Called to the Desert: Eremos
Jesus in the Desert
For forty days and forty nights Jesus trudged through the lonely wilderness. Starved of food, parched of water, and bereft of friends, God’s beloved Son was hungry, thirsty, and alone. Writing on Jesus’ time in the wasteland, gospel author Matthew refers to that isolated region with the Greek word eremos. That term can refer to an arid area devoid of life, soul crushing loneliness felt by the abandoned, or the neglect of a woman whose husband keeps himself from her (to read more, click here). In the desert, life is starved.
The Reality of the Desert
The one who formerly dwelled within God’s impenetrable light, inhabited the isolated eremos with all its connotations. The immortal Deity left the heavenly feast to dine on the desert’s famine. When Jesus lived in that space, he was haggard, harassed, and put-upon. While thirst and hunger harangued him, the devils of hell tried to coax him into perdition. All this happened to the one who was the Father’s favored Son.
You are Called
In the prior weeks, Jesus inhabited an entirely different sphere. Living with family and friends in Nazareth, his life, though provincial, was full and satisfying. He eventually set out to Jordan’s shores to begin a three-year ministry to the lost sheep of Israel. As his work began, he was baptized in the river. Rising from the waters, the Father proudly proclaimed over Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). If you have put your faith in Christ, God calls you his beloved daughter or son, too.
In the afterglow of the Father’s proclamation, the very same voice summoned his Son into the desert (Matthew 4:1). He will do no less for you.
While we draw breath, we will live in the desert. Even if we are lying under the shade of the palm or drinking from an oasis, we are still in the wasteland and will eventually return to the sands. The connotations of eremos-hunger, loneliness, abandonment-will beset us in that arid place. In this life, we will lack perfect fulfillment, complete fellowship, and unending love. Only when we live physically and forever with Jesus will we emerge from those dunes.
The reality of this stark home can be dulled by the tedium of daily routine. The sacrifices we make during Lent, however, shatter routine’s illusion. These actions of denial don’t draw us into this desert; they remind us of where we try to pretend we are not. Writer J.D. Flynn reflects on this:
“It is easy to think that during Lent, our little sacrifices take us out into the desert to be with Christ. We don’t readily see that Christ is the one who has come out into the desert, to be with us” (First Things).
You will go thirsty and hungry—let that push you to seek God. Ask him for manna during Lent. And every day after.
Lessons in the Wilderness
Our desert home may seem like a curse, but it is precisely where God meets us and instructs us. He uses the vast wilderness to teach us what we are. In the footsteps we take across the coarse sands, the Lord reminds us of the dust from which we came, to which we shall return, and from which we will rise again.
In the desert, he also reveals our true source of life. These hostile lands show us the futility of our broken cisterns. The things we run to for life-romance, wealth, power, etc.-contain no water. As the reality of these hollow holds sets in, God offers us this promise:
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).
Living in the desert is not easy, for few would willingly choose starvation over feast. It is, however, our reality until God calls us home. The desert is his promise, but it is not our end. Though he called us to that place, he also walks with us through it, for “he knows your going through this great wilderness” (Deuteronomy 2:7). He is with us in the sand, sweat, and sun; the searing light that saps our wells scorches his brow as well. One day, however, the desert will end and we will cross into Canaan. “Even the wilderness and desert will be glad in those days. The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses” (Isaiah 35:1). This Lent, may you walk boldly and confidently with the God who inhabits your eremos.