|The Son affirms the cross: in the wilderness
HIS GLORY REIGNS
Dec 24 2010
'Baptism does not drown the devil,' was the striking response of Jerome to the teaching of Jovinian that baptism frees a
person for ever from the temptations of Satan. This passage makes it clear that even Jesus' baptism did not insulate
him from Satan's assault.
When Jesus stood in the Jordan River with John the Baptist, he was publicly identifying himself with the people the
Father had given him. That was a necessary part of the plan of redemption. It was also necessary that Jesus be
tempted by Satan in the wilderness. This is made clear by each of the Gospel accounts. Matthew says, 'Jesus was led
up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil' (Matthew 4:1). Mark states it more forcefully: 'And
immediately the Spirit drove him into the wilderness' (Mark 1:12). Luke joins Matthew in saying Jesus was 'led by the
Spirit into the wilderness' (Luke 4:1).
These verses help us put the temptation of Jesus in the right perspective. If we are not careful we can picture Jesus as
a poor victim of circumstances and see the plan of redemption tottering on the verge of disaster. A false reading of this
passage makes Satan the challenger and has us wondering if Jesus will be able to stand up against his assault. But it
was Jesus who was doing the challenging. It was part of God's plan that Jesus should encounter these temptations so
that he would be fully qualified to be the Redeemer. Jesus went into the wilderness, therefore, for the express purpose
of encountering Satan and defeating him. These temptations should not be viewed as tests to see if Jesus would sin,
but rather as opportunities to prove that he would not. When tire manufacturers put their tires on a truck, hoist it high in
the air and drop it, they do not do it so we can see if the tires blow out, but to prove that they will not.
What we have in the temptation, then, is God throwing the gauntlet down. Satan had succeeded in his temptations of
the first head of the human race, Adam, but another Adam was now on the scene as the representative head of
redeemed humanity. The Father here sends him into the wilderness and essentially says to Satan, 'Let's see how you
do with this Adam!'
In order to die for the sins of those given to him by the Father, Christ, the new Adam, had to be free from sin. Had he
sinned himself, he would have had to pay the penalty for his own sin and could not, therefore, pay for the sins of anyone
Satan, to be sure, sought every conceivable advantage, and when he finally confronted Jesus it looked as if he had
more advantages than he enjoyed in Eden. There he stalked Adam in a paradise; but here Jesus was in a wilderness.
Adam had been well fed, with liberty to eat of all the trees of the garden except one; but Jesus had been fasting for forty
days, and the pinch of hunger was very real. Furthermore, Adam had not been alone, having been given Eve as a
companion; but the only companions the Lord Jesus had were the wild beasts (Mark 1:13).
So the stage was set. The first Adam had failed under the most favourable of circumstances, but the last Adam had now
stepped into the arena to take up the fight.
Satan assailed Jesus with three temptations, each of which was designed to entice him to fail in a crucial aspect of his
mission. Each of the temptations also represents a duplication of the tactics that Satan had successfully employed
The temptation to doubt God's goodness
The first temptation was designed to entice Jesus to doubt the goodness and the care of his Father. We can call it the
'Is God really good?' temptation.
Satan began with Eve in the same way. God had allowed Adam and Eve to eat of every tree in the garden except the
tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan attacked at that point by asking, 'Has God indeed said, "You shall not eat
of every tree of the garden"?' (Genesis 3:1). His insinuation was clear. If God were really as good as he would have
Adam and Eve to believe, he would have allowed them to eat of all the trees without any exceptions.
Now let us move rapidly forward in time to the scene in the wilderness. Jesus was in the wilderness after his Father had
said, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased' (Matthew 3:17). And not only was he in the wilderness, but he
was extremely hungry. So Satan moved in to suggest that if God were really his Father he would not allow him to be
hungry and Jesus should, therefore, use his own power to supply for himself what the Father had failed to supply.
Had Jesus done so, he would have failed to do the very thing that he so often said he had come to do - namely, the
Father's will. But Jesus did not fail. He quoted the words of Deuteronomy 8:3: 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by
every word that proceeds from the mouth of God' (Matthew 4:4). By quoting this verse, Jesus was asserting that he had
no need of food in order to know the Father was good. His Word was sufficient evidence for that.
The temptation to achieve good through disobeying
The second temptation can be called the 'Bad is good' temptation - that is, that something that appears to be evil is not
really evil at all.
In the Garden of Eden, Satan assured Eve that the good she and Adam stood to receive - becoming like God - far
outweighed any evil they might incur (Genesis 3:4-5). It worked so well in Eden that Satan tried the same approach
here. This temptation took up the issue Jesus had raised in responding to the first temptation. Jesus had asserted that
the Word of God was sufficient to prove the goodness of God, so Satan essentially said, 'I see you trust the Word of
God. That's good. Why not prove the truth of it by leaping from the pinnacle of the temple? After all, the Word of God
says he will send his angels to make sure no harm comes to you.'
So Satan was asserting that Jesus would not die, but rather would achieve great good. Not only would the Father
ensure his safety, but his Messiahship would be proven beyond any shadow of doubt. Hence good would spring from
what appeared to be evil.
Jesus firmly responded to this temptation by again quoting from the book of Deuteronomy: 'It is written again,"You shall
not tempt the Lord your God'" (Matthew 4:7). To seek to force the Father to do what we want done when we want it
done is not to trust, but to doubt. Had Jesus failed to trust the Father with whom he had planned the redemption of
sinners, there would have been no redemption.
The temptation to act on the basis of emotion
The final temptation can be called the 'Doesn't this look good?' Satan succeeded with Eve by enticing her to look upon
the beauty of the forbidden tree and to note how pleasant its fruit appeared to be (Genesis 3:6). In doing so, he
short-circuited the way in which God designed Adam and Eve to function. That way consisted of truth coming to the
mind, the emotions being moved by that truth and then the mind and emotions together moving the will. But Satan
succeeded in bypassing the mind with Eve so that she chose on the basis of emotion rather than the truth of God.
Satan attempted the same with Jesus by giving him a panoramic view of all the kingdoms of the world. The emphasis
was on the splendour, the beauty, the desirability of these kingdoms - that it, how they appealed to the eye. Satan was
clearly seeking to excite the affections of Jesus and entice him to put them above everything else. He was seeking to
get Jesus to disobey what he knew to be the truth of God. God's will was for Jesus to have dominion through his death
on the cross. But Satan tried to destroy Jesus' commitment to that truth by offering him dominion without his having to
travel the pathway of the cross.
Jesus responded by drawing from Deuteronomy 6:13: 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only you shall
serve' (Matthew 4:10). Given the opportunity to renounce the Father who sent him and the cross to which he was sent,
the Lord Jesus Christ powerfully affirmed both. He was victorious over Satan.
But let us never forget what that victory was all about. It was not merely for himself that Jesus fought. He came to
purchase those whom the Father had given him, and this victory allowed him to die in their stead. He could not have
died for others if he had any sin of his own. His victory is our victory because it demonstrated him to be the spotless
Lamb of God and qualified to die for us.
JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.
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