What We Can Learn from Jesus in the Wilderness

What We Can Learn from Jesus in the Wilderness

Join the Community!

The Wake-Up Call is a daily encouragement to shake off the slumber of our busy lives and turn our eyes toward Jesus.

Click here to get yours free in your inbox each morning!

Join thousands of others on a special Lenten journey with author Dan Wilt and the Wake-Up Call community. Sign up to get daily readings for Lent 2023 in your inbox, or order a hard copy of this book, Jesus in the Wild, from our store here. As a pastor or small group leader, your church or group can engage our church kit which includes + sermon outlines, + group reflection guides, as well as + weekly videos to align your congregation on a common Lenten journey. Order the church kit from our store here.

When the Father calls you by name, there is always a threefold challenge that follows—a challenge to your identity, a challenge to your belovedness, and a challenge to your purpose.

That challenge comes from somewhere, from a spiritual foe who is the embodiment of evil, an enemy whose singular goal is to get you lost in the wilderness—lost about who you are (your identity), whose you are (your belovedness), and what you are for (your purpose).

I began to follow Christ during my high school years, spurred on by the encouragement and prayers of family members, a few faithful teachers, and some precious and discerning Christian friends.

I was loved to life in those early years of walking with Jesus. I vibrantly felt my faith, fresh and growing, at work in my bones. The Spirit was conforming me to Jesus, even while I slept. I experienced sonship, an abiding and quieting awareness of my identity as a child of God, and my purpose that flowed from that relationship of love. In those days, I experienced the heart-conquering and winsome affection of God, and a strange lifting of heavy weights that had been oppressing my spirit.

I gave everything I had to follow Jesus; it seemed the only fitting response to such great love. There have been many delightful days and dark nights since then. One would think, having experienced such astounding acceptance, affirmation, and blessing—in such a profound way, for so many decades—that I would never look back.

But in the wilderness seasons of life, when we feel lost and abandoned, we sometimes look back.

After the Blessing Comes the Temptation

I looked back, many times over the decades of my life. I looked back when the going got tough, when the emotions ran dry, or when a whisper—a beautiful but evil whisper—asked me “if” I was actually precious to God.

It goes something like this: If you are precious to God, then why is this happening to you?

When one is in the midst of a protracted season of suffering, despair over our situation, or affliction with a chronic illness, that “if” seems to ring louder than all the worship songs one has ever sung.


The battle to get us to look back begins the day we first embrace our identity, our belovedness, our purpose, our vocation—spoken to us intimately by the Father. As soon as that happens, as soon as love floods our soul and we say yes to the name God gives us, there is a satanic presence lurking in the background, waiting for an “opportune time” (Luke 4:13) to woo us away.

When and what are those opportune times? Moments of vulnerability, insecurity, pain, success, failure, insufficiency, pride, unbelief, confusion, despair, lust, greed, or revenge.

And, if we let our enemy, our adversary, the one the Bible calls “the satan”—meaning “the adversary”—(I will refer to our enemy that biblical way throughout this book) draw us away from our true name before God, we will go down a slow track of confusion, disorientation, and even self-hatred and self-destruction.

The ancients spoke of the two ways, the path to life and the path to death (Deut. 30:19; Ps. 16:11). For every person, that path to death begins the day we believe even a single word the devil speaks. It begins the day we listen to the enemy’s voice, without a heaven-powered refusal addressing the voice immediately and head-on. Listening to the evil one’s voice, both metaphorically and literally, is suicide. It all begins with one temptation left unanswered.

Jesus in the Wild

Since the time of my conversion, more than forty years ago now, I have been fascinated by the story of Jesus in the wilderness in Luke 4:1–14.
I have always felt there was more to that story than met the eye. I’ve heard myriad messages on those verses, and I’ve preached on that passage many times throughout the decades. I’ve spent hours reflecting on not only the passage, but also on what it means for Jesus to have been the one to pass on this story to his disciples (and all who would follow them).

After all, no one else was with Jesus in the desert to record it; Jesus must have shared this profound experience with his followers, most probably to equip them for their own challenges ahead.

