I’m hoping that our time together this morning will help prepare us for our Ash Wednesday service this coming Wednesday which is the beginning of Lent, the season that leads us up to Easter. The purpose of Lent is to get us to focus on the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ and to remind us of our humanity and need to fully rely on God. It is supposed to be a time of intentional focus on our relationship with God. It’s a time of retreat, if you will, a time to quiet ourselves and perhaps limit ourselves through fasting of some sort. It’s a time of discipline where we give more attention to our relationship with Christ. To help us do that, I am recommending a book for you to read which is kind of a journey to the cross. We’ll have copies available after church next Sunday for those of you who would like to purchase one, and we’re also encouraging you to consider something that you will fast from during the Lenten Season in an effort to physically pull away from this world while you go on retreat with Jesus. I hope you’ll join us for this special service of confession and contemplation this Wednesday night as the children from kindergarten on up and all adults meet in the sanctuary together.
Isaiah 43:19-21 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. 20 The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, 21 the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.
As we begin this morning, I need some of you to help me. What are some of your most favorite places to visit? —–I’m shocked that no one mentioned the dessert. I suppose we wouldn’t think of the desert as a thrilling or great place to be. And yet, the Bible says that God does new things in the desert. God gives His people drinks in the desert.
What kind of drinks does God prepare for His people in the desert? I’d like to look at the desert that Moses fled to in Midian as recorded in Exodus 3 and the desert Jesus was led to before he began his earthly ministry in Matthew 4. The number 40 seems to be a number that is attached to new things that God does. Moses was in Midian for 40 years. Jesus was in the desert for 40 days. What was God up to?
Moses wound up in the desert in Midian because Pharoah was trying to kill him. That’s a good reason to run. Moses had been living for 40 years in the lap of luxury in Pharaoh’s home even though he was an Israelite. He had been “adopted” if you will by the Pharaoh’s daughter and had been raised in the palace. After he had grown up, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Moses took matters into his own hands and killed the Egyptian. Word got out about what he had done, and the Pharoah tried to kill Moses. So he ran to the desert of Midian. He went from living in pleasure at the palace to tired and thirsty in the desert. There he sat down by a well and his desert experience began.
In Midian God gave Moses something new to drink. All he had ever known was life in the palace, life with the Egyptians. Yet he was a Hebrew. It was in the desert that God showed Moses who he really was.
1. In the desert, Moses was drinking the cup of discovery. While Moses needed to get out of Egypt, God needed to get the Egypt out of Moses. Moses had been schooled in Egyptian culture and ways. He had learned to behave like an Egyptian, even though he was a Hebrew. When he arrived in the desert area of Midian, he met up with some Hebrews that he eventually became related to through marriage. Through these relationships he was going to discover who he really was and what God intended for him to be.
One of the most beautiful times in my spiritual life was when I lived on the island of Cyprus as a missionary school teacher. I had never been out of my Church of God bubble, and during those two years away from my family and friends, away from my culture, away from my comfort zone God did a new thing in my mind and heart. I began to understand who I really was in Christ. I wasn’t “Church of God.” I was a Christian. I learned that the family of God was far broader than what I had thought. I learned who I really was and what I was really a part of. In the desert, Moses learned who he really was, a Hebrew, born to worship the One, true and Living God.
The desert times in our lives can be great times for purging our lives from former bondages or associations with people that won’t help us live a life pleasing to God. Leaving behind the Egyptian way of life which had enslaved God’s people, Moses took the drink from the wells of new relationships with God’s people. As a result, he became positioned to be exactly what God wanted him to be. Look at your neighbor and tell them, “That was a new thing.”
2. In the desert, Moses drank from the cup of establishment. Desert times can be good for helping us establish ourselves and establish our families.
In Exodus 2:21-22 where we read that Moses married his wife and they had a son. During this desert time Moses established his family. In the desert, Moses established his personal life. He put down his personal roots, if you will.
Spiritually speaking, our faith can be firmly established in the desert. You find out what you’re made of when you find yourself in the dessert. It doesn’t matter how good your survival skills are in the desert. When there is no water to be found, when you can’t rely on your skills, your connections, or your resources to get you the drink you need, you find out how deep your faith is. When it’s just you and God, you’ll find out He’s all you need.
God’s voice often gets crowded out amidst the clamor of the world. But in the desert, when it’s just you and God there’s a unique clarity with which you hear because you are desperate to hear from God. You are desperate for someone to understand. I was never closer to God than when I lived on that Greek island in the Middle East. Not knowing anyone when I moved there and being away from everything I knew, I grew very close to the Lord. My faith which was somewhat handed down to me from my parents and church of God heritage became established as my own.
When you find yourself in a desert or a place where you didn’t think you would be; when something happens to you that you never dreamed possible whether good or bad, it is an opportunity for God to establish you and anchor you in your faith. It’s a time when your whole family can benefit from your willingness to drink in the new thing God wants to do in your life.
