Sermon for Sunday, 6 March 2022 Lent 1
By Revd George Mwaura
Deuteronomy 26: 1–11 and Luke 4: 1–13
God of changing times and seasons, we pray that you will grace us with your Lenten words of wisdom
as we journey through the wilderness of our lives.
Four A-level students could not resist the temptation to skip morning classes to go and watch the latest James Bond movie. After lunch, they showed up at school and told the form tutor that their car had a flat tyre. Much to their relief, she smiled and said, ‘Well, you only missed a quiz this morning, so take your seats and get out pen and paper and do the quiz.’ She waited as they settled down and then with a mischievous smile on her lips said, ‘First question: which tyre of the car was flat?’ Oh, the temptations of Lent!
Today the Bible readings invite us to reflect on the purpose of the wilderness in the lives of God’s people. In the Deuteronomy reading, God is speaking to Israel in the wilderness, fresh out of Egypt, and in the gospel reading, Luke reports on Jesus’ time in the wilderness. If you are going through a wilderness moment right now, you may find it more puzzling than purposeful. You might be overwhelmed and confused. You might find yourself questioning God’s wisdom or your own sanity. I want you to think for a moment about being in the centre of God’s will. What does that mean? Would it be a time of happiness and fulfilment? Is there a time that the centre of God’s will might be a place of discouragement and difficulty? Think of the children of Israel? God called Moses to bring them out of Egypt and into the centre of his will. The centre of his will for them would eventually be Canaan, but for a time, the centre of God’s will was a great and terrible wilderness. Think of the Ukrainians? What is the centre of Gods will for them right now? What about you? Has God’s will for you included a period in the wilderness? Time in the wilderness means facing wilderness struggles and therefore it can be both a place of problems, and a place of purpose. The wilderness is a puzzle from our perspective, but from God’s perspective, it is his perfect plan for our future. What can we learn about the purpose of the wilderness in the lives of God’s people?
First, the wilderness is a place of separation: God carried the Israelites into the wilderness so that they could be apart from the influences of Egypt. In the darkness of the wilderness, God reveals himself as your light. In the confusing maze of the wilderness, you learn to let him be your guide. In the wilderness, he separates you from the influences of the world and the things or people you have learnt to depend on, so that you will learn to depend on God alone. God was faithful to the Israelites and Jesus in the wilderness and he will be faithful to you too in your wilderness.
Two, the wilderness is a place of preparation. Looking back on those years in the wilderness, this is what God said to his people as they came to the Promised Land. I have led you for forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn out on your feet. You have not eaten bread, nor have you drunk wine or any strong drink, in order that you might know that I am the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 29: 5–6).
What has been your God-appointed wilderness? What do you suppose God is trying to teach you? When God takes you to the wilderness, he withholds that which you have come to depend on other than him. You may see it as deprivation or punishment, but God sees it as preparation. We read that when Israel was in the wilderness, God fed them with manna and quail, and when Jesus was hungry in the wilderness, the angels came and ministered to him. God will send modern-day angels to meet your needs in your wilderness.
Third the wilderness is a place of revelation. Do you know why God brought the Israelites to the wilderness? He brought them into the wilderness so that he can bring them to himself. Why do you suppose that God brings us to himself? We read in the gospels Jesus called the disciples unto himself. Jesus called the twelve to himself, so that they might be with him, that he may instruct them, and then send them forth.
Part of the preparation for what God wants you to do will grow out of the revelation of himself to you. For most of us, the only place we can be made ready to receive that revelation is in some wilderness, where God separates us from what we have learnt to rely on, so that he can show us that we need to lean on him and him alone.
If you are in the wilderness right now, you might be angry with God. You may have considered abandoning God. In your discouragement, the wilderness can even become a place of sin. You might ask where is God in my situation? Sometimes God takes us to the wilderness not only to show us himself –but also to show us ourselves.
The truth about who we are and how we trust God surfaces in the wilderness. In the wilderness, the masks are removed and we are revealed worse sinners than we knew ourselves to be. And how does God respond to this revelation?
God shows us what sinners we are so that he can reveal to us what a Saviour he is times two! In spite of Israel’s rebellion in the wilderness, He remained faithful. He gave them water for their thirst, daily bread and guided them to the Promised Land. The wilderness can and is often a place of refuge, of miracles, of guidance and revelation. In short, a place where God’s glory is revealed.
God’s promise is that he will be faithful to you in whatever wilderness you are facing, just as he was to the Jews and Jesus. Today I challenge you to set foot on the road that God called you to travel. It may not lead out of the wilderness – but I am convinced that it will lead you to him. That is, after all, the purpose of the wilderness in the lives of God’s people. He allows us to travel to the wilderness, so that he might bring us to himself. The season of Lent invites us to consider again, what we might describe as the benefits of wilderness. To acknowledge that it was part of Jesus’ experience, just as it is a part of our own, and to recognise the wilderness – not just as a place of suffering and temptations – but as a place where we may encounter God and grow deeper in our dependence on him, by the power of the Holy Spirit.