Fear God, Not Man

1 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” – Luke 12:1-12 ESV

It seems that the closer Jesus got to Jerusalem, the intensity of the exchanges between He and the Jewish religious leaders increased exponentially. The Sanhedrin, the high council of the Jews, was headquartered in the capital city and they were particularly wary of this renegade Rabbi peddling His influence on their turf. And the religious leaders had reason to worry because Jesus was proving to be just as popular in Judea as He had been in Galilee. Luke reveals that wherever Jesus went, “the crowds grew until thousands were milling about and stepping on each other” (Luke 12:1 NLT).

And wherever the crowds gathered, the Pharisees and scribes tended to show up like carrion circling a corpse. They never let Jesus out of their sight and were constantly trying to trick Him into saying or doing something that they could use against Him.

…the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees became hostile and tried to provoke him with many questions. They wanted to trap him into saying something they could use against him. – Luke 11:53-54 NLT

But Jesus refused to shy away from the confrontation, choosing instead to warn His disciples about the true intentions of these well-respected religious leaders. To the average Jew, the Pharisees and Sadduccees were considered the spiritual upper class of society. They were wealthy, influential, and powerful. And they were also revered for their apparent religious superiority. But Jesus was not fooled by their outward displays of personal piety and fervent law-keeping. He knew their hearts and wanted His disciples to know the truth about these pseudo-spiritual elitists, which led Him to say, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1 NLT).

This kind of talk must have shocked His disciples. Not only would they have viewed it as disrespectful, but they would have deemed it to be highly dangerous. It had already become clear to them that the Pharisees were not big fans of Jesus, so why would He poke the bear? What possible good could come from making such incendiary statements about such powerful individuals? But Jesus wasn’t out to win friends and influence enemies. He was preparing His followers for life in His absence. His earthly mission was quickly coming to a close and it would not be long before He had to leave the work of the ministry in the hands of His disciples. So, He wanted them to know the truth.

Jesus didn’t want His disciples to emulate the ways of men – even those who appeared to be the icons of religious virtue. According to Jesus, the Pharisees and their peers were nothing more than hypocrites. The Greek word He used to describe them is hypokrisis, which was commonly used to describe actors in a play. Jesus was exposing the Pharisees as nothing more than pretenders. Like thespians in a Greek drama, they wore masks to disguise their true identity and fool the audience into thinking they were someone else. It was all a cleverly orchestrated charade. But unlike actors in a play, the Pharisees had become self-deceived, believing that they were exactly who they portrayed themselves to be.

And Jesus wanted His disciples to know that this delusional mindset was contagious and dangerous. Like yeast that spreads through a batch of dough, the fake faith of the Pharisees had begun to permeate its way through the nation of Israel. The religion of the Jews had become all about outward displays of righteousness with very little emphasis on the true condition of the heart. And Jesus was fully aware that this mentality had already crept into the thinking of His disciples. They had a pharisaical outlook on life, measuring their spirituality by actions rather than attitude. But Jesus wanted them to know that behavior was always a byproduct of belief and not the other way around.

This led Him to state, “The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all” (Luke 12:2 NLT). Jesus is revealing that the true condition of the Pharisees’ hearts will soon be exposed. With His coming arrest, trial, and crucifixion, the disciples will get an up-close and personal glimpse into the dark recesses of these men’s hearts. Their true intentions will be put on display for all to see, and it will not be a pretty picture. 

The sinister and secretive planning of the high priest and his fellow members of the Sanhedrin will become readily apparent. Their obsession to eliminate Jesus will finally come to fruition and all their carefully crafted questions and well-orchestrated encounters with Jesus will be exposed for what they were all along: Hypocritical lies motivated by hate and emanating from sin-darkened hearts.

What the disciples needed to know was that the day was coming when the roles would be reversed. They had been living in fear of the animosity of the religious leaders. They knew these men were powerful and could make or break the ministry of Jesus. But according to Jesus, the disciples would soon be declaring the good news of the kingdom of God from the housetops. Despite the threat of persecution, they would carry the message of the Gospel to “Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NLT).

This led Jesus to encourage His disciples to live fearlessly and faithfully even in the present hour. They had no reason to fear the high priest or the rest of the Sanhedrin. Yes, these men were powerful, but they were nothing when compared with God Almighty.

“Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.” – Luke 12:4-5 NLT

Jesus clearly acknowledges that the religious leaders had the power and authority to take a man’s life. He was well aware that they would play a major role in determining His own death. But He wanted the disciples to understand that God was sovereign. The influence of these men was purely physical and temporal. They could take a man’s life but had no power over his eternal life. They could kill but they couldn’t condemn. They could cast a man into the grave but had no authority to cast a man into hell. But God could. He was sovereign over all things, including a man’s death and the fate of his eternity.

The Pharisees could have cared less about Jesus and His disciples. They viewed them as little more than thorns in their side that needed to be removed and disposed of. But God placed a high value on Jesus’ followers. The Creator-God who cares for the insignificant sparrow cared for them. So much so, that He was aware of the number of hairs on each of their heads. The Pharisees didn’t know a single disciple’s name, but God knew everything about them, including their eternal state.

With that amazing reality in mind, Jesus encouraged His disciples to focus their attention on the mission at hand. They were not to be distracted or deterred by the threats of the Pharisees. Instead, they were to boldly proclaim the message of Jesus’ Messiahship to the ends of the earth.

“I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels.” – Luke 12: 8 NLT

Their faithfulness to follow through on their commission would reap significant rewards. And while the Pharisees and their fellow members of the Sanhedrin would threaten and oppose them, the disciples would one day hear the words of Jesus, saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!” (Matthew 25:23 NLT).

But the Pharisees faced a far different fate.

“But anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God’s angels. Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” – Luke 12:9-10 NLT

They refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. As a result, they would be denied access to God’s Kingdom. The very men who believed themselves to be at the pinnacle of the spiritual mountain would one day find themselves barred from God’s presence. These men would pay dearly for their refusal to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah and for attributing His Spirit-enabled power to Satan.

