Jesus’ Early Years

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.


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.



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

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

Luke 2:22 When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29″Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.


guercino-presentation-jesus-temple-L34-fmRather than digging underneath the surface of this multi-faceted passage, scratching through subsequent layers of rich mineral deposits hunting for precious textual gems, instead let’s soar above at altitude and take the bird’s-eye view gazing down upon some of the big major themes that define our Lord Jesus. There are many here present in this illuminating text.

The HUMANITY of Jesus Christ.
When the time had come, according to Levitical law, for the purification of Mary (40th day after giving birth) and for the Presentation of Jesus (as firstborn son), the young family traveled to Jerusalem to visit the temple.  This was what was expected, so this is what was done.  Jesus, embracing the fullness of his human nature, participated in our human experience; including this childhood religious event.

Theologically speaking, God the Son, Jesus Christ, emptied himself (“kenosis” passage Phil 2:7) of the full rights and benefits he had enjoyed for all eternity past and he willingly and joyfully came into our world to fully identify with us in our humanity.  While maintaining his full divinity, he also took upon himself our full humanity; yet without sin (Heb 4:15).  Jesus Christ: fully divine and fully human. Exactly what we needed.

The POVERTY of Jesus Christ.
In the act of taking upon himself our full humanity at this particular place and time, our Lord Jesus chose to be born into one of the most disadvantaged and underprivileged living conditions imaginable.  God’s angel Gabriel wasn’t sent to the wife of a king, a rich successful businessman, or a renowned Sanhedrin religious leader.  Instead, he visited Mary; and in doing so, set wheels in motion that Jesus would be born to (and raised by) these very young, insignificant, unknown, and disadvantaged human parents living in poverty.

That Mary and Joseph had to present two small doves as their sacrificial offering (vs. 24) speaks volumes to their abject poverty (Lev 12:8).

Consider the extreme shift taking place here: Jesus Christ has transitioned from ultimate King and ruler of the universe into a lowly, needy, helpless, poverty-stricken little baby.  This is how much our Lord loves and adores us; not just being willing to, but actually fully identifying with our poverty, with our need, with our helplessness.

The RIGHTEOUSNESS of Jesus Christ.
In context of being born in human form to a poor Jewish family, God the Son came quietly into our world to accomplish the most important task imaginable: He was to live the perfect human life (without sin) and to completely fulfill the Old Testament covenantal law (vs 22) in such a way that fallen mankind could be redeemed.  In order for this to occur, Jesus was to manifest God’s righteousness in every way.  We recognize, in retrospect, a very early form of this here at the Presentation, and then years later at the baptism of Jesus in a more obvious way.

When Simeon took the baby Jesus into his arms (vs28), he proclaimed the glory of God packaged in that swaddling-cloth bundled baby. In verses 30-32 we read the Nunc Dimittis where Simeon, being filled with the Holy Spirit, telescopes the past, present, and future in announcing that his “eyes have seen God’s salvation” and that Jesus is indeed the embodiment of God’s doxa glory to Israel (and to ALL the nations).  The Righteous One they had been waiting on so desperately, that the prophets had foretold would someday come, had indeed come in the flesh.

As the Apostle Paul puts it, in his letter to the Galatian churches, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Gal 4:4-5).

The REMNANT of Jesus Christ.
Yet another big-picture theme observable in this Presentation text is that of the ever-present “remnant”.  In each age, place, and culture, God has faithful devotees who worship the Lord and wait expectantly for redemption.  Even in the most extremely depraved cultures and societies, when it seems even the Christian church is off the rails, there are always some who continue on as a remnant of faithfulness: Waiting for God’s perfectly appointed time for the fulfillment of redemption to come.

Consider the obvious Old Testament story of Noah building the ark amongst his extremely violence-plagued population (Gen 7).  And Joseph who retrospectively comprehends that his persecutions and problems came about in order that he would become the remnant (Gen 45:7). And consider the destruction of the quintessentially sexually immoral towns of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19).  And ponder the faithful remnant both staying and going in captivity to Assyria and Babylon (Kings and Chronicles).  And what about each of the prophets, speaking often to unbelieving faithless religiousness?

It seems that each hallmark story of the Old Testament highlights a devoted remnant that provides an ongoing thread of faithfulness that continues onward through history toward the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Llanos_Fernando-Presentation_of_Jesus_at_the_TempleIn this Presentation passage, we read of two such faithful followers: Simeon and Anna.  Simeon in vs 25 is described as “righteous and devout” and that the “Holy Spirit was upon him”.  Though we don’t know much more about this man, the text doesn’t tell us whether he was old or young (many believe him to be old because he says he’s ready to die upon seeing God’s salvation embodied, vs.29, but that’s conjecture) or whether he was a priestly leader or simply a faithful man worshiping in the temple courts.  What we do know, however, is that in a religious society that ultimately rejected God’s savior Jesus Christ, this man Simeon was one who recognized his glory and necessity.  Anna, the text tells us, was indeed old and her ancestry is listed.  Luke also describes that she was known to be always at the temple, worshiping day and night, fasting and praying.

But the point of the remnant isn’t the promotion or glorification of these individual people.  Not at all.  Instead, it’s the promotion and glorification of God who provides remnants to keep his redemptive plan going forward.  The intention is that the faithful remnant ultimately point towards the only truly faithful one; our Lord Jesus.

The DELIVERANCE by Jesus Christ.
Ultimately what Simeon and Anna, and all “remnants”, were waiting on was the promised deliverance that would come at God’s perfect appointed time.  The deliverance and rescue from sin, from evil, and the overall brokenness of fallen creation. Waiting for redemption.

Luke is very specific; he uses the Greek word “lutrosis” (vs.38) which is translated as redemption, a ransoming deliverance, especially from the penalty of sin.  This term only appears three times in the New Testament, being used twice by Luke and then also used once by the author of Hebrews who writes “and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12).

This rescue provided by Jesus would come at a cost, however, and we get a glimpse in the prophetic words of Simeon to Mary in vs.34-35: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  This counter-cultural redeemer would definitely bring deliverance, but NOT in the ways most would expect.  The masses wanted socio-political revolution, but the redeemer Jesus would bring rescue in a wholly different way: Not through strength, but through weakness.  Not through winning, but through dying.  Dying on the cross.

And in doing so, Jesus would illuminate the hearts of all nations as he truly was the “light for revelation to the Gentiles” proclaimed by Simeon that day.

So in this passage that the Church calls the “Presentation of Jesus at the Temple”, those are some of the major themes that direct our understanding of the person, nature, and salvific work of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Categories: Devotional, Jesus' Early Years | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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