All that time, I now humbly confess, I have been reading the story from a limited perspective—along with many in the body of Christ, I’m sure. I won’t say that my reading of the wilderness narrative had been completely wrong, but I will say that I usually missed the wider, all-important context of Luke 3 and 4 in which the story takes place.

The story of Jesus in the wilderness—or Jesus in the “wild,” as I like to call the untamed places where life tumbles into life along our journey—is all about vocation (from the Latin word vocare, which means “to call”). Vocation is what we speak of as a “calling.” How to receive our calling, embrace our calling, and fulfill our calling is the vital truth that sits at the center of the journey ahead of us.

What happened between when Jesus was blessed and called into his vocation at his baptism and when Jesus launched into the fullness of his ministry in Luke 4:14–21 (see Isa. 61:1–2)? What happened between the naming and the doing, the calling and the ministry?

What happened was the wild. And what happens in the wild is what determines the telos (end goal) of your life and mine.

For that reason, I’ve wanted to revisit the treasures in this story many times over the years. Now is the opportunity, and I am grateful you can join me on the journey of discovery before us.

A Season of Scripture Meditation

We’re about to share a long revisitation, a lengthy and moving meditation, on Luke 4:1–14. In the spirit of the ancient monastic practice of lectio divina, a practice marked by the continued repetition of a passage so one begins to not only enter the truth of the passage, but also to allow the Spirit to have the passage enter us, we will proceed.

In other words, I’d like to invite you to meditate on this one story in the Gospels for an entire season. To enter this passage, to enter it deeply and with a view to receive understanding and revelation as to its meaning for the church and for each one of us, will be transforming. I believe this because the “Word of God is living and active” (Heb. 4:12) and will be used by the Spirit to trigger seismic soul shifts in us—shifts we may not be aware are happening along the way.

It bears noting that the Hebrew word for meditation (as in “meditates on his law day and night” in Psalm 1:2) is the word hagah. This rich word hosts within it the idea that it is by mulling over, repeating continually, chewing on (like a dog with a bone), and lingering in passages from the Word of God, the Scriptures give up their layered and thick truth to us as we savor their words and meaning.

That is what we will do together over the course of these pages with the story of Jesus in the wilderness.

We will plumb the depths of this passage by lingering in one word, or one phrase, for the space of a single entry. Then, as we explore other words and phrases in these fourteen powerful verses, they will compound into a multilayered, thick truth over time. We will return again and again to the ideas explored in the previous days as we add to our opening passage daily.

Mulling, repeating, chewing, lingering—these are fitting verbs for how we must handle the Word of Truth (2 Tim. 2:15) and its Spirit-revealed implications for walking on the path of life (Ps. 16:11).

Vocation: Being, Becoming, and Doing

Our meditation will center on the powerful biblical idea of ­vocation—what it means to be called by God to a purpose—and then to stay with that purpose through the hard days and deep nights we call a lifetime.

Jesus had to do this. So do we.

I will use the terms vocation and calling interchangeably throughout the book, but the term vocation will take the lead.

From my perspective, our vocation is a powerful way of expressing the idea of calling in our lives. However, when Christ-followers speak of calling with other Christ-followers, we often talk about the idea as a vague sense of purpose to do something, accomplish something, or get something done in the world.

Putting doing before being or, more accurately, making doing our foundation and being an optional add-on, we can create a monster. An affirmation-addiction monster. An applause-seeking monster. A misuse-of-power monster. A self-preservation monster. Monsters beget monsters, and our work, with Jesus as our leader, is to undo the hellish effects of the leading monster at work in the world (1 John 3:8).

Our vocation, a divine treasure given to each one of us from birth and originating in creation itself, is an invitation to be someone who then does something in the world.

Your vocation is to be someone who does something in the world.

Let that sink in.

If I don’t know who I am, who I am to become—then I will endlessly wander, trying to figure out what I am to do in the world.

Being leads to becoming leads to doing—a progression which leads to further awareness of who we are, who we are becoming, and what we are to do.

Jesus knew who he was (being), who he was being formed to be for the future of humankind (becoming), and what he was to accomplish in the world his Father loves (doing).