But Jesus encourages His disciples by telling them that the very same Spirit would indwell and empower them in the days to come.

“…the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said.” – Luke 12:12 NLT

He didn’t sugarcoat the future. He clearly warned them that persecution and literal trials were going to be a part of their experience. But they would find themselves empowered by the Spirit of God. Despite the threats of the Pharisees, the disciples would boldly confess Jesus before men. No pretending. No pretext. No play-acting. These men would discover the truth behind the promise Jesus made to them just prior to His ascension into heaven.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 NLT

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

Don’t Over-Complicate It

1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
    for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.” – Luke 11:1-4 ESV

This is the second time in the gospels that we find a record of Jesus delivering to His disciples what has come to be known as The Lord’s Prayer. The other occasion is found in the book of Matthew. But the significant differences in the two accounts seem to indicate that Luke and Matthew were recording two different incidents. This should not be surprising because Jesus often repeated key lessons to His disciples. And since prayer was such a vital part of His own earthly ministry, He must have discussed this topic on more than one occasion. 

Jesus knew there was a lot about the practice of prayer that was misunderstood by His disciples and causing them to misuse and abuse it. Like so many other Jews, they had turned prayer into little more than an outward display of their own apparent righteousness. They prayed to impress and to gain the approval of men. That was the basis of Jesus’ discussion of prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13. He had just covered how not to pray. They were not to pray hypocritically, pretending to be concerned with God, while actually trying to impress those around them with their prayerful piety. And He told them not to pray lengthy, repetitive prayers, in the hopes that God might see them as more holy and, therefore, answer their prayers more readily.

In Luke’s account, he reveals that the topic of prayer was raised by one of Jesus’ disciples. This unnamed individual came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1 ESV). It could be that this man expected Jesus to further elaborate on His original discussion regarding prayer. As the disciples observed Jesus day after day, they were eyewitnesses to His own prayerful disposition. He often spent entire evenings in prayer to His Heavenly Father, and Luke indicates that it was after just such an occasion that this disciple approached Jesus with his request.

It seems likely that this disciple remembered what Jesus had said about prayer when He had discussed the topic earlier. But the man was looking for more. He specifically asked that Jesus teach them as John taught his disciples. It would appear that the disciple was looking for the key to a more effective and powerful prayer life. If you recall, when the disciples had failed to cast the demon out of a young boy, Jesus had told them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29 ESV). Their lack of success in casting out the demon coupled with this insight from Jesus might have prompted a discussion among the disciples regarding their need for more prayer instruction. It wasn’t that they didn’t pray, it was that they must not be praying in the wrong way. Or so they thought.

So, much to their surprise and disappointment, Jesus simply repeats what He had taught them earlier.

And he said to them, “When you pray, say…” – Luke 11:2 ESV

As in the case of Jesus’ teaching found in Matthew’s gospel, what follows is a model for prayer. It was not intended to be a stand-in for the disciples’ own prayers or to become some kind of daily recitation that they were to pray routinely and mechanically. In these verses, Jesus provides a model to be followed, not a mantra to be recited. It contains the key elements that should be found in every conversation between a child of God and their Heavenly Father. And it provides a simple, easy-to-follow outline for proper prayer.

First of all, Jesus would have us remember that prayer is not about us. It is, first and foremost, about God and our relationship with Him as His child. We are more than free to come to God with our needs, wants, and even our desires. But we must attempt to bring those needs, wants, and desires within His will. So, Jesus begins His model prayer by addressing the Father.

The term “father” communicates intimacy. We are to come before God as a child, recognizing that He loves and cares for us. Realizing that He is our provider and protector. He loves and cares for us, and He is also responsible for us. He is holy, while we are marred by sin and yet, we can come before Him and talk with Him. In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us to “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT).

But we must always remember that God is both good and great. He is approachable, but we must never come into His presence flippantly or disrespectfully. One of the problems that can develop from the father/child relationship is a spirit of over-familiarity. Children can become too comfortable with their parents and begin to treat them as peers. A parent who refuses to maintain their proper position of authority may end up with a child who becomes demanding toward them, even demeaning. The old phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt,” can become true of the parent/child relationship. It can produce an attitude of flippancy and disrespect. And the same thing can happen in our relationship with God the Father. We are His children, but that relationship should not cause us to forget about His sovereignty over us. We are never to forget that it is Christ who provides us with access to God. Jesus would later say, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).

Next, Jesus provides an interesting way to address our Father God.

…hallowed be your name…

Now, why would Jesus insert this line in His model prayer? Think about what this statement is saying. The word translated “hallowed” is from the Greek word hagiazo, which means “to separate from profane things and dedicate to God.” The English word “hallow” means “to honor as holy; consider sacred; venerate.” But why would we need to tell God that His name should be treated as holy? Isn’t His name always holy? One of the things we must understand is the extreme importance a man’s name held in the Hebrew culture. It was tied to his character. So, to say to God, “hallowed be your name” was a statement of desire. We are not asking God to keep His name holy, but as His children, we are expressing our desire to live in such a way that nothing we do might profane His name. To say, “hallowed be your name” is to express to him our desire and intention to live in such a way that we bring honor and glory to Him. We are pledging to treat His name as holy through our actions. God will never do anything that will discredit or dishonor His own name. But as His children, we can do immeasurable harm to the character of God by the manner in which we conduct our lives on this planet.

The next part of Jesus’ model prayer states, “your kingdom come.” Notice the emphasis: His kingdom. Not ours. Prayer is to be focused on God, not us. Prayer is not primarily a time to tell God about all the things we think He doesn’t know or to give Him the lengthy list of things we think we need. In His earlier lesson on prayer, Jesus had stated, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8 ESV). Prayer is an opportunity to align our will with His. It is a chance to remind ourselves that we exist for the good of His kingdom, not the other way around. And to ask that His kingdom come is to say to God that we want His rule and reign to permeate every area of our life. It is a willful submission to His authority over us.

