Matthew 4:1-4 Jesus in the Wilderness

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ 4But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:1-4

Even before the tempter shows up it is already a bit of a shock to our system to see Jesus moving, in the space between two verses in the Bible, from the affirmation of his baptism to the deprivation of the desert. That just doesn’t seem right to us.

And it isn’t like Jesus took a wrong turn on his way back to town. The text says that he was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” This whole scene is God’s idea.

Native American Sioux would see this as a vision quest. A time of disconnection and isolation, carefully prepared, to wait for clarity about self and life. Jews would immediately appreciate the significance of forty days and forty nights. Anyone in Jesus’ world would have recognized hunger as the vast majority of people lived at a bare subsistence, survival level.

But this time it wouldn’t be God who showed up but the devil. There would be no manna drop. Jesus would meet the temptation for fast food with a Bible verse.

He says, “It is written…” and it really is. In the 8th chapter of Deuteronomy where Moses challenges the people not to forget God in the coming good times of their lives. It IS written: 2Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments.3He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4The clothes on your back did not wear out and your feet did not swell these forty years. 5Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the Lord your God disciplines you.

Do we have room in our imaginations for a God who actively disciplines us? Do we have the courage to look in the mirror and be confronted by how much time, energy, and meaning we put into the pursuit of our own daily bread compared to how much time, energy, and meaning we put into listening, internalizing, and then externalizing what God says to us?

God takes Jesus away from a place of physical security and comfort to a new place on the edge. The wilderness. That place of powerlessness. And there Jesus reminds us that there is in fact something more powerful, more empowering, and more substantial than our next meal – there is a new found certainty that no wilderness can take us away from God’s presence. We have God’s word on that.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, mostly our lives are good times. Don’t let us forget you. And when things head south, when life gets hard, don’t let us forget you. Use our hunger to bring us back to you in spirit and in truth. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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One Response to “Matthew 4:1-4 Jesus in the Wilderness”

  1. Carolee Groux Says:

    Jesus was baptized Into God’s kingdom; he is now a child of God just like we are through baptism (Water and the Word). But he is more than God’s child, he is the Messiah, the promised one, the to-be Savior for all who believe in him.
    He is led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he will be tempted by the devil (a serpent). He prays and fasts for 40 days; how hungry would we be? But when the serpent challenges him to make stones into manna. Jesus answers that the “bread of life” is more important than food; that doing God’s will is more rewarding for the soul than is food for the belly. God has set Jesus up and Jesus has the discipline to not succumb to the devil’s bribe.
    The lesson in this story (or parable) is that no matter where you are, how alone or isolated you may feel, whether you are starving or freezing, God is with you. Recognizing His presence and obeying and trusting Him will get you past any temptation or hardship. God can be a powerful presence in your life if you have the discipline to follow Him. We learn this from Jesus in today’s text.

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