To Fulfill All Righteousness

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:11-17 ESV

John was the opening act for the main attraction. He was the precursor to the primary player in God’s redemptive plan. His job was to prepare the people for the arrival of the anointed one of God. And no one knew this better than John. Luke records that many of those who were making their way to the Judean wilderness were doing so because they believed John might be the long-awaited Messiah.

…the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ. – Luke 3:15 ESV

But John quickly put these rumors to rest by stating, “I baptize you with water, for repentance, but the one coming after me is more powerful than I am—I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11 NLT). There was to be no confusion. John was not going to tolerate any misperception on the part of the people. He was not the Messiah. He could not offer the people of Israel salvation from their sins. All he could do was baptize them in water as a sign of their willingness to repent of their sins. But the true Messiah was coming to offer far more. And He would have a power far greater than anything John or the people of Israel could ever imagine. 

The Jewish people were very familiar with the prophetic passages found in the Hebrew Scriptures that told of the coming of the Messiah. They knew there were to be great signs and wonders associated with His coming. And John reminded them that the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. This imagery was designed to tie Jesus to the words of God as spoken through the prophets.

“And it shall come to pass afterward,
    that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” – Joel 2:28-29 ESV

John wanted the people to know that the Messiah would bring the capacity for true life change. He would offer far more than repentance from sin. He would bring release from slavery to sin and the condemnation of death. But there was more. The Messiah would also bring judgment. He would separate between the holy and the common, the clean and the unclean. He would create a clear delineation between the sheep and the goats, the saved and the unsaved.

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. – Malachi 3:2-5 ESV

John was prophesying about aspects of Jesus’ role as the Messiah that had long-term implications. These prophetic statements concerning the Messiah would not all take place at once – at the moment of His arrival. But they spell out the full scope of His redemptive role, from start to finish. Jesus was going to show up on the scene as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. But the day will come when He returns as the conquering King of kings and Lord of lords. His first advent was not as judge, but as the sacrificial offering to satisfy the just judgment of God Almighty. The second time He comes, He will appear as the judge of all mankind. The apostle John was given a preview of coming attractions when he saw and wrote about the Messiah and His second advent.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. – Revelation 19:11 ESV

Yes, Jesus came to make possible atonement for the sins of mankind. But the complete eradication of sin will not take place until He returns a second time. And John the Baptist knew that there was going to be far more to the ministry of Jesus than baptizing for the repentance of sin. He came to deal sin a death blow.

But before that happens, Jesus was going to have to do the will of His Father. And part of that will involved His incarnation, but also His submission to the Spirit’s leading in His life. Matthew makes it clear that “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him” (Matthew 3:13 ESV). It was time, and Jesus, moved by the Spirit of God, knew where He was supposed to be and what He was supposed to do. He showed up that day in order to follow His Father’s preordained plan for His life.

John, recognizing the superior nature of Jesus, was reluctant to baptize one “whose sandals I am not worthy to carry” (Matthew 3:11 ESV). But Jesus responded to him with an interesting and somewhat cryptic statement: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15 ESV). But what did Jesus mean by the phrase: “to fulfill and righteousness?”

It seems obvious that Jesus was not inferring that His baptism by John would somehow make Him righteous. This verse is not a reference to salvation, but to ethical righteousness, which has to do with doing that which is in keeping with the will of God. It was God’s will that Jesus be baptized and, in obediently doing what God had willed, John and Jesus would be acting righteously – in keeping with God’s desires.

God desired that Jesus be baptized, not as a sign of his repentance of sins, but as a way to validate the message and ministry of John, and to associate Himself with all those who had repented because the kingdom was at hand. The King was aligning Himself with His subjects. In allowing Himself to be baptized, Jesus was illustrating His complete submission to the will of His heavenly Father, something all those who would eventually come to faith in Him would do.

It is interesting to note that, upon His baptism, God validated and lauded Jesus’ actions by stating: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV). God affirmed the deity of Jesus. And He let all those who had witnessed the baptism of Jesus know that His Son’s actions had been pleasing because they had been in keeping with His will.

And the apostle John records that John the Baptist had been given a divine tip concerning the coming Messiah. He would know who He was based on the Spirit descending on Him in the form of a dove.

“I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” – John 1:32-34 ESV

The Spirit’s presence and God’s own words both confirmed Jesus’ identity. He was the Son of God. And, as we have seen, that is one of the primary point Matthew was attempting to make with the writing of his Gospel account. Jesus’ identity as the Son of God had been firmly established from the moment the angel told the virgin Mary she was going to have a baby.

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:31-33 ESV

When Jesus was born, He came into the world as the Son of God. When He went to the temple at the age of 12, He had done so as the Son of God, which is why he had declared to his parents, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 ESV). Jesus had been the Son of God all those years He had worked alongside His earthly father, Joseph, in the family business. But the earthly ministry of Jesus began with His baptism by John. The Son of God, anointed by the Spirit of God, and validated by the words of God, officially launched His ministry to fulfill the will of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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The King of the Jews

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. – Matthew 2:1-12 ESV

If you compare Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth with that of Luke, you quickly see that Matthew only provides those details that support his attempt to prove that Jesus was the Messiah of the Jews. So, unlike Luke, Matthew does not include background information such as the census that required Joseph to take his pregnant wife to Bethlehem. There is no mention of the visit of the shepherds or the presentation of Jesus at the temple.

In fact, Matthew fast-forwards the narrative and picks up the story when Jesus was probably about one-year-old. Joseph and Mary had remained in Bethlehem, most likely to provide time for Mary to fully heal and to give the baby time to mature before they made the long and arduous trip back to their hometown of Nazareth.

But their delay in returning to Nazareth was obviously God-ordained. He had plans for them, of which they were not yet aware. And there were storm clouds forming in the distance that were going to presage the kind reception their son could expect to experience.

