The Devil Made Me Do It!

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The wait is over. Jesus appears at the Jordan where John the Baptizer is at work. He comes, not to observe the work of His cousin, but to ask John to baptize Him. John is reluctant until the Lord says: “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). There are several explanations as to why Jesus, the sinless One, would submit to this rite. Perhaps the simplest one is that John’s ministry was of God so that what he, as God's voice, asked people to do must be obeyed. Both as fully God and fully Man, obedience to God’s command was absolutely essential for Jesus.

But after the glory of the event at the Jordan, and with the seal of God’s approval through the descent of the Spirit and the voice of God, Jesus is led by that Spirit into the desert to be tempted by Satan.

It seems like an inglorious way to start a ministry. The experience at the river would have made a wonderful backdrop to, say, a great gathering on the hillside with Jesus as chief preacher, a suitable “passing of the torch” from John to Jesus.

But to disappear for 40 days and 40 nights of fasting? More than a month of being face to face with one’s arch-enemy? But there is a sweet truth to this odd sequence of events. Jesus' ministry would begin with “proof” that “…the King, a Representative and Founder of the Kingdom, [had] encountered and defeated the representative, founder, and holder of the opposite power, ‘the prince of this world’” (Edersheim, Jesus the Messiah, p. 203). Jesus had to do Himself what He would soon ask His followers to do. He gave Satan notice, right at the beginning of His ministry, of what was to come—the complete and utter defeat of an evil prince at the hands of a righteous King.

The three temptations faced by Jesus and recorded for us in Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12, 13; and Luke 4:1-13 as summarized in 1 John 2:15-17: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”

We often hear it said that this generation faces worst temptations that those of us of a past generation. Many times this is stated almost as an excuse for sin, i.e. “We didn’t have to face that when we were growing up…”

The form of the temptation is often equated to the nature of the temptation. The form changes with the circumstances, the culture, the generation. But the basics of every temptation, irrespective of circumstances, culture, generation, are always the same. Temptation always appeals to the same three areas of our lives as it appealed to Jesus. And the intensity of those temptations doesn’t change simply because the form of the temptation does.

That is why Jesus understands perfectly well what every human being faces when it comes to the whispers of Satan. Speaking of Jesus, the writer to the Hebrews says: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15, 16).

Paul, writing to the Corinthians (who had lots of temptations they needed to resist) says: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

These promises remove from us the temptation (pun intended) to excuse sin because it must be “tougher” for others than it was for us (or tougher for us than it is for others!). They provide for us the inescapable truth that God controls the temptations that come our way and will never give us more than we can resist. He also provides a way to resist any temptation He allows if we are committed to doing so. We can never stand before Him and say that He doesn’t understand how hard it was for us—He understands perfectly because He, as a man in a state of extreme weakness, was tempted exactly as we were tempted, and He resisted.

At His baptism, Jesus said that He was fulfilling “all righteousness.” Then He went out into the desert to prove that He was doing just that. It’s easy to be righteous at the Jordan standing beside a cousin who worships you, with the voice of God telling you how much you are loved. It’s another thing to be righteous in the desert, hungry and thirsty and face to face with the devil. But that’s life, and Jesus modeled for us how it is to be lived.

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