By J.R. Miller
Matthew 3:13 to 4:11
The beginning of Christ's ministry was marked by two important events--His baptism and His temptation. These were thirty silent years, without any manifestation of Divine power, except the beautiful, sinless life which Jesus lived. We must think of those years, however, as part of the Incarnation. The Divine character was revealed not only in miracles and heavenly teachings--but in sweet, beautiful living.
John said that he was not worthy to unloose the shoes of the Coming One. Now when he recognizes this glorious One waiting before him to be baptized, he shrinks from the performance of the rite. He would have refused. "I have need to be baptized of You, and do You come to me?" But Jesus insisted on receiving baptism from John. "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." The words are full of meaning. The event was of great importance in the life of Jesus.
For one thing, it was the identifying of Himself with humanity. He stood for us men and our redemption. He had no sin--but His people were sinful and He died for them. It was also the acceptance by Jesus of His Messianic work. The years of preparation were ended, and the time had come for Him to begin His public ministry. The call came, bidding Him turn away from His quiet life--and manifest Himself to His people. We can think of Him shutting up the carpenter's shop and leaving it forever. Then He stood before the Baptist at the Jordan and was baptized. He had a glimpse that hour of all that lay before Him in His Messianic ministry. The shadow of the cross fell upon the green banks and on the flowing water, fell also upon the gentle and lowly soul of Jesus as He stood there. He knew for what He was being baptized--the mission of redemption. We do not know to what we are devoting ourselves, what our consecration may mean--when we stand up and give ourselves to God. In a certain sense we go forth in the dark. Yet we may trust God with the guidance of our lives and should devote ourselves to the will of God without question or condition.
John obeyed the wish of Jesus and baptized Him. The baptism of Jesus became the occasion of a Divine testimony to His Sonship. Luke tells us that as He was being baptized He prayed, and as He prayed the heavens were opened unto Him. Prayer brought down upon Jesus, the Holy Spirit. This was Heaven's answer to Christ's consecration. This was the Divine anointing for His public ministry. Instead of a horn of oil poured upon His head, the mere emblem of grace, He received all the fullness of the Spirit.
The Spirit came in the form of a dove. It is usual to think of the dove as in its nature, in some way a symbol of the character and disposition of the Spirit. Dr. Horton quotes an old commentator: "The dove is a lover of men and bears ills patiently; for, robbed of its young, it endures and lets the robbers approach it just the same; it is the purest of creatures and delights in sweet frangrances." The first mention of the dove in the Bible is as a messenger of good news, bearing an olive leaf. An old legend relates that when Jesus was dying a dove sat on the cross above His head, and the legend has been interpreted to mean that even after the blood of the Lamb of God was given to redeem the world, it is needful that the Spirit shall come to soften men's hearts and incline then to yield to God.
There was another manifestation at the baptism--first, the open heavens, second, the descending of the Spirit, then a voice. The voice was the testimony of the Father to His Son. "This is My beloved Son, in who I am well pleased." From Matthew's account it would seem that the voice spoke to the people, declaring to them that Jesus was the Messiah. From Luke's Gospel it would appear that the words were spoken to Jesus Himself, assuring Him of His mission and of the Father's pleasure in Him. This was the real, the inner meaning of the baptism of Jesus. From this time, His consciousness of messianic authority was clear.
After this came the temptation. It was necessary that Christ should be tempted, before He offered Himself as the Redeemer of sinners. The first Adam was tried in Eden and failed. The second Adam must also be put to the test, before he could go forth as Lord of men. Several reasons may be suggested why He must be tempted. One was because He was human and must meet every human experience. His temptations were real--He "suffered being tempted." Another reason was that until He had met and overcome the tempter, He was not ready to offer Himself to men as a strong and victorious Savior. The Holy Spirit is not the tempter--but it is said expressly that Jesus was led by the Spirit, driven, Mark says, to be tempted. He must be tried, tested, proved--before He went forth to His messianic work.
