Encounter in the Desert Part 2: The Parchment

A re-telling of the story of the temptation of Jesus
(The name ‘Jesus’ is the New Testament form of ‘Joshua’)
 If you have not read Part one, you may wish to begin the story there
 

When the sun appeared, Joshua checked the depression and again it was full. He drank the water, and all that day he prayed in the cave and thought about suffering. The prophet Isaiah described the servant who was to suffer:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I am pleased; I will put my spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.

He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.

The cave in the desert

Joshua considered the difference in tone between the words of Isaiah and those of Solomon. They reflected Joshua’s own mixed reactions to unrighteousness and injustice. On the one hand, he wanted to punish evil and utterly destroy it with harsh and heavy judgment, but on the other he felt compassion toward those trapped in sin, and wished to protect and nurture them in righteousness.

He identified within himself both the wrath of Solomon’s Anointed One and the mildness of Isaiah’s servant. The prophet described the servant further:

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of as all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth he was led like a lamb to the slaughter. He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

Joshua shuddered with foreboding. He was unsure what it meant to be the Anointed One, and he was completely uncertain what it meant to be like the servant who suffered.

One day followed another and each day Joshua drank water, prayed, and tried to understand the work God had given him and how he would accomplish it.

***

You might wish to open your Bible to Deuteronomy chapters 6-8

On the twelfth day, as Joshua was drinking his water, he noticed a scrap lying in the back corner of the cave. He went into the dark corner and pulled the scrap out of the dust; it was a small piece of parchment. Evidently, someone used this cave and had left the parchment behind.

Joshua took it to the front of the cave where there was light. He read a few words and immediately recognized the passage from the books of Moses. It concerned the children of Israel in the desert. He read the short fragment all the way through; then he read it again. He read it a third time. After that Joshua read the parchment several times a day.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

Truly, as his teacher said, this was the foundation of the entire law of God. Every ethical precept depended on this principle: ‘Love God’ along with the companion principle, ‘Love your neighbor.’ Joshua reflected on his duty to love God and to help all Israel to love God.

As Joshua contemplated love of God and man, the face of Miriam of Bethany suddenly burst into his mind. He smiled and was happy as he remembered his special love. He had been so focused on things of God that he had not thought of Miriam in days.

However, his joy turned to bitter sadness as Joshua realized he could not marry her. His work was so great and so dangerous that there would be no place for a wife, nor would it be fair to ask a wife to undertake such a burden. He would have to do his work alone; marriage was out of the question. A bit of the suffering became real.

He continued reading the parchment.

Be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Fear the Lord your God, serve him only.

When God came to Israel in Egypt, they were nothing but slaves; they had nothing and were nothing. But God delivered Israel from slavery and led them into the desert in order to prepare them for a land of their own. Once settled in their own land, they did forget God and didn’t serve him only. Joshua must restore true worship of God.

We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders – great and terrible – on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household.

Now, Joshua must deal with Rome which held Israel in bondage as Egypt did many generations ago. How was he to do it? With Egypt, God used signs and wonders. Perhaps, that was the approach. Miraculous power would both demonstrate God’s superiority over Rome and gather the people of Israel to the cause of the messianic kingdom.

But as Joshua continued, he read, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.’ The story of Massah was not in the parchment, but he remembered it. Israel was camped in the desert at Rephidim. There was no water there, and the people were thirsty and complained against Moses accusing him of murdering them all with thirst.

Moses answered, ‘Why do you put the Lord to the test?’

God provided water from the rocks, and Moses called the place Massah because the people tested the Lord by questioning, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’ Israel faces the same problem today, thought Joshua. People wonder, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’ and they show they do not believe he is because they do not trust him.

Joshua realized that, even though God performed marvelous wonders in Egypt to secure Israel’s release from slavery, they did not trust him to provide for them in the desert. They whined, complained, and accused at the first difficulty.

Joshua concluded that signs and wonders were not effective for leading people. They do not ensure trust and loyalty.

He read from the fragment:

Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey.

The children of God should express trust and obedience. As the son of God in the desert, Israel repeatedly failed at both. Joshua was now the son of God in the desert, and he would not fail.