While Mary and Joseph had been adjusting to their new life as parents, a group of wise men or magi from a distant land had been making their way to Israel, in search of the newborn king of the Jews. These men were most likely astrologers who, while studying the stars and the planets, had seen a sign.

“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” – Matthew 2:2 ESV

Matthew provides us with no details regarding how these magi received or interpreted the sign they had seen. We do not know where they were from or how they made the connection between the cosmic sign and the coming of the Jewish king. Perhaps they came from Babylon, where there was still a fairly large contingent of Jews who had chosen to remain there rather than return to Judah under the leadership of Nehemiah. It would seem that these magi had access to the Hebrew scriptures and had been able to connect the dots between what they saw in the sky and what God had predicted in His Word. One of the passages to which they could have referred was Numbers 24:17, which the Jews of Jesus’ day believed to have Messianic implications.

I see him, but not now;
    I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
    and a scepter shall rise out of Israel…

Regardless of how these men made their assessment of the star and its connection to the new king of the Jews, they were sufficiently convinced to make the long journey to Jerusalem. And when they arrived, they expressed little doubt as to the validity of the sign or their interpretation of it. They asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” According to their understanding of the sign, this baby was born as the official and lawful king of the Jews. Which is what led them to Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, where David and Solomon had once reigned.

But the magi found another king sitting on the throne of David. His name was Herod, and he was actually an Edomite. He had been placed on the throne by the Romans and was seen by the Jews as a usurper and as nothing more than a puppet to the occupying forces of Rome. Herod was an ambitious and highly suspicious ruler who was relentless and ruthless in his efforts to protect his power. He had a well-deserved reputation for eliminating any and all potential threats to his throne. He had his own wife’s brother drowned in a pool on the palace grounds. He ordered the murder of 46 members of the Sanhedrin. His wife, two sons, and mother-in-law also fell victim to his unbridled fear and suspicion. Potential rivals to his crown were dealt with quickly and effectively.

So, when the magi showed up in Jerusalem asking about the whereabouts of the new king of the Jews, Herod took notice and instigated steps to locate and eliminate this potential threat to his throne.

Matthew’s primary focus in this section is to further promote and prove the kingship of Jesus. In doing so, he established a conflict between Herod, the Roman-appointed king of the Jews, and Jesus, Israel’s God-anointed and rightful king. And it seems clear that Herod was under the impression that this new king was also to be the Christ, the Messiah of Israel. He assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the Jews, asking them, “where the Christ was to be born” (Matthew 2:4 ESV). These learned men revealed to Herod what the Old Testament Scriptures had to say about such matters, and they quoted to him from the prophecy recorded by Micah.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days. – Micah 5:2 ESV

Herod, always devious and deceptive in his efforts, sent the magi on a mission to discover the whereabouts of the new king, falsely claiming a desire to worship him.

“Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” – Matthew 2:8 ESV

Worship is a key theme in this passage. The word itself is mentioned three different times, and the magi are described as falling down and worshiping the young child, Jesus, offering Him priceless gifts of tribute. Kingship and rule are also repeated themes, appearing six different times in 12 verses. Matthew juxtaposes the earthly and undeserving reign of Herod with that of the true king of Israel, Jesus, the Christ. One was not even a Jew by birth, while the other was the son of Abraham and the son of David. One was a tool of the Romans, while the other was the anointed-one of God, who was sent to do His Father’s will.

It is hard to miss that these men from a foreign land were used by God to confirm the identity of His Son. He had used a sign in heaven to direct them to Jerusalem, where they were given further details and divine guidance to find Jesus in the little town of Bethlehem.

…the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. – Matthew 2:9 ESV

And Matthew uses these men to establish a theme that will appear throughout his Gospel account. They were Gentiles, non-Jews, and yet they had gone out of their way to seek and find the King of the Jews. And when they found Him, they bowed down and worshiped Him, showering Him with gifts to illustrate their recognition of His sovereignty and glory. And yet the Jews, represented by Herod, their false king, would repeatedly reject Jesus as their Messiah and King. The Gentile magi recognized Jesus as the King of the Jews, but as the apostle John pointed out, the Jews did not.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:11 ESV

It’s interesting to note that, at the end of his Gospel account, Matthew records the reaction of a group of Roman soldiers who had witnessed the death of Jesus. They had most likely participated in the mocking and abuse that preceded His crucifixion. One of them may have nailed up the sign that hung above His head, which read, “The King of the Jews.” They most likely took part in the nailing of Jesus to the cross on which He died. But when Jesus had breathed His last, Matthew records that their perception of Jesus was radically altered.

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” – Matthew 27:54 ESV

Jesus was born the King of the Jews. And He died the King of the Jews. When He came into this world, He was worshiped by Gentiles from a foreign land, bearing gifts worthy of a king. When He died, He was surrounded by Gentiles of Roman birth, holding swords and spears, but offering Him the greatest tribute they could bring: They acknowledge that Jesus was the Son of God. And Matthew will spend the rest of his Gospel, defending and proving that Jesus was indeed the King of the Jews and the Son of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Task of Imaging God

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. – 2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV

As we have already seen, Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, came into this world bearing the image of God.

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:21 ESV

Their very existence reflected the glory of God. They were given capacities and responsibilities far beyond any other creature made by God. They were given reasoning skills, the ability to communicate verbally, and the capacity to love unconditionally. In so many ways they mirrored the character of their Creator, albeit in a shadow form. They were not as God, but as His creation, they shared His likeness. And one of the main attributes of their image-bearing nature was their sinlessness. Adam and Eve were created without sin. That is why, in the Genesis account of creation, it records that “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31 ESV).

And it is essential that we understand this aspect of Adam’s pre-fall nature. He and his companion were sinless and enjoyed unbroken fellowship with God. All that they did brought glory to God because they were living in perfect obedience to His divine will.

God gave them a mandate, a clear job description outlining their responsibilities.

