: God notes his servant Job, Satan plots to tempt him, and God allows it to happen. In other words, testing comes; the Spirit may lead us to the testing, but isn’t the one challenging us. As good friend and scholar Don Williams used to say, “The devil is God’s devil.” What he meant by that statement was that God works all things for the good (Rom. 8:28) when the devil challenges us—and in seeing the results of a child of God moving forward in obedience, the devil probably wishes he had never tried in the first place! He, in fact, made us stronger through the temptations!
Here we read that Jesus was “led by the Spirit” into the wild, put in a position where the enemy’s temptations could have completely distorted Jesus’s name and mission. And the Spirit of God leads him there. The word for led in this case means “brought,” or “driven” by the Spirit. The word for by, in this case, can mean he was led in the Spirit or by the Spirit. Either way, the Spirit is somehow involved in this challenge to Jesus’s vocation.
Is it surprising or unsettling that our faith must sometimes be tested to be proven genuine? That our faith gets refined through trial, and whether the Spirit initiated it or not, that our faith either becomes stronger or weaker as a result?
What Jesus had before him to do after the wilderness challenge reveals the weight of the entire world on his shoulders. He has been given his identity, “my Son,” and it has come with affection and affirmation. After this will come his proclamation, his public ministry, his suffering, his death, and his commitment of his life into the Father’s hands (Luke 23:46).
N. T. Wright puts it this way in referencing what happens after the desert:
When Jesus said “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Luke has already let us into the secret. His years of silent preparation. His life of prayer leading up to his baptism. The confirmation of his vocation—and then its testing in the wilderness. Then, at last, going public with early deeds in Capernaum (as the exchange in the Nazareth synagogue makes clear, people had already heard of what he’d done elsewhere). Now, with years of prayer, thought and the study of scripture behind him, he stands before his own town. He knew everybody there and they knew him.1
The testing in the wild, led by the Spirit and carried out by the accuser and dismantler of people’s identities before God, matters for Jesus’s next steps in ministry—even in facing the derision of those in his hometown. Our own tests, in a similar way, matter for us. They put steel in our hearts. In our spiritual challenges, would it hurt to say, “The Spirit has led me here; do in me what you will, and may I be found faithful in this place,” and then to resist the enemy who wants all the credit?
Lord of the Wild, there is testing in our own lives that simply looks like the temptation of the enemy. We choose to believe that you are with us in our trials, revealing faith in us and reinforcing our hearts for the next phase of life and ministry ahead. We will resist the enemy, and he will flee from us (James 4:7). But we will also look for you at work in our difficulties. In Jesus’s name, amen.
Have you faced a trial recently, or are you in one, that is revealing your strong and weak points of faith? Can you imagine that the Holy Spirit is involved in the process, showing you your own heart so you can be strengthened for greater challenges ahead?
For the Awakening,
N. T. Wright, Luke for Everyone (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, 2004), 46–47.
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Though it’s not easy to accept at the time, if we truly believe that God’s word is true and infallible, then we must accept the fact that God does allow us to be tested in order to purify our souls. As it has been said, “ No pain no gain, no cross no crown, no way around it.”
A test determines two things: 1) How well is the teacher teaching and 2) How well is the student learning.
In this case, the teacher is flawless. HE has given us all HE has. On the cross, Jesus said it is finished. Done. Kaput.
We don’t need HIM to give us more faith or love us more. HE doesn’t give us partial grace and mercy. HE’s NOT withholding some of his strength, knowledge, or access. If HE did, HIS love would be conditional.
Testing is for us.
It shows the scale between fear and faith. It illuminates and illustrates the insecurities of our souls that we’ve yet to give HIM. Testing determines who we rely on when life hits us with a curveball. Who do we rely on first; HIM or me? I can’t hit a curveball, but Jesus knocks them out of the park.
Staying 💪’n The Lord
Trials are revelatory. They show us our frailty and cause us to deeply realize our great need for the power and presence of the living, resurrected Jesus. Trials motivate us to search our heart, to repent, to cry out for, and to cling to God’s mercy and help. When we are profoundly aware of our brokenness, we openly acknowledge our weaknesses and then Jesus steps into our inner abyss with His reality and strength. Trials bring us to the point where we can . . .
No longer live
As if you’re
Let Jesus be
Your living Head
What He says.