Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:
‘Finding God’s Comfort and Mercy in the Wilderness of Our Lives’
© September 28, 2014 by Steve Mickelson
Announcements and Call to Worship:Responsive Reading #607 (Creator and Sustainer – Psalm 104); Prayer
Opening Hymn #55: For the Beauty of the Earth; Choruses
Prayer and Tithing Hymn #572: Praise God from Whom All Blessings
Scripture Verses: Exodus 3:1, Isaiah 40:1-5, John 1:19-23, Matthew 4:1-11
Let us pray…
For today’s lesson at BLCF, we will have a look at surviving in the wilderness of life’s trials and tests with comfort and mercy from the Lord.
Recently, there has been a number of popular “Reality Series” which document peoples’ ability to overcome the challenges of surviving in a hostile environment. While a working knowledge of survival skills is useful, the key to successfully meeting the challenges and tests in the wilderness rests in one’s attitude or frame of mind.
But this morning, I would like to discuss what is meant by the “wilderness”, that is described in the Scriptures.
We find one definition of the wilderness, specifically in region of Judaea, from the web site bibleplaces.com:
Also known as Desert of Judah, Jeshimon, Midbar Yehuda, Wilderness of Judaea, Wilderness of Judah Place of Refuge
Because of its lack of water and good routes, the Judean wilderness has been (mostly) uninhabited throughout history. Consequently it was an ideal place for those seeking refuge from enemies or retreat from the world. When on the run from King Saul, David hid in various places in the Judean wilderness (the Wilderness(es) of Ziph, Maon, and En Gedi are part of the Judean Wilderness).
John the Baptist preached here, and it seems likely that this was the wilderness where Jesus was tempted. Herod the Great built two fortresses (Herodium and Masada) in this area for protection should his people ever revolt against him.
So when Moses sojourned in the wilderness, he found more than refuge from Pharaoh, as we find in Exodus 3:1 (ESV):
3 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
In Exodus 3, we have the account of God revealing Himself to Moses by way of a burning bush upon a mountain. God revealed to Moses His intention to free the Hebrew people from enslavement in Egypt. Moses was the key to the Lord’s plan, which included leading them through the same wilderness.
But why would God want His people, who suffered greatly at the hands of their Egyptian taskmaster, venture through the wilderness before reach their “Promised Land”?
To understand, let us look at another take on the usage of the term “wilderness” in the Scriptures, is that posted by Jeff A. Benner at ancient-hebrew.org:
Ancient Hebrew Word Meanings: Wilderness ~ midvar
By Jeff A. Benner
For forty years God had Israel wander in the ‘wilderness’. Insights into why God had chosen the wilderness for their wanderings can be found in the roots of this word. The root word is ‘davar’ and is most frequently translated as a thing or a word. The original picture painted by this word to the Hebrews is the arrangement of things to create order. Speech is an ordered arrangement of words. In the ancient Hebrew mind words are ‘things’ and are just as ‘real’ as food or other ‘thing’. When a word is spoken to another it is ‘placed in the ears’ no different than when food is given to another it is ‘placed in the mouth’.
The Hebrew name Devorah (Deborah) means ‘bee’ and is the feminine form of the word davar. Bees are a community of insects which live in a perfectly ordered arrangement. The word ‘midvar’ meaning wilderness is actually a place that exists as a perfectly arranged order as its ecosystem is in harmony and balance. By placing Israel in this environment he is teaching them balance, order and harmony.
So the trek of the Hebrew people was intended to help them become reacquainted with their God, with the wilderness as their school. But the balance, order and harmony to be restored in the Lord’s people comes with His promise of a pardon for all sins. As we see in Isaiah 40:1-5 (ESV), entitled:
Comfort for God’s People
40 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare[a] is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries:[b] “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
But the Scriptures description of a voice crying out in the wilderness is echoed again by John the Baptist’s testimony in John 1:19-23 (ESV):
The Testimony of John the Baptist
19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight[a] the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
Footnotes: a. John 1:23 Or crying out, ‘In the wilderness make straight
The wilderness where John the Baptist refers to himself as “voice in the wilderness” described by the prophet Isaiah, describing the restoration of balance, order and harmony, as well as the promise of pardon from sins, through Jesus. The Lord, also, had a wilderness experience immediately after he was baptized by the Holy Spirit, where the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness, Matthew 4:1-11(ESV) :
The Temptation of Jesus
4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
We see that the devil tested Jesus by tempting him to satisfy his hunger; having God rescue him as he leapt from a high precipice; and then offering Christ all the kingdoms of the world if he would worship Satan instead of the Father in Heaven! It is interesting that all the temptations Satan offered Christ were refuted and refused with Jesus responding with Scripture that spoke of actions of obedience and faith.
All of us encounter at some time in our lives, the challenges of a “wilderness trek”, where Satan challenges our faith by tempting us in a time of adversity. And just as Moses and the Hebrew people, as well as Jesus, we can allow the experience to draw comfort, through God’s Holy Spirit, knowing that as believers in the Resurrected Christ, God has blessed us with His goodness and mercy, by our faith in the Lord.
Let us pray…
Closing Hymn # 440: All the Way My Savior Leads Me
Benediction – (Ephesians 3:20-21):
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.