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The Wilderness and the Will of God

There are few occurrences in the life of a believer more perplexing than a wilderness experience, an unexpected hardship or trial, that comes as they walk in the perfect will of God. Wilderness episodes usually involve some degree of deprivation, whether finances, health, friends or comforts of life. But for the child of God, there is one valuable possession that no wilderness can deprive him of, and that is the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). That doesn't mean that believers don't experience 'perceptions' of love deprivation from time to time. But the believer must learn to allow the truth of God, divine reality,  to bring into subjection any and all of his or her perceptions. 

Wilderness experiences have no set time frame. They can last a few days, a week or so, months, years and perhaps a lifetime if the loss of a loved one is involved. Joseph, for example, spent a over a decade in prison and was deprived of his freedom for maintaining sexual purity. John was banished to the isle of Patmos for his faithfulness to Christ. The prophet Jeremiah spent hard time in a miry dungeon for his faithfulness in preaching the truth to Israel. Then there was the wilderness experience Jesus endured on the Cross, feeling 'forsaken' by his God and Father, while he became sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Those six agonizing hours of pain for the Lord Jesus translated to an eternity of bliss in the very presence of God for all who would come to the Father by him. For Joseph, John, Jeremiah and Jesus, all endured wilderness experiences as they walked in the perfect will of God. 

Our Lord's earthly ministry came to an end in a wilderness of suffering. But it began in a wilderness of testing. As soon as Jesus exited the baptismal waters and received a word of divine approval from his Father, Mark says: “And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him” (Mark 1:12-13). The verb “driveth” is instructive. Mark could have used a simple aorist (or past) to describe the action of the Spirit (i.e., “drove” him). He might have used the imperfect to add a linear or continuous action (i.e., “kept on driving” him). But Mark used the present, as if he is watching the Spirit in real time driving the Lord Jesus into the wilderness (i.e., “is driving” him). 

The verb “driveth” is the Greek ekballo (ek = “out”, ballo = “to throw, cast”). The Spirit literally took Jesus and threw him out into the wilderness, almost violently. For over four thousand years of human history, Satan had had his way with mankind. The first man, Adam, went down in defeat to the wiles of Satan while enjoying pristine Garden conditions. The second Adam, the Lord Jesus, was on a mission to destroy the devil. He would meet Satan in the worst of conditions, and exit the wilderness victorious. In my mind, the Spirit was excited to set up this encounter and nail man's archenemy to the proverbial wall. The wilderness (desolate place) Jesus endured consisted of three elements: temptation, wild beasts and angelic help. When God's people endure a wilderness experience, they should expect to experience the same three elements. 

The verb “tempted” is a present passive participle (lit., “the one being continually tempted”) from the Greek peirazo, “to try or test, to assay” (good or bad sense). From the perspective of Satan, he may have indeed solicited Jesus to succumb to his wiles. But from God's perspective, he was there to reveal, bring to the fore, the spotless, divine character of Christ. Jesus told his disciples: “For the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me” (John 14:30). Jesus said this anticipating the second wilderness, the Cross, in his immediate future. In this first wilderness experience, Satan may have solicited Jesus to commit sin, but there was no basis in Jesus from which sin could come. For you and me, a wilderness may come with temptation. Satan DOES have something in us to which he can appeal. But there is no solicitation involved on God's part; only Satan's. From God's perspective, a wilderness is a time of refinement, to assay our faith, to show it off, to build it. Can you say Job?

The phrase “wild beasts” sounds a note of hostility. Although Jesus was WITH them, he was in no way intimidated BY them. Those wild beasts were no more a threat to Jesus than the lions were to Daniel or the fiery furnace was to the three Hebrew children – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Likewise the wild beasts (metaphorically speaking) have no power to harm the child of God UNLESS a sovereign God, for his own purposes, allows harm to come. The biggest danger to a child of God who undergoes pain and suffering while in the perfect will of God is NOT what might be lost in the process, but the  resultant spirit that harbors resentment, bitterness, and blames God for the loss, questions whether God really loves them. Job is the classic example of a believer who loses it all and STILL blesses the name of the Lord, refusing to curse his God.

The verb “ministered” is from diakoneo, dia = “through”, koneo = “to serve.” Our word “deacon” is a derivative of this root. The prefix denotes thoroughness of service. In other words, the angels gave to Jesus everything he needed, everything they could give him, to help him endure his wilderness ordeal. The verb is imperfect, meaning they kept on providing succor and assistance The angels knew Jesus in his pre-incarnation splendor. I'd say they were especially motivated to help. But we shouldn't think they would be any less motivated to assist us. Concerning the work of angels, the writer of Hebrews asked this question: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). The heirs of salvation are joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). As joint-heirs, the angels for Jesus' sake have every bit as much interest in our success as they did in that of the Lord Jesus! If that doesn't encourage you, then what will?

The wilderness and the will of God often find themselves as fellow travelers in the Christian life. We as believers should not be unduly alarmed to find ourselves from time to time simultaneously in both. But be forearmed. Just know that (1) God is up to something that transcends satanic wiles, (2) nothing you confront in your wilderness can harm you without God's express permission, and (3) heavenly help is abundantly available to you as an heir of salvation and a joint-heir with Jesus Christ!



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