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” – Genesis 1:28 ESV

Their task was simple and was meant to be enjoyable, and they were more than adequately equipped to accomplish all that God had commanded them to do. At that point in their lives, everything they did was a form of image-bearing. Their every action, done in their sinless state, was a reflection of their Creator’s wisdom, power, and goodness. Everything they did brought Him glory. Until they sinned.

And at that point, everything changed. Moses records, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:7 ESV). They had disobeyed God and eaten from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now, they knew what evil was, and they experienced the shame and guilt that came with it. Not only did they attempt to cover up their nakedness, but they also tried to hide from God. They inherently knew that they were no longer fit for God’s presence. And mankind has been hiding and running from God ever since.

But God sent another Adam, the second Adam, a man who also bore the image of His Creator. Jesus came to earth, born of a virgin and, therefore, free from the inherited sin of Adam. Like Adam, Jesus entered the world without sin. But unlike Adam, Jesus remained that way. He bore the image of His Father perfectly, never veering from the task appointed to Him. That is why, just hours before His trials began, Jesus was able to say to His Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4 ESV). His entire life had brought glory to God because He had never failed to bear the image of God. Even in the face of rejection, ridicule, temptation, and trials, Jesus had remained obedient. And as Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, Jesus was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV).

In His high priestly prayer, Jesus, speaking of His followers, asked His Father to “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:17-19 ESV).

Three different times in this passage, the Greek word, hagiazō is used. Twice, Jesus asks the Father to sanctify His followers in the truth. And Jesus expresses His willingness to sanctify or consecrate Himself for the task at hand so that His followers might have the opportunity to be sanctified in the truth. Jesus’ willingness to complete the task given to Him by God, which included His sacrificial death on the cross, was an outward, visible expression of His bearing of His Father’s image.

Romans 5:8 tells us that “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” But had Jesus not been willing to do what God had sent Him to do – die for those who were enslaved to sin – then that love would never have been fulfilled. But we know that Jesus fulfilled the will of His Father. He did what He had been sent to do, and the apostle Paul uses Jesus’ display of image-bearing as an example for us.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV

Notice what Paul says. He challenged the believers in Ephesus to “imitate God,” but to do so by “following the example of Christ.” Jesus was the consummate image-bearer. He displayed the love of God for man by offering His life as a sacrifice for the sins of man. He put the invisible love of the unseen God on display. When He came to earth, He became God incarnate, God in the flesh. He put the invisible attributes of God in a form that man could not only see but experience. And that is what we are called to do.

And in the passage above, Peter tells us that we have been given everything we need to pull it off. We have been given new natures, provided for us by Christ’s loving sacrifice on the cross and empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. That is why Paul so strongly challenges us to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians  4:24 ESV). He wrote a similar admonition to the believers in Colossae, telling them to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10 ESV).

Peter reminds us that God “has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). The main point of our salvation is not that we might one day escape the punishment of hell or enjoy the rich reward of eternal life in heaven, but that we might once again bear the image of our Creator. Man was created to bring glory to God, but sin made that impossible. Now, because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, now sinful men and women can be restored, not only in their relationship with God, but to His likeness. They can once again bear His image on earth, living in keeping with His holy and righteous commands. Because of Christ, we have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). We are free to bear the image of God; revealed to us in His Word, modeled by His Son, and made possible by the power of His indwelling Spirit. 

We have been given the task of bearing God’s image. But we have not been left to pull it off in our own strength. No, Peter would have us remember that “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT). But now, with that power residing within us, with God’s Word guiding us, and the example of Christ before us, let us bring glory to God by bearing the image of God to the world created by God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Power Over Death.

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” – Matthew 27:45-54 ESV

Jesus on cross

Jesus hung on the cross, a battered and bruised man, struggling desperately and agonizingly for His next breath. His body was racked with pain. His eyes were filled with blood and the salt from His own sweat. And surrounding Him was a crowd of people who relentlessly mocked Him. Even the chief priest and his fellow members of the religious high council cast insults at Jesus, shouting, “He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:42 ESV). They found great delight in disparaging the claim of Jesus to be the Son of God, saying, “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Matthew 27:43 ESV). Even one of the criminals being crucified alongside Jesus got into the act, demanding of jesus, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39 ESV). 

But at Noon, the shouting stopped. The sky grew dark. Luke described it this way: “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45 ESV). And that darkness would pervade the whole land for three full hours. It is reminiscent of the darkness that God brought on the land of Egypt by the hand of Moses during the days before the Exodus. 

“Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. – Exodus 10:21-23 ESV

This darkness was palpable and supernatural. It was out of the ordinary and inexplicable. And no one could ignore or avoid it. The light was gone.

One can’t help but think of the words of John, found in his gospel, and written long after the death of Jesus.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5 ESV

At that moment, on the hill outside the walls of Jerusalem, it would have appeared as if the darkness had overcome the Light. Certainly, the disciples and all those who had followed Jesus and placed their hope in His claim to be the Messiah, would have seen the darkness as a sign of defeat. The end had come. But John went on to record what was really taking place.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11 ESV

Jesus was being rejected by His own. And the darkness was like a physical manifestation of that rejection, revealing the true spiritual condition of the nation of Israel.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. – John 3:19-20 ESV

After three hours of stifling darkness had passed, Jesus broke the silence by shouting, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 ESV). Jesus was taking on the sins of mankind, bearing the full brunt of God’s righteous indignation and just judgment. And in doing so, He found Himself separated from His heavenly Father for the first time in all eternity. Jesus bore the weight of the sins of the world. As Paul so eloquently put it: “For our sake he [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).

At that moment, as He hung on the cross, Jesus was alone. He felt forsaken and abandoned by all, even by His heavenly Father. God was pouring out on His own Son the righteous wrath He was obligated by His holiness to dispense. The wages of sin is death. And God was offering His own Son as payment for the sins of men.

Jesus made one final statement from the cross, as He cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46 ESV). Then, He took one final breath and died.

At that moment, when all appeared lost and it looked like the forces of the enemy had won the day, some incredible things took place. Jesus had died, but the action was far from over. Matthew records:

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. – Matthew 27:51-53 ESV

The death of Jesus was accompanied by incredible, inexplicable phenomena. There was an earthquake. The thick curtain in the temple that barred entrance into the Holy of Holies, was split in two, from top to bottom. And, by far the most bizarre of all events, was the opening of the tombs and the resurrection of the dead saints. As can be imagined, there is much debate and speculation about this particular event. But it is interesting that Matthew provides us with little or no detail. It would seem that the earthquake was responsible for the opening up of the tombs. But the text seems to indicate that the bodies contained within those tombs did not resurrected until Jesus did three days later. And, just as Jesus appeared to His disciples in His resurrected form, so did these people. We are not told who they were or whether they remained alive. Was their resurrection temporary or permanent? Matthew doesn’t tell us. But it seems likely that these people, like Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, were merely resuscitated or brought back to life. They did not have resurrected, glorified bodies like Jesus had. Like Lazarus, they would die a second time.

But you can imagine the shock and surprise on all those who ran into these once dead saints in the streets of Jerusalem. The death of Jesus, while marking the end of His earthly life, was far from the end of His ministry. Even in death, He displayed His power over death. And the apostle Paul reminds us:

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross. – Colossians 2:13-15 NLT

The people mocked. The soldiers cast their insults. The religious leaders sneered and gloated over their defeat of Jesus. But even in death, Jesus had the last laugh. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross. And Matthew records that one solitary Roman centurion saw all that had happened and exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54 ESV). Even in death, Jesus made an impression. This hardened Roman soldier was moved by what He saw and expressed a recognition in the deity of Jesus. His statement is not necessarily an expression of faith or belief in Jesus as his Savior. But it is interesting that the very first person to clearly articulate the deity of Jesus after His death was a Gentile and a Roman. The religious leaders were probably long gone. We hear no words spoken from Jesus’ disciples. But whether he realized the import of his words, this Roman centurion was the first to declare Jesus to be exactly who He always claimed to be: The Son of God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

He Deserves Death!

 57 Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58 And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” – Matthew 26:57-68 ESV

CaiphasJesus had been arrested and His disciples had fled into the night. Even Peter, the one who had earlier boasted, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (Matthew 26:33 ESV). Their fear had gotten the best of them and they had resigned themselves to the fact that it was all over. Matthew even records that Peter, having followed the guards who were taking Jesus to Caiaphas, the high priest, did so, “to see the end” (Matthew 26:58 ESV). It was all over. Their dreams of Jesus being their Messiah and the one to sit on the throne of David were about to be dashed. Jesus was as good as a dead man and there was nothing Peter or any of the other disciples could do about it.

Jesus was dragged before Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest. Annas had been high priest at one time and still held sway over the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high council. It was Annas who questioned Jesus about His disciples and His teaching. And Jesus had responded:

“I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” – John 18:20-21 NLT

Taking Jesus’ statement as a sign of disrespect for Annas, one of the guards struck Him in the face. Then Jesus was taken to see Caiaphas.

It’s important to note that all of these gatherings were being conducted at night and in secret. These men were not conducting a trial, but an inquisition. They had already determined the guilt of Jesus and were simply looking for concrete evidence or proof to justify their predetermined plan to have Him put to death. They had made that fateful decision immediately after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. John records that, as a result of that miraculous event, “Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus” (John 11:45 ESV). And when the Sanhedrin had gotten word of what Jesus had done, they were disturbed by the news, asking, “What are we going to do? This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation” (John 11:47-48 NLT). But it had been Caiaphas, the high priest, who had calmly laid out the solution to this vexing problem.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” – John 11:49-50 NLT

So, by the time Jesus was dragged in front of the Sanhedrin, His fate had been sealed. The so-called trial was a sham. And these religious leaders, in an attempt to find proof against Jesus, resorted to hiring false witnesses. And as Matthew makes perfectly clear, their intent was to put Jesus to death. But because the Jews were forbidden by the Romans of practicing capital punishment, they would need proof that Jesus was a threat to national security and worthy of death. They would have to convince the Romans to do their dirty deed for them.

But the false witnesses proved to be no help at all. They couldn’t get their stories straight. But then, two came forward who remembered the words Jesus had spoken immediately after He had overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple. When Jesus had been asked by the religious leaders who had given Him the authority to do what He had done, He had responded, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 NLT). And these two witnesses had been there. So, they related this incendiary statement to the high priest and the members of the high council. But they had missed Jesus’ point. In his gospel account, John clarifies what Jesus had meant. “But when Jesus said ‘this temple,’ he meant his own body” (John 2:21 NLT).

But when Jesus was given an opportunity to respond to the testimony of these men, He didn’t clarify His meaning. He didn’t attempt to qualify His original statement. Matthew records that Jesus remained silent. Unlike in His encounter with Annas, Jesus chose not to respond to Caiaphas. And His actions were in direct fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah.

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. – Isaiah 53:7 ESV

Jesus was not interested in defending Himself – either physically or verbally. This entire evening had been preordained by His heavenly Father, and Jesus was fully committed to doing what His Father had commanded Him to do.

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT

But Caiaphas was not satisfied. He needed Jesus to commit blasphemy – to claim to be God. That was the evidence the high priest needed to justify the death of Jesus. So, he said to Jesus, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63 ESV). This was not a case of Caiaphas expressing hope that Jesus was the Messiah, but a last desperate attempt to get Jesus to blaspheme by claiming to be God’s Son and, therefore, divine.

On an earlier trip to the city of Jerusalem, at the Feast of Dedication, and in the temple courtyard, Jesus had made the bold claim, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV). That statement had incensed the Jews and they had taken up rocks to stone Jesus. But Jesus had expressed confusion, stating that He had performed many good works that proved He was from God. He asked, “for which of them are you going to stone me?” (john 10:32 ESV). And the people shouted, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33 ESV).

That was what Caiaphas was looking for. He needed Jesus to claim to be God. And in response to the high priest’s question, “are the Christ, the Son of God,” Jesus said, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64 ESV). The true meaning of this statement escaped the high priest and the members of the high council. But it was exactly what they had been waiting for. Accusing Jesus of blasphemy, Caiaphas asked the Sanhedrin for their verdict and they wasted no time in declaring their decision: “He deserves death.”

Think about that statement. From their earth-bound, sin-soaked perspective, they saw Jesus as the one deserving of death. And yet, as the Scriptures make perfectly clear, it was mankind that deserved death at the hands of a righteous, holy and just God.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. – Romans 3:23 NLT

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV

No one is righteous–not even one. – Romans 3:10 NLT

Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! – Psalm 53:1 NLT

And Scripture tells us that the God-ordained penalty for our sin and unrighteousness is death.

…the wages of sin is death. – Romans 6:23 ESV

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

Yet, in spite of mankind’s guilt and the looming sentence of death, God chose to provide a way of escape, a plan of redemption that would make acquittal possible and righteousness available. God’s solution? The sacrificial death of His own Son.

…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…the LORD laid on him the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:6 NLT

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. – 1 Peter 2:24 NLT

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. – Colossians 3:13-14 NLT

Jesus did not deserve to die. We did. So did all the men in the room that night. Yet, “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT). But rather than see Jesus as the Son of God and their Savior from sin, the members of the Sanhedrin spit on Him, slapped Him and mocked Him. They abused the one who had come to save them. They ridiculed the only righteous man in the room. And it was all part of God’s plan.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Blaspheming the Spirit.

 22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. – Matthew 12:22-32 ESV

Matthew continues to arrange the events of Jesus’ life in order to provide further proof of His claim to be the Messiah. He had come declaring Himself to be the long-awaited King of the Jews and calling the people to repentance. The Kingdom they had been eagerly and patiently anticipating had come.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17 ESV

Mark records that, immediately after Jesus had been baptized by John, He declared Himself to be the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies found in the Old Testament.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:14-15 ESV

But the Jews were having a difficult time reconciling their expectations of the promised Messiah with what they were witnessing in the actions of Jesus. Yes, they were amazed by His miracles and attracted to His message, but He did not act or look like a king. He had no royal retinue, only a small, ragtag group of disciples made up of former fishermen, a tax collector and other assorted nobodies. Apart from His miracles, there was little about Him that would have led the people to see Him as the Messiah. Which is why, even after having watched Him cast out another demon, they responded, “Can this be the Son of David?” Actually, their question can best be translated as, “He can’t be the Son of David, can He?” They were filled with doubt and misgivings. They wanted to believe He was the Messiah, but they were having a difficult time resolving their dreams with reality.

The Pharisees, fearing that the people were being swayed by Jesus’ miracles and rhetoric, declared Him to be operating in the power of Satan.

“It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” – Matthew 12:24 ESV

Beelzebul was another name for Satan. These religious leaders could not deny the reality of Jesus’ miracles. They had been eye-witnesses of many of the healings Jesus had performed and had just seen Him cast the demon from the blind and mute man. But they were unwilling to attribute the power of Jesus to God, instead accusing Him of being under the influence of Satan.

Jesus responded by revealing the non-sensical nature of their accusation. Why would Beelzebul, the prince of demons, provide Jesus with power to cast out demons? What benefit would Satan gain from such an arrangement? In fact, Jesus reveals the self-destructive nature of such a plan.

“…if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” – Matthew 12:26 ESV

Then Jesus turned the tables on the Pharisees, asking whether their own “sons” were casting out demons by the power of Satan as well. Jesus had not been the first to exorcise demons. We know from the book of Acts, that there were others who at least attempted to do so.

13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. – Acts 19:13-14 ESV

So, how did the Pharisees justify the actions of such people? Were they also under the influence of Satan? Jesus concluded that the reasoning of the Pharisees was flawed and highly biased. They were rejecting Him, and in doing so, they were rejecting the arrival of His Kingdom. And Jesus blatantly contradicted their assessment, claiming to be operating by the power of the Spirit of God. Not only that, His demonstrations of that power were proof that the kingdom of God had come.

“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” – Matthew 12:28 ESV

With the arrival of Jesus, the Kingdom of God had broken into the earthly realm. In the opening chapter of his Gospel, Matthew recorded the announcement of the angel regarding the virgin birth of Jesus, a fulfillment of the promise of God.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” – Matthew 1:22-23 ESV

Jesus was God incarnate, God in human flesh. His birth made the presence of God tangible and touchable.

He is the image of the invisible God… – Colossians 1:15 ESV

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:18 NLT

But they refused to acknowledge Jesus as God. And rather than admit that Jesus was operating under the power of the Spirit of God, they attributed His actions to Satan, an action Jesus described as blasphemy. But He was very specific in His accusation, declaring them to be guilty of “blasphemy against the Spirit.” And then He dropped the bombshell that this kind of blasphemy was unforgiveable in nature. They could say all they wanted against Him and be forgiven, but their decision to blaspheme the Spirit of God was unforgivable.

In essence, Jesus was declaring that His power to heal had been given to Him by the Spirit of God and was proof that He was the Messiah. To deny this proof was to reject the testimony of the Spirit of God. It was to refuse to accept Jesus as who God, through the Spirit, declared Him to be. If you recall, when Jesus was baptized by John, the Spirit of God descended on Him in the form of a dove, and God declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV). The coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus had been accompanied by the verbal, audible testimony of God. Jesus was His Son.

By attributing to Satan, the works done by Jesus, made possible by the indwelling Spirit of God, the Pharisees were rejecting the power of the Spirit and the testimony of God. The unforgiveable sin is the rejection of Jesus as Messiah. For this sin there is no forgiveness, “either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32 ESV). The Pharisees would be forgiven their verbal abuse of Jesus, if they eventually accepted Him as their Savior and Lord. But if they continued to deny the testimony of God and the visible proof of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus, they would not be forgiven.

