Alone in the Desert
( Originally Published 1915 )
AFTER HIS baptism Jesus felt that for a time he must be alone to think over the great change that had come upon him. Only yesterday he had been the carpenter in Nazareth, and now he knew that he was the Son of God and the King of Israel! So sudden and mighty a change as this made him feel that he must go to some quiet, lonely place, where he could think and pray and find out his Father's will for himself and the work that John was to do.
Without speaking even a word with John, Jesus slipped out of the crowd upon the bank of the river. He walked toward the south, not following the well-known road beside the Jordan, over which he had walked many times while attending the feasts in Jerusalem, but choosing the paths along the mountain-side where he would not meet people, for he wished not to talk with men but with God.
He came at last to a very lonely place, between Jericho and Jerusalem; a place where no man lived and where even the Arabs of the desert scarcely ever wandered. The only living creatures in the desolate land were the wild beasts, the wolves and the foxes, whose howls could be heard at night. There upon the top of a hill, with rocks all around, he sat down to rest. His mind had been in such a whirl of excitement, and his heart was beating with such strong feeling, that he had never thought of taking with him any food to eat. For many days and nights he was alone, praying and talking with God and never once thinking of eating. More than a month passed away, even forty days, before the feeling of hunger came upon him.
Then suddenly he felt a sharp gnawing in his body, and he knew that he was famishing for food. He felt that he must have something to eat or he would die there in the desert, with the great work to which God had called him all left undone. Around him were the rough stones of the wilderness, and as he looked on them, this thought came to his mind:
"There is no need for me to starve in this desert. If I am the Son of God, as the voice from heaven said, then I need only to speak a word and these stones will be turned to bread!"
Then Jesus thought again, and said to himself, "Yes, I am the Son of God, and I have the power to make these stones turn into bread for me to eat. But that power was given me by my heavenly Father; and it was given, not that I should use it for myself, but for the help of others who are in need. It is not God's will that I should make bread out of stones for myself."
And then a sentence out of the Bible came to the mind of Jesus, and he said, "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God."
Jesus seemed to be alone in the desert, but there was one who was watching him, all unseen. That one was the evil spirit, Satan, who hated Jesus, knowing that he was the Son of God and the Saviour of the world. He had put into the mind of Jesus the thought of turning stones to bread and using the power which God had given him for himself alone. Jesus was quick to see the purpose of Satan and to turn away from it.
Then another thought came to the mind of Jesus. He said to himself, "I know that I am the King of Israel, the Messiah whom the people have been looking for so long. But how shall I cause the people to know that I am their King? What can I do to make them believe in me?"
At that moment, while Jesus was trying to think out the best plan for beginning his work and making himself, as the Son of God, known to the. people, Satan, the evil spirit, was ready with another word. He said, "Here is a good plan. Go to the Temple in Jerusalem at some feast-time when it is crowded with people, and in the sight of all the crowd, leap off one of the towers. You will not fall to the ground, but will come sailing down through the air, for all power is yours. And when the people see you, they will fall on their faces before you and will believe in you as the King so long promised. You know that you are the Son of God and that God will take care of you. Don't you remember that in one of the psalms it is written, `He shall give his angels charge over thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up so that thou shalt not dash thy foot against a stone?' "
Jesus saw at once that this was not God's plan, but Satan's plan. It would not be trusting God, but would be putting God's power and God's care to a trial to show what Jesus himself could do. He would not perform this foolish act, nor anything like it, of his own accord. He would wait until God told him what to do, and would do nothing until he was sure that it was the will of God. Again a sentence out of the Bible came to his mind, and he said :
"It is written again, `Thou shall not put the Lord thy God to trial.' "
That means that we should never make a show of our trust in God or let others see by some act that is not needed what God can do to help us. We must not venture into danger to show how God can bring us out of danger.
Jesus had now settled two great questions. He would not use his wonder-working powers for himself, even to save his own life; and he would do nothing merely as a show, but would in all things work only the will of his Father. There was one more question to be met : he was to become the King of Israel, but what kind of a kingdom would he have?
He knew well that all the Israelite people, not only in Judea and Galilee, but in all the lands, were looking for a king who should rule in Jerusalem, somewhat as the Emperor Tiberius was ruling in Rome. They hoped for a king who should gather an army, should drive out the Romans, should fight battles, win victories and make his kingdom the ruling power in the world. They looked for the time when the Romans should be under their feet, and when all other lands should pay taxes and serve their king in Jerusalem.
All this Jesus knew, and Satan, the wicked spirit, was at his side, though unseen, to say to him :
"Take my advice, and I will give you all the kingdoms of the world; for they are mine and I can give them to whom I please."
Jesus knew that what the people wanted was just what Satan wanted, a worldly, wicked kingdom, built out of war and blood and the killing of all who would not submit to it. But that would not be the Kingdom of God. It would be the Kingdom of Satan, as so many kingdoms and nations have been in the past. To do as Satan wished him to do would be just the same as if he bowed down before Satan and worshipped him as his Lord and Master. This he would not do; and his last words to the tempter were :
"Go away from me, Satan! It is written, `Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve!' "
Jesus saw plainly that in making this great choice to please God, he would not please his own people, the Jews. He knew that the rulers and the priests and the scribes, those who were the leading men of the time, would be against him, would refuse to follow him, would try to stir up the people against him and would try to kill him. But Jesus was ready to die in serving God, rather than to live in doing the will of Satan.
When Satan, the wicked spirit, found that he could not persuade Jesus to do his will, he left him. And after ward, angels from heaven, sent by his Father, came to him in the desert and gave him all the food that he needed.
The gospels of Matthew and Luke, which tell the story of this meeting with Satan and of Jesus' victory, do not say just where it took place. All we know is that it was in the "desert" or the "wilderness." But near Jericho stands a mountain where it is thought by some that Jesus stayed during those forty days. This mountain on that account is called by a name which means " forty days "—Mount Quarantania.