Baptism of Jesus

The Empowerment of Approval (Temptation of Jesus in Desert pt.1)

The EMPOWERMENT of Approval

MATTHEW 4:1-11

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.

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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!!!!

JesusTemptedintheDesertIconAnd 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.

#Wade

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Coming Next:

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!)

Categories: Baptism of Jesus, Devotional, Jesus' Early Years, Lent, Testing in the Desert | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Baptism of Jesus pt.4 (Lost Art of Repentance)

THE LOST ART OF REPENTANCE

Mark 1:4-5 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”

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After 400 distressing years of God’s silence among the people, the very last of the Old Testament style prophets, John the Baptist, appeared out in the remote wilderness of Judea, in the model of Elijah, preparing the way for the arriving Lord.

giovannibattistatiepolo_john_the_baptist_preachingJohn was baptizing and calling on the swarming crowds to repent, but this wasn’t just any old ordinary message. No, John was crying out!  This word translated from the Greek “boao” meaning to raise a cry (either of joy or of pain) was the same word used by Jesus himself as he hung dying on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

This word was also used by a vulnerable father about his demon-possessed boy and by a blind/disabled beggar desperate for help (both in Luke).

Within this background in mind, we can hear that John the Baptist’s call was indeed a prophetic cry of desperation for those teeming crowds to please pay attention and act:  Get ready, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!

Nowadays, “repentance” isn’t a word that frequents our contemporary conversations, sadly even in many church settings.  At a visceral level, our cringing modern sensibilities somehow recoil at the mention of this word, and yet John the Baptist and Jesus himself (along with the apostles and New Testament authors) knew that repentance was key to the new life of fullness in Christ, and they did not shrink back from using that word or the concept it represented.

Out there in that Judean wilderness, two distinct groups came out to observe this phenomenon named John the Baptist, but only one of those two groups ultimately complied with God’s command to repent.

While the one group, the downtrodden average people (the weak and powerless crowds) did indeed repent and undergo John’s preparatory baptism, the other group, those powerful religious leaders did not; instead they were incensed.  In their self-righteous minds, they were irately asking themselves why this unqualified, inexperienced (within the church system/structure) preacher John the Baptist was summoning the Jewish rank-and-file to perform what was up to then a rite of purification required only for “lesser” Gentile converts to Judaism?  This leveling of the playing field was infuriating to them.

So John the Baptist confronted these religious leaders, who came out en masse to investigate, by labeling them a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 3 and Luke 3).  Very strong words!

Much like with Jesus (who used the same derogatory term to also accuse the self-righteous religious leaders in Matthew 12), and with Paul, Peter, John, and others later, we discover that the very softest words were most gently spoken to the struggling sinners who knew deep down that they urgently needed God (think prostitutes, tax-collectors, criminals, etc.), while the harshest words were reserved for the churchy people who look down on others who are not like them; those with differing customs, views, backgrounds than their own.

This was essential because those same religious church leaders were resting in their OWN self-righteousness and self-importance, and even in their religious ancestry, instead of relying on (and in) God.  In a sense, they showed they didn’t completely “need” God at all, but instead were manipulating their clerical positions to gain prestige and power over the weak and downtrodden.

Two thoughts for consideration:

First, we all must repent. The text intricately links repentance and the forgiveness of sins and John the Baptist’s message wasn’t only for a select few.  It was for all who came out to hear.  Repentance is necessary because it prepares and cultivates the soul’s soil in order for the good seed of the gospel to take root and flourish by bearing good fruit.   We who assume that we mostly have it all together compared to other people are way off track as we end up comparing ourselves to the wrong measuring standard (which really ought to be that of Christ’s perfection); so we end up fooling ourselves.  Instead, when the Spirit of God is calling, our tender hearts must be opened and listening. We must always be in the continual act of repenting; always receiving the grace of Christ.

Second, if we hear the word “repent” and get stuck thinking about the big sins (murder, violence, greed, and sexual immorality), we too get off track as well.  Of course we need to stop and repent if we’re involved in those obvious ways of falling short of God’s mark, but we must not miss the subtle more obscure sins that darken our souls; those that are found in subsequent layers as we dig deeper and deeper below the surface of our hearts.

