Fasting and The Journey into the Wilderness
Moments after we read that Jesus was baptized, and that the Spirit of God descended on him like a dove, and we hear his Father speak those beautiful words, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” we hear that the same Spirit which had just come upon him immediately led him into the wilderness. That’s disorienting, isn’t it? Why would the Spirit of God lead Christ into the wilderness, especially knowing what he would face there? Hunger, thirst, alienation, and ultimately temptation. The significance and symbolism of the wilderness is not lost on us either--this is the kind of place in which Israel found themselves after they were redeemed from slavery in Egypt. This is the kind of place where they wandered for forty years after their refusal to enter into what God had called them to. Those years in the wilderness are not exactly the most flattering to Israel, nor do they help preserve a positive picture of humanity. The people fail again and again--so why would the Spirit take Jesus into such a place? As readers, we know this could get ugly.
If you’ve read the whole story, you know that food was at the heart of Israel’s failure in the wilderness. They struggled to believe that they could survive, it was difficult for them to trust that God could provide for their every need. They even longed for Egypt, where they may have been slaves, but they were at least sure of where their next meal would come from. It was a glaring weak spot for them. So it’s not surprising that the first thing Jesus is tempted with is food. After forty days of fasting in the wilderness, going hungry, the tempter comes to him with a simple and practical solution. “If you are the Son of God, turn these stones to bread.” It’s like we’re watching one of those predictable horror movies where we’re screaming at the screen, “Don’t open that door!” We know what’s coming, Israel has failed so often, we’ve failed so often, and it’s over the simplest thing--food, provision. But Jesus is not so predictable. Jesus is not so easily deceived. He trusts that “man does not live on bread alone.” Christ trusts that his Father will provide for his every need, he doesn’t have to despair or force anything. Hebrews 5:8 makes a powerful statement, “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” Jesus learned obedience to his Father through his suffering in the wilderness, and ultimately on the cross. In this Season of Lent, we are invited to learn obedience with him in the wilderness as we move toward the cross.
Fasting is a powerful and physiological reminder for us--God is our provider, and we don’t live on bread alone. When we fast in this season, we are invited to trust God completely, we are reminded that as James says, “Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Heavenly lights.” As we enter into the wilderness of Lent, yes, it is a place of discipline, and yes, there may be some small measure of suffering, but the wilderness is also a place of God’s miraculous provision. You can’t help but love the Hebrew word ‘Manna.” When the people of God first saw this mysterious food that God supplied for them in the wilderness, they gave it a name, which meant simply--”What is That”? That really captures the astonishment they must have been feeling. And that’s what the wilderness is--a place of God’s surprising, astonishing provision. As we enter into this wilderness season of fasting, we are not making an attempt at piety, nor are we holding God hostage until he does what we’re asking of him. Instead we are coming expectant of his surprising and miraculous provision. In a comfortable, first world context, where daily bread is never a concern, hunger is good for us. Fasting forces us to see that everything we have was always his miraculous hand at work in our lives. The wilderness is the place where God’s people first meet him, it’s where they first hear his voice. As we strip away that which we think we need, God’s voice becomes clearer. Let’s expect that in the wilderness, and listen.