One of my younger cousin’s approached me few years ago and disclosed his interest to travel to Europe and live there. I took time to explain to him that life in Europe is not as easy as people present in pictures and the stories they tell. I encouraged him to go ahead with his growing business in Nigeria but he insisted. He believed that as soon as he got there he would make it big time. Well I admired his boldness but that did not change the reality on the ground.
Often we undertake some ventures and enter into a lot of things without thinking about them first. This also applies to the Lenten period we have entered. How many of us gave it a thought or did we launch into it thinking that when we get there we shall survive it. The season is a spiritual one and calls for spiritual preparation before making the encounter.
Today in the Gospel Reading (Mark 1:12-15) we are told that our Lord Jesus Christ was led (driven) by the Spirit into the wilderness and he was there for forty days, tempted by Satan. There in the wilderness he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him. Later on, that is after John’s arrest, he came to Galilee preaching the gospel of repentance.
We are told that our Lord was driven (or moved) into the desert by the Spirit; the Holy Spirit (See Matt.4:1). At every point in time that there is a movement, something is always responsible for that movement. Put in another way and using the idea Thomas Aquinas got from the Philosopher Aristotle, whatever that moves is moved by another (quid quid movetur ab alio movetur). From the passage, we understand that the movement of our Lord into the wilderness was a response to the action of the Holy Spirit. A personal question can be formulated at this point: “what is it that really moves you?”
In retrospect, we need to ask where our Lord was coming from. The answer is not far-fetched he was coming from the river Jordan where he was baptized by John. We can also recall that during his baptism, the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended upon him in form of a dove. It is that same Holy Spirit that drove him into the desert where he stayed for forty days and forty nights.
Now let us look at the place he was driven to by the Holy Spirit; the wilderness. In the bible, wilderness is often described as a wasteland, an arid region without water (Psalm 63:1; 107:4). In fact this particular place is also called desert in some translations. The two are simply one and the same place (Isaiah 35:1). A desert is a barren and unprotected area of land. Survival in the desert is indeed difficult both for plants and animals. It was into this area that the Spirit moved our Lord Jesus Christ and he did not go there for pleasure or tourism. He was there to fast and to pray for a definite period of forty days.
One could also ask why FORTY DAYS. Put in another way: “what is the significance of the number forty in this context?” A careful search into the Bible would revealed that the number forty was mentioned severally and it is indicative of a long time as well as a period of divine testing, trail, probation and judgement. There are some instances in the Bible:
- During Noah’s time the rains came down for a period of forty days and forty nights (Genesis 7:4).
- Moses was with God in the mountain for forty days and forty nights while he was receiving the commandments (Exodus 24:18; 34:28).
- The spies searched the land of Canaan for forty days (Numbers 13:25).
- The Israelites where in the wilderness for forty years before they reached the Promised Land (Numbers 14:33-34).
- God allowed the land to rest for forty years (Judges 3:11; 8:28).
- Israel did evil; God gave them to an enemy for forty years (Judges 13:1).
- David reigned over Israel for forty years (2 Samuel 5:4, 1 Kings 2:11).
- Solomon reigned for forty years (1 Kings 11:42).
- Elijah took one meal that gave him strength forty days (1 Kings 19:8).
- God gave Nineveh forty days to repent (Jonah 3:4).
- Jesus remained on earth forty days after resurrection (Acts 1:3).
From what we have seen above, the period of forty days which we are going through this season of lent is not strange. It is rather a divine prescription that we need to reckon with as we shall be exploring later.
Within the period of forty day, our Lord Jesus Christ was with the wild beasts. We will notice here that Mark did not go into details about the contents of the temptations like Matthew and Luke. However the mention of wild beasts in contrast to angels that ministered to him is an indication of the presence of the devil.
The representation of the devil in form of a beast is rife in the Bible. In the Garden of Eden the devil came to tempt eve in the form of a serpent (Gen.3:1). In some other places the devil is referred to as the beast and serpent called Leviathan (Isaiah 27:1; Psalm 74:14). The book of Revelation is filled with numerous denotations about the beast. For instance there is the mention of the mark of the beast (Rev.13:16; 14:9). Archangel Michael fought against the dragon in the war the broke up in heaven; here it is called the Devil and Satan (Rev. 12:7-9).There is also the mention of the destruction of the beast with his false prophets in the lake of fire (Rev.19:20). There is a final victory over the ancient serpent or dragon called Devil and Satan (Rev. 20:1-3).
From what we have above, it is clear that our Lord was not having a jolly time with the wild beasts rather he went through trials in their hands. But one thing was significant; he was triumphant after the trials. That was the moment the angles came to minister to him.
After the victory over Satan, our Lord came out to preach the message of repentance. He went through temptations and won. His preaching was thus a testimony that as he won over the beasts and their trials, we also can have victory but we must first receive the good news and repent from our sins.
The ash we received on Ash Wednesday and which launched us into the Lenten Season, could be likened to the baptism our Lord received before he was moved by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. Like our Lord Jesus Christ, we are faced with a period of forty days filled with trials. It is rather unfortunate that some of us are moved by every other thing this season but the Holy Spirit. The truth is that without the Holy Spirit we are helpless because He is the one that helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26). Without the Holy Spirit the Lenten season would be a mere religious routine.
Our Lord Jesus Christ did not enter the wilderness for the fun of it. He went to pray, fast and abstain. And he did all in total charity. We are in for a serious business this season. Like our Lord Jesus Christ we must necessarily face some trials because we are in the region of the wild beasts. In the words of St. Peter, we should be calm but vigilant for our enemy the devil is going round like a roaring lion looking for someone to eat (1 Pet. 5:8).
The success of our Lenten observance has a lot to do with our alignment with the Holy Spirit our only source of strength in the face of our temptation and trials. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans (8:9) made us to understand that the Holy Spirit gives us the identity as members of Christ. So anyone who does not have the Holy Spirit does not belong to Christ.
It will be very needful for us to reflect a bit more on the trials and temptations we could face this season. It is important to note that we can only be tempted by what is of great importance to us. A rat can be tempted effectively with a fish not with a bunch of banana that is the concern of the monkeys.
The best safeguard to temptation is to watch our desires and appetites. In his temptation, our Lord was presented with material needs, power and fame. There is no guarantee that we may not face similar challenges as we pass through these forty days. Let us also be assured of God’s presence in all our trials as His angels will be with us to support us and guard us (Exo.23:20; Psalm 91:11-12).
Do have a fruitful First Sunday of Lent and may your blessings continue to enlarge. Have a grace-filled week.