Led by the Spirit
I don’t know about you, but when I think of someone being “Spirit-led” or “led by the Spirit,” I see a powerful and positive experience, a victorious time, walking closely with the Lord. Jesus’ time in the wilderness gives us deeper insight into this truth. During Lent, we set aside 40 days to commemorate the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness. We remember the time that the Spirit led Him into difficulty.
It was last year, Spring 2015, when this first part of the account of Jesus in the Wilderness suddenly caught my eye: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1, ESV, italics mine). This is one of those verses that I’ve read many, many times, but somehow I’ve missed that little nugget of truth there — that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, for the purpose of encountering temptation and the enemy. The Spirit brought Jesus to a dangerous and difficult place, on purpose.
Somehow, every time I’ve read this before, my eyes have slid over these facts like cool river water over smooth stones. But we can see it there, in Luke as well, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil (Luke 4:1-2a, ESV, italics mine). The Gospel of Mark? Yep. “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.” (Mark 1:12-13, ESV, italics mine).
Led by the Spirit? Driven into the wilderness? These are difficult ideas to accept at first pass.
The wilderness? Oh, I think I know that place pretty well. It feels like abandonment and desolation. Bleak. It feels like being capsized, treading water — you’re desperate for rescue, but you’re getting nowhere. Traversing the wilderness is like going down a lonesome, dark road. You’re feeling tense and alert, but still unable to see very far up the road. That feeling of being watched? Stalked? Wilderness. Hearing every odd noise, ears multiplying the sounds, pumping up the volume which, in turn, gets the blood pumping in your ears.
Wilderness — it is Eremos in the Greek.
Eremos (Wilderness) means:
used of places – solitary, lonely, desolate, uninhabited, a desert, wilderness
deserted places, lonely regions; an uncultivated region fit for pasturage
used of persons – deserted by others; deprived of the aid and protection of others, especially of friends, acquaintances, kindred; bereft; of a flock deserted by the shepherd; of a woman neglected by her husband, from whom the husband withholds himself
When Christians talk about wilderness experiences, we are referring to the times when we feel “solitary, lonely, desolate…deserted by others; deprived of the aid and protection of others…bereft” [like a sheep without a shepherd, like a woman abandoned by her husband]. Wilderness experiences can leave us feeling distant from God, even forsaken by Him. We usually chalk these times in the wilderness to one of two things:
- Our own wandering. We compare our wilderness times to the wandering of the Prodigal Son because wandering away from the Father leads us to desolate places. When we choose sin, we break fellowship with the Father (Luke 15:11-29). But this was not the case with Jesus, because He knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), yet…wilderness.
- The devil. Feeling vulnerable, we might focus on the attacks of the enemy that come, in the wilderness. And some people jump to the conclusion that the devil drives us into that wilderness, exerting his power over us. Yet. We know that nothing and no one can separate us from God (Romans 8:38-39). We know that we are servants of the Most High…He has dominion over all, including the enemy (1 Peter 5:11). And Jesus was not driven into the wilderness by the devil, but by the Spirit.
What do we make of this? Rarely do we dwell on the truth that the Holy Spirit can lead us to our most desperate places. We prefer to think of the Holy Spirit as our Comforter, our Advocate. We like to remember that Jesus is our Savior-Redeemer…the Good Shepherd, the Finder of lost sheep. The idea that God’s perfect plan for us might embrace difficulties, hardships, and trials…sometimes it feels a little too scary to go there.
Yet, since we are “sons of God,” shouldn’t we expect to be treated like the Son of God (Romans 8:14, ESV)? Tweet This He, Himself, was “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil,” later Jesus promised that His friends would have trouble in this world (John 16:33). Shouldn’t we expect to log some time in the Wilderness? Paul said we should “rejoice in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3-5, ESV). James says we can expect to “meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2-3, ESV). And Peter said we should “not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you” (1 Peter 4:12-13, ESV).
We will take a few posts to explore this idea. It’s a pretty big one! Today, tell me, do you see God’s plan at work even when you’re facing difficulties? Tweet This When you have hard times, do you feel like God’s plan for you is still on track? Or derailed?
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