The story continues next time.
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11 Responses to Encounter in the Desert Part 2: The Parchment

  1. michaeleeast says:

    A very interesting take on the period in the desert.
    Joshua now realizes he is the anointed one.
    He remembers the prophecies and tries to make them real.
    He struggles with his mission.
    This is a very human Jesus.
    We can all understand him.

    Like

    • Thanks Michael, that is what I am going for! I believe Jesus was more than just human, but he did not begin as a child knowing everything. How did his awareness develop? I think the temptation story gives us an idea.

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      • The story makes some good points that no level of signs and wonders will sustain people very long. The story of passover proves that.

        To your point about Jesus being more than human, I also think you and I and all of us are more than human, considering that “human” is only a scientific designation relating to the physical forms of walking upright and having a larger brain than other primates. I know atheists may disagree with this next bit, but for now I am holding on to the idea that there is also something we currently refer to as “spirit” as well. If so, Jesus said in a few different ways that we were all that he was, in that we share that same spirit he was preaching. I like that idea.

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        • CE I think I understand what you mean when you say we are all more than human. Jesus tells us that we can be much more than what humanity implies. But beyond that, I believe Jesus was unique.

          I cannot say for certain that he was pre-existent, though I suspect he was, but I do think he had an impact on us beyond inspiring us to be better people. Though he was not the only messenger from God, I believe he and his work was unique, and that work includes immortality.

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          • michaeleeast says:

            I believe that Jesus was a human being like any of us who made contact with God.
            His experience of God was so strong that he outshone any previous prophets.
            his revelation of God is the most profound even to this day.
            And God used his resurrection to show us that death is not the end.

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          • This is possible, Michael. But I think he was something more.

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          • That’s an interesting question Tim. Because if Jesus was in any way unique (besides maybe simply being “better” than us in every way) it makes me question how incredible the sacrafice would have been. Let’s face it, we all suffer tremendous pain in life and die a painful death. If Jesus was unique, and if he knew for sure that this life was just a blip in time, and that he would go back to being supreme ruler over all creation for eternity, how do I relate to that, and what makes it so special? (rhetorical question there, although you are free to answer it 🙂

            It actually seems that we suffer much more than Jesus if he had special powers and we don’t. And if he had a special hotline to God, how do we relate to that? I wonder how his death means anything special actually. We don’t have God counseling us through this life. If God sent part of himself, in a super-human form, to be tortured and die to satisfy himself, I am more confused than anything about what for?

            But if he was fully human (and fully enlightened) and died for us in the sense that Martin Luther King Jr. died for us (willing to die to share his message) then that starts to seem very worth our admiration.

            Thoughts?

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          • Eric, I agree with you that if Jesus came as something more than we are, knowing that his suffering would be temporary and followed by a much higher existence, there would be no great significance in his suffering, but I don’t know why his suffering is considered remarkable. Many have suffered more than he did.

            It sounds as though you might be drawing on a scenario of substitutionary atonement, where Jesus suffered and died to ‘save us from our sins’ and erase our sinfulness, so that God would be able to see us as holy through the blood of Jesus, once the penalty for our sins had been satisfied. His suffering for us is important in that theory.

            Don’t think so…

            Did you see Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”? I really don’t understand why some people focus so much on his suffering. It was bad! It was very painful! But I don’t see how that is the point. He did not come to die for our sins; he came to teach us of the Father and the gift of eternal life. His resurrection was the demonstration of his ability to give us eternal life, and in order to rise again he first had to die–publicly and unquestionably. No tricks here.

            Even the most famous passage in the Bible says this, though most people read other stuff into it: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

            It doesn’t say, as many people actually expand upon it, that God sent his son to die on the cross for our sins. There is no mention of being saved from hell or God’s wrath. Jesus came that we might have eternal life instead of perishing (ceasing to exist).

            In addition to the resurrection, his death demonstrated something further–the rejection of political and religious approaches to bringing in God’s new order. His mission was to bring a message and not to build a force.

            At least…this is how I understand it.

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  2. Pingback: Encounter in the Desert Part 1: The Cave | Jesus Without Baggage

  3. Pingback: The Temptation of Jesus in the Gospel of John | Jesus Without Baggage

  4. Pingback: Was Satan in the Desert with Jesus? | Jesus Without Baggage

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