Matthew 3:1–6, 11–12 (optional: read to the end of the chapter
Withdrawal into the wilderness is part of the scriptural story of preparation for ministry. Moses would draw apart from his people to meet with God on the mountain and find the way forward for God’s people, Jesus often withdrew into the hills to commune with the Father, Abram was led out into the desert to find a new identity, and Jacob wrestled with God in the desert and found a new name (Israel – see our study on Jacob on p. 72). Solitude, austere simplicity, and nature are the context in which the giants of our spiritual heritage sought the face of God.
Here, after thirty years spent growing up in Nazareth and working as a carpenter, Jesus goes into the wilderness to prepare. The time has come. Joseph, in whose house he grew up, has died (he is present when Jesus is lost as a boy [Luke 2:48], but by the time Jesus has embarked on his teaching ministry it is Jesus who is head of the household [Matthew 12:46]); John the Baptist, his childhood friend, his cousin, and his herald, has been put to death; it is time – his early support networks have been withdrawn. Just as John the Baptist prepared for this in the wilderness, so Jesus now withdraws to the wilderness to make himself ready. The striking difference is that whereas Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Elijah encounter God in the desert, Jesus meets the devil. This of itself is a huge clue to who Jesus is, and a preparation for the cosmic confrontation that is to come. In Luke’s Gospel we read (Luke 4:13): “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” That “opportune time” comes at the Last Supper (Luke 22:3): “Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.” The adversary who met him at his preparation in the wilderness is back, and the battle lines are drawn. This is what Jesus came here to do.
Have you experienced, or do you feel drawn to, making a retreat?
In your church, how are people prepared to undertake new ministry?
Where do you go when you want to think something through, or prepare for ministry?
O God of all our journeys, you call us on. Help us to hear your call, to grasp what you are asking of us, and to have the courage to undertake it. Help us to find the right friends to advise us and the right circumstances to prepare privately with you, so that we are ready for what you want of us. In Jesus’ holy name we make our prayer; Amen.