The Ministry and Mission of Jesus Begins: Two Kinds of Wildernesses. Numbers 14:26-35 and Mark 1:11-15

Numbers 14:26-35Amplified Bible

26 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 27 “How long shall I put up with this evil congregation who murmur [in discontent] against Me? I have heard the complaints of the Israelites, which they are making against Me. 28 Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘just what you have spoken in My hearing I will most certainly do to you; 29 your dead bodies will fall in this wilderness, even all who were numbered of you, your entire number from twenty years old and upward, who have murmured against Me. 30 Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, not one of you shall enter the land in which I swore [an oath] to settle you. 31 But your children whom you said would become plunder, I will bring in, and they will know the land which you have despised and rejected. 32 But as for you, your dead bodies will fall in this wilderness. 33 Your sons shall be wanderers and shepherds in the wilderness for forty years, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness (spiritual infidelity), until your corpses are consumed in the wilderness. 34 According to the number of days in which you spied out the land [of Canaan], forty days, for each day, you shall bear and suffer a year for your sins and guilt, for forty years, and you shall know My displeasure [the revoking of My promise and My estrangement because of your sin]. 35 I, the Lord, have spoken. I will most certainly do this to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be consumed [by war, disease, and plagues], and here they shall die.’”

Mark 1:11-15Amplified Bible

11 and a [a]voice came out of heaven saying: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased and delighted!”

12 Immediately the [Holy] Spirit forced Him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted [to do evil] by Satan; and He was with the wild animals, and the angels ministered continually to Him.

Jesus Preaches in Galilee

14 Now after John [the Baptist] was arrested and [b]taken into custody, Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the good news of [the kingdom of] God, 15 and saying, “The [appointed period of] time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent [change your inner self—your old way of thinking, regret past sins, live your life in a way that proves repentance; seek God’s purpose for your life] and believe [with a deep, abiding trust] in the good news [regarding salvation].”

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

The wilderness is a place that captures the imagination and stirs the soul.

Native Americans, for example, will journey into the wilderness on a vision quest; thrill seekers will flock to the mountains and remote places in search of adventure; those who are overworked will retreat there for peace and solitude; and Christians will even go camping in the wilderness for the purpose of fasting and praying, confidence building exercises, for adventures, looking unto God.

The wilderness just innately seems to continuously beckon unto people.

Jack London authored a book entitled The Call of the Wild, and Country Music songwriter John Denver once asked, “Does the call of the wild ever sing through the midst of your dreams?”

In the Hebrew {old} Testament, King David declared,

“Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Indeed, I would wander far off, and remain in the wilderness” (Psalms 55:6-7).

There’s an intrinsic romanticism concerning the wilderness.

In the physical sense, it represents peace and finding oneself.

In the spiritual, however, it can represent confusion and becoming lost to oneself, and realizing a deafening silence from God.

Whenever the Lord allows His children to enter a spiritual wilderness, there’s nothing very romantic about it! The wilderness is a place one hopes to flee!

I once read a story about a distinguished painter who was conducting a class for aspiring artists.

He was speaking to them on the subject of artistic composition.

He emphasized that it was wrong, for example, to portray a wooded area, a forest or a wilderness, without painting into it a path out of the trees.

When a true artist draws or paints any kind of picture, such as a landscape, he always gives the picture an “out.”

Otherwise the tangle of trees and the ceaseless, endless, trackless spaces will depress and dismay the onlooker.(1)

(1) Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations, in Logos CD-ROM, version 2.1E (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996).

The same thing can happen in your spiritual life whenever you feel as though you’re in a wilderness.

If life ever appears as a tangled mass of branches under a dark leafy canopy or a vast expanse of dark forest with no obvious way out, then you can become down and discouraged, and even seriously distant in your relationship with the Lord.

Somewhere along your spiritual journey you might enter a season in life where you will feel as though you are deep in a vast wilderness with no way out.

