15 August 2021

Into the Wilderness


After his baptism, the Spirit drove Jesus into the Wilderness where he was tested by the Devil. But he succeeded where Israel failed

After his baptism, the Spirit “drove Jesus into the wilderness... for forty days and nights,” just as Moses found himself alone on Mount Sinai when he received the Law. Like Israel, Christ was “tested,” but unlike that nation, he overcame every test and emerged victorious from the desert “full of the Holy Spirit.

Just as Moses did not eat during his “forty days and forty nights” on the Mountain, so also Jesus “fasted” the entire time he was in the Wilderness.

And not coincidentally, his temptation precedes his ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in which he pronounces his authoritative applications of the Law of Moses.

  • (Matthew 4:1-2) - “Then was Jesus led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the Devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he afterward hungered.
  • (Deuteronomy 8:2) - “You will remember all the way which Yahweh your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, to test you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not.
  • (Deuteronomy 9:9) – “When I was gone up into the mount to receive the tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant which Yahweh made with you, then I abode in the mount forty days and forty nights; I did neither eat bread nor drink water.

EVERY WORD


Led by the Spirit.” All three synoptic gospels leave no doubt that it the Spirit of God leads or “drives” Jesus to this encounter with Satan. He is under divine necessity. As the Messiah, he must succeed where Israel failed – (Mark 1:12, Luke 4:1).

  • (Matthew 4:3-4) – “And the tempter came and said to him, If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.

The first temptation recalls the incident when the Israelites murmured against Moses and longed for the “fleshpots of Egypt.” Nevertheless, Yahweh responded graciously by feeding Israel with “manna” from heaven - (Exodus 16:1-4).

Now, Jesus responds to the Devil by citing the passage in Deuteronomy that describes the miraculous feeding of Israel with manna:

  • (Deuteronomy 8:3) – “And Yahweh humbled you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you knew not, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh does man live.

Unlike Israel, he does not complain or mutter against God because of his hunger. Instead, he submits to the will of His Father.

TEST NOT GOD


  • (Matthew 4:5-7) – “Then the Devil took him into the holy city; and he set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning you; and, On their hands, they shall bear you up, lest haply you dash your foot against a stone. Jesus said to him, Again it is written, You shall not test the Lord your God.

Ironically, having declared that the Messiah lives by every word that comes out of the “mouth of the Lord,” Satan next uses one of those words to tempt Jesus into committing a rash act.

Since devout Jews expect the Messiah to appear in the Temple, would it not advance his mission if he descended safely from the “pinnacle of the Temple” and landed gently in its courts before the nation at worship? – (Malachi 3:1).

Israel “tested” Yahweh with their complaints, and more than once, but Jesus refuses to do so. At his baptism, the voice from heaven declared him to be the “beloved Son,” but he is summoned to fulfill that role as the “servant of Yahweh” who “suffers” for his brethren. This Messiah will be manifested to Israel in his submission and suffering, not in impressive displays of royal or military might – (Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 42:1, Matthew 3:17).

Again, Jesus responds by citing a passage from Deuteronomy - “You shall not test Yahweh your God, as you tested him in Massah.” And at Massah, Israel complained once more - (Deuteronomy 6:16):

  • … And there was no water for the people to drink. Wherefore, the people strove with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said to them: Why do you strive with me? Why do you test Yahweh?” - (Exodus 17:1-3).

The gospel of Matthew intends for us to read this scriptural background into the testing of Jesus (“You shall not test the Lord your God”). And once again, where Israel failed the Messiah overcomes the Tempter.

WORSHIP GOD ALONE


  • (Matthew 4:8-10) – “Again, the Devil took him to an exceeding high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and he said to him, All these things will I give you, if you wilt fall down and worship me. Then said Jesus to him, Get you hence, Satan: for it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.

The next temptation is all too real. At his baptism, the heavenly voice alluded to the second Psalm, a messianic passage that prophesied that God’s “anointed” would inherit all the world kingdoms - (Psalm 2:7-8, Matthew 3:17).

What the Devil now offers Jesus is his by divine decree. Strikingly, he does NOT dispute Satan’s right to grant sovereignty over all the governments of the earth, which, no doubt, includes the Roman Empire.

Imagine all the good that he could do if he wields the might and majesty of Rome! If anyone deserves unlimited political power, it is the Son of God! Nevertheless, he rejects the offer out-of-hand, and, in doing so, he quotes from the same passage he just cited to fend off the second temptation:

  • You shall fear Yahweh you God; and him shall you serve… You shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the peoples that are round about you; for Yahweh, your God is a jealous God; lest the anger of Yahweh your God be kindled against you and he destroys you from off the face of the earth. You shall not test Yahweh your God, as you tested him in Massah - (Deuteronomy 6:13-16).

Having completed his test, the Devil departs, and angels “came and ministered to him.” According to Luke, Satan “departed from him for a season,” indicating this is not his final attempt to derail Christ’s mission. On at least one other occasion, he again tempts Jesus with political power - (John 6:15).

Precisely how the angels “ministered to him” we do not know. However, having overcome every test by the Devil, Jesus next “returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee.

Only now does he begin to proclaim the kingdom of God, and under the direction and empowerment of the Spirit. But his messianic mission begins in conflict as the Devil gathers his forces to stop Jesus, and so, also, his mission will end in conflict and death at the hands of his enemies.



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