Episode 42 - Jesus in the Wilderness - Opening Up the Gospels

In episode 41, we looked at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river by John the Baptist. I talked about how Jesus’ baptism was an authentication of John the Baptist’s ministry in calling Jewish people to repent. Remember, John’s message to the people of Israel was that they could not rely on their ethnicity to guarantee them participation in the promises of blessing and restoration that God made to Abraham. So Jesus’ baptism was a sign to the people of Israel who had been baptized by John that everything he said was true. I also spent some time talking about the Father’s words from heaven at Jesus’ baptism, specifically the language of “beloved Son” and how that was referencing the father/son language of the Davidic covenant, the promise that God would sit one of David’s descendants on his throne in Jerusalem and would reign there forever. The Father was confirming that Jesus was in fact the promised Christ who would do just that. I closed the last episode by bringing some biblical perspective on what it meant for Jesus to be “anointed” by the Holy Spirit. Instead of some empowering or special mantle, we should understand Jesus’ anointing as His being designated for a function. Just like Samuel anointed David with oil, so Jesus was anointed with the Spirit and designated to be the king of Israel and the servant of Isaiah 42 that God would put His Spirit on. Today I want to go back to Bethany beyond the Jordan and look at what happens immediately following Jesus’ baptism. Let’s read today in Mark 1: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.” (Mark 1:12–13 ESV) So immediately after Jesus was baptized, He’s driven into the wilderness by the Spirit. Mark is very general in his description of this, and John doesn’t record it at all. The other synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke, give a more detailed account of this saying that Jesus was fasting for 40 days and was tested by Satan, which we’ll look at in a moment. But first, let’s look at a map. First, we can see Bethany beyond the Jordan, the probable site for Jesus’ baptism. Now if you remember back to episode 33, we talked about the wilderness of Judea, which is the shaded area in orange just west of the Dead Sea. Jesus could have been driven there. But there’s also some other significant pockets of wilderness just like the broader area of the wilderness of Judea surrounding the site of the baptism. So Jesus could have been driven here too. Of course we can’t be sure, but we do know that the area was desolate – not like the Sahara Desert in Africa, but certainly arid and dry. We have to take some time to ponder what Jesus was thinking or doing during those 40 days all alone in the barren landscape. Where did He sleep? What did He do for 40 days? What must it have been like for Him? Think about it – 40 days is a long time. Just think about your own life, if you were suddenly whisked away to a desert for 40 days. Imagine the physical stamina you’d need, the mental discipline, the survival skills, and then top that off with the fact that you’re not eating any food. Wow. Remember, Jesus was God in the flesh, but as Philippians 2 makes clear, He didn’t use his identity as God for His own advantage. And this is one of the expressions of the tests that He underwent by the devil. I’ll talk about that more in a moment. Let’s read this scene in Matthew’s account, starting in Matthew 4:3: “And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the templeand said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall 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 glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.” (Matthew 4:3–11 ESV) Looking at this, we have three ways that Jesus was tested. But on what point or points was he tested? Well in order to understand the tests themselves, we first have to understand what Satan starts with: he says “if you are the son of God”. Now we may think that Satan is saying “if you’re divine, then make some bread for yourself” or “if you’re divine, then tell the angels to catch you from the pinnacle of the temple”, or, though it’s kind of weird, “if you’re divine, then worship me and I’ll give you everything”. Of course Jesus is divine, but I hope to show you here that the tests that Jesus underwent from Satan were not to prove his divinity. For a second, I want you to try to put out of your mind that “son of God” is the same thing as “divine”. Jesus is the son of God, and he is divine, but those two terms are not synonyms. In other words, a person can be “the son of God” but that does not necessarily make that person “divine”. Why? In the Bible, Adam is called “the son of God”, and Adam wasn’t divine, right? That may be a new idea to you. There’s much more that I could develop, but I want you to see that in this context, if this test as “the son