Why did Jesus go into the desert for 40 days?
To be alone? To be tempted? To get close to God? To remove distractions?
And why 40 days?
40 is highly symbolic in the Bible stories. It is always met with stories of great trial and oppression. It rained 40 days and 40 nights in the story of Noah's ark. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Moses waited on Mt. Sinai for 40 days. Goliath taunted the Israelites for 40 days before David decided to do something about it.
Jesus' wanderings in the desert were met with 3 temptations.
1. To turn the stone into bread.
2. To jump from the heights of the temple and not be killed.
3. To seize power of all people groups in all the world.
But Jesus turned down these opportunities in order to press forward into something else. He was not there to impress the masses with miracles (stone to bread). He was not there to start a new religion (to see someone fall from the top of the temple and not die would have made him worthy of worship). He was not there to start a new political revolution (to reign over all the world as the new Caesar).
Jesus persevered these trials because he was set on a different way. The way of the Kingdom. And that way would come through suffering. It wasn't so much that he was giving something up as he was pressing forward into something more.
During the 40 days of lent everyone asks, "What are you giving up?" But it is not so much what we are giving up that matters but what we are pressing forward into.
Lent is a way to follow Jesus into the desert in order to press forward into something else. It's not so much about "giving up" as it is about pressing forward. Jesus' time in the desert was meant not as much for giving up bread, religion, and power, as it was for pushing him through these trials to hone in on what truly mattered.
And what truly mattered? The Kingdom. The kingdom that would come via the cross and resurrection. Jesus' way was not going to be as easy as what was offered him in the desert temptations. But he moved into this 40 day season of trial in order to press deeper into what he was called to do.
Why would I follow Jesus into the desert?
Why should I observe Lent?
I think it is a way for me to press forward into my commitment to following Christ by willingly denying myself something. The focus is not on what I am "giving up" (i.e. chocolates, soda, facebook) but on what I am pressing towards.
That is, how he can shape me and move me towards his kingdom purposes. This is my first time observing lent. And I am following Jesus into the desert not to give something up but to press in further to the life that he has called me to live. May this time refine me and direct me further along that path.