Dealing with Wilderness Experiences


Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]

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.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.


In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Today we are in first Sunday in Lent and by definition the Lenten season is a period of penitential preparation for Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday, six and a half weeks before Easter, and provides a 40-day period for fasting and abstinence in imitation of Jesus Christ’s fasting in the wilderness before he began his public ministry. In the Anglican tradition, Sundays are excluded from fasting because every Sunday is a feast day to celebrate the resurrected Christ. I still remember at Sunday school when were taught about fasting during lent and I will try to practice it a home. I would make a commitment that I will fast breakfast and lunch every day for the entire Lenten period, but when breakfast and lunch have been prepared, I would take my share and store it somewhere because we had no refrigerators during those days. Come evening, I will break the fast and start with eating my breakfast portion then followed by lunch portion before eating dinner. In practice that was not fasting at all but delayed meals. Today I would like to speak about dealing with wilderness experiences in life.

Exegesis of the Text

The gospel story of Jesus being led into the wilderness by the spirit to be tested by the devil for forty days and forty nights is an indispensable one for the Lenten season. In the bible, words translated as “wilderness” occur nearly 300 times.  What is a wilderness? In the Old Testament the Hebrew word that is mainly translated ‘wilderness’ is ‘midbar’ which means a wild field where domestic animals may be grazed and wild animals live, in contrast to cultivated land. Then the other Hebrew word is ‘arabah’ which is translated ‘desert.’ Therefore, in the Hebrew language there is a difference between a wilderness (midbar) and a desert (arabah). However, that distinction disappeared in the New Testament because the Greek word ‘eremos’ means an isolated place which can apply to both the wilderness and desert. The word wilderness in our English versions therefore signifies what is little inhabited and cultivated, and also what is not at all inhabited and cultivated. There are a few types of wildernesses mentioned in the Bible. It can mean a land without water, a wasteland, or an area of wild fields where animals graze, but not used for farming or living.

Reading the temptation story of Jesus following the natural sequence after baptism, the reader would naturally think of the Judean Desert. Jesus was led into the wilderness by the spirit to tempted by the evil one for forty days and forty nights and this is not the first time we hear about the number forty. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years before reaching the Promised Land; Moses also fasted for forty days in the wilderness. While in the wilderness, Jesus abstained from food and at the end of the forty days when he was hungry the devil came to test him. In each dialogue the devil offered a test to Jesus and Jesus responded with a quotation from Deuteronomy chapters 6-8. Unlike the Israelites who failed the test in the wilderness, Jesus passes every test.

Sometimes as preachers we mistakenly reduce the wilderness experience to a time of mere testing but there are two sides of the wilderness experience. In the Old Testament there are two reasons for venturing into the wilderness: either one is running away from one’s problems into what is seen as a safe haven, or one is driven against one’s will into what appears quite inhospitable and dangerous. We have stories of notorious robbers in the ancient times who will escape to the desserts where they know that no one will pursue them. Predominantly, a wilderness is a place for intense experiences—of stark need for food and water, of isolation, of danger and divine deliverance, of renewal, and of encounters with God. Jesus went into the wilderness. Mark says that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, indicating that it is not a place anybody willingly chooses to go. When the Bible speaks about the wilderness it’s not merely talking about deserted areas void of people or civilization and full of wild vicious animals. The wilderness is much more evocative than just a place; it’s an experience of life.


We all have wilderness seasons in our lifetimes. We might feel overwhelmed and confused about where God is leading us. Going through the wilderness is never fun or easy, but it’s sometimes necessary. It can be a time of feeling abandoned and discouraged. God seems silent. Sometimes long periods in the wilderness leave us wondering if God has forgotten us. Think of more than three years of Covid 19, one would ask where is God. Think of more than a year of intense war in Ukraine: innocent people are dying and infrastructure is being destroyed. Think of the situation in Turkey and Syria; people are still searching for the missed relatives without hope of finding them alive. Think of someone who had just finished paying his morgage for the house and suddenly the whole housed is razed to the floor by an earthquake. Those are some of the wilderness experinces we are witnessing now. Take time to reflect on your own personal  wilderness experince in life.   

How do we journey in the wilderness? Our wilderness journeys may be a time of temptation and trial. Jesus used His knowledge of Scripture and obedience to overcome the devil. We can make it through our wilderness journey by using Jesus’ strategies and trusting in God as our source of all we need.The wilderness can be a time of testing and relationship building. It can be a private time of connection between God and us if we let it happen. It’s one way God can get our full attention and show us His love and care. The wilderness is common to everyone. When we examine the biblical use of the wilderness we learn some things. While our wilderness journeys are challenging, they do not last forever. We walk the wilderness paths to grow and learn, trust, and obey. God leads us there to prepare us for the good works He has in mind. God doesn’t put us in the wilderness and leave. He promises to never leave us! He puts us in the wilderness to show us a clearer picture of Himself and His love. The wilderness is never a comfortable place, but if we have eyes to see, there are also beautiful lessons there. Today, scinetifically, desserts are nolonger considered inhabitable places because over two billion people live in the desserts; twenty-five percent of plant species on the planet are found in the dessert; about 91 mammal species, 319 bird species, and 67 lizard species are found in the dessert as well; some of the most precious minerals such as diamonds, petrolium, gold, and natural gas are found in the dessert. Here are some of the spiritual benefits of the wilderness experience:

  1. It strengthens and grow our faith.
  2. It helps us develop perseverance.
  3. It shows us how God works in our circumstances.
  4. It helps us see ourselves as His beloved child.
  5. It helps us to know God better and become spiritually mature.
  6. It is a creative place where we learn His purpose for our lives.

Dear friends in Christ as we journey through the lenten period let us not be afraid of wilderness but let is be an opportunity to grow in faith. As we fast let us remember to give to those in needy. Amen.

The Rev’d Canon Dr Ishanesu Sextus Gusha


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