A Desert, Light, and Why Jesus?

Meet Pastor Betsy Hoium. She is the associate pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Roseville, Minnesota. Below is her post on January 20th’s story of Matthew 4:1-17   on deserts, light and how they intersect with “Why Jesus?”

Hoium writes:

We love the images of Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River by his cousin, John.  At the end of the chapter 3, the dove descends and a voice from heaven says “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  It’s a snugly story!

So why can’t the story end there with a loving God and neighbor caring for neighbor as John is persuaded to baptize Jesus?

The very next verse is Matthew 3:1 which says,“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Ouch!  What’s going on here?  Why does this have to happen? Suddenly the forces of evil overtake the story. Sin. Temptation. It may remind us of Lent as this reading is typically heard at the beginning of Lent and forms the basis for our 40 days leading to Easter.

This story makes us uncomfortable. It makes us squirm. It is not one that we tell our children. The story refers back to Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. It also echoes with all kinds of sin, evil, hatred, discrimination, darkness and negativity in our own world.  Look at the news, political struggles, anger turning into violence, and how little progress we seem to have made since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s.  This text seems appropriate for Martin Luther King Weekend when we honor the work of this man who was willing to very articulately name what was going on and the dream of a more just and peaceful world.

I just saw a movie about another person that fought long and hard for justice. “On the Basis of Sex” tells the story of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s early career.  Her own struggles with graduating at the top of her law school class, having great credentials, and then never being able to get a job at a law firm because she wasn’t a man.  She ended up taking pro-bono discrimination cases that everyone – including the ACLU – said had no merit and that she should settle. She preserved in her groundbreaking work on gender discrimination, arguing cases before the United States Supreme Court, taking her pursuit of justice to the highest court in the land.

And yet we still live in a world where evil and unfairness are pervasive.  Below is a photo I took of the desert while on a trip to the Holy Land.  The sand and nothingness seems to go on forever.  The windswept land and the hard ridges in the sand seem like obstacles that can never be overcome.  No oasis is in sight, just miles and miles of sand.  It must have seemed like this to the people wandering for 40 years.  Did it seem like that to Jesus during these 40 days?  Does it seem like that to us in the struggles of our world?


This story of Jesus resisting the devil’s temptation and beginning his earthly ministry is akin to the prologue in John’s Gospel of how “a light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”  (John 1:5).

Why Jesus?  Because Jesus is light.


What is the Why Jesus Project? Check out the FAQ on Why Jesus? Home Page.


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