We know now that Christ is able to deliver us out of the hands of Satan, and to defend us against his fiercest assaults. But if He had not Himself been put to the test, in all points tempted like as we are--yet without sins (Hebrews 4:15), we could not have had this perfect confidence. Another reason why Jesus was tempted, was that He might understand from personal experience, the nature and power of His people's temptations, and thus be able to sympathize with them in their struggles. In the Epistle to the Hebrews we are told that because of His earthly experience of temptation, He can now in heaven be touched with the feelings of our infirmities.
There are very practical lessons we may learn from this narrative of our Lord's temptation. One is that Satan times his temptations to our hours of weakness, or our period of special stress. He does not tempt us with something we do not want--but with something that appeals to our cravings at the time. Jacob cold not have brought Esau's birthright for a thousand bowls of pottage, if Esau had not been hungry that day. Satan watches, and when he finds us exhausted and weary--he takes advantage of our condition. He comes to the boy when he is lonesome and homesick, tempting him to seek companions that will ruin him.
Jesus was hungry after His long praying and fasting--and Satan tempted Him to use His Divine power to turn stones into bread. Many temptations come to people who are hungry. They are tempted to be dishonest, to take employment that is sinful, or in some other way to sell themselves--to get bread. We need to be watchful against the tempter always--but especially in the times of our weakness and craving.
Why would it have been wrong for Jesus to exert His Divine power to provide bread for His hunger? Is it wrong to feed one's hunger? Jesus afterwards made bread by miracle, to feed the hunger of thousands. Why would it have been a sin for Him, to supply bread in this supernatural way for Himself when He was hungry? For one thing, it would have been receiving direction from the Evil One, instead of from His Father. Another reason was that He was in this world to live as men live. If He had used His Divine power to help Himself over the hard points of human experience, He would not have understood our life, for we cannot do this. Therefore, He never wrought a miracle for Himself. He met life just as we must meet it, enduring hunger, thirst, weariness, pain, wrong, without having recourse to supernatural power. Still further, it would have been distrusting His Father, for Him to make bread of the stones. He was under the Divine Care, and God had given Him no command to turn stones into bread. He must wait until His Father provided for His hunger.
The answer of Christ to Satan's temptation, is very suggestive. He said that man shall not live by bread alone--but by every Word of God. Our physical needs are not our only needs. Sometimes men excuse their sin by saying, "Well, I must live," as if hunger excused theft or fraud. But it is not true that we must continue to live, or that living is in itself the best thing for us. It is true, however, that we must obey God's commandments and do His Will. We would better any day starve than commit even the smallest sin to get food. Getting bread should not be our first object in living--indeed, it is not our business at all. Life's first duty is to obey every Word of God, and then God will provide for our needs.
The second temptation was to presumption. The tempter asked Christ to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, quoting words from an old Psalm (Psalm 91) to prove that he would not be hurt--but that God would take care of Him. Thus, the tempter whispered, He would prove to the people that He was their Messiah. What would have been wrong in this? Jesus said it would have been tempting God. If the Father for any reason had commanded Him to leap from the pinnacle into the street, then He could have claimed the promise of protection. But if He had thus accepted the suggestion of the tempter, the promise would have been void. We cannot claim protection in danger which we enter without the Divine bidding. Only when God sends us and guides us--do we have the Divine shelter about us.
The third temptation was the boldest of all. Christ had just entered upon His public ministry, and at the end of it He saw the cross. Satan suggested to Him the worldly way of honor and power instead of the lowly way of suffering, sacrifice and shameful death. This temptation Satan uses continually with men. He shows them visions of wealth, of worldly success, and says: "Now all this may be yours--I will give it all to you. True, you must give up some of your old notions. You must get over some of you scruples. But throw these away--and this door is open to you, and see where the path leads--to all splendor and brilliance. You will be a millionaire. You will be highly esteemed. You will have all the pleasure you want."
Too many people yield to this temptation. The old ways of prayer, obedience, simple honesty and faithfulness, seem dull in contrast with the flowery paths which the vision shows. Yes--but we must look on to the end, beyond the glamour of the tempter's vision--before we can conclude that what Satan promises will be a good thing for us.