The Easter Preparation season is a time of preparing ourselves to receive from God a fresh and joyous grace.
By Rick Shallenberger, Equipper Editor and US Regional Director
Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness before beginning his ministry. Many in the orthodox Christian world keep 40 days of Lent and focus on penance. But was Jesus’ focus on penance, or something else during his time in the wilderness?
The text most used for this season is Luke 4.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. (Luke 4:1-2)
Following this passage is the story of the three temptations the devil placed before Jesus. Jesus responded to each temptation by quoting scripture. The passage ends with the enemy leaving “until an opportune time.” In other words, the devil had failed miserably in tempting Jesus.
I don’t see Jesus in a state of penance here. In fact, other than being hungry, I don’t see Jesus in a state of any weakness. In fact, the passage starts out by acknowledging that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. But I suggest that’s not all the preparation Jesus had during this time. The passage gives us a clue to what I’m referring to.
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.”
What happened at the Jordan? Note the previous chapter:
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)
Jesus entered the wilderness full of the Holy Spirit and fully affirmed. In other words, he went to the wilderness in full confidence of who he was—the beloved Son. I submit Jesus went to the wilderness to spend time with his Father and to prepare for the ministry he was about to commence, to discern the path he was to take; and during that time the devil attempted to temp him. Notice how Luke continues:
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. (Luke 4:14)
Jesus is still in the power of the Spirit when he returns from the wilderness and begins preaching. After 40 days of spending time with his Father and the Spirit, preparing for the journey he must take, Jesus begins his ministry. He came out of the wilderness afresh with his purpose and filled with joyous grace knowing he was never alone. He also came out of that wilderness journey with the confidence that he could make the journey to Jerusalem and fulfill his mission on the cross.
A sojourn and a journey
We are all on a journey with Jesus—we are never alone, but we are participating with him in his ministry. Admittedly, sometimes we try to do things our own way, believing we’ve got the best idea. This Easter Preparation season encourages us to focus on who we are—the beloved of God—and what he has called us to do—join him in his work of bringing many children to glory. The season reminds us it’s about Jesus and how he includes us—working in and through us. It reminds us that Jesus is the center of the center.
It’s a good time to examine our personal lives in terms of mission and ministry. Am I participating with God, or am I doing my own thing? One of the temptations we face is believing it’s about our effort, our faithfulness, our devotion. If I can just do more, study harder, love more, reach more people. If only I could….
This season reminds us to spend time with God and ask him to make his will known. It is a time of discerning his purpose for us and his way. As we do this, we reflect on how God has moved in our lives and changed us; how forgiveness has impacted us, how being affirmed and being loved has motivated us. We are reflecting on ourselves (our baptism, our calling to ministry, our worship). Yet we don’t want to let self get in the way of this reflection. Our baptism is about surrendering our lives to him; ministry is about participation (more reliance) with him; worship is placing our full trust and devotion to him. In other words, this preparation time is focused on going deeper in relationship with our personal God who came to us.
Bobby Gross, in his book, Living the Christian Year, says this season reminds us that as Jesus reflected on his baptism and affirmation from the Father, we also focus on and reaffirm our own baptismal promises—”to renounce Satan and all evil powers and sinful desires, to trust in the grace of Christ as our Savior, and to follow him as our Lord” (p. 128).
In the wilderness Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, and living in the affirmation of being a beloved Son, said no to the enemy and to temptation and said yes to the Father. We follow this example. The Easter Preparation season is a time of reflecting on who we are in Christ and reminds us we have been called to live in relationship with Father, Son and Spirit. This enables us to say no to the enemy and to temptation and say yes to the Father. This enables us to approach Holy Week with fresh and joyous grace.