One of the things Jesus seems to want us to know is that prayer is about sharing our hearts, not information. Prayer allows us to…

…realign our perspective

…refocus our attention

…reveal our sin

…refresh our commitment

…request His assistance

Prayer should focus on His kingdom, not ours. It should stress His will, not ours. That does not mean we are forbidden to ask for things from God. But Jesus provides us with a sobering reminder of just what we should focus on when we do make requests of God.

Give us this day our daily bread…

Here is the interesting thing about Jesus’ model prayer. A sincere desire for God’s kingdom to come should change the nature of our requests. If we truly believe that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, and fully capable of providing for us what we need for life, we will trust Him to do so. He is King and knows what is best for us. So, as we pray to Him, our priorities should change. Rather than seeking significance and satisfaction from those things the world offers, we will be content to trust God to meet our daily needs. Thomas L. Constable describes our daily bread as:

“…the necessities of life, not its luxuries. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. The request is for God to supply our needs day by day.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition

The next request Jesus makes in His prayer is that of forgiveness.

forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us

But weren’t all our sins paid for on the cross? Why do we need forgiveness? Because we still have sinful natures. Because we still sin. And sin creates a barrier between God and us. The forgiveness Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with salvation, but with restoring fellowship with God. Sin indebts us to God. When we confess those sins, it brings forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgives us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 ESV

Confession restores fellowship. Fellowship with God should mean more to us than anything else. But is Jesus teaching that our forgiveness from God is tied to our willingness to forgive others? To refuse to forgive others shows open disregard for the forgiveness of God. To refuse to forgive is a sin. It is against the will of God for His children. That is why the apostle Paul had such strong words regarding our need to forgive others.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:12-13 NLT

The next part of His prayer is intriguing.

…and lead us not into temptation…

Is Jesus suggesting that we ask God not to tempt us? If so, He would be contradicting what James would later write, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13 ESV). Paul seems to muddy the waters even more:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV

The Greek word for “temptation” is peirasmos and it can mean a trial or testing. It can refer to an inner temptation to sin, but also to a trial that tests the character. So what is Jesus suggesting? Based on the context, it would appear that He wanted us to have an awareness of our dependence upon God. We must recognize that God’s way never leads us to sin. That doesn’t mean we won’t sin, but we must ask God to protect us from falling into sin along the way. We need His help not to sin as He leads us. Following God’s leadership will not be easy. There will be trials along the way. And Jesus wanted His followers to know that they could come to God for assistance and deliverance.

The disciple who made this request of Jesus was well-intentioned, but he was overcomplicating the issue. He was looking for a methodology that might result in a more powerful prayer life. We have no way of knowing what John the Baptist had taught his disciples regarding prayer, but this man was wanting Jesus to provide more in-depth instruction on the topic. And yet, Jesus simply reiterated what He had taught them before. Pray humbly to your Heavenly Father. Make it your priority to protect the holiness of His name. Keep your focus on the eternal rather than the temporal. Remain completely dependent upon God for all your needs, including food and forgiveness. And never forget your complete reliance upon Him for surviving the trials and temptations of this life.

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

Kingdoms In Conflict

1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you,’

11 and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. Luke 4:1-13 ESV

After His baptism by John, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the Judean wilderness. From this point forward, Jesus will willingly operate under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit. He will submit Himself to the Spirit’s guidance and accomplish His ministry by virtue of the Spirit’s power. In doing so, Jesus will provide a tangible display of the Spirit-filled life His followers will experience after His death, burial, and resurrection. Just prior to His return to heaven, He told His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit, who would indwell, empower, and lead them.

“And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.” – Luke 12:49 NLT

So, as Jesus begins His public ministry, He is led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness where, as Luke records, “he was tempted by the devil for forty days” (Luke 4:2 NLT). This point is so vital for us to understand because it reveals that what happened to Jesus in the wilderness was fully anticipated by God the Father. The Spirit of God was fully aware of what awaited Jesus in the wilderness and yet, He led Jesus to that very spot. But what do we do with a passage like James 1:13, where we’re told that God does not tempt us?

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. – James 1:13 ESV

The Spirit of God did not lead Jesus into the wilderness in order to tempt Him. But He was fully aware that Jesus would be tempted by Satan. This entire episode was designed to pit Satan, “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31 ESV), against Jesus the King of all creation. For 40 days, the enemy would attempt to thwart the divine plan of God by trying to deceive, distract, and discredit the Son of God. It’s important to note that on two separate occasions, Satan began his temptation of Jesus by stating, “If you are the Son of God…” (Luke 4:3, 9 ESV). These statements by Satan were meant to stand in direct contradiction to the words of God, spoken at the baptism of Jesus.

“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” – Luke 3:22 ESV

Satan was using the same ploy he had used on Adam and Eve in the garden. Disguised as an alluring serpent, Satan came to Eve in the garden and slyly asked her, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). He was subtly twisting the words of God in order to create doubt in the mind of Eve. Because he knew that doubt was the first step toward disobedience. That’s why, when Eve corrected his blatant misquoting of God, Satan responded with a bold assertion that painted God as the real deceiver.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 ESV

Satan portrayed God as a liar and assured the woman that she was being denied that which was rightfully hers to have: The freedom to decide for herself what was right and wrong. In essence, he was offering her what God had already given her. God had already determined what was to be off-limits in the garden, and it was a single tree. The Creator had established the criteria for behavior in His garden, but now Satan was attempting to throw a wrench into God’s plan by appealing to the natural human desire for autonomy and self-regulation. We inherently desire to be our own gods, to be the masters of our own fate, and the captains of our souls. And Satan’s temptation worked like a charm on Eve.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. – Genesis 3:6 ESV

So, here in the wilderness, the second Adam was led by the Spirit of God into a direct encounter with the same conniving and deceptive enemy of God. And Satan began his attack with the same time-tested strategy: By casting doubt on the word of God.

