The EMPOWERMENT of Approval
1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ “ 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ “ 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ “ 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ “ 11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
Immediately after Jesus is baptized by John, he is led by the Holy Spirit directly into the desert for a crucial preliminary test of his character and mission. It. is. ON!!!!
And it boils down to this: Does Jesus indisputably believe the words of affirmation and approval spoken earlier by the Father at the river? Can Jesus (in his humanity) truly rest in and rely upon his Father’s goodness and love to provide and guide him along the journey towards fulfilling his mission? Or will the enemy be able to plant enough of a doubt in his mind to warp and twist Jesus into being willing to short-cut the redemptive plan?
Some important considerations stand out in this passage. In this first part of a three part Lenten series, the focus will be on the immediate link between Jesus’ baptism and his being tested in the wilderness.
And what might that link between those two events be? It is the empowerment that comes in hearing the fatherly words of approval and affirmation.
No doubt the words Jesus had just heard from the Father, “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17, Lk 3:22), were emotionally and spiritually energizing. To rise up from the water and be reminded of this eternal all-encompassing delight would certainly empower Jesus for any task that might be ahead, one would think.
The immediate task for Jesus was this preliminary forty days of fasting (and, we’d surmise, praying) in the desert before his official public ministry was to be launched. This Greek word “eremos” translated desert or wilderness (v.1) describes a very solitary, lonely, desolate, and secluded place. Think about it: There’s no audible voice of the Father heard there, and there’s no Holy Spirit descending in bodily form as a dove there either. Jesus is alone and lonely. He’s away from crowds and all by himself. In essence, Jesus has been dropped from spiritual “high” to “low” almost immediately. It’s so obvious, and so many of us have experienced this type of abrupt transition, though not in such an extreme form, that it’s almost predictable; even expected.
How it all began was that right at Jesus’ weakest point, when hunger pangs were the strongest, the enemy came to tempt him. In reality, the word “temptation” doesn’t even begin to do justice to the cosmic battle that was being played out in the desert.
Here’s why: The word tempted, translated from the Greek “peirazo”, means to try, to attempt, to conduct a trial. What was taking place was more than simply the devil testing Jesus’ character to see if he was a good (god-man) person. No; it was a three-pronged (pun intended) attempt to powerfully sabotage Jesus’ redemptive calling. Not so ironically, this word “peirazo” was used six times by Matthew in his gospel: Two times about the devil and four times about the Pharisees and religious leaders. Notice the not-so-subtle connection there. Basically, it was about anything and everything to keep Christ away from the cross for obvious reasons: No cross, no redemption!
The FIRST assault of this three-pronged attack came by way of the devil masterfully manipulating God’s words of affirmation “You are my son…” when he intimated to Jesus that if that statement was indeed accurate, and if God was truly a loving Father who would give a hungry son bread, not a stone (see Mt 7:9 for the context), Jesus should then use his divine powers to miraculously change stones into bread. “You are starving, why not?” we could imagine the private dialog playing out. “If you died of starvation, what good would you be to anyone anyway, let alone fulfill a redemptive plan from eternity past?”
Jesus countered that first assault by quoting scripture, Deuteronomy 8:3, where it is written that “man doesn’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”. Jesus had other bread, other food, to fuel him in his faithfulness. He had the powerfully energizing words of approval and affirmation to ruminate on; his food was God’s word!
The SECOND assault was when the Satan took Jesus (likely in a vision?) to the holy city to stand at the very tip-top peak of the Jerusalem Temple. Again, the enemy is strongly manipulating those baptismic words of affirmation by again asking, “if you are the Son of God…” IF! Another “if”! The accuser tends to try to cast doubt and confusion over the veracity of the love of the Father.
But Jesus had focus. The empowerment of fatherly approval and affirmation helped bring the fortitude and longsuffering necessary in order to thwart this obvious attempt to get Jesus to “show off” and earn human worship by jumping from the peak. The enemy’s plan, it seems, was that the angels would somehow catch Jesus, or that Jesus would float down safely like a cat with nine lives. Though we can only speculate what might have happened had he jumped, and of course he wouldn’t have and he didn’t, but the intended result would be that the people would worship Jesus NOW, apart from his going the full journey towards the cross and resurrection; thereby disrupting the cosmic redemptive plan.
So Jesus blocked this potential sabotage like he did the first attempt, by quoting scripture. In this instance, it was Deuteronomy 6:16. He would not put his God, his Father, the one who loves and delights in him, to the test by performing magic tricks like some first century David Copperfield or Criss Angel sleight-of-hand master magician. No! Certainly it is true that Jesus would indeed earn worship, that one day “every knee would bow ” (Isa 45:23, Rom 14:11, Phil 2:10-11) and that even the “stones would cry out” (Lk 19:40) under his kingship, but this would take place later, and for something wholly different and something that would have cosmic and eternal consequences.
Finally the THIRD assault took place when the enemy showed Jesus all the kingdoms and nations of the world in what Luke describes as “an instant”. An instantaneous victory-reel of visionary footage intended to nudge Jesus to accept his due power now, before the cross; to try and get Jesus to institute his royal kingdom on earth now, completely apart from the death and resurrection that awaited him down the road.
Jesus thwarted this attack by quoting scripture as well. He quoted Deuteronomy 6:13 to insist that the worship that would indeed be due to himself should most appropriately be directed to the LORD God in their full trinitarian glory, not prematurely only to Jesus himself outside of his upcoming redemptive act on the cross, death, and resurrection. The three persons of the trinity act, work, and love in unity to accomplish God’s good purposes throughout eternity. The kingdom would come, and the kingdom was here (in Christ), but on God’s terms, obviously not on Satan’s or anyone else’s terms.
So much was taking place in this packed narrative and so much more could be said, but in a nutshell, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit of God into the desolate wilderness for a preparatory period of forty days before the official public launch of his redemptive ministry. In his solitude and hunger, he feasted on the Word of God; especially those recent audible words of approval and affirmation. His power during these attacks was that his eternal Father delighted all-encompassingly in his eternal Son, and this brought empowerment and faithfulness for the journey ahead.
Part 2: The Embodiment of Scripture (What is up with the quoting back and forth of Old Testament verses? What does it all mean?)
Part 3: The Embracing of Calling (There is one thing lacking between all that Jesus had then, and all he would have after the cross, and that makes all the difference; to him and to us!)