Power of a location! We all know how it feels when we walk down memory lane by actually visiting places where something significant had happened. It maybe our childhood home, or a certain street where we had an accident, a workplace where we spent a significant portion of our professional life. Locations are reminders of good or bad times.
Egypt was one such location for the people of Israel. It contained memories of the glorious days of old, when Joseph, one of the founding fathers of their nation, was second in command in Egyptian hierarchy. It also contained more recent images of dehumanization after being forced into slavery by Egyptian kings. Leaving Egypt did not necessarily leave those memories behind. A prolonged stay in the wilderness actually made Egypt look attractive again. Time and again the Israeli refugees lost hope they would ever reach the Promised Land; they figured their only chance of survival was to turn around and go back to where they came from.
So, one can say that the wilderness became a place of Israel’s identity crisis. Transitioning from an enslaved people group to a free sovereign nation is obviously no walk in the park; one thing we can take from Israel’s wilderness experience is that we must never forget who we are and whose we are. Let’s look at Jesus’ wilderness experience at the onset of His public ministry in Israel. In the beginning of the 4th chapter of Matthew’s gospel we read:
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.”
Again we notice a question of identity here: “If you are the Son of God”, the devil says – which means he is questioning Jesus’ identity. – Unlike Israel’s wilderness experience though, Jesus does not second-guess Himself. He knows who He is and whose He is, and He has no need to prove His ID by turning stones into bread.
Perhaps we have a similar wilderness experience today and are going through an identity crisis of our own. In every identity crisis there is a moment of truth where we can either check out and return to some sort of survival mode (comparable to Israel’s Egypt experience), or we are brave enough to embrace the vision of the Promised Land of freedom and sovereignty. The truth is, we are all designed and created by God; we are God’s creation – this is everybody’s ID. However, becoming children of God is God’s dream for our life. Now it is up to you and me to decide whether we share His dream. Life can become a big old desert if we have no vision stretching beyond the horizon of day-to-day life. There is such a thing as eternity. Eternity is a big word. Do we dare embrace it? There is such a thing as “Promised Land”. It is the land where God’s family lives. His Son Jesus prepares a place for each of His children there. It is a land where communication flows and misunderstandings cease to exist. You and I are fully understood. We are fully welcome. We are loved.
Jesus, the Son of God has come to search and find the ones lost in the wilderness. Believing in Him will widen our horizon, and we will know who we are and whose we are. We will come home to a place where we truly belong.