“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” – Luke 4:3 ESV

It seems clear that Satan had been an eyewitness to the baptism of Jesus. If not, it would not have been long before one of his minions had reported what they had seen and heard. So, Satan began his assault on the Son of God by raising doubts about His identity. As the long-standing enemy of God, Satan knew that the best way to discredit one of the Almighty’s messengers was to get them to violate their commitment to Him. Over the centuries, he had successfully tempted the kings of Israel and Judah to disobey their divine call to shepherd the people of God. He had taken godly kings like Solomon and, by appealing to their base human desires, caused them to violate the commands of God. The basic strategy behind his war against God was to cause the people of God to do what was right in their own minds (Judges 17:6).

Satan wasn’t denying the Sonship of Jesus. No, his plan was much more subtle and sinister than that. He knew who Jesus was and he also knew that his best bet at thwarting God’s plan for Jesus was to get him to operate outside the will of God. And he began with the basest of human desires: The need for food.

Luke indicates that Jesus had gone without food for 40 days and, as a result, He was in a severely weakened state. So, Satan took advantage of Jesus’ condition and attempted to get Jesus to use His divinely ordained power to meet His own needs. Jesus’ hunger was not a sin, so what could have been wrong with Him using His power to keep Himself alive? The point seems to be that Jesus was totally dependent upon God the Father, and Satan was trying to get Him to satisfy His own desires in His own way. But Jesus quickly responded, “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Luke 4:4 ESV). For Jesus, satisfying the will of the Father was far more important than satisfying His own physical needs. He would later tell His own disciples:

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:31-33 NLT

Having failed in his first attempt, Satan didn’t give up, he simply upped the ante. He now tempted Jesus to glorify Himself. To do so, he somehow managed to give Jesus a glimpse of all the kingdoms of the earth. This vision was intended to appeal to Jesus’ human desire for power and prestige. As the ruler of this world, Satan was offering Jesus a stake in the action. He was willing to give Jesus “the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them” (Luke 4:6 NLT). But there was a catch. In return for all the glory and power, Jesus would have to worship Satan as His lord and master. Satan’s offers always come with a high price. And for Jesus, this one was unacceptable and totally implausible. Nothing was worth abandoning His worship of the one true God.

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” – Luke 4:6 ESV

Whether he realized it or not, Satan was actually offering to Jesus what was already rightfully His. As the Son of God, He was already the ruler over heaven and earth. He had created it all and it all belonged to Him. Paul makes that point perfectly clear in his letter to the church in Colossae.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together. – Colossians 1:15-17 NLT

Next, Satan somehow transported Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, where he tempted Jesus to test His Father’s love for Him. He did so by commanding Jesus to throw Himself from the highest point of the temple so that the angels would come to His rescue. And this temptation, like the first one, was based on Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Surely, God would not allow something tragic to happen to His beloved Son. But what Satan didn’t realize was that God had something far more painful and tragic in store for Jesus: Death by crucifixion.

Jesus was not going to prove His Sonship by throwing Himself off of the temple because that was not God’s plan. In fact, even when He was facing arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53 ESV). Jesus did not come to be saved from death, but to offer His life so that others might live. And He would do so willingly.

“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

Satan was attempting to get Jesus to test His Father’s love for Him. Surely, a loving Father would not allow His Son to suffer and die. Satan even quoted verses from the Bible to support his premise. But, once again, Satan didn’t understand that the greatest expression of God’s love would come through the sacrifice of His own Son. And Jesus would later explain the remarkable nature of this inexplicable and unfathomable love of God.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 ESV

Satan failed because he couldn’t comprehend the ways of God. He had attempted to treat the Son of God as nothing more than another flawed and sin-prone human being whose fleshly desires would get the best of Him. But He was wrong. Dead wrong. Whether he realized it or not, Satan was up against the King of kings and Lord of lords. He had more than met his match. He had just met the Messiah and his days as ruler of this world were destined to come to an end.

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 Is Faithful

66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14:66-72 ESV

As Jesus was standing before the Sanhedrin undergoing interrogation by the high priest, Peter had remained in the courtyard, attempting to keep himself warm by the fire while also keeping his identity hidden from the servants and guards who had participated in the arrest of Jesus. Peter and John had been the only disciples to follow Jesus after His arrest in the garden. All the others had fled into the night. Yet Peter was anything but brave. And as the night wore on, his fear began to get the best of him. He so wanted to stand by his Master and honor his commitment to defend Him to the end. But in the darkness of the courtyard, surrounded by armed guards and servants of the high priest, Peter felt alone and afraid. He had no way of knowing what was happening inside the walls of Caiaphas’ residence, but it seems likely that servants of the high priest were bringing regular reports of the proceedings to those waiting in the courtyard. The normally-impulsive Peter, who had drawn his sword and cut off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants, now cowered in the darkness, wondering how everything had gone so wrong.

His mind must have been flooded with memories as he thought back over the last 3-1/2 years of his life with Jesus. He could vividly recall the day when he and his brother Andrew were casting their net into the sea of Galilee, and Jesus had called out to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17 ESV). That had proved to be a life-changing moment for them. They had left their nets behind and become disciples of this Rabbi from Nazareth. And over the following years, they had seen Him perform inexplicable miracles, deliver powerful messages, and provide convincing proof that He was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. But now, Peter’s hopes of a new King and a renewed Kingdom of Israel were on the verge of collapse. Jesus was standing before the Jewish high council with His hands bound and His Messianic claims fully rejected by these powerful religious leaders. And all Peter could do was wonder about what might have been.

But suddenly, Peter’s contemplation was interrupted by a voice. A young servant girl, recognizing Peter as one of Jesus’ disciples, pointed to him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus” (Mark 14:67 ESV). His cover was blown. And in a state of fear, Peter responded, “I neither know nor understand what you mean” (Mark 14:68 ESV). He pleaded ignorance. In essence, he claimed not to know what she was talking about. Hoping to avoid any further interaction with the girl, Peter made his way to the exit, and as soon as he did, the rooster crowed for the first time.

But the girl, more convinced than ever that Peter was a disciple of Jesus persisted with her claim.

