When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist, three things happened. The Holy Spirit came to him in the form of a dove. God’s voice proclaimed him to be the beloved Son of God. The Dove/Spirit then drove Jesus into the wilderness. Note that the verb drove does not mean that the gentle and mild spirit pulled up in an RV and waved Jesus into the air-conditioned cabin before heading off to an oasis with a pool and free Wi-Fi. No, the spirit drove him like a mighty wind away from everything familiar. For the next forty days, he dealt with deprivation, wild animals, and every nagging doubt that Satan could hurl his way. Hebrews says that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, except without succumbing to sin. (4:15)
What should we learn from this? First, we should note that Jesus wasn’t caught off guard by what happened. Any time one accepts a new challenge in life, especially if it is a vocation or calling from God, one also accepts a testing period. In some endeavors, there is such a thing as beginner’s luck. Not in important matters, though. Not in matters of the soul. What could be more deadly serious than the preparation of Jesus to begin his ministry of healing for our sins? Knowing that in Jesus God had taken on all of our human weaknesses, Satan rejoiced to see him driven into the wilderness. This was home-field advantage for the tempter. The first shot of a war cannot be fired timidly. It was game on.
Second, we should understand that such testing will also come to us. If we choose to fully engage in whatever holy vocation God has for us, the spirit will drive us into the devil’s lair for a time of testing. We will be tempted to turn back. To choose a more comfortable path. To say, “Okay God, I decided to do what you want me to do, why are you making it difficult for me? Think of whatever you are going through as spiritual boot camp. I understand that ivy league law schools purposely design their first year to drive as many students as possible to drop out. NFL teams draft and bring to spring training many more players than there is space on their roaster. Will not there be a thinning of the herd if we decide to be disciples of Jesus? If we decide to continue his deadly serious work of extending grace and healing to all of humanity?
But here we get to the most important lesson, Jesus succeeded. He took up his calling and became our savior. We are not being tested to find fault with us or to prove our worth. We are being tested because we have just enough faith to follow Jesus into the wilderness. We trust him to aid us in this time of trial. To encourage us. To lift us up when we fall. To urge us forward, so that we can be for others, the grace they need when they go through similar afflictions.
Life is, as Scott Peck reminds us, painful. We don’t become mature by avoiding pain. We become all that God calls us to be by allowing the spirit to drive us into the wilderness.