3. In the desert, Moses drank from the cup of God’s providence. You see, while Moses was in the desert, the king of Egypt, the one who was trying to kill him, died. While Moses was in the desert, God was working out necessary circumstances for the next phase of his life. 40 years in the palace. 40 years in the desert. They both led up to Moses being the one to lead the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt which took another 40 years. Before Moses could head back into Egypt to be used of God to speak to the Pharaoh, the previous king needed to be out of the picture. God was actually protecting Moses in the desert. When Moses lived in the palace, his security came from the palace walls and the Egyptian army. God was doing a new thing in Moses’ life by protecting him in the desert, and in God’s providence, He was providing for the necessary passage of time so that Moses could go back to Egypt and negotiate the release of the Israelite slaves.
Three years before I had ever heard of Scott Depot, God called me to be a senior pastor. It was three years of searching and praying and passing up other ministry opportunities in order to wait for God to open the door. What I didn’t know was that during those years, God was preparing the previous pastor to take a new assignment and he was preparing this congregation for a new thing; me. God’s providence means He is never late. He never snaps His fingers and says, “Oops, I missed that chance.”
Twenty-seven and single I started to wonder if God had marriage in His lessons plans for me. The Fall I turned twenty-eight I met Thom. The truth is, had I met him earlier, my last name wouldn’t have been Pratt. God was doing a work in him and in me that required that we meet later rather than earlier.
4. In the desert, Moses drank from the cup of preparation.
Exodus 3:1 tells us that Moses was tending the flock of Jethro, his father in law. He had never taken sheep herding 101. The Bible doesn’t say that he had ever lead anything, but here, in the desert he begins to learn to lead sheep and herd sheep. Can you see how God was preparing him for leading and herding the massive amount of people that he eventually led through the Red Sea and away from Egyptian captivity? That kind of leadership has to be developed. How many of you know you don’t get hired on your first job to oversee the Exodus of 2.5 million people. You sort of have to grow into that kind of position. Moses’ leadership training began with leading sheep. I’m sure looking back years later he didn’t consider that such baaaaad experience. (Thank you for all of the sympathy laughter.)
We were enjoying life and ministry in Cincinnati. The church had grown to over 700 when in a six month process trouble started, the staff left and 350 people scattered to various churches across the city. Our challenge? I was left on staff alone. Yikes! A music and worship pastor suddenly in charge of 350 people and the remaining church leaders. The staff that departed—all wonderful people. I trusted that they were following God when they said they all felt released by God to move to other ministry assignments. I often wondered why Thom and I never felt that release. Not only did we not feel release, we felt almost chained to this chaotic, troubled, hurt congregation. God knew what He was doing. We were in the desert of preparation, getting us ready to move into the position of senior pastors in this wonderful place. During that desert time, I was called to preach. During that desert time, God developed me as a leader in areas beyond where I had been trained. Looking back, I wouldn’t trade that time, as tough as it was, for anything in the world.
5. In the desert, Moses drank from the cup of confrontation.
Exodus 3:1 he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.” 4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” 5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
As I mentioned, it was important for Moses to understand who he was. He needed to understand and embrace who he was as a Hebrew because only then would it make sense to him that God would ask him to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. However it was also important for Moses to understand who he wasn’t. He wasn’t God. He wasn’t the Holy One.
Sometimes we’ve become so self reliant, so capable, so efficient that we don’t realize that there is a life beyond this one, and there is a God who stands unimpressed with our capabilities. Oh we might be effective in our careers, we might be succeeding in raising our families, we might have a good name in the community, but when compared to the holiness of God, we are selfish, filthy sinners who need to take off our shoes and bow as low as possible to ask that God would have mercy on us.
During this burning bush experience in the desert, Moses was told not to come any closer and to take off his shoes. That was a signal to him, a sign he was well acquainted with. Ancient priests had observed this custom in their temples. When they removed their shoes, they were confessing their personal defilement. When they took off their shoes in their temples, they were confessing their conscious unworthiness to stand in the presence of unspotted holiness.
Verse 6 indicates that Moses understood the chasm, the gulf between himself and God. It suggests that the holiness of God and his personal sinfulness became known to him in a new way. It says he couldn’t even look at God.
One of the first things our son Joshua will often say when he is confronted with wrong behavior and knows he’s been caught is simply, “Don’t look at me.” His head mirrors what his heart knows is true. He isn’t righteous. He’s been caught. He looks away. Moses’ body language suggests the same. He is recognizing who God really is which is essential for leadership. This was a new thing God was doing in Moses’ life.
6. In the desert, Moses drank from the cup of commissioning. In Exodus 3:10 God tells Moses, “Go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” Do you see how in the desert, Moses received his marching orders for the next 40 years of his life?
Deserts don’t have to be desolate places of despair, and the reason is because God is there. He is the One who is doing a new thing in the desert. He is the One who is making a way in the desert. He is the One who is giving you something good to drink in the desert. Deserts are great places to receiving commissioning because after being in a desert, you’re usually ready for something new. It’s usually an experience you want to move on from.
The second desert I want to talk about is the desert that Jesus was led into by the Spirit of God. Sometimes we might find ourselves in a desert because we’re running from something like Moses was. It’s still okay because God is there. But sometimes we find ourselves into the desert because in a real and deliberate way, God is leading us there.