of God” is only about Jesus’ divinity, the answers he gives don’t really make sense. There’s more going on here than we may initially perceive. Though we often read passages like this in isolation, we can’t divorce this from the context of the story of the Gospels so far. What did the Father just say at Jesus’ baptism? He said “this is my beloved Son”. And now that we rightly understand what the phrase “beloved son” has to do with from the last episode, we’re in a better position to understand why Satan is testing Jesus. This all has to do with His identity as “the son of God”. I want you to see that there are two levels of representation going on here – first, Jesus is in the wilderness representing all of humanity. Jesus is the “last Adam” and the “second man”, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. And just like Adam was the “son of God” according to the genealogy in Luke 3, Jesus is the “son of God”. He is a new humanity, succeeding where Adam, the first man, had failed. Just like Adam was tested by the serpent in the garden and cast out in the wilderness when he failed, Jesus was tested in the wilderness by the serpent and was victorious. And because of who He is, he makes a way for humanity to enter into the promise of the restoration of all things. Jesus is standing as the representative of the new humanity, without a sin nature. Oh, this is so awesome. The second way Jesus is acting as representative is as the head of the nation of Israel. Look at this verse from Exodus 4, back from when the people of Israel were still in Egypt and Moses was confronting Pharaoh: “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.”” (Exodus 4:22–23 ESV) Did you see that word “son” there? God called the nation of Israel His “firstborn son”. The parallels between this verse and the scene we’re looking at are astounding, and they’re very purposeful. Remember, Satan is testing Jesus saying “if you are the son of God”. And of course Israel, God’s firstborn son, was in the wilderness for 40 years, Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days. Also Jesus, standing as the Messiah, the king, the head of the nation, was tested on three accounts, and how does He respond? From the book of Deuteronomy, from the law God gave to Moses for the people of Israel. In response to all 3 tests from Satan, He quotes passages from Deuteronomy 6 and Deuteronomy 8. And the reason why He responds from there is because the Law is where Israel had failed in their obedience to God – they said they would keep it but didn’t. So because of Jesus’ full obedience to the law, He demonstrated his unique righteousness and thus the ability to rightly inherit the promises God gave to Abraham. Jesus is the true seed of Abraham, the one who gets the promises, and as the rest of the New Testament goes on to say, those who are “in Him” or “joined to Him by faith” will also inherit the promise when He comes to restore everything. The other passage to mention briefly here is Psalm 2, where God says: “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” (Psalms 2:7–8 ESV) And what was the third test that Satan came to Jesus with? He said “I’ll give you the kingdoms of the earth if you worship me.” Satan knew that Jesus was the son of God, that Messiah who would get the nations in Psalm 2, and so he was tested on that front. I want to highlight one other thing here, and it also has to do with Jesus as the Messiah, the rightful king of Israel. Let’s read from Deuteronomy 17: ““When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you…. And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.” (Deuteronomy 17:14–20 ESV) Now the key thing I want you to see is that this is long before Israel even entered the promised land and long before they even ever asked for a king over them. And what is Moses saying here? “Israel, when you put a king over you in the land, make sure he’s one of your brothers and make sure he reads and meditates on the Law of the LORD. In doing so, he won’t become prideful and won’t be disobedient, and will continue long in his kingdom.” Well, it only takes one look through the history of the kings of Israel to see that every single one of them had their shortcomings. But Jesus, the son of God, the king of Israel, is the one who obeyed the law perfectly, he feared the LORD and kept all the statues. Because of this, He is qualified to be the king of Israel, the one whose kingdom will continue long and, according to Isaiah 9, have a kingdom that will know no end. Well, there’s so much more that can be said about this scene, so I’d encourage you to spend some time pondering it. I hope this episode helped you to feel the context of the story and see the connections between Jesus’ baptism and his testing in the wilderness. This really is so important to the story of the Gospels and even to us as ones living in the delay between promise and fulfillment.