The Anointed One is anointed by the Spirit and his identity is confirmed by the audible voice of Father God. (Matthew 3:16-17)
Jesus is now ready to preach and perform miracles, right?
Well, not exactly.
After his baptism, the Holy Spirit casts Jesus out into the desert (Mark 1:12). The verb Mark uses, ekballo, is the same word used in Mark 1:34, “[Jesus] also cast out many demons….” This is no random walk in the woods. This is specific, purposeful God-business.
Like Moses and Elijah before him, Jesus fasts for forty days in the desert–the haunt of demons. When he is disabled from exposure and hunger, when his human flesh is extremely vulnerable to temptation, Satan comes.
What’s going on here?
Why would the Holy Spirit cast out the Son of God into the desert to the point of death? Why would God allow Satan to assault Jesus at the moment of his greatest vulnerability?
This is high drama.
God is orchestrating the cosmic collision between two ‘worlds’ and two ‘rulers’. The outcome of this encounter will determine the success of the ministry of Jesus. The outcome of this power encounter will determine the fate of humanity.
Jesus has come to establish God Country; to assume leadership of God’s kingdom of light. Satan has no intention of relinquishing his position as the reigning ‘prince of darkness’. (Ref: John 12:31)
But, Jesus is God. Why doesn’t he just zap the devil?
Matthew and Luke previously affirmed the DIVINITY of Jesus by recounting his virginal birth. Now they also affirm his HUMANITY: Jesus in abject human frailty confronting Satan in the fullness of his strength.
This is important for us to consider, since each of us must also contend with the temptations of the devil. Here Jesus leads the way, confronting Satan on the very same turf where we will one day struggle with our own flesh.
One early ‘Christian’ heresy claimed that Jesus wasn’t really human–truly God, yes, but without human passions and ambitions or even a physical body.
Those false teachers could not conceive of a divine figure who would also be fully human (as we are human): with personal weaknesses, irrational drives, intense desires and flaming passions. Those teachers would have viewed these three temptations as melodrama, lacking actual substance.
Was Jesus in his humanity as prone as we to
the lust of the flesh – human passions, desires and drives
the lust of the eyes – human covetousness, and
the boastings/pride of life – human ambition and pride in the accomplishments, acquisitions and advancements in this world? (1 John 2:16)
The New Testament writers would say, Yes.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)
Because [Jesus] himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18)
…since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we possess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who is tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:14-15)
Tempted in every way?
Ponder for a moment the implications of that statement….
Yet did not sin. Ponder that one, too….
The temptation accounts are no more than empty myth unless the temptations were real AND the struggle to avoid sin was actual.
In Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13, we see Jesus tempted in three ways. Each temptation strikes at the heart of his identity as God’s Messiah (to the Jews) and God’s calling on his life as Savior (of the world).
How will Jesus conduct himself?
Will he choose fallen, human strategies to establish his rule over the earth? Will he resort to crass public relations and manipulation to attract people to him?
Or, will he follow the specific course God planned for him from the foundation of the world?
The former would be much easier. The latter will cost him his dignity and his life.
These temptations are real–the struggle is real–the continuing choices to live as a slave to his flesh or as a bond-slave to the Spirit of God? (Check out Romans 7 for a description of flesh-life vs. Romans 8 for Spirit-life.)
Jesus is not exempt from the human condition. He must choose (as must we). NOTE TO SELF: the eventual outcomes could not be more different. (Drop in on Galatians 5)
As always, Jesus goes first, inviting us to follow. As we follow, our own identity and calling are tested by temptations matched to our weaknesses. As I am tested, I come
- to understand how the tempter manipulates my human flesh to “steal, kill and destroy” my life – while that devil is attempting to sabotage my assignment in the Mission of Jesus (John 10:10a), and
- to understand how Jesus triumphed over his own flesh (where everyone before him failed) by countering with God’s truth the lies of the devil , thereby showing us the way of escape.
THE FIRST TEMPTATION
When God rescued Israel (referred to as God’s son) from Egypt, he led them into the desert for a time of formation, instruction and testing. (Deuteronomy 8:3; 6:16; 6:13)
Despite the supernatural demonstrations of God’s presence and tender love, the new People of God failed to rise to their new identity. (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 14:1; Psalm 80) They failed the testing. (Exodus 16 & Numbers 11)
Now God’s Son (in the form of Jesus of Nazareth) comes as a bond-slave to ‘retake the test’ on behalf of God’s People.
The devil: If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread. (4:3)
We can only imagine the reasoned persuasion that lie beneath this simple statement. Perhaps such things as:
Use your newly acquired powers of the Holy Spirit to put an end to this God-initiated fast. You are weak. You are at risk. You are endangering your health. You might starve. How will you complete your Mission if you are dead?
Surely God wouldn’t give you these powers unless he intended you to use them. God certainly expects you to provide life’s necessities for yourself.
You created this world. You created these stones. They belong to you. Tell them to be bread and they will obey. This is a snap for you.
It is written, man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Deuteronomy 8:4)
What’s going on here?
Deuteronomy 8:1 tells us the purpose of Israel’s desert wanderings (with resultant hunger) was to provide a stage on which God might teach his newly formed People that true life is based upon absolute dependence on God and His word for everything, and to show loving care for his People by miraculously providing water, super-food manna and quail to meet their nutritional needs.
Mankind is more than biology. We are more than animals. We are created in the image of God, and as such, our spiritual food is primary—our calories secondary.
At stake is whether Jesus will choose to live on the basis of this truth, no matter the consequences.
The devil counsels Jesus to take a short-cut by inverting the true order of things.
God obviously isn’t coming through for you. You’d best wait no longer. Take care of business while you still can.
What if Jesus had followed the devil’s counsel?
Would he have then followed suit by garnering a following through bribes of free food?
Jesus does want to meet the needs of hungry people. In John 6 he acts in harmony with the Spirit to miraculously feed thousands of seekers. When the diners try to make him King (as the source of free food), he cuts them short with this statement, Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you.
Jesus–God’s Son–is the bread of life. He is our ‘food’–our relational source of life. Like caloric food, he is to be savored, internalized, digested, distributed into every ‘cell’ in our lives (body, soul & spirit), where His Life nourishes our life.
Jesus chooses not to take a short-cut to kingship. He will not live independently of the Father. He will not duplicate the rebellion of Adam and Eve. He will not duplicate the rebellion of Israel in the desert.
Jesus will do only what he sees the Father doing. (John 5:19) He will speak only what he hears the Father saying. (John 8:28; 12:49-50)
Where Israel failed in the desert, Jesus succeeds. In so doing, he sets the example for his People to follow and opens the way to our success.
Having passed the test, Jesus is ready to get to work healing the sick, castng out demons and evangelizing the poor, right?
Well, not exactly.
Two tests remain.
Read on in Part 3 of THE MISSION STAEMENT OF JESUS – All Things True are Tested (Conclusion)