In this message, I am going to compare and contrast two possible reasons why you might enter a wilderness period, and prayerfully show you and me how to make it through to the other side; as we try to compare and contrast following Jesus and both the “sin-driven wilderness” and “Spirit-driven wilderness.”

A Sin-Driven Wilderness (Numbers 14:26-35)

Sometimes when we have a wilderness experience in our life, it’s the result of sin.

This is called a “sin-driven wilderness” – one where you are driven into the wilderness because of “your own” sin. This is what happened to the Israelites.

The Bible says in Numbers 14:26-35:

And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me? I have heard the complaints which the children of Israel make against Me.”

“Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above. Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in’.”

“‘But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness. And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, and bear the brunt of your infidelity, until your carcasses are consumed in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection’.”

“‘I the Lord have spoken this. I will surely do so to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die’” (Numbers 14:26-35).

The Lord said, “The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness” (Numbers 14:29).

The sin mentioned in these verses which resulted in the Israelites being driven into the wilderness was “complaining against God.”

Complaining was just one manifestation of hearts an souls and spirits that were full of sin and lacking in even a minimum measure of faith in God’s deliverance.

Since (I believe anyway) we have studied this passage before, this is a bit of a review; however, a review is necessary to get to the heart of the message.

In Numbers thirteen, we read where the Lord sent twelve spies from the tribes of Israel on a reconnaissance mission into Canaan to check out its bounty.

When they had returned, they reported how it was a land flowing with milk and honey just as the Lord had promised to them; however, they also brought back a seriously negative report of how the land was occupied with giants whom they could not overcome. This is when they began to become fearful and complain.

In Numbers fourteen, we read where they refused to go forth and possess the Promised Land as God had commanded, and they attempted to select leaders and return to Egypt. The only ones who were faithful were Joshua and Caleb, who both repeatedly tried to encourage the people that the land could be taken.

The Israelites refused to possess Canaan and the people were sentenced to wander in the wilderness forty years, until all who were twenty-years-old and above had perished.

The Lord told Israel, “And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you” (Deuteronomy 8:2a).

This particular sin-driven wilderness served as a test for the people of Israel.

Whenever you enter a sin-driven wilderness, you need to realize that it’s your sin that has driven you there – your sin – and not the Lord.

It is not a God-driven wilderness, but a sin-driven wilderness.

Whenever we enter a wilderness period because of our own sins, what happens is you and I are allowed to suffer from the wrong choices of our sin, and too be tested by the consequences of sin – just how long do we allow ourselves to hurt?

The Bible says that sin leads to death (Romans 6:23).

It was sin that resulted in the first man and woman being evicted from the Garden of Eden.

In a sense, the sin-driven wilderness is a form of punishment, because God allows it to happen when He could actually intervene; but ultimately it is a person’s own fault for winding up there through their own disobedience to God.

Whenever you find yourself in a sin-driven wilderness it’s because the Lord is allowing you to be purged of sin and purified. The Lord allowed Israel to enter the wilderness in order for the generation that sinned to perish and die out, so that Israel would be purged and cleansed of her negative and rebellious attitude.

The Lord will allow you to enter the wilderness in order to be chastened and cleansed of sin, so that you will emerge on the other side as a different person, and hopefully a better and more faithful follower.

Hebrews says, “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (12:11).

A wilderness experience will either make or break you.

You will either grow closer to the Lord or become distant from Him.

You might feel like Evan Baxter on “Evan Almighty,” when he said,

“[Lord], I know whatever You do, You do because You love me, right? Do me a favor: Love me less.”

When you should inevitably ever enter the wilderness experience because of sin, be sure to permit the experience to refine you into pure gold tried in the fire.

Job 1:20-21Amplified Bible

20 Then Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head [in mourning for the children], and he fell to the ground and worshiped [God]. 21 He said,

“Naked (without possessions) I came [into this world] from my mother’s womb,
And naked I will return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

A Spirit-Driven Wilderness (Mark 1:12-13)

Sometimes when you have a wilderness experience it’s the result of sin; however, there can be other times when you enter the wilderness even though you’ve been faithful to the Lord.