The interesting aspect of this whole encounter was that the Pharisees were blind to the reality of Jesus’ claim because they denied the proof of the Spirit of God. They were devoid of the Spirit themselves. The apostle Paul would later write:

So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:3 NLT

And John would also provide further insight into the Spirit’s illuminating role in man’s ability to recognize Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God come in the flesh.

This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. – 1 John 4:2 NLT 

But the Pharisees, lacking the presence of the Spirit of God, were incapable of recognizing the Son of God. And Jesus declared them to be aligned against Him, operating in direct opposition to His divine mission.

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” – Matthew 12:30 ESV

The battle lines were drawn. The King had come. The Son of God had taken on human flesh and was in the process of fulfilling the divine will of His Heavenly Father. But the Pharisees represented the forces of this world, aligned against the redemptive plan of God. And their hatred of Jesus was going to end up destroying them. While they would eventually succeed in putting Jesus to death, they would fail in their efforts to put an end to His rule and reign. They could deny His claim to be the Messiah, but they could not deny His right to rule as King of kings and Lord of lords.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

More Than a Man.

And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 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 temple and 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.” 10 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.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. Matthew 4:2-11 ESV

Jesus has just received the anointing of the Holy Spirit and an audible and verbal testimony from God Himself confirming Him to be the Son of God. His long-awaited earthly ministry is about to begin and the very first thing we see Him doing is heading into the wilderness, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to be tempted by Satan himself. God has just expressed His pleasure with Jesus and, yet, God’s immediate plan for Him was going to be a period of severe temptation at the hands of the enemy. There is a seeming dissonance in this narrative that should leave us feeling a bit uncomfortable and uncertain. Why was this the first major act of Jesus’ earthly administration as the Son of God and the King of the Jews? Why was there no grand announcement to the people of Israel concerning His arrival? His unique genealogical record and virgin birth established Him as the legitimate heir to the throne of David. His baptism illustrated His willingness to fulfill the righteous will of God and confirmed His status as God’s Son and His role as the promised Messiah. But instead of beginning His ministry with a speech or a gran entry into Jerusalem, Jesus was led by the Spirit of God into the vast emptiness and stark loneliness of the Judean wilderness. And there was a singular purpose behind this strange inaugural act of Jesus’ earthly ministry: To be tempted by the Devil. For a period of 40 days, Jesus went without food and water, while suffering a direct onslaught  from the enemy. And Matthew simply matter-of-factly states that, at the end of 40 days of fasting, Jesus was hungry. But Luke reminds us that Jesus was not alone. He had entered the wilderness “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1 ESV). It had been the Holy Spirit who had led Jesus into the wilderness and He would be with Him throughout this long ordeal. 

The immediate temptation of Jesus, His battle with the spiritual forces of wickedness, reveal that His earthly ministry was going to be met with intense opposition. Satan, the prince of this world, was not going to stand back and allow Jesus to enter into his domain unopposed. It is important to remember how John the Baptist had described Jesus upon seeing Him: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). John had recognized that Jesus was coming as more than just a physical, earthly king. He was the Messiah, the Savior of the world and because of His coming, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6 ESV). Satan recognized the significance of Jesus’ arrival on the scene and was ready to do everything in his power to thwart God’s plan of redemption by eliminating His agent of redemption.

The apostle Paul knew well the spiritual battle that is waging on this planet because of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He wrote, “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). The entrance of the Son of God into a world long dominated by Satan and his demonic forces was destined to result in a battle of epic proportions. And Satan tried to eliminate any potential threat by personally attacking the God-appointed means of man’s salvation. If he could dissuade Jesus from doing the will of God, Satan knew he could thwart the plan of God. 

Satan appears to question the validity of Jesus’ Sonship, saying, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3 ESV). But this was probably less an expression of doubt concerning Jesus’ deity than a vain attempt on Satan’s part to appeal to the pride of Jesus by tempting Him to flaunt His divine power as the Son of God. He was trying to get Jesus to use His divine attributes to satisfy self rather than submit to the will of God. Satan appealed to Jesus’ physical need of hunger by stressing His divine power to create. But Jesus responded, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 ESV). For Jesus, obedience to the will of God took precedence over His own physical well-being. He found nourishment in doing what His Father commanded rather than in meeting His own needs. Which is why He would later tell His disciples, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work” (John 4:34 NLT). It is why He could say in His Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Mathew 5:6 ESV). Jesus had come to do the will of God, even when that will meant suffering pain and enduring an undeserved and unbearable death on the cross. In the garden on the night He was betrayed, Jesus pleaded with His Father, “if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42 NLT). And Paul records that Jesus did the will of His Father and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV).

But Satan was not done. Again, he seems to question Jesus’ deity, stating, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…” (Matthew 4:6 ESV). He was really trying to get Jesus to flaunt His power and position by testing His Father’s love for Him. In a classic case of showmanship, Satan took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem and tried to get Him to leap from the highest point. What a great way to attract a crowd and make an impression. Surely, this kind of dramatic miracle would convince the people of Israel that He was their Messiah. But the problem with Satan’s scenario was that it was not God’s plan. Jesus saw Satan’s ploy for what it was: An attempt to get Him to test His own Father’s love for Him. Which is why Jesus simply responded, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:7 ESV). Satan wanted Jesus to test the faithfulness of God. He wanted Jesus to question the Father’s love for Him by putting His life on the line. But Jesus knew that He had no reason to test God’s love. His relationship with His Father had never been in question. His confidence in His Father’s care and concern for Him had never been in doubt. Jesus had heard His Father say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” and He had believed Him. No questions asked. No tests required.

Finally, Satan gave one final try to distract Jesus from His God-ordained mission. And this one was aimed at getting Jesus to circumvent God’s plan for His future exaltation by avoiding the crucifixion. Satan was offering Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” but without any need for suffering on His part. And all Jesus had to do was worship Satan instead of God. He had to swear allegiance to the enemy and, in doing so, He could have glory without cost. But that was not God’s plan. That was not God’s will. And the apostle Paul made it perfectly clear that the exaltation and glorification of Jesus, which were rightfully His as the Son of God, would come only after Jesus had done the will of God.

