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From out of the desert wilderness.

ShotgunBill's picture

From out of the desert dry wilderness walked a man. A severe but sincere man, gaunt, haunting...high brow indicating extraordinary intelligence, a steely glint in the eyes testifying to the presence of a purpose, a drive, a goal, a dedication to something, to someone, well beyond the norm.

But, and at the same time, he strode forth with a decided lack of attention to personal needs and appearance. Dressed in a leather garment and rough-shod sandals, this man would stand out in any crowd. Snacking, nay, not snacking but living, existing upon locusts and wild honey, his diet would today be condemned by even such experts as Michelle Obama, as being insufficient. And in fact, I firmly believe he was a mite skinny, even possibly emaciated.

Born of and raised by an older couple, of the priestly class, this man's education leaned very heavily toward the classics. No, not the Greco-Roman classics, but another, older, class of classics. His teachers were Moses, Isaiah, and a whole host of prophetic writers stretching back 4,000 years. His heroes composed a long list of outstanding people, people like the aforementioned Moses...and Joshua, Samuel, David and Solomon, Samson and Barak and many others. Truly, history did rest hard and long upon the living essence of this man.

And in the back of it all, silently and invisibly did run a program, a never sleeping background program of destiny, of that intangible thing we call 'calling'. And that calling would rule, guide, inform and power this man's life to the very changing of the entire world forever hereafter.

His name was a simple four letter word, “John”. He would in time gain the additional, 'the baptist'.

And of John the Baptist would be said a thing seen only one, single, other time ever, throughout the vast library of the writings of antiquity. For it was said of him...

“And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit...” Luke 1:80.

But from the dusty streets of the little town of Nazareth, of Galilee, walked there another man. His going forth was coincident with John's issuing forth from the desert wilderness. This man was of the royal house of David, and his step, his visage was of royal mien, his demeanor as if upon his broad shoulders rested the fate of the world.

His stride was long, quick and purposeful, full of promise and strength. His face though, was clear and smooth, almost shining in its purity of purpose and destiny. Unlike John, this man was well-fed, although by no means portly or exhibiting excess of habit. His vesture was of common stock, such as worn by the middle class of the day, his sandals of somewhat higher caliber than those of his cousin John.

His birth and upbringing is telling. For he was born of a virgin, and abundantly blessed with a godly and loving step-father. Reared in the history, the lives and times of Judaism, much of his life was spent in the synagogue, punctuated however, with periodic visits to the Temple of God in Jerusalem, where he rubbed elbows with the religious elite of the day. This association with these people led him to spend a disproportionate amount of time studying the writings of his forefathers, and that it was a very profitable pursuit can be seen in his having been seen to engage in debate and discussion with the doctors of theology of his day, in the Temple of God.

Of such a one, well quite naturally, legends, stories and rumors of this child, this young man, this teenager, should find a way into the currency of the local gossips. It was said by some that one day, playing in the mud of a nearby stream, he did fashion, as would a sculptor, a pair of clay doves...which then came to life, and flew away. Another time, it was said another teenager tried to push the young man into a ditch. And an invisible otherworldly and strange power came forth and not only tossed the offending friend into the selfsame ditch, but held him there long enough to insure a complete embarrassment upon him.

This man was called “Jesus”, and it was said of him a thing that occurs only one time other throughout the vast libraries of the writings of antiquity. For it was said of him,

“And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit...” Luke 2:40.

So what is this? What new idea is presented before us? Why have we not been informed of this thing before?

How do we get a handle upon this concept of 'waxing strong in spirit'? Where can we go to find more in this regard?

Well, how about the bible? Let's look at a few passages and see if they will produce light for us on this entire issue.

Let's begin with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He has drawn apart from the disciples, taking with him only Peter, James and John. And this wasn't an out of the ordinary move on Jesus' part. For he often took Peter, James and John aside, in order to reveal to them important activities, thoughts, truths.

And why just the three of them? For the law dictated that “...in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word should be established”. And these three have, did and do serve as witnesses to some of the most amazing acts on earth.

So, the Garden incident, the Mount of Transfiguration Revelation, the raising of Jairus' dead daughter, these were done in the company of Peter, James and John, so that in future, witnesses would be available to testify to the truth of them.

So, having brought aside these three, Jesus withdraws even a bit further, to pray. And none need remark upon the everlasting importance of that prayer...

Jesus prayed three separate times, what is in fact, pretty much the same prayer. The first two times, he returned to the three disciples and found them sleeping...and awakened them. He then, in something of a severe tone, asked them,

“What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matt. 26:40-41.

(Jesus worked his disciples mite near to death, always preaching, always working, always busy about the Kingdom God. Is it any wonder then, that Peter, James and John, would grab a quick nap any time possible?)

