At the time of Jesus, the desert began only a few steps away from the safety of the city. It’s a vast expanse of nothingness in which the individual is almost insignificant. Jesus leaves his home town of Nazareth and travels to the river Jordan where he is baptised by his cousin John. As he is baptised the Spirit descends on him in the form of a dove, the symbol of peace, he then receives his Father’s reassurance, ‘You are my own dear Son, I am pleased with you.’ We are then told, that same Spirit, made him ‘go into the desert, where he stayed forty days.’
The juxtaposition of these two events is quite puzzling. Perhaps, having just announced Jesus as a beloved Son, God wants to make sure he doesn’t believe he is therefore in for a privileged life. He has a job to do and the going will be tough. He’s not to be the pampered prince. That’s one of the temptations put to him during those 40 days. ‘I can make all this go away if you worship me,’ tempts the devil.
Or, perhaps God knows that Jesus cannot face the temptations facing him, or the trials that are yet to come, without the reassurance that he is loved; that the Father is pleased with him. Like a young person leaving the parental home, their chances of success are greater if they are filled with the self-confidence of knowing they are deeply loved.
Perhaps the truth is both, or somewhere in between. God knows we all need praise and reassurance. Embarking on any new venture is much harder if we have suffered abuse and been constantly discouraged. If we believe ourselves to be unworthy, on the edge of failure, how can we be strong when facing temptation? God does not protect us from the tough tasks we face, but he does give us the assurance we are loved and cherished, and this gives us the strength to overcome them.
Rev’d Ken Davey