Teaching the Gospels — The Temptations

John Mark Hicks (I KNOW, right? What’s a guy like that doing on my blog?) said something about last week’s class that really helped me shape this week’s class. He said, “We follow Jesus into the water.”

If we follow Jesus into the water, we also follow him into the wilderness.

We didn’t spend a ton of time on the details of the different temptations or the different narratives. Not because they aren’t important, but because they can get that on their own time. What my class needs is CONTEXT — what’s going on around this time and this place, and pathways to integrate the story in their own times and places.

So we talked about how these two moments are deeply connected. They are right next to each other in Matthew and Mark — and in Matthew, they’re connected by this little linguistic hook.

Mt 3:13 – Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.

Mt 4:1 – Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Baptism and temptation/testing comparable? They were last week when we talked about how Jesus described his death as a baptism. So sure, I can go along with Matthew and see a close comparison between baptism and temptation.

But John the Baptist and Satan? That’s going to take some convincing. But, then we think about Jesus up at this place called Caesarea Philippi (you’ll love it when we actually get to this story!), where he called his closest follower Satan! Why?

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” (Matthew 16:21-22 ESV)

Peter tempts Jesus towards an easy path as a popular Jewish messiah. Don’t be a servant — don’t suffer! You’ve got the POWER! You’re the Son of the Living God! Use it!

John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14 ESV)

This is the central temptation of Jesus’ adult life. Certainly as a 33-year-old virgin, surrounded by volatile and arrogant knuckleheads, who gets abandoned by his friends in at least two desperate moments of his life, Jesus was tempted to all the normal personal and private sins we all struggle with. But this — this is the central temptation of Jesus’ life.

Satan doesn’t say, “If you are the Son of God” out of doubt! He heard what God said! He knows what the Father said! At the inaugural moment of Jesus’ messianic life, publicly acclaimed by the voice of God and anointed by the Holy Spirit — Jesus knows who he is and so does the adversary.

The question is not Who is this Son of God? It is what kind of Son of God will he be?

Will he be the kind of Son of God who uses power to please himself, like Rehoboam who explicitly rejected the servant-king motif?
Will he be the kind of Son of God who stands before Israel and steals God’s glory for himself, like Moses at the rock?
Will he be the kind of Son of God who worships Satan a few weeks after coming through the water of salvation?

These temptations, repeated at the feeding of the 5,000 (Jn 6) and at Caesarea Philippi (Mt 16) and in Gethsemane (Mt 26), attack the core of Jesus’ identity as Son of God. If we stop seeing sin as trivial or as ordinary or as “just what happens” and start seeing it as a satanic attack on our renewed identity as children of God — I believe we will find a powerful weapon in our striving after faithfulness.

But that isn’t the key point of the temptations — it is a powerful devotional point, but not the key point. Here’s what I think is the most important idea from the temptations:

“If Jesus fails in the wilderness, he will fail at Calvary.”

Every Son of God — EVERY SINGLE ONE — before Jesus has failed just like this. Moses. David. Solomon. Rehoboam. Israel. Even Adam himself, as Luke so astutely alludes with his intriguing placement of Jesus’ geneology. Every son of God has chosen the path of violence and manipulation and power and self-glorification over the path of servanthood and suffering.

The audience is on the edge of their seat listening as Matthew weaves his story? What kind of Son of God will Jesus of Nazareth become?

About Nick Gill

orphan-poet-adoptee-soldier-prodigal-servant-husband- counselor-desperate seeker after my Father's face "I feel my body weakened by the years as people turn to gods of cruel design. Is it that they fear the pain of death, or is it that they fear the joy of life?" - Toad the Wet Sprocket

Posted on 5 March, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Nick,

    In what since do you think Jesus understood that he was the Son of God? I tend to believe he didn’t have the clarity he had after his death and resurrection. I do believe he learned to see himself as the Messiah, the son of God, the representative Israelite of Isaiah. His tempation was to reject that vocation (dark as it was). He trusted the Father, His Father, our Father, but in the same way (at least this is what I think) we do–through a glass darkly. His power was faith-dependent, just as our is. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things no seen. If that’s true, then He had to constantly cope with the same tension you and I face daily; he was faced with the basic question of reality, especially on his way to the cross. In fact, it seems to me that the primary question of one marching toward death is, “what’s real?” If he’d stopped trusting or an instant, we’d all be doomed. His faith is the faith we follow, even if it means following him into the water.

  2. Hello Nick! I was in the neighborhood, thought I’d stop by! Good to see that you are still wrestling with Scripture and digging deep! I have enjoyed these posts about baptism/water. We are also doing a series on water/baptism at our church and have been greatly blessed by the lessons. Hope you and your family are well. God Bless!

  3. Great thoughts. Enjoying reading.

  4. Nick,

    In The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancey, Yancey suggested something very similar to what you are saying. Yancey suggested that the events of Caesarea Philippi, as well as what he heard on the cross, “If you are the Christ come down…” were reminders of what he heard from Satan at the first temptation. The offers were, in a sense, ways around the cross. Yancey says, “For Jesus to save others, quite simply, he could not save himself. That face, he must have known as he faced Satan in the desert.”

    The “temptations” of Jesus are powerful and should speak to us deep in our hearts as we face the temptation to crafts other ways around the Way of Jesus!

  5. Ben,

    I tend to agree that he didn’t have the post-resurrection clarity — but there are several instances where his insight into his own identity seems to go beyond the meanings of Son of God popular in his own day.

    I think he did see through a glass darkly, but with such a tremendous faith that his vision was so much clearer than mine. And I’m convinced that the Philippians text means that he ‘shelved’ his divine power — his miraculous signs come just like Moses’ power — through faith and prayer and obedience.


    I forgot that Yancey wrote that! I haven’t read that book in a while. Not only can Jesus not ‘save’ himself, he cannot ‘serve’ himself.

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