If I showed you this book (“Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak) would you recognize it? It is an award winning story that parents have been reading to their children for over 45 years. In it there is a little boy named Max who makes mischief of one kind and another. His mother sends him off to his room to think about his misbehaviour. While there He imagines himself traveling in and out of weeks to a far away place – a place where the the wild things are. And there he becomes king of all the wild things. Together they run wild with reckless abandon. But he is not happy, he is lonely and wishes to be back where someone loves him best of all. And so he returns and finds that all is right in the world. His supper is waiting for him because even though his mother has punished him, she still loves him.
The reason this story has been so popular for so many generations is that it resonates deeply with both our wild and rebellious nature that seeks to be King of all Wild Things, and our insecure nature that needs to know that we are still loved. Everyone understands what it is like to be Max. Everyone has stubbornly separated themselves from the company of others who wouldn’t play by our rules. And harsh words, accusations, grudges and pride soon rear their ugly head. Everyone has retreated into the wilds of carefree life and then found themselves all alone and facing down a horde of things that threaten. Things far worse than monsters. Temptations and failures, disease and accidents, uncertainty and fear, guilt and blame. And try as you might, you cannot always stare these down into submission. As good as you are you cannot always rule over them.
Sadly, for too many Max’s, it is only then and there – alone and in the wilderness – that they begin to realize that they can never be King … for out there is an enemy behind each of these horrible wild things. An enemy too great and terrible to be faced alone. The wildest of all the wild things. An enemy that will use your rebellion to subjugate and destroy you. An enemy that stores up all the harsh words, accusations, grudges and pride, ready to fling them back at you in the worst possible moment. An enemy who is waiting – eager – to find you out there all alone. He is of course the devil – what a children’s story you say? A fable, a myth? If only that were true! He is real dear friends. And he waits for you in the wild places. As Dr. Luther wrote in the Large Catechism:
Therefore, like a furious foe, [the devil] raves and rages with all his power and might, marshaling all his subjects and even enlisting the world and our own flesh as his allies. For our flesh is in itself vile and inclined to evil (a wild thing), even when we have accepted and believe God’s Word. The world, too, is perverse and wicked. These he stirs up, fanning and feeding the flames, in order to hinder us, put us to flight, cut us down, and bring us once more under his power. This is his only purpose, his desire and thought. For this end he strives without rest day and night, using all the arts, tricks, ways, and means that he can devise. Therefore we who would be Christians must surely count on having the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies and must count on their inflicting every possible misfortune and grief upon us.1
It would be a sad and frightening story if were sent out into the wilderness of this life to face this enemy alone. But we are not alone dear friends. This story has been told before, and with a much happier ending! Someone has gone out there before us! Someone has blazed a trail through the heart of the wilderness. He has been right up to the very haunt of all that is wild and threatening and He has subdued it all. (12-13) The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
Just as Max is sent to his room by his mother, Jesus is driven – compelled into the wilderness by the Spirit and at the urging of His Father. But He is not unwillingly or unwittingly forced into it. No, He would have gone anyway for this is the very reason He came. To meet the enemy on the field of battle and win a victory that we never could. To do battle with the King of the Wild Things, making safe paths through the wilderness for us again.
Mark it well: for forty days He was with the wild beasts in the wilderness. It was the haunt at night of the wolf, the boar, the hyena, the jackal, the leopard. It was lonely and depressing in its isolation and even dangerous. For forty days He withstood the unceasing attacks of Satan, who endeavored, with all his devilish power and cunning, to hinder the work of redemption. But the Savior conquered, He routed the devil. It could not have been any other way. The path of victory for Jesus lay through temptation, loneliness, suffering, pain, grief and death. But it is a path that ends in glory and resurrection and everlasting life.
And it is the path that with His help we now trod. For we walk with the New King over all the wild things. It is a way full of wild things for sure. But now they are de-fanged and de-clawed. They may frighten us for a time, but they cannot stop us. We will suffer temptation, loneliness, pain, grief and one day even death, but after that comes the resurrection and the glory of everlasting life. It is the journey in miniature that we travel through the season of lent, on into Holy Week, pausing on Good Friday and then reaching on Easter Sunday.
It is a journey in and out of weeks and through the years that God is continually strengthening us to complete. Building us up through His Strong Word which has called us out in Baptism, forgiven us in the preaching of the cross, strengthened our Faith In His Body and Blood. A Strong Word of repentance and sins forgiven, and the Kingdom of God right here at hand. A Strong Word to defeat the Wild Things that He has placed in our hearts and upon our lips.
Therefore, there is just as much need in this case as in every other case to pray without ceasing: “Thy will be done, dear Father, and not the will of the devil or of our enemies … and grant that whatever we must suffer on its account, we may patiently bear and overcome, so that our poor flesh may not yield or fall away through weakness or indolence.” … Such prayer must be our protection and defense now to repulse and beat down all that the devil … Let [him] rage and do [his] worst, let [him] plot and plan how to suppress and exterminate us so that [his] will and scheme may prevail. One or two Christians, armed with this single petition, shall be our bulwark, against which the others shall dash themselves to pieces. It is our solace and boast that the will and purpose of the devil and of all our enemies shall and must fail and come to naught, no matter how proud, secure, and powerful they think they are.2
1 Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The book of concord : The confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church (428). Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 62-65
2 Ibid 67, 69-70