It was brutally hot during the day.
It was bitterly cold at night.
It was a barren land.
He was alone in a vast wilderness – a desert.
He must have felt it – to the very depths of his pure but still physical being.
He had just been blessed, baptized by his cousin John and commended by his well-pleased Father.
But from this celestial celebration he went into the wilderness.
This was his wilderness. His experience. His testing.
Luke says that Jesus was “full of the Holy Ghost” (Luke 4:1, KJV). In this he was hardly alone. The Spirit was with him. In fact, it was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus to this desert.
Luke describes this experience. So does Matthew. Mark says little but notes that this happened “immediately” after Jesus’ Baptism and that our Lord was “with the wild beasts”, intimating a forbidding place.
It was here – in this arid, rocky wasteland – that Jesus spent 40 long days and, Luke tells us, “in those days he did eat nothing” (Luke 4:2, KJV).
When those days had passed, Jesus was terribly hungry.
We who have fasted a day or so – or even a week – might have some idea of what Jesus felt. But we were never in a desert. Not likely alone. And not for 40 days.
There, in the weakness and longing of his hunger, the test came.
This is the second great titanic clash of spiritual powers recorded in the scriptures. There have been many others, of course: tests, deprivations, temptations and trials.
The Bible is a book of spiritual conflict from beginning to end. But they all pale in comparison to this one – and to the much earlier one.
The first temptation took place, not in a wilderness but in a garden. It came not to a man alone but to a man and his wife. The first temptation came in a place of sinless perfection and beauty. The second great temptation came in a world filled with sin and a place of unadorned barrenness.
The devil came to the first Adam – through his wife Eve.
Satan used pride – as C.S. Lewis called it, “the greatest sin.”
And the devil made a frontal assault upon the authority – the very veracity – of God’s Word.
“Hath God said?” he rhetorically asked Eve. The devil knew what God had said.
But here he must plant a seed of doubt in the woman’s mind and in her heart (and the man’s too, we’ll not let Adam off so easily; he was there when God spoke his command). The first step, let the biblical record show, was to call into question God’s Word.
The disintegration – and the descent – begins there.
It always does.
Perhaps God didn’t mean it. Perhaps we just don’t understand it. Perhaps God’s being unfair and unreasonable in this matter. After all, what’s wrong with a little supposedly forbidden fruit? It looks so good. It must be OK. It would have to be OK. Otherwise, why would we want it so badly?
Perhaps God didn’t say it at all.
Adam and Eve had every reason to resist but surrendered.
Our second Adam had every reason to give in but resisted.
Again, it was pride that Satan used. Again, it was a direct assault upon the Word of God. And again it was craftily laced with questioning and doubt.
But this time, the quotations were from the written record. Jesus and Satan both knew the scriptures.
As in the garden, the devil struck again at hunger, appetite and physical desire. He knew how long Jesus had gone without food.
“If you are the Son of God,” he whispered, “tell this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3, NASB).
Jesus came back at him – with the Word of God. He wielded the Sword of the Spirit in the power of the Spirit which filled him even now in this lonely and forsaken place.
“It is written, that man shall not live by bread alone,” Jesus replied, “but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4, KJV, quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3).
The Word is paramount. It is the true bread.
Twice more before this ordeal ended, Satan thrust at the Savior with pride, ambition and twisted texts. Each time, Jesus parried with the Word of God, the mighty sword of truth.
With this sword, Jesus Christ defeated Satan in the wilderness.
No wonder John calls Jesus the Word become flesh.
How sad when Rob Bell, once an evangelical mega-church pastor and hero to thousands of young Christians, tells Oprah Winfrey that homosexual marriage must prevail because how can “letters written 2,000 years ago” possibly compete with the longings and desires of the human heart.
Without a compass we become lost.
Without an anchor we drift.
Without a plumb line, we sway.
Without confidence in the unchanging and ever-relevant authority and power of the Bible as God’s Holy Word, individual Christians have nothing to say to a hurting world. And the church has nothing to say worth listening to.
When God speaks all discussions must cease. When God is silent, all discussions are irrelevant.
May we never compromise and never apologize for declaring, with Jesus, “It is written.”