The Wild Is a Place of Testing

And that leads us to the story of Jesus in the wild and what happened there.

The wilderness, according to the Bible, is the eremos—it speaks of a place of isolation, separation, and encounter. We’ll explore this word later.

And just what was that experience that Jesus had?

Jesus was tested, and that test came by way of three temptations from the devil. If you struggle with the idea that the Father allows us to be tested, then read through the Old Testament and consider how many tests of faith, devotion, courage, and obedience were presented for those who loved God and were “called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
God allows us to be tested for our good. The enemy, however, tempts us for our destruction. The two experiences can look similar, but the purposes and outcomes of each are very, very different. God’s testing is intended to build us up. The enemy’s tempting is intended to tear us down.

In between our profound encounters with the God who is love (Jesus will encounter his Father in this way in his baptism in Luke 3) and some of the most profound vocational ministry activity of our lives (Jesus will leave the wilderness to minister in the “power of the [Holy] Spirit” in Luke 4:14), there will be a test.

Tests and Temptations

Biblical scholar Tim Mackie (of Bible Project) illuminates what a test is for us. The Greek word is periazo—a test that reveals the truth of something—and that test will somehow involve both God’s divine purpose and the enemy’s destructive challenge. Like tests in school, a test reveals what is, what we know, what is true and behind the veil of impressions.

Tests reveal truth about our character, and are meant for our good. Temptations (another way the word is translated) have the goal of leading us to do evil.

Abraham was tested. Israel was tested. And Jesus was tested by the Pharisees to reveal the truth about who he was. Mackie suggests that we must welcome the idea that God tests people in ways that reveal what is happening inside us. I have come to agree.

How we handle those tests, and who we see those tests coming from, means everything; our heart is being proved true and our faith revealed as genuine (1 Peter 1:7) in such times of difficulty.

When our soul has been tested and we pass, we internally become convinced that something has actually become real within. In those moments, God has used the challenge to show us our own hearts and to convince us that we are indeed living truly according to what we believe. With such a self-convincing revelation pounding at our core, we can become an unstoppable force of life and love in the world.

But when our faith remains in the land of questions, the lands of ifs and maybes, and we wonder if we have what it takes to see this whole, strange faith thing through until the end, then we are impotent to press through the hell before us to see the heaven rising behind it.

Journal Your Way through This Book

I would encourage you to have a journal open and ready as you read each entry, to note words or phrases that are meaningful to you, as well as to answer the questions that are at the conclusion of each reading. It is widely known in Christian history that through journaling and writing, the Holy Spirit helps us to both document and remember words we are given to carry forward into our future.

As we consider this passage, we will be meditating on the story in the historic and prayerful spirit of contemplation, being with God in conversation as we read. Eugene Peterson speaks of contemplation this way:

“Contemplation in the schema of lectio divina means living the read/meditated/prayed text in the everyday, ordinary world. It means getting the text into our muscles and bones, our oxygen-breathing lungs and blood-pumping heart.”1

I agree with Peterson; we must eat this story, and it must become part of us.

Your journal will provide a lasting record that you invested your own heart into this season at the feet of Jesus, and that you addressed the demonic and satanic voices that were challenging you in your own vocation before God. Your journal will be a lasting record that you came out on the other side of this reading stronger in heart for the next season of life and ministry in the Holy Spirit.

If you enjoyed this entry, you’ll appreciate Dan Wilt’s new book, Jesus in the Wild. Get it from our store here.

In this resource you’ll take a forty-day journey into the heart of one of the most unusual, and often most misunderstood, stories in the Gospel accounts. In this encounter, following his baptism in the Jordan and before the inauguration of his ministry, Jesus is alone with the adversary—the one whose works he had come to destroy (1 John 3:8). He faces three tests, or “temptations”—all aimed at unseating him from his identity, his belovedness, and his purpose as the Son of God.

Perfect for:

  • Personal Lenten devotional readings
  • Church-wide Lent studies (check out the series kit!)
  • Sunday school classes
  • Small groups (including class meetings and band meetings)
  • Wake-Up Call readers

1. Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2009), 109.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *