We are told that immediately after his baptism, Jesus was driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. We do not often ponder how odd this phrasing is. The mystery of the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Ghost is one which led early Christians to formulate the doctrine of Trinity, and we know that after the Ascension, the Father did, as Jesus had promised, send the Holy Spirit to the Virgin and the Apostles; but here, at the start of the mission, we see the Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness; and as anyone who has been there will tell you, beyond the Jordan it really is a wilderness; by day the sun scorches and the scorpions threaten, and by night the cold freezes the body, and the howls of wild animals the blood. It was there that Jesus was tested.
The Holy Scriptures show God using the wilderness in this way – to test his people – many times. He commands Abraham to go into the wild places to sacrifice Isaac; the children of Israel are led through the wilderness by Moses for forty years, and it is in the wilderness of Sinai that God gives Moses the tablets of the Law after he has fasted and prayed for 40 days; Elijah is is also led into the wilderness and sustained there by God for 40 days. Jesus follows this pattern.
Adam had been placed in the Garden of Eden, and he was tempted, and he fell, and through him, mankind fell; the Devil appealed to his pride and his self-will; he set out before him the idea that God wanted to keep him in subjection and that if he would but reach out his hand, he could soon be like God, equal with him; Adam and Eve succumbed to this, despite the felicity of their surroundings. Now we see the second Adam, Christ, undergo the second temptation of man in a wilderness symbolic of that in which mankind had lived since the fall. Paul tells us: ‘For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive’, and here we see the Tempter defeated where once he was victorious.
Satan’s methods are the ones which worrled for him of old, and work on us now: he tempts us to take a course of action which, in itself, seems harmless enough – in this case to feed himself by turning stones into bread – but which leads us to place our will before that of God. Hence, here, Jesus replies that we live not just by bread, but by the word of God. We, of course, knowing that Jesus is that Word, see a deeper meaning than the Devil could; if we allow ourselves to be guided by the things of this world, we too shall fail to see that the ‘Light which lighteth the world’ has come into it.
That Jesus was tempted reminds us of His true humanity. He triumphs not be the assertion of his own will, real though that is, he does so by renouncing his will and doing that of his Father in Heaven. Luke tells us that he was filled with the Spirit, and he relies upon the stregnth that gives him; unlike Adam, he does not think that the exercise of his will is the way to respond to the promptings of the Devil. Paul tells us that Jesus came to overthrow the Evil One who holds us captive:
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil
Jesus rejects the Devil’s offers of glory and power and embraces, instead, the Atonement, the path that will lead Him to the agony of Gethsemene and the sufferings of Golgotha. He who was without sin, He who resisted the Tempter, was ‘made sin’ for us so that through his sacrifice we might be made righteous. It is through Jesus that we are saved; His obedience, His humility do that which our own efforts never could do – they make us right with God. As all fell in Adam, so, if we embrace Him, will all rise in Jesus.
So, as we go through this Lenten season, may we so conform our will to His, that we may be worth of the sacrifices He made for us, and may we, through the Spirit, be delivered from temptation – and its results.