This is likely a “Spirit-driven wilderness” – one into which the Holy Spirit leads you.

Even Jesus underwent a Spirit-driven wilderness.

The Bible says in Mark 1:12-13:

Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him (Mark 1:12-13).

We read how “the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12).

Over in the book of Matthew, we read, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (4:1; cf. Lk 4:1-2).

It was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness.

The apostle John had a similar experience on the island of Patmos,

for he said of the Lord,

“So He carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness” (Revelation 17:3).

These are not isolated examples in the Bible.

In Nehemiah, we read concerning Israel’s exodus from Egypt,

“You did not forsake them in the wilderness . . . [but] gave Your good Spirit to instruct them” (9:19-20); and in

Isaiah we read, “[God] led them through the deep, as a horse in the wilderness, that they might not stumble. As a beast goes down into the valley, and the Spirit of the Lord causes him to rest” (63:13-14).

It was the Holy Spirit that drove Israel from Egypt into the desert, and then onward toward the Promised Land.

The Israelites actually endured both a Spirit-driven and sin-driven wilderness during the exodus:

Spirit-driven Wilderness – First, the Holy Spirit drove the people into the desert (a wilderness-like place) as they made their exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land.

This was supposed to be a short-lived experience, for it was only an eleven-day journey to Canaan.

Sin-driven Wilderness – Later, however, when the Israelites sinned by refusing God’s command to go forth to possess Canaan, they were sentenced to wander in the actual barren and remote wilderness for forty long and very hard years.

It’s one thing to enter a wilderness as the result, or consequence, of sin.

This can sometimes seem more understandable when it happens.

You can arrive at a time and season in your life, examine your life and say,

“Oh, it all makes sense now! I can remember the time when God asked me to do this or that, and I was disobedient and did my own thing. Now I know I’m being humbled mightily and I accept I need to be chastened for my sin by my Savior!”

The concept of a sin-driven wilderness seems easier to grasp than the Spirit-driven wilderness.

Some of the most confusing and defeating times in life can be the ones in which you have been fully, completely faithful to do what God asked of you, and then you either trip and do a “face plant” or land flat onto your back in a wilderness.

When you enter a wilderness period, and you know deep in your heart that you’ve remained faithful to God, then it’s likely that you have entered into a Spirit-driven wilderness.

The Israelites had remained faithful to the Lord while they were in Egypt, and they had all their basic needs met.

Daily provision meant that God’s favor rested on them.

Once in the desert, however, their stability was shaken and they questioned and cried why they had ever left Egypt and the provision they once had (Nm 11:4-6).

All at once they suddenly wondered where “all of” God’s inevitable favor had gone. When the Spirit drove them out into the desert it didn’t make any sense!

The Israelites probably wondered what they had done wrong.

They very likely felt that God had been unkind to them by forcing them into the desert to leave all the provision of Egypt.

A collective thought process similar to one like this: “If only I/We had kept their focus on the primary reason why I/We, was/were being led out!”

When the Holy Spirit pushed them into the desert it was because the Lord had a much better place in store for them down the road!

When you find yourself in a wilderness period even though you’ve been faithful to the Lord, it’s easy to feel like you’ve done something wrong and it’s easy to complain; but if you know deep in your heart you’ve been obedient to the Lord, then you must be in the wilderness because the Holy Spirit has put you there.

If the Holy Spirit has led you there, into a time and a season for “hitting the reset button on my life” then you can rest assured that it’s for a good reason.

Why was Jesus led into the wilderness?

The answer is “to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1).

This temptation was a test for the “Son of Man” in order to try Jesus’ spiritual stamina to remain faithful to the Lord in the midst of the temptation to sin.

This test also proved to Satan that he couldn’t touch Jesus.

The wilderness served to demonstrate to us Jesus’ faithfulness, and it resulted in an encounter with the Father’s presence as “the angels ministered to Him” (Mark 1:13; Matthew 4:11).

When you an I enter a Spirit-driven wilderness, the every same thing will likely happen to us.

You will grow spiritually and grow closer to the Lord.

What seems like an unfair thing, to enter the wilderness when you’ve remained faithful, can actually have an indescribably abundant and beneficial end result.

What seems like a bad thing might just be a display of God’s love, for the Lord says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Revelation 3:19).

Biblical Commentator John MacArthur says,

God’s plan and purpose [is] to use Satan’s temptations as a means of testing and strengthening our faith in Him and of our growing stronger in righteousness. God allows testing in our lives in order that our spiritual “muscles” may be exercised and strengthened. Whether the testing is by God’s initiative or is sent by Satan, God will always use it to produce good in us when we meet the test in His power.

 John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1985), pp. 87-88.

You might even be driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit in order to receive some much-needed rest.

Jeremiah said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness, Israel, when I went to give him rest’” (Jeremiah 31:2).

Jesus advised His disciples, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31).

Sometimes your faithfulness to the Lord can result in some harsh persecution and stress in your life as you take a stand for Jesus Christ.

For example, in today’s context, consider any pastor who has taken a stand against sin in his congregation, and has become physically and emotionally drained. He has taken great abuse for the Lord and has remained faithful.

Then one day, out of the blue, he finds himself blind-sided as he is asked to resign from his church.

He then loses his ministry, his purpose and his livelihood, and then enters a wilderness.

He/she could then become incredibly frustrated, angry against their fellow Christians, as it doesn’t appear to make any sense; but actually it does!

The Lord could be “forcing” them to take a much-needed break, as He refreshes them and works to slowly restore their passion and love for Him and His people.

If anything similar to this has happened in your own life, then take heart!

God sees your faithfulness, and you’re in the wilderness for the very reason that the Lord God is doing some cleansing and hardcore refining, a new work in your life!

God is growing you, God is handling you, God is maturing you and God is preparing, refining you, for something else and for a closer walk with Him!

Keep your focus on the Lord while you’re in the wilderness and do not lose hope!

Oswald Chambers said, “If God gives you a time spiritually, as He gave His Son . . . of temptation in the wilderness, with no word from Himself at all, endure it; and the power to endure is there because you see God.”

Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, in Logos CD-ROM, version 2.1E (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 1989).

Time of Reflection

Do you feel as though you’re in a wilderness right now?

If so, then ask yourself, “Am I in the wilderness because I’ve been disobedient to the Lord, and have sinned against Him?”

If you can genuinely and with your whole heart and soul answer “yes” to this question, then you need to confess your sin and ask God for His forgiveness.

The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

If you should examine your life and you can’t identity any known sin, then ask yourself, “Am I in the wilderness even though I’ve been faithful to the Lord?”

If you can answer “yes” to this question then try not to become discouraged.

Psalm 37:27-29Amplified Bible

Depart from evil and do good;
And you will dwell [securely in the land] forever.
For the Lord delights in justice
And does not abandon His saints (faithful ones);
They are preserved forever,
But the descendants of the wicked will [in time] be cut off.
The righteous will inherit the land
And live in it forever.

The Lord has not forsaken you.

The Lord God is upholding you while He is resetting you, while He refines you.

In fact, you’re likely in the wilderness because Father, Son and Holy Spirit led you there in order for you to achieve that more intimate encounter with God.

How will you an I respond to the wilderness?

Will you and I gripe and complain, or will you and I gracefully endure until the Lord molds and refines us, into the man or woman of God that He has planned?

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

My God in Heaven, everything has crumbled around me. Everything has collapsed deep beneath me. Everything has burned above me. My God in whom I strive to trust more, Yet You remain! I call out to You to save me. Lord, You have never failed those who hope in Your name. In Jesus, You have demonstrated Your great love for me. Regardless of this illusion of hopelessness, grant me the grace and strength to be hopeful for I know of the coming days of glory. In the hope of Jesus, I pray. Amen.

Author: Thomas E Meyer Jr

Formerly Homeless Sinner Now, Child of God, Saved by Grace.

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