Now there is much of value in that question and statement to those three, but let's deal first with that matter of, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”.

How, in what regard, is the spirit willing? And how, and in what regard, is the flesh weak? We see the subject is centered upon temptation. So the answers must lie in that direction. And in other passages upcoming we'll enter in more fully upon this matter.

But for the nonce, let us say that the spirit, especially of the born again (those born 'of the Spirit') is willing. It lives to do God's will, to obey His guidance. It is willing to refuse the onslaughts of temptation.

But the flesh is weak. In what sense then, is the flesh weak? Is it not weak in defying temptation? Is it not weak in that the flesh WANTS to sin? The flesh WANTS to lie, to cheat, to steal, to envy, to lust. While the flesh is weak in resisting temptation, the flesh is strong, so strong, in wanting to give in to temptation. Strong enough that sin has come to be called, in many cases, rather than sin, a disease. This strength of flesh in wanting drugs, alcohol and other such things, is now known as diseases. That's okay for worldly man if it gives to him an excuse beyond reason...for God, they're still called sin. And certainly, whatever the sin, what is temptation but an open door to that sin?

Let's draw a very quick and simple distinction between the body and flesh. The body is joined to the breath of life from God (the spirit of man) so that we become living souls. And the body does have a large number of legitimate needs and requirements. Surely food, water and shelter reign supreme. But the body also needs sex, time for rest and leisure. The body needs a sense of satisfaction, of fulfillment. The body needs stimulation for the mind, enjoyment for the emotions.

But the flesh, as opposed to the spirit, lives to take the legitimate needs of the body, and to intensify them, magnify them, focus them, into what the body does not need. And that, becomes sin. The body while needing food, does not need gluttony and gross obesity. The body, while needing sex, does not need licentiousness, fornication, adultery, etc. The body, while needing satisfaction and leisure, does not need constant entertainment, constant comfort, constant stimulation in many different ways.

And so, the flesh is weak indeed, when confronting all the many temptations that assail us in this world. Yes, the spirit is willing to help us resist, but is the spirit strong enough, to insure the flesh doesn't get the upper hand, and make us to do those things with a strength we can scarcely comprehend?

So how do we deal with this? If we agree that sin is sin, and not disease, how can we make the spirit strong enough to weaken the bodies' desire to succumb to temptation? How can making the spirit strong, allow us to resist temptation?

There is an equilibrium within us, between flesh and spirit, when we are in right relationship with God. Between the two, flesh and spirit, is a delicate balance. For as in any other thing, between them they can equal only 100 percent. And when the flesh requires 90 percent of our being (with sin, excess, entertainment and so forth), that leaves the spirit with only 10 percent of power, of utility for us.

Paul addressed this ratio between flesh and spirit, with,

“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” Gal 5:17. And,

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” Gal 6:7-8

Let's look at Jesus and his temptation in the wilderness. After all, it is both a type of our facing our own temptations, and a proof of the power of the spirit to resist them.

From Luke chapter four, let us look at,

“And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” Luke 4:1.

Jesus has been to the Jordan, to be baptized by John the Baptist. Immediately, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in a bodily shape like a dove, and came there a voice from heaven, from God, saying, “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased”. Luke 3:22.

So now, Jesus is led by that same Holy Spirit, into the wilderness. And it wasn't for leisure, or a vacation. It was in order than he might face every temptation possible for a human to face. And if he could, by the power of the Holy Spirit within him, overcome every temptation, he would then be capable of standing in our stead as the sacrificial Lamb of God, purchasing for us, salvation.

So in the wilderness two very important things happened. In the first instance, Jesus faced throughout each of forty days, a veritable tsunami of temptation. It was a daily battle, allowing no rest, no surcease. It was to put it mildly, torture (to the natural man, to the sinner, it would have been heaven on earth beyond belief, no sin too small nor too large to enjoy).

But at the same time Jesus was facing this tidal wave of temptation, Jesus was fasting. As he fasted, his body weakened. As his body weakened, his spirit strengthened. The ratio of strength of body, to strength of spirit changed daily. By the end of 40 days, Jesus' body was at its weakest ever. But his spirit was at its strongest ever.

So that when Jesus faced the final three (temptations...Luke 4:4-13), we would see which would out. The flesh? Or the Spirit?

But Jesus was ready. His spirit was so strong, his body so weak, that the devil never had a prayer. You know, I know, that it is the way of religious people to debate. Had the devil quoted scripture to me, I would have quoted many back at him, and a regular free for all religious debate would have broken out immediately, perhaps even being battled to a draw.

Jesus didn't fool with debate. He wasn't in a playful mood. He was all business. When the devil put temptation before Jesus, all he got from it was a specific and perfectly aimed quotation from the Word of God. The devil, sensing the strength of spirit in Jesus didn't even offer corresponding quotations to drive the debate...so that no juicy debate was to be had that day.