8 …he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 ESV

There are no short-cuts to glorification. There would no salvation apart from the crucifixion. There would be no resurrection apart from Jesus willing obedience to suffer humiliation. Worship of Satan brings no one glory but himself. His tempting offer of self-glorification is a lie that benefits no one but himself. And Jesus saw through Satan’s lie, shouting, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10 ESV). And at that, Satan left Him. The enemy had failed. He had met his match. In Jesus, Satan had met a man like no other man he had ever encountered. He was the God-man, filled with the Spirit of God and willing to live in perfect obedience to the will of God. He was not tempted by self-gratification, self-preservation or self-glorification. His will was subordinate to that of His heavenly Father. And Satan, out of tricks and out of his league, left Jesus alone. But as we will see, the battle was far from over.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Good Things To Come.

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. – Hebrews 10:1-10 ESV

The law, the tabernacle, the priesthood, the sacrifices – they were all just a shadow, a feint outline of something far greater to come. They were a facade, not the real thing. They were intended to be a temporary representation and a daily reminder of man’s need for something better and more lasting. The sacrifices were ongoing and necessarily repetitive, because they could never fully bring forgiveness of sin. They could not remove the guilt of sin. They could not make someone permanently and completely right with God. In his commentary on Romans, W. H. Griffith Thomas writes, “Some one has well said: ‘The blood of animals cannot cleanse from sin because it is non-moral. The blood of sinning man cannot cleanse because it is immoral. The blood of Christ alone can cleanse because it is moral’” (W. H. Griffith Thomas, Hebrews: A Devotional Commentary). The blood of animals was insufficient. The blood of men was contaminated by sin. Something better was needed.

The author, quoting from Psalm 40, attributes these words, penned by King David, to Jesus. “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart’” (Psalm 40:6-8 ESV). Jesus came to do the will of His Father in heaven. As Paul states, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 ESV). Jesus died, not as some kind of a martyr, but as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). Jesus was the sinless, unblemished Lamb, whose sacrifice fully satisfied God’s judgment against the sins of mankind. And unlike the animal sacrifices that had to be offered year after year, the sacrifice of Jesus was once and for all. It never had to be repeated. No other deaths were going to be required to satisfy the just demands of God. But to enjoy the benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice, each individual must place their faith in Him as their sin substitute. Peter tells us, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 ESV). We must acknowledge our unrighteousness, our lack of a right standing with God due to our sin. We must also accept the sacrifice of Jesus as payment for our sin penalty. There is nothing we can do to satisfy or appease God through our self-effort or attempts at self-righteousness. Paul would have us remember that God “has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:22 NLT). The sad reality is that there are those who believe their right standing with God is dependent upon their own human effort. They spend their days trying to earn favor with God by keeping some set of rules or engaging in some ritualistic behavior in order to keep God happy. They struggle with the idea that someone else could pay for their sins. They wrestle with the idea of Jesus being the Son of God and sacrificing His life on their behalf. They mistakenly view Jesus as nothing more than a model to be followed, a good man who somehow managed to live a sinless life. And they wrongly assume that if Jesus could do it, so can we. That is not the message of the gospel. Paul makes this clear when he writes, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). He doesn’t say, “but God shows his love for us when we figure out how to live without sin.” No, God loved us in the midst of our sinfulness, and He proved it by sending His Son to die for us. The whole sacrificial system makes no sense if this is not the case. The law, the sacrifices, the priesthood – none of it makes sense if Jesus was not the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

Jesus came to do the will of His Father, and that will included His death on the cross. But as the author of Hebrews writes, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10 ESV). Under the old covenant, it was the will of God that men offer up sacrifices, the blood of bulls and goats, in order to atone for their sins. But ultimately, those sacrifices were not enough to satisfy the righteous, holy, and just demands of God. He had given His law in order to show men that they were incapable of living righteous lives and obeying His commands. They lived in a constant state of sin. He gave the sacrificial system in order to provide temporary relief from the guilt and condemnation of sin. Without the sacrificial system, men could not enjoy restored fellowship with God. Their sins had to be atoned for. But again, those things were simply a shadow, a glimpse of something far greater to come. Jesus was not just another man who figured out how to live a sinless life. He was the Son of God, who came in human flesh and lived without sin because He was divine. Because He was born of the Spirit, He had no sin nature. He alone could be the sacrifice for which God was looking. He alone could be the payment that would satisfy and propitiate God. Nothing else would do. No other sacrifice would work. No amount of human effort, rule keeping, good works, and righteous deeds will appease the wrath of God. Only the sinless sacrifice of the Son of God. Which is why Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). Notice that He did not say, “No one comes to the Father unless they live like me.” He didn’t say, “No one comes to the Father unless they model their lives after me.” No, He said we must go through Him by placing our faith in His work on the cross, not our works on this earth. 

King of Righteousness and Peace.

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever. See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils!  And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him. – Hebrews 7:1-10 ESV

The author continues his comparison between Jesus and Melchizedek, begun all the way back in chapter two when he declared Jesus as “a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God” (Hebrews 2:17 ESV). Jesus was and is a high priest, but He was not a descendant of Aaron, the original high priest appointed by God. Jesus’ priesthood was not of an earthly order. His was a divine priesthood, commissioned by God. He was the Savior of the world, the Messiah sent from God to act as King and ushering in a new Kingdom, but also as priest, offering up a better sacrifice for the sins of men. His priesthood was not based on an earthly, human genealogy, but a heavenly one. On one of the many occasions when Jesus found Himself confronted by the Pharisees, He asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42 NLT). They replied, “He is the son of David” (Matthew 22:42 NLT). Then quoting from Psalm 110, Jesus replies, “Then why does David, speaking under the inspiration of the Spirit, call the Messiah ‘my Lord’? For David said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies beneath your feet.’ Since David called the Messiah ‘my Lord,’ how can the Messiah be his son?” (Matthew 22:43-45 NLT). His point was that He was the Son of God. Yes, He was an earthly descendant of David, but His kingship was of a different sort than that of David. He was to be the King of kings and the Lord of lords. And in that very same Psalm of David, it reads:

The LORD said to my Lord,
    “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand
until I humble your enemies,
    making them a footstool under your feet.”