Immediately following Jesus’ baptism and anointing by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit led him into the dessert. Who does that? Who makes a grand entrance, a “Ta Da” appearance and then goes “underground” so to speak? Jesus is publicly recognized as God’s Son and then is escorted into the desert where for forty days and nights he eats and drinks nothing and is tempted by Satan. What a way to begin an impressive ministry, right?
The Bible says in I John 3:8 “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”
Recall Genesis 3:15 “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” God told Satan those words in the Garden of Eden after he had deceived Adam and Eve. Jesus appears on the scene and is getting ready for his earthly ministry and round one of this boxing match between Jesus and Satan takes place.
It only stands to reason that before he started his earthly ministry, he went head to head with Satan. So we see here in the dessert Jesus establishes who He is and that from the onset, Satan has no power over him.
While Jesus didn’t eat or drink for 40 days, he did receive some things from God that sustained and benefitted him.
Listen to the story in Matthew 4 beginning in verse 2. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
You’ve know the verse, “The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” It’s from Matthew 26 where Jesus is in another desert experience in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knows his time has come. He knows that the crucifixion is coming soon. He asks his disciples to watch and pray while he goes to pray sort of off by himself. When he finishes, he comes back to where the disciples are only to find them asleep. He says to them, “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” He knows about the flesh being weak. He knows how temptation comes to us in our physical bodies when we are weak or tired or compromised for some reason. He had dealt with it before his earthly ministry ever started in that desert of temptation. We need to be on our guard when we find ourselves in the desert because the enemy of our souls will seek to find a way to get his hooks into us by tempting us physically.
” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
Once again Satan comes at Jesus in the desert with the temptation to get Jesus to try to prove God’s faithfulness. “If God really loves you,” can you see the underlying tone? Satan is saying, “If you are really God’s Son, see if He’ll catch you when you fall. I’m sure He’ll send the angels to keep you from hitting the ground. Go ahead and give it a try” Jesus knew God’s love. He was secure in his relationship to the Father. He didn’t need to test the security of that relationship.
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ”
Satan offered Christ an “easy way” to become King. As the prince of this world (John 14:30), Satan is allowed by God to have a certain amount of control over its kingdoms. According to Ps. 2:6-9, God had already promised these kingdoms to Christ. 6 “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” 7 I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son ;today I have become your Father. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”
While God had already promised these kingdoms to Christ, he would have to go to the cross to possess them. Do you see what Satan was doing at the onset of Christ’s ministry? Satan was trying to tempt Him away from the cross. Satan wanted him to take the easy way out, but it wouldn’t have yielded the same results.
Too often, when we find ourselves in a desert experience, we look for the easy way out. We’re tired. We want things to change. We take the first thing that comes along that looks like it will change our circumstance for the better, when in reality we are short circuiting the greater thing that God wants to give us. Jesus didn’t do that.
So what did Jesus drink, metaphorically speaking, in the desert? I suggest to you two things.
• Jesus drank from the Word of God, and He drank deeply. He didn’t let the
circumstances of His desert experience overshadow God’s Word and promises to Him. Each time Satan came at Him, Jesus took a drink from God’s Word. It sustained Him. It was the weapon that thwarted Satan’s attack.
Desert times are times to go deep in God’s Word. The day of Randall’s surgery, there Rachel sat. Several people had given her verses about healing or verses about God’s faithfulness and while the rest of us sat and chit chatted, Rachel was glued to her Bible, pouring over those verses. She knew that the Word of God would help sustain her during those hours of waiting.
• Jesus drank from the power of God. Immediately following this desert
experience, Luke 4:14 say “14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.”
Remember, Jesus had been underground if you will for forty days. He had been a one-day wonder at his baptism and his song hadn’t been played on the top forty since. Now, news is spreading about him like wildfire through the whole countryside. Why? Because when He came out of the desert, He was full of power. He had been anointed at His baptism, but He was empowered in the desert.
There is a strength that is developed in us, a power that is granted to us simply because we are in the desert and in need of power. When life is great and we are self-sufficient, we don’t have the same awareness of our need for the power of God. But when we are hungry and thirsty and temptation comes to us in desert experiences, it seems the power of God is so available and so close and we find ourselves emerging from the desert filled with the richness and vitality that comes with connecting with that power.
So ultimately what do we learn about deserts? They are great places
• To drink in who we really are as children of God.
• To drink in what’s really important, getting our personal lives established
• To drink in the providence of God and watch Him work
• To drink in the preparation for what is next.
• To drink in the awareness of how awesome and holy God is
• To drink in our marching orders and be commissioned for the next task.
• To drink in the Word of God.
• To drink in God’s power which will forever change us.
The truth is, you can wither and die very easily in the desert or you can choose to drink the things God wants to give you, not just to sustain you, but to change your life forever for the better.
I don’t know what you’re going through this morning, but I offer this promise to you:
Psalm 107:35 says, “He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs.”
He’ll do it for you. New things can come from barrenness. God offers a drink to you today. It will be just what you need. Will you receive it?