“This man is one of them.” – Mark 14:69 ESV

And you can almost feel the growing sense of panic taking over Peter. He feels trapped. The walls were closing in. And Matthew records that Peter not only denied the girl’s words, but he swore an oath, saying, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 26:72 ESV). And then the rest of the crowd began to join in the chorus of accusations, shouting, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean” (Mark 14:70 ESV). Suddenly, all eyes were focused on him. And, under normal circumstances, Peter would have enjoyed being the center of attention. But not on this night. So, “he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know this man of whom you speak’” (Mark 14:71 ESV). And the rooster crowed a second and final time.

That naturally occurring sound must have pierced Peter’s ears like an air-raid siren, providing a jarring and unwelcome reminder of what Jesus has said earlier.

“Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” – Mark 14:30 ESV

Totally unaware of the significance of his words, Peter had denied Jesus three separate times and, in so doing, had unwittingly fulfilled the Lord’s prediction. And as he considered the weight of his actions, Peter “broke down and wept” (Mark 14:72 ESV). He was devastated. This man, who took such pride in his faithfulness and who had guaranteed his steadfastness to the end, had caved under pressure. In the garden, he had slept while Jesus grieved and prayed. In the courtyard, he had lied while Jesus was tried and condemned.

From this point forward, Peter disappears from the scene, and he will not reappear until Jesus has resurrected from the dead. With his actions in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter became the representative for all the disciples. This man, who at one point had boldly proclaimed to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV), had just denied even knowing Him. But other than John, Peter had been the only one of the disciples who even bothered to show up that night at the high priest’s house. They had all abandoned Jesus, leaving Him to suffer the pain and agony of the cross alone. Each of them would go into hiding. And it seems that only John would be brave enough to make a personal appearance at the crucifixion of Jesus.

But these men were not failures. They were simply sinners in need of a Savior. And Jesus was preparing to offer His life as their atoning sacrifice so that they might receive the indwelling power of the Spirit of God. He would die so that they might live. He would remain faithful to His mission despite their unfaithfulness. He would keep His commitment to His Father’s will so that they might receive power from on high. Peter walked away, defeated and discouraged. He had lost the battle with fear. But Jesus was about to win the victory over sin and death and restore hope to all who, like Peter, find themselves wallowing in hopelessness and despair.

Peter himself would later write these powerfully encouraging words:

If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is. – 2 Peter 2:13 NLT

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

Called to Follow

16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him. Mark 1:16-20 ESV

After 40 days of fasting and being tested by Satan in the wilderness, Jesus took no time off but went straight to work. But Mark alludes to something very significant that happened before Jesus began His earthly ministry: John the Baptist was arrested.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 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

John, the one who had been chosen by God to prepare the way for Jesus’ coming, had been removed from the scene. And Luke provides further details about what happened.

John also publicly criticized Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for many other wrongs he had done. So Herod put John in prison, adding this sin to his many others. – Luke 3:19-20 NLT

In a sense, John’s work had been completed. He had done what God had commissioned Him to do. The Messiah had come and there was no more need for John to “prepare the way.” So, God sovereignly arranged for John’s ministry to come to an abrupt and final end. While we might find God’s method for terminating John’s employment to be a bit heavy-handed, it is essential that we recognize His sovereign orchestration and timing of this event.

John’s removal from the scene was essential to God’s plan. It was important that John not detract from the ministry and mission of Jesus. His job had been to announce the coming of “the light.”

God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. – John1:6-8 NLT

But in the time John had spent preaching and baptizing in the wilderness, he had amassed quite a following.

People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. – Matthew 3:5 NLT

And there were all kinds of rumors circulating about John. So much so, that the Jewish religious leaders had sent a delegation into the Judean wilderness in order to determine who he was and what he was doing.

This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?” He came right out and said, “I am not the Messiah.”

“Well then, who are you?” they asked. “Are you Elijah?”

“No,” he replied.

“Are you the Prophet we are expecting?”[i]

“No.”

“Then who are you? We need an answer for those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?” – John 1:19-22 NLT

John was being bombarded with questions concerning who he was. And it seems apparent that there were some who believed him to be the Messiah. As long as John was on the scene, he would continue to draw crowds and create confusion. So, God brought his ministry to an end, removing any further suspicion that he might be the Messiah.

Luke records that Jesus “returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all” (Luke 4:14-15 ESV).

But before recounting one of those synagogue sermons, Mark inserts the story of Jesus calling His first four disciples. He was walking along the Sea of Galilee when He spotted Simon and Andrew, two brothers who were standing along the shoreline casting their nets into the sea. Mark indicates that Jesus called to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17 ESV), and the two men immediately left their nets and followed him. At first glance, it would appear that Jesus had walked up to two complete strangers, issued them a strange and rather cryptic invitation, and they had dropped what they were doing and robotically got in line behind Him.

But John adds some important details that the Synoptic gospels left out. It appears that this was not the first time that Jesus had met these two men. In his gospel account, John records that Jesus spent some time in Judea in the days following His baptism.

The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus.

Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them.

They replied, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

“Come and see,” he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day.

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”).

Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”). – John 1:35-42 NLT

So, this was not the first time that Simon and Andrew had met Jesus. It would seem that they had traveled from Galilee to Judea because of the rumors they had heard about John the Baptist, and Andrew had become one of his disciples.  When Andrew had heard John the Baptist refer to Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” he had immediately followed Jesus and had later brought his brother to meet the one who he referred to as “the Messiah.”

It is likely that Andrews and Simon returned to Galilee sometime during the 40-day period that Jesus was in the wilderness and after John the Baptist was arrested and imprisoned. With these two men out of the picture, the two brothers had returned home and did what they had always done: fish.

But Jesus found them and made His calling of them official. So, their rather abrupt decision to follow Jesus becomes a bit more understandable when all the facts are considered. And with Andrew and Simon in tow, Jesus made His way further up the shoreline until he saw two more brothers who were busy mending their nets. Luke reveals that these two men, James and John, were actually business partners with Andrew and Simon (Luke 5:10). And this was not their first encounter with Jesus either. Luke provides yet another detail concerning Jesus’ previous interactions with all four men.

One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus. – Luke 5:1-11 NLT

All four of these men were familiar with Jesus and had even heard Him speak and teach. But they had not yet decided to become His disciples. The very fact that Jesus found them casting and mending nets indicates that they were not yet fully committed to His cause. But when He extended the invitation, they immediately responded by leaving everything behind. Jesus would later tell His disciples, “You didn’t choose me. I chose you” (John 15:16 NLT). Their calling had been up to Jesus and even He would later admit that everyone of His disciples had been given to Him by God (John 17:6, 9). 

Jesus was beginning His earthly ministry by calling a group of unexpected and unqualified men who would become His disciples and, later, would become His apostles and ambassadors of the good news. In time, these four fishermen would be transformed into fishers of men. But that transformation would take more than three years and require the coming of the Holy Spirit before it was fully complete.

tEnglish 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

A Mission Validated, Tested, and Begun

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

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 1:9-15 ESV

Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark dedicates no part of his gospel to the birth of Jesus. Instead, he opens with very brief descriptions of Jesus’ baptism and His testing by Satan in the wilderness. Even when covering these two significant events, Mark is stingy with the details. He seems to use them as further proofs of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah but then moves quickly past them in order to focus on the actual ministry of Jesus.

Mark mentions, almost in passing, that Jesus was from Nazareth. Since Mark does not cover the birth of Jesus, there is no mention of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. For Mark, the most important details concerning Jesus began with His adult life. He is not negating the importance of the incarnation but is simply concentrating the focus of his gospel on the launch of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus had spent His life growing up in Nazareth, a nondescript town in Galilee. Even among the Jews, Nazareth was a town of little import and low estimation. In fact, when Philip met Jesus for the first time, he told his friend Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 ESV). To which Nathanael sarcastically responded, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 ESV). Yet, it was out of this unlikely and unimpressive town that the Savior of the world would come.

Luke reveals that Jesus was 30-years-old when He left Nazareth and made His way to the wilderness of Judea where John was baptizing (Luke 3:23). And Jesus chose to inaugurate the official launch of His ministry by being baptized. Now Mark has made it clear that John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4 ESV). It was intended to be a public expression of the individual’s admission of their sin and need for forgiveness. By submitting themselves to being baptized, they were indicating their willingness to repent and be cleansed of their sins, so that they might be ready for the Messiah and His coming Kingdom. 

But why was Jesus baptized? The Scriptures make it clear that He was sinless. The author of Hebrews states that Jesus “was tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 BSB). And Paul adds that “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).

The author of Hebrews provides some much-needed insight into the motivation behind Jesus’ decision to be baptized that day.

…it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. – Hebrews 2:17 NLT

Not only had Jesus taken on human flesh and become one of us, He was willing to undergo the same ritual of baptism in order to associate Himself with sinful humanity. Even though He was sinless, He willingly submitted to John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It is the same reason Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified. Though He was sinless, He willingly died the death that we deserved. As Peter put it, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24 BSB). And Paul succinctly states that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3 NLT).

Jesus became one of us – in every way – so that He might give His life on behalf of us. And in being baptized by John, Jesus was fulfilling the will of His Father. Matthew records that when Jesus showed up at the Jordan River and asked John to baptize him, John was reticent.

John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?” – Matthew 3:14 NLT

But Jesus insisted, telling John, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires” (Matthew 3:15 NLT). Everything Jesus did was in keeping with His Father’s will. He would later claim, “I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will” (John 6:38 NLT). And He described His faithful adherence to His Father’s will as a form of nourishment and sustenance.

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.” – John 4:34 BSB

Another reason behind His baptism was that it foreshadowed another kind of baptism He would undergo as a part of God’s sovereign will. Sometime later, Jesus would have a difficult exchange with two of His disciples. He had just told all of His disciples about what was going to take place in Jerusalem.

“The Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.” – Mark 10:34-35 NLT

And in response, the two brothers, James and John, asked Jesus to do them a favor.

“When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Mark 10:37 NLT

To which Jesus soberly responded:

You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?” – Mark 10:38 NLT

Jesus was going to be “immersed” in an overwhelming form of suffering that would no one else could have endured. And it would be the will of God for Him to do so. Jesus later described the unbearable nature of this baptism of suffering.

“I have a terrible baptism of suffering ahead of me, and I am under a heavy burden until it is accomplished.” – Luke 12:50 NLT

It was the Father’s will, so Jesus was determined to carry it out. It was also the Father’s will that the people of Israel come to John in the wilderness and submit to the “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John had clearly called them to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV). And they were expected to obey the will of God. So, in submitting to baptism, Jesus was providing them with an example of faithful obedience, even though He had no sins that needed forgiving.

And Jesus had fulfilled the will of His Father, Mark records that something incredible happened.

…when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” – Mark 1:10-11 ESV

An amazing, supernatural sign from heaven appeared. And it culminated with the sound of the voice of God, calling out from heaven and declaring His pleasure with His Son. This scene provided a divine seal of approval on Jesus. God the Father was validating Jesus’ identity as His Son and declaring His complete satisfaction with all that was about to happen. The next three-and-a-half years of Jesus’ life would have the full blessing and approval of God.

But this fantastic scene is followed by the rather strange statement: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12 ESV). Yet, even what follows is to be clearly understood as the will of God for Jesus’ life. Jesus, the Son of God, was driven by the Spirit of God in order to do the will of God. And His destination was the wilderness where He would undergo a series of temptations by Satan over a period of 40 days. Mark doesn’t mention it, but Jesus went without food and water the entire time He was in the wilderness. He would have been weak and famished. His physical condition would have deteriorated. But, as Jesus told His disciples, His nourishment came from doing the will of His Father.

And the author of Hebrews reminds us, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). And His suffering allowed Him to fully undertand and empathize with those whom He came to save.

Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. – Hebrews 2:18 NLT

Jesus survived His baptism by fire. He overcame the temptations of the enemy and emerged from the wilderness 40 days later completely sinless and fully obedient to His Heavenly Father. And now, His real earthly ministry could begin.

tEnglish 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

Tempted Like Us

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 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 4:1-11 ESV

Matthew’s account of the temptation of Jesus is not just a retelling of the details surrounding the event. He has an ulterior motive, and it is the same one he has had from the moment he began His Gospel. Matthew intends to support Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah, and the rightful King of Israel.

Immediately after His baptism by John, Jesus heard the following words from His Father in heaven: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV). God Himself acknowledges the deity of Jesus, presenting Him as His own Son and expressing His pleasure or satisfaction with Him. The descent of the Holy Spirit onto Jesus, in the visible form of a dove, was a sign of God’s approval of Him. And it was the Spirit who led Jesus “into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1 ESV). And Luke adds that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1 ESV). The Son of God was filled with the Spirit of God. And this indwelling by the Spirit would allow Jesus to model the very lifestyle His death and resurrection would make it possible for all those who would eventually place their faith in Him. The same helper, comforter, and advocate who assisted Him in His earthly ministry would be available to all who became His followers.

And we should not overlook the fact that the Spirit of God led the Son of God from the banks of the Jordan into the Judean wilderness. This one who had allowed Himself to be baptized by John to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15), and who had received the approval of God, was now being led into the desolate wilderness. Why? Matthew provides us with the answer: “…to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1 ESV).

It is easy to miss the weight of those words. But it is essential that we understand what is happening in this scene. Jesus, the Son of God, who had just received the full approval of God, was led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness and for one solitary purpose: To be tempted by Satan. This is the one of whom John said: “he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (Luke 3:16 ESV). This is the one to whom God declared, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22 ESV). And yet, He is being led by the Holy Spirit into an encounter with Satan, whose very name means “adversary.”

This entire scene appears incongruous to us. It seems strange that God would send His own Son, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, into the wilderness to endure starvation and temptation at the hands of the enemy. Why would God willingly put His Son through such an ordeal? But that begs the question, why would God send His Son to die in the place of undeserving sinners? The temptation of Jesus was just one part of the divine agenda that God the Father had put in place before the foundation of the world. Peter reminds us that “God chose him [Jesus] as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake” (1 Peter 1:20 NLT).

Jesus came to this earth in the form of a man, and in that form, He would suffer and endure many trials and temptations, just as we do. The author of Hebrews describes Jesus as our High Priest, who “understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NLT). Jesus took on human flesh, so that He might be the second and final Adam, the one who would live in perfect obedience to God, through the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. And the apostle Paul reminds us of the ramifications of Adam’s disobedience and Jesus’ obedience.

For just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man [Jesus] many will be made righteous. – Romans 5:19 NLT

Jesus had to be tempted and tested. He had to suffer and endure deprivations of all kinds. In order for Him to understand our weaknesses, He had to experience them for Himself. And the very first days of His earthly ministry were going to test whether He would continue to bring pleasure to His heavenly Father. Would He continue to fulfill all righteousness?

And you can sense that Satan had a strategy in mind. The temptations he threw at Jesus were well-planned and designed with Him in mind. And notice that Satan began his attacks by raising questions regarding Jesus’ identity.

“If you are the Son of God…” – Matthew 4:3 ESV

He had used a similar strategy with Eve in the Garden of Eden. He had begun his temptation of her with the words, “Did God actually say…?” He raised doubts concerning the word of God. He wanted Eve to doubt the fairness and faithfulness of God.

In his temptation of Jesus, Satan wasn’t trying to get Him to doubt His identity as the Son of God. He wanted Jesus to doubt God’s plans concerning His role as the Son of God. It had been God’s plans from the beginning that Jesus would suffer and die. Don’t forget what Peter said: “God chose him [Jesus] as your ransom long before the world began.” Suffering was part of God’s plan for His Son, and Jesus knew it. He would later state, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 28:20 NLT). Jesus knew who He was, but He also knew why He had come. But Satan tried to get Jesus to consider a different way. He was offering Jesus an alternative plan.

And he began by appealing to Jesus’ physical needs. Matthew makes it clear that “after fasting forty days and forty nights, he [Jesus] was hungry” (Matthew 4:2 ESV). So, as Satan is so prone to do, he aimed his first salvo at this apparent point of weakness.

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” – Matthew 4:3 ESV

Satan was not questioning the identity of Jesus. He was attempting to get Jesus to operate outside of His God-ordained identity. In a sense, Satan wanted Jesus to prove who He was, but in a way that was not in keeping with God’s will. Satan’s appeal was aimed at what he knew was the human propensity for selfishness and self-centeredness. He wanted Jesus to use His divine power to meet His own needs. But that is not God’s plan for His Son. Jesus had been sent to serve others. He had been sent to offer His life as a ransom for many, not to use His divine powers and prerogatives to meet His own needs. And Jesus responded to the temptation by reminding Satan that obedience to the word of God was far more fulfilling than bread could ever be.

Years later, the disciples would offer Jesus food to eat, and He would respond, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about” (John 4:32 NLT). And He would clarify His statement with the words: ““My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work” (John 4:34 NLT). Jesus was committed to doing the will of His Father, and He found obedience to be far more fulfilling than anything this world has to offer.

The second temptation was a poorly designed attempt to fast-track God’s plan for Jesus’ future glorification. Jesus had been sent by God to die on behalf of sinful mankind. And it would not be until after He had suffered and died, that Jesus would be raised to new life and experience the glorification God had planned for Him. But, once again, Satan offered an alternative plan.

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ – Matthew 4:6 ESV

Satan wanted Jesus to skip the part of God’s plan that involved dying and instead to focus on self-preservation and premature glorification.

“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” – Matthew 4:7 ESV

But Jesus saw through Satan’s ploy and knew this was less a test of Himself, than it would be a test of God. For Jesus to do as Satan said would have been a blatant testing of God’s will. Would He alter His plan by sending His angels to save His Son from an unplanned threat to His life that was outside of His will? Jesus was not about to test His heavenly Father. He knew the plan, and He was not going to deviate from it.

