“Is the journey into the wilderness necessary for our faith?”
To answer this question, I want to tell you a story about God’s chosen people and their journey into the wilderness. Now we all know the story, Moses and the burning bush; the 10 plagues; the passover; the exodus of a nation to the banks of the Red Sea while being chased by the Egyptians; the parting of the Red Sea…and then, the story gets interesting. The Hebrews were God’s chosen people and their passing through the water of the Red Sea is a physical representation of a spiritual baptism. They were passing from one way of life into another way of life. They were leaving the Egyptian mindset for God’s mindset. Once the waters of the Red Sea returned to their natural place, the road back was not accessible. They could not return to their previous way of life. They were led into a vast wilderness filled with the unknown where reliance on God would be total. Once the cheering and rejoicing over the destruction of the Egyptians faded, reality set in. They were in the wilderness and it was uncomfortable, grueling, and mundane. Little did they know, the Hebrew nation would reside in the wilderness for 40 years.
Deuteronomy 8:2-6 says, “You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son. Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him.”
The wilderness was a time of testing. God the Father was testing His chosen people to see if they had the “heart” needed for the next step. All of the hardships the Hebrews faced were designed to humble their hearts and to teach them to trust in God. Just like a father disciplines his son in order that the father’s work will be completed in him, so God the Father disciplined the Hebrew nation in order that His work will be completed in them. What is interesting here is the overall context of the exodus into the wilderness. The chosen people of God left a pagan lifestyle; passed through the baptismal waters of the Red Sea; into the wilderness of testing where God’s presence was visible through cloud by day and fire by night; in order that God’s will for them would be completed. His “will” was that they would be His people an enter into the promised land. Nehemiah captures this overall context of the exodus with these words from Chapter 9:18-20, “Even when they made for themselves A calf of molten metal And said, ‘This is your God who brought you up from Egypt,’ And committed great blasphemies, You, in Your great compassion, did not forsake them in the wilderness; The pillar of cloud did not leave them by day, to guide them on their way, Nor the pillar of fire by night, to light for them the way in which they were to go. “You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth, And You gave them water for their thirst.””
However, we must remember that even though God showed great compassion on the sins of the Hebrew nation while in the wilderness, there was a whole generation of Hebrews who did not inherit the promised land. They didn’t get in, because of their disobedience. In short, they failed the test. God tested them to see what they were made of…and they came out lacking the “heart” necessary to carry God’s message into the promised land. We need to understand the context here, the Lord, by His compassion, fed them and watered them when there wasn’t food or water. The Lord gave His Spirit to instruct them, to compel them to learn how to trust and fear God. The Lord also supernaturally enabled their clothing and sandals to endure the 40 years. In short, the Lord gave the Hebrew nation, despite their sin, everything they needed to endure the wilderness and pass the test. When we substitute the Church, for the Hebrew nation, or God’s chosen people, we tend to focus on the one’s who were disobedient and didn’t make it to the promised land. We start to wonder if our sins of disobedience will leave us in the wilderness somewhere when that great day of reckoning comes. This way of thinking is the wrong perspective for this story. This story is about God’s ability to bring His chosen people through the wilderness to the promised land, regardless of who they are “individually.” The one’s who did not make it, left their “hearts” in Egypt and never bought in to what God was doing. Even though they passed through the baptismal waters, once the cheering died down, they turned bitter and longed for their old lifestyle.
This story is a precursor for the Church. All of God’s chosen must journey through the wilderness to His Holy Presence. Today, the Church should act as a “gateway” to the wilderness. In fact, Isaiah alludes to this in Chapter 43:18-21, “Do not call to mind the former things, Or ponder things of the past. “Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert. “The beasts of the field will glorify Me, The jackals and the ostriches,
Because I have given waters in the wilderness And rivers in the desert, To give drink to My chosen people. “The people whom I formed for Myself; Will declare My praise.”
We are the people He has formed for Himself, and we will declare His praise. We need to realize that the “man tracks” in the wilderness is the Church, in which God intended to act as a continuation of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. To come to the Church, is to pass through the baptismal waters of old life to new life. To journey into the wilderness of His Holy Presence is to be tested and humbled. We need to journey in the company of the faithful, as one body, as one Church, in order to encourage each other to obedience. In this way, we will persevere because the Lord takes care of all of our needs and His Spirit is instructing us, guiding us, and leading us into all truth.
If you happen to be in the wilderness of testing right now. If it feels uncomfortable, grueling, and mundane…and you feel alone…then take comfort in this verse from 1 Peter 5:10, and then find some brothers to help bear your burdens and walk with you, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” This is a promise from God, the God of all grace.
“OK…the journey into the wilderness is necessary for my faith. I get that. The Church is the “gateway” to this wilderness. I get that too. But where is this wilderness?”
See you next week.