In other words, we must go beyond repenting for the obvious bad and we must also repent for the non-obvious “good”, meaning those “good deeds” that are done  (in society, family, and in church, etc) for the wrong reasons:  Motivations of self-promotion, self-glorification, and self-centeredness are so less obvious and yet frequently so much more destructive.

Repent.  The Kingdom of God is here in Christ.

#Wade

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Baptism of Jesus, pt. 3 (Fulfill All Righteousness)

“TO FULFILL ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS”

Matthew 3:13-15  “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.  But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”  Then John consented.

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Why is Jesus so adamant about being baptized and exactly what did he mean when he said his reason was “to fulfill all righteousness”?

ImageAdditionally, this interaction during this baptism scene is only recorded by Matthew; the other gospel authors don’t even mention it. Why not?

The answer to this, simply put, was that Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience and they, unlike the Gentile audience being addressed by the other two synoptic writers (Mark and Luke) would be very confused as to why this Messiah would need to undergo baptism; a cleansing rite. Therefore Matthew goes into the details for their comprehension and he quotes Jesus’ stated reason as needing to be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness”.

Those Jewish readers, having the extensive background in Old Testament history and symbolism that they did, would then be able to make connections that Jesus’ life and ministry was to fulfill the Old Testament predictions, prophecies, and foreshadows they’d known and heard since childhood.

Very often Jesus spoke of these concepts related to himself and his arriving kingdom. The definitive example of this occurred on the Road to Emmaus (Lk.24) when the newly risen (and mysteriously unrecognized) Christ walked along with two down-trodden disciples, giving them a startling and concentrated Master’s level “survey class” on the Christological focus of the Old Testament culminating in his death and resurrection.

Let’s not mistake this, for the Jewish readers would have been confused indeed.

So while John the Baptist’s message to the teeming crowds was to repent and be baptized, the Messiah Jesus did not need to repent, and therefore his act of participating in this signifying rite of cleansing was for a different reason altogether: It was “to fulfill all righteousness”.

And, as it turned out, all the previous sacrifices and attempts at achieving righteousness for God were only effective in that they pointed towards Jesus’ sacrifice, and his application of his righteousness on our behalf.

Matthew gets to the heart of this in his gospel. The word translated fulfill, the Greek word “pleroo”, is the same word used by Matthew sixteen times in his gospel biography, mostly related to messianic fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.  This word is most interesting as it appears in 5:17 where Jesus explains he did not come to abolish the Law and Prophets but rather to fulfill them.

Retrospectively, we’ve come to understand that this term “Law and Prophets” is a synecdoche; a part representing the whole.  Of the whole Old Testament, in this instance, as it all related to Jesus and his embodiment and fulfillment of all prophecies, symbols, and foreshadows that pointed towards the future purification and righteousness that would only come from him by way of his death on our behalf.

This is why Jesus insisted on being baptized! It was for those lost and helpless crowds, for you, for me; for all of us who need Christ to make us righteous in God’s sight since we cannot do any of it ourselves.

#Wade

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Baptism of Jesus pt.2 (Declaration of Approval and Delight)

“DECLARATION OF APPROVAL AND DELIGHT”

Luke 3:22 “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased”

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This Luke 3 baptism passage gives us a glimpse into the true richness of the Father’s love for His beloved Son. As Jesus arises from the water, he audibly hears these striking words of affirmation: “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased” (vs.22). This phrase is spring-loaded with implications and applications. Notice the following:

baptism-affirmationFIRST, the most obvious is the eternal loving relationship of the Father and Son, and how they interact with one another in unity to accomplish their eternal purposes for the universe, the created order, and even mankind’s redemption. Certainly one of the purposes of this declaration of approval was to motivate and stimulate our Lord to faithful perseverance, as he was propelled directly into his forty days of testing in the desert immediately afterwards.

Imagine the loneliness and disconnection he might have felt otherwise without the timely reminder of that deep Fatherly love.

Can it be any accident that these very same words are spoken to Jesus up at the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt 17:5, etc, also 2Pet 1:17) at the tail end of his public ministry, right before his final journey towards the cross?

