Lenten Devotional: Worship in the Desert

The following is the first in a series of weekly reflections composed for distribution to Peace Fellowship Church in Washington, D.C. All of the reflections for Lent are derived from Luke 4, focusing on themes of wilderness and temptation.

Like many of the stories in the gospels, Jesus’s temptation is thick with meaning. Luke, like the other evangelists, is laying Jesus’s story on top of Israel’s story, as if Jesus is continuing her story, but in a new, more faithful way. Readers of Luke’s account would not have missed the parallel between the 40 days Jesus wanders in the desert and the 40 years of their Israelite ancestors. For the Israelites, their wandering ended at the Jordan River, as they crossed into the Promised Land. For Jesus (if you jump back to Chapter 3), his journey into the wilderness begins at the Jordan with his baptism and affirmation. Indeed, the very temptations mirror Israel’s: provision (Luke 4:3, Exodus 16), worship (Luke 4:6, Exodus 32), and trust (Luke 4:9, Exodus 17).

Israel entered into the desert after years in slavery to Egypt. Yet, Moses’s original plea with Pharaoh was about not about freedom, but worship. The people needed be allowed to leave in order to properly worship God in the wilderness. That is striking: the God of Israel is found in the wilderness, not among the injustice, power, and might of Egypt, but in the abandoned places. Yet, when the Israelites did finally get to the wilderness, they longed for their chains, remembering bountiful feasts and plenty (neither of which were true). They worshiped not God, but a golden calf. They found the wilderness to be difficult, and they succumbed to temptation. Story after story in Israel’s history shows them getting it wrong, refusing to worship God alone and ultimately seeing their temple destroyed and the presence of God gone from their midst. Who, then, can redeem them?

Jesus. Jesus demonstrates the faithful way through the wilderness. He trusts God to provide; worships God alone; and he refuses to put God to the test, knowing God is above all.

As we enter these 40 days in the wilderness, let us remember that this season is not simply about fasting, or remembering, or hoping, though it is these as well. It is fundamentally about worship. We can find God in the wilderness and abandoned places, whether that is among the forgotten and lonely, the hurt, or the imprisoned. When we worship God in the desert, we leave behind our control, our dependence on material possessions, and the lure of Egypt, whatever that is for each of us. Instead, we wholly trust God to provide, no matter what temptations come.

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