Three times the devil placed temptation before Jesus. And bear in mind the devil hadn't been fasting. His evil-ness, his ambition and power were at their peak, the best days the devil ever had.

But the horribly weak in body, unbelievably strong in spirit Jesus, was way more than the devil could handle. He gave up the fight, and moved along. Hereafter, he would come at Jesus from other directions, but in the long run, would never score a win.

So we see how Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to face temptation.

But note now, how he proceeded from the wilderness. Note Jesus ended the debate, His weakest in body ever. He received a bit of food and water from the angels (Matt 4:11), but faced a several day rehabilitation, each day growing stronger in body, while retaining I believe, the strength of spirit. For Jesus after a 40 day trial and fast knew well how to make the body serve, not the flesh, but the spirit.

Let us now see how Jesus, in a very weakened bodily state, came into Galilee to start his ministry. He didn't catch a bus, not a train, nor a plane, didn't ride a donkey. Let's see just exactly how Jesus was transported into Galilee...

“And Jesus returned IN THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.” Luke 4:14.

Weak of body, strong of spirit, Jesus moved in, not the power of the body, of the flesh, but in the power of the spirit. Is it any wonder that this was talked about throughout Galilee?

Another instance of this kind spiritual power is found in Acts chapter 8. Here we find Phillip has been instructed, by an angel of the Lord, to go down from Jerusalem to Gaza (Acts 8:26). As he goes, he meets the queen of Ethiopia's banker, an eunuch having charge of all the queen's treasury.

The eunuch is reading from Isaiah 53 a prophecy regarding Jesus' suffering and death. Not knowing of Jesus, the eunuch asks Phillip of whom the bible was speaking. At this, Phillip preaches the gospel to the fellow, with the eunuch finally repenting, believing and asking to be baptized.

Phillip baptized the eunuch, and coming up out of the water, “...the Spirit of the Lord caught away Phillip, that the eunuch saw him no more...” Acts 8:39.

Phillip was subsequently found at Azotus. From whence he removed to Caesarea, where we find him years later, hosting Paul and his apostolic party on Paul's final trip and visit to Jerusalem (Acts 21).

Strength of spirit is always to be held over strength of body. And one activity in particular brings a proper balance between the two.

In Luke 4, we note Jesus fasting. In Acts 13, with leadership and guidance from the Holy Spirit, we find the brothers in the church at Antioch, fasting and praying before sending Paul and Barnabas upon the first missionary journey. Paul learned the importance of fasting and prayer later saying of himself that he was in 'fastings' often.

We see Jesus himself regarding fasting and prayer as a normal part of Christian life, with,

When descended from the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus met a man with a demon possessed son. He complained to Jesus that his disciples had been unable to cast the demon out. Jesus in reply, did that very thing. When asked by his disciples, “Why could not we cast him out”? Jesus said, “These kind come not out but by fasting and prayer”.

Some things are so hard, some things are so big, that they require both fasting and prayer to accomplish. Wouldn't you think, that today's decrease in church membership, church power and influence, such a thing? A thing that might be moved by prayer and fasting?

Moses fasted 40 days, on the mount, three separate times! Is it any wonder his spirit reached a state of pliability and receptivity with regard to God? Reading the books of Moses it is so easy to see how this man was so extraordinary as to boggle the mind. How he, the meekest man on earth, could command the respect of God and powers beyond the kin of most all mankind.

What was his secret? Fasting and prayer. How could Jesus face the tidal wave of temptation from the father of lies and of all sin, and win? Fasting and prayer. How could John the Baptist discharge his destiny and calling from God? Well, locusts and wild honey, but I'm strongly suspicious that such pretty much amounts to fasting. And we know well he prayed...

How can we then, face temptation? How can we be meek and yet strong in spirit? How can we spread the gospel in a world steeped in Anti-Christian sentiment and sin? How can we overcome and eat of the hidden manna (Rev 2)? Fasting and prayer.

Fasting and prayer. What makes the body weak (if done in the context of fasting unto God), makes the spirit strong.

Fasting is hard. Hard to start, hard to maintain. And in the flesh, I believe there are but a very few who can do it.

But in the spirit, as something we are giving to God, as a ministry, we can do as Paul said, “All things”.
We can fast, we can pray. It is a combination of things we do, and things we don't. We do pray. We don't eat. And things get done.

With the world in the shape it currently stands, how can face God without the burden to pray without ceasing, and without eating? How can we not understand, that fasting and prayer in and of faith, is the shortest distance between need and supply?

God bless you. I am and remain hungry and sincerely yours in Jesus Christ,

Shotgun Bill