SECOND, implicit in these words of affirmation are ramifications for we who are “in Christ” (2 Cor 5) as well. Due to the application of the work of our Lord Jesus on our behalf (on the cross), we too become the recipients of the extensiveness of this adoring love and delight of God. In a sense, indeed all mankind, due to common grace, are loved. But those “in Christ” do experience the new life in all its fullness which includes the application of this Fatherly love towards his adopted sons/daughters; you and me.

THIRD, less noticeable, and quite surprising, is the timing of God’s declaration of approval here in these gospel baptism narratives. What is shocking, then, is not the CONTENT of The Father’s words but rather the TIMING.

Consider this: When the Father broke open the sky and pronounced to the universe (in our hearing) those words of approval and delight, Jesus had not even begun his public ministry. No public miracles or healings yet. Nope, Jesus hadn’t even begun his public ministry. Let’s permit this thought to sink in deeply!

The ramifications of this concept to our understanding of God’s grace as well as to our relationship and position “in Christ” are really enormous:

Unfortunately, our fallen human nature does not comprehend this on our own.  People across time have become very used to trying to earn other people’s approval and respect, and we therefore erroneously superimpose that view onto God. Subsequently, so much of religion throughout all millennia, across all continents and cultures, and deeply embedded into the flawed human heart is a false notion that we can only get God’s approval and love by our good works; our behavior as well as our religious traditions and rituals. But this is not accurate at all, and we can see why here in this passage.

The timing of the words of delight and approval come before the works have even begun. Wow!

How amazing the riches of God’s love and delight on His Son Jesus and on his sons/daughters adopted by grace, above and beyond (and often in spite of) our feeble efforts in trying to please God due to our own merits and attempts.

#Wade

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Baptism Of Jesus pt.1 (The Trinity)

“THE TRINITY: GOD IS THREE-IN-ONE”

Matthew 3:16-17  After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water ; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”   (read also cf. Mk 1:9-11, Lk 3:21-22, Jn 1:31-34)

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Trinity-560x560The foundational concept of the Trinity, which wasn’t specifically named until many years later, is very clearly, though mysteriously, in glorious display here at Jesus’ Baptism.  Our God, the God of the Bible, is not to be simplistically identified in any modalistic or any other (subsequently discredited) reductionistic framework.  Instead, in this Matthew 3 passage, and echoed across all four gospel narratives, the Trinity is evident:  God is one, there are three distinct persons of the godhead, and they work together in unity to accomplish God’s good purposes throughout eternity.

In the baptismic scene captured in these gospel narratives, each individual person of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) has a distinctly separate and yet simultaneous activity.  Packed into this dynamic narrative is a great deal of concise theological information, for at the moment Jesus comes up from the water, there is…

  • The Father– speaking words of affirmation and approval to the Son (more on this  in part 2).
  • The Son– willingly fulfilling all righteousness by being baptized (more on this in part 3).
  • The Holy Spirit– descending from the sky/heaven in bodily form, lighting upon Jesus, and signifying to John Baptist (by “remaining on him”) that Jesus is indeed the One whom history has been desperately waiting for; the Messiah.

In this baptismal scene at the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit took on the form of a dove.  This dove image is packed with important concepts for us to discover.  First, the dove is symbolic in biblical imagery referring to peace.  Second, the dove was the very poorest Jewish family’s sacrifice for sin (as they could not afford any other animal for sacrifice).  Third, the dove was the very item being sold in the Temple Courts by the moneychangers which infuriated our Lord so much upon arriving in Jerusalem.

In the Mark account of our Lord’s Baptism (1:9-11), Mark describes heaven as being “TORN open”; Mark writes using the Greek word “schizo” which means to be split into two and this was the very same word used later in Mk 15:38 of the veil of the Temple being violently ripped in half at the precise moment of Christ’s death on the cross … as he cried out, “It is finished”.

All three persons of the Trinity are at play here to launch Jesus’ public ministry, and all three persons of the Trinity always act in unity to accomplish God’s good purposes throughout eternity.

There is a lot that’s mysterious and unknown about all this, but the bit that we do know, much of it we get from these passages on our Lord’s Baptism.

#Wade

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