Wilderness Crossings


“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit…was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.”    Luke 4:1

When was the last time you were lost or even led into an overwhelming situation?   Did you find your way out?

Or are you still in the thick of it?

Scripture recounts Jesus being led into the wilderness.   Historically, this raw and forsaken setting was the Wilderness of Judea.   Covering an area five hundred and twenty-five square miles, this vast desert’s name in Biblical Times was referred to as Jeshimmon or “The Devastation.”   With ridges sprawling in all directions, it is a contorted desert-scape.   With distant hills described as dust heaps, and though gnawingly cold in the dead of night, during the daylight hours, the surface of the landscape glows like a furnace. [1]

But what if the use of this seemingly god-forsaken place as described in the Bible is also a literary device?   What if the wilderness as spoken of in scripture here and elsewhere is intended to address deeply challenging places in our own lives?    Where the resources we’ve turned to help us in the past (supportive friends, a steady job, devoted family members, a stable marriage or our health) unravels – and the scarcity is as acute as a waterless and wind-swept landscape?   

Writes Winn Collier,

“…Jesus’ story is also in many ways a recapitulation of several other stories scripture tells, in which humans find themselves in desperate situations and unable to do the right thing, to withstand temptation, to rescue themselves from their troubles. With Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, we find Jesus again enacting the very things we humans have been entirely unable to enact on our own.” [2]

What if scripture here and elsewhere is showing a pattern of living as Christ’s followers?   Such that when you and I are in the wilderness of life – when reeling from a cancer diagnosis, mourning the death of a loved one, suffering from the loss of income or a beloved home, or feeling powerless in the face of injustice and environmental degradation – what if the Spirit that led Jesus is also available to us?

Written as a letter of encouragement to wilderness travelers, we hear these words from scripture, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.”  [3]

What if scripture here and elsewhere shows us a pattern of living as Christ’s followers?



[1] William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, (Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press, 2001), pg. 52.

[2] Winn Collier, Other Stories of Desperation, Luke 4:1-13, (Sunday’s Coming: Christian Century, March 4, 2019).

[3] 2 Timothy 1:7, NIV

Author: Jessica McArdle

These are dark and corrosive times. As a writer and ordained minister with the United Church of Christ, I use prayer, poetry, reflection, and scripture to re-align our embattled spirits with the uniqueness and urgency of our God-given identity and call.

4 thoughts on “Wilderness Crossings”

  1. Thinking about wilderness as a place of being lost is very powerful. So often I think of it as “chosen.” but that is truly fearful.

    1. Thank you, Maren. Since reading your comment, I’ve been thinking about “chosenness” in contrast to the fear of being lost. You have provided lots of fuel for more reflection.

  2. I love the analogy of us being in the wilderness, and our need for the Spirit to lead us out. Surely, I have been there over and again. And HOPE perseveres….I will be led out again.

    sending you love, Jan


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