Mark 1: 9 – 13 The baptism and testing of Jesus
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
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The first important thing I note from this passage is that although God does not tempt people to evil, under some circumstances he permits the devil to tempt them.
He allowed Jesus to be tempted. Indeed, it was the Holy Spirit who sent Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted. It was God’s will that his temptation took place.
Why? Well, there are all sorts of possible reasons.
Perhaps it was so that we would know he was fully man? His experience of human life would have been incomplete without temptation.
Maybe it was a period of testing? The Father knew, of course, that Jesus would successfully resist the temptation. But did Jesus know? Sometimes (maybe always) when God ‘tests’ our faith, it is not for us to prove it to him, it is for us to prove it to ourselves.
Was it perhaps, to clarify his mission? The gospels make it clear that during his mortal life Jesus did not know every detail of God’s plan for him. He frequently withdrew to a lonely place to pray. He did not have some superhuman link with the Father. He relied on the prompting of the Holy Spirit, just as we do. The temptation in the wilderness may have been a fierce learning experience to sharpen his ability to differentiate between the prompting of the Holy Spirit and human ‘wisdom’.
Matthew 4: 1 – 11 gives a more detailed account of the temptation.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’
Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the highest point of the temple. ‘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.” ’
Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” ’
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
There were three temptations:
- The temptation to satisfy a basic human need;
- The temptation to ‘prove’ his calling with a supernatural miracle; and
- The temptation to be the Messiah that the world expected, conquering the world and ruling it according to the world’s standards rather than God’s.
Each of the temptations is really about doubting his mission.
“If you are the Son of God,” whispers the voice of temptation, “then shouldn’t you provide miraculous food for the people of Israel?”
“If you are the Son of God, why not use miracles to convince people you are the Messiah?”
“Look at all the kingdoms of the world. Be the sort of Messiah your people expect! You can rule all the nations of the earth, and Israel will be great.”
And Jesus foils each temptation with the teaching of scripture. He affirms each time that he will follow God’s will and not the wisdom of the world.
But there is a subtlety to this understanding. When we look at the ministry of Jesus, we see that he did indeed feed people miraculously in the feeding of the five thousand. He did indeed work signs and wonders, healing the sick and raising the dead, that confirmed he was the Son of God. He did indeed come as the Messiah. What mattered was that these were the right actions at the right moment. Jesus always listened to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and always obeyed it.
We, too, have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. The guidance and strength given to Jesus is ours too, if we practise listening and obeying his prompting. May God grant us the will to do so.
YOUR KINGDOM COME, LORD!
Thank you that Jesus lived among us in fully human form. Please help me to follow his example of obedience to you even when tempted to turn away.
In Jesus’ name, Amen