The LORD will extend your powerful kingdom from Jerusalem;
    you will rule over your enemies.
When you go to war,
    your people will serve you willingly.
You are arrayed in holy garments,
    and your strength will be renewed each day like the morning dew.

The LORD has taken an oath and will not break his vow:
    “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” – Psalm 110:1-4 NLT

This passage was not referring to David, but to the coming Messiah. It was a prophecy concerning Jesus, outlining His God-ordained role as both king and priest. The author used the story of Abraham and Melchizedek to prove the superiority of Jesus as both king and priest. It the story, Melchizedek blessed Abraham and Abraham offered a tenth of all his spoils in return. Melchizedek was a king and a priest, and as such, he was Abraham’s superior. The real point seems to be that the descendants of Abraham would eventually offer tithes to God through the Levites, their own brothers. That’s why the author writes, “those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham” (Hebrews 7:5 ESV). When Abraham offered his tithe to Melchizedek, the tribe of Levi did not yet exist. So in a sense, the author says, Levi and his sons offered a tithe to Melchizedek through their forefather, Abraham. The whole issue here is one of superiority. Jesus, as a high priest of the order of Melchizedek, is superior to any earthly high priest. Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek, the inferior was blessed by the superior. And we are blessed by Jesus. We are blessed by the King of peace and righteousness. And it interesting to note that Melchizedek blessed Abraham for no apparent reason. If you read the story in Genesis 14, it says that the kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam and Goiim made war with the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela. Melchizedek, the king of Salem, is not even mentioned. He had no dog in this hunt. When the battle took place “the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions and went their way” (Genesis 14:11-12 ESV). Abraham stepped in defeated the kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam and Goiim, rescuing Lot and taking a great deal of plunder. And that’s when Melchizedek shows up on the scene. His country of Salem had not been attacked and yet he appears to Abraham and blesses him. Abraham had not done anything to deserve Melchizedek’s blessing. He had not rescued any of his citizens. He had not returned any of Melchizedek’s spoil. The king of righteousness and peace blessed Abraham.

Those of us who are in Christ, have been blessed by the King. And that blessing had nothing to do with any merit on our part. We have done nothing to earn His blessing. When Melchizedek blessed Abraham, he said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High,  Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who has defeated your enemies for you” (Genesis 14:19-20 NLT). And the blessing we have received is similar. We have been given victory over sin and death by God through the sacrificial death of His Son. We have been blessed by God through the Son of God.

Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. And God designated him to be a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. – Hebrews5:8-10 NLT

We have been given perfect righteousness through Christ. And we now enjoy peace with God, having been made right in His eyes because of the substitutionary death of His Son.

Inclusive, Yet Exclusive.

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. – John 17:9-10 ESV

John 17:1-26

Jesus made a very interesting, yet non-debatable point in this section of His prayer. He had been referencing “the people whom you gave me out of the world” (John 17:6 ESV). He made it clear that it was for these individuals for whom He was praying. “I am praying for them … those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” Jesus clearly had in mind His disciples – all those who had believed in Him, including Mary Magdalene and the other women who had become part of his extended earthly “family.” Anyone who had placed their faith in Jesus and believed Him to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV), had become part of the exclusive group for which Jesus was praying. He distinctly sets them apart, saying, “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me.” Jesus echoed His belief that His followers were given to Him by God the Father. These men and women, from all walks of life, with their varying backgrounds, diverse economic situations, and varied sin stories, had been moved by God to step out in faith and follow His Son. And as far as Jesus was concerned, they belonged to the Father. But as the Son of God, He shared in that unique and exclusive relationship with the Father and His children. When God chooses to adopt someone into His family, they become His child and heir, and joint heirs with Christ. They get included into an exclusive family that enjoys unique benefits and privileges. This inclusion should never be taken lightly or for granted. It is not based on anyone’s merit and can never be earned or deserved in any way. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV). Salvation is a gift of God, made available through the death of His own Son.

There were going to be others who believed in Jesus and who would be included into this exclusive, yet growing family of God. A little later on in this same prayer, Jesus will tell the Father, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20 ESV). After His death and resurrection, and just prior to His ascension back into heaven, Jesus would tell His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 29:29-20 ESV). God continues to call individuals from all over the world to Himself. Millions upon millions of people have been included into the family of God by placing their faith in the Son of God as their Savior. Jesus had told His disciples, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV). His death by crucifixion, along with His miraculous resurrection, continue to draw people back to God. It is all the work of God. Paul reminds us, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21 ESV).

Christ died for all. His death was sufficient to pay for the sins of all mankind. But not all have have believed. There were many in Jesus’ day who rejected His message and refused to accept Him as their Messiah and Savior. They remained dead in their trespasses and sins. At the beginning of his gospel, John writes, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:9-13 ESV). The light, Jesus, was made visible to all, but not all received Him as the light. They preferred to go on living in darkness. Not all will be saved. The faith family of God, is inclusive to any and all, regardless of the color of their skin, the severity of their sin, their social and economic status, or intellectual prowess. But it is also exclusive. Jesus had made it clear. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). There is no other way. You can’t get to God through any other means. That exclusivity means that not all will be included in the family of God. Not all will accept Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. But for those of us who have placed our faith in Christ and been reconciled to or made right with God, we should rejoice and realize that our status as God’s children is due to His grace, not our merit. The very fact that we belong to God brings glory to Jesus because He is the one who made it possible. Without Him, we would be lost.