Written by Jamie Martelle
There are three words that have been resonating with me for the past several weeks. As we moved past Thanksgiving and into the Christmas season, I sought the Lord for how He would teach me next. I’m so filled with thanksgiving during the Christmas season – and I don’t mean with turkey and dressing, although I do truly appreciate those – I mean with the unbelievable grace of God in saving me and opening the door to His kingdom, inviting me to enter in. Until I accepted that invitation, my life was empty, and I just kept trying to fill it with stuff that did not matter, and did not satisfy. When I came to a place in my life when I was desperate for help and had nowhere else to turn, God was there. Christ revealed Himself to me through His Word, His people, and ultimately through His Spirit. During that whole process, He worked things out in my life better than I could have ever imagined. That’s the kind of thing He does.
But I have noticed something about this kingdom life. It’s not without its own struggles. I read with great interest the stories of the Israelites for forty years, trying to get to the promised land that in all actuality was approximately an eleven-day journey (see Deuteronomy 1:2). It’s intriguing to me that Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness, sent by the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ baptism, and went through trial and temptations there. The first word that the Lord is speaking to me in this season of being so grateful for His presence in my life and His salvation is:
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. (Mark 1:12-13)
The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way. And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed. (Joshua 5:6-8)
I’m writing from a standpoint of those of us who have trusted in Christ for our salvation. We live in this world, awaiting the second coming of our Savior, to take us home to heaven. While we are here, those of us who are able, enjoy myriad blessings, depending on our particular circumstances: a relationship with our Lord; His peace, love, and comfort; the treasure of His Word; the companionship of His Spirit; hopefully, the love of family and friends; the beauty of God’s creation; a place to call home; a place to worship our Creator and a church family with which to worship Him; material possessions that we enjoy; a good cup of coffee (if you’re like me!). Hopefully, most of the time, life is good.
But every now and then, the brokenness of this world erupts in our faces. Our humanness and the fallen nature of our world become so very apparent, and our need for our Savior becomes so very overwhelming. Some of those blessings I mentioned earlier get interrupted, eliminated, or violently ripped out of our hands. Welcome to the Wilderness.
Sometimes we suffer because others sin against us. Sometimes, it’s a result of our own wrong choices. Sometimes, it’s simply because we live in a broken world, in these frail human bodies. Each one of us is altogether too familiar with what I’m talking about here. At the risk of sounding trite, let me introduce the second word that God’s been speaking to me about, that follows here, in the Wilderness:
As we move through this world, with its joys and its pain, walking hand in nail-pierced hand with the One who leads us, we will experience times of trial and temptations – maybe even temptations to let go of His hand because the journey seems too hard. Please don’t ever let go. There is an eternity waiting for us, where all will be made clear, and all will be redeemed, where we will see the promises all fulfilled that are written in His book.
Just as the Israelites were delivered from slavery and sent on their journey in the wilderness, and Jesus was sent into the wilderness after His baptism, we seem to be sent on a journey after we take that deep, deep plunge of consecration, giving our all to the Lord. The purpose for this journey is to prepare us.
First of all, God wants to prepare us for the battle that is ahead. The enemy sees us worshiping God and wants us to worship him instead. Even Jesus, according to the gospel of Matthew, Chapter 4, was sent by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. We think, what on earth is God thinking that He would do such a thing? Remember, His ways are higher than our ways. There is a purpose for this, we can be certain. So, the devil’s final temptation was this:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matthew 4:8-11)
This same battle is relevant to us:
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Peter 5:8)
We must acknowledge that we have an enemy, and he’s looking for a way to get to us. He does not have the power to destroy us though, however much he’d like to have us believe that he does. Be encouraged, Jesus has promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20), and just as the angels came and attended Jesus, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14)
Secondly, God wants to prepare us to be His holy people, and His holiness is wrapped up in sacrificial love that takes us some time to learn.
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:9-12)
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)
God wants us to be prepared, strengthened in the power of His might, perfected in His love, because He has something special planned for us. The third word is:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
This is our calling. And what a calling! As partners with God, we are in His loving hands, being shaped by Him to become all that He created us to be, when He “saw our substance, being yet unformed, and in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them (Psalm 139:16).”
As the Potter works to form us, His clay, the body of Christ, as He has foreordained, He uses each and every wilderness moment to prepare us for the glory of being one with Him in that work. And beyond this physical, human existence, He has even more for us. Our Lord is preparing us for eternity.
Then a voice came from the throne, saying: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both great and small!” Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.) Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:5-9)
So, we are all coming to Christmas, the best one ever, the one where all is made right. Press on, good and faithful servants, and run your race with confidence, for the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him (2 Chr. 16:9).
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. (2 Corinthians 13:14)