Finally, Satan offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (Matthew 4:8 ESV). What is going on here? First of all, Satan had the right to offer these things to Jesus because of his position as the prince or ruler of this world (John 14:30 ESV). The apostle John states: “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19 ESV). So, in a sense, Satan had to authority to offer Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, but he failed to understand that any authority he possessed had been given to him by God. He ruled and reigned by divine fiat. And, whether he realized it or not, Satan was offering Jesus what was already rightfully His.

But Jesus wasn’t fooled by or remotely interested in the offer made by Satan. He saw it nothing more than a thinly veiled ploy by Satan to get Him to commit spiritual adultery. Satan wanted Jesus to worship him rather than God. And in exchange for His betrayal of God the Father, Satan was offering Jesus that which already belonged to Him: the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He had nothing to give Jesus that was not already His. And Jesus let Satan know that worship of God and obedience to the will of God was His highest priority. He needed nothing else.

And with that, the temptations came to an abrupt halt. But Satan was far from finished. He had not given up. Luke tells us, “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13 ESV). The battle had just begun. The Son of God had arrived on the scene, and the spiritual war was about to go to a whole new level.

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

I Am

48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. – John 8:48-59 ESV

In the last two blogs, we have discussed the topic of Jesus and His identity. He was the Son of God who took on the form of a man but never lost His identity as the second person of the Trinity. Jesus, though fully man, was also fully God and remained so throughout His entire earthly existence, from the moment of His incarnation to His  His final breath on the cross.

In the passage above, we have yet another example of Jesus expressing His awareness of His identity as the Son of God. In fact, He takes it a step further, clearly declaring Himself to be God.

Jesus had just been accused of being demon-possessed, a charge leveled against Him by the scribes and Pharisees. They had already been shocked at the audacity of Jesus to set Himself up as some kind of authority on religious matters. To them, Jesus was an uneducated nobody who had appeared on the scene, stirring up the crowds with His miracles and radical messages. These seasoned religious leaders questioned His credibility by emphasizing His relatively young age. They saw Him as a troublemaker and viewed His teaching as antithetical to their own. They refused to accept His claim to be a messenger from God and found His tendency to refer to God as His Father to be nothing less than blasphemy.

.And His offer of eternal life really rubbed them the wrong way. After all, even Abraham, the great patriarch of their faith, had died. Did Jesus think He was better than Abraham? They even asked Him, “Who do you make yourself out to be?” And Jesus matter-of-factly responded:

“If I want glory for myself, it doesn’t count. But it is my Father who will glorify me. You say, ‘He is our God,’ but you don’t even know him. I know him. If I said otherwise, I would be as great a liar as you! But I do know him and obey him. Your father Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad.” – John 8:54-56 NLT

In this statement, Jesus claims God as His Father. Not only that, He claims to know God intimately and, if Jesus said otherwise, He would be lying. And as for Abraham, Jesus states that even this revered founder of their faith had eagerly anticipated the day when Jesus would show up as God’s messenger. Not only that, Jesus claims that Abraham saw it and was glad. He had been given a vision of this day and Jesus was the fulfillment of it.

All of this was too much for the religious leaders. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was a madman and a threat to the religious status quo. But Jesus responds to their anger with an interesting statement that did little to assuage their doubts concerning Him. And the controversial nature of His words was intentional.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” – John 8:58 ESV

Other than what appears to be Jesus’ use of poor grammar, this statement may seem somewhat innocuous to us. But we can tell by the reaction of the religious leaders that they heard Jesus saying something they considered very dangerous and worthy of death. John tells us, “they picked up stones to throw at him…” (John 8:59 ESV).

The key to understanding their anger is found in the last two words of Jesus’ statement: “I am.” Two simple words, but they rocked the world of these learned men. They knew exactly what Jesus was saying and claiming. His choice of words was entirely intentional and it achieved the effect for which He was looking. By uttering those two words, Jesus was clearly declaring Himself to be God. How do we know that? First of all, by the intensity of their reaction. But more importantly, because of what they understood Jesus to be saying.

As religious leaders, they were very familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and especially the story of God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. In the book of Exodus, Moses recorded how God chose him to be the deliverer who would free the people of Israel from their enslavement in Egypt and lead them to the land God had promised to Abraham, generations earlier. But when Moses had received His marching orders from God, he expressed his reluctant to God by saying, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13 ESV).

Moses was concerned that the people would have no idea who he was talking about if he announced that the God of their fathers had sent him. Keep in mind, for the 400 years the people of Israel had been living in Egypt they had been worshiping the gods of Egypt. They had long ago given up on the God of Abraham. They had become Egyptianized and had acclimated themselves to the false gods of the Egyptians. And Moses was more than a bit concerned that His announcement from this unknown God would fall on deaf ears. Moses needed a name, something by which to refer to this “new” God who was going to deliver the people from captivity. And God obliged Moses’ request God by describing Himself as I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14 ESV). 

This phase sounds rather cryptic to us, but to the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, it was understood as God’s self-identification as the one who was, who is, and who is to come. It is a claim of His eternal nature, omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. It is an expression of total self-sufficiency, existence without beginning or end, and all-pervasive presence, unhindered by time and space. God’s declaration of Himself as “I am who I am” was His way of saying that He alone was God, and there were no others.

So, you can see why the scribes and Pharisees reacted so strongly to Jesus’ claim to be “I am.” He was declaring Himself to be God, and that was unacceptable and impossible. And according to Jewish law, Jesus’ claim was a crime punishable by death.

But what Jesus said was true. He was God. He was the second person of the Trinity, the holy Godhead. He was the image of the invisible God, the incarnate Son of God – Immanuel, God with us. Not only was He a messenger sent from God, but He was also the Word of God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 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 1:1-5 ESV

Don’t miss the significance of what John is saying. Jesus was the Word and the Word was God. Yes, He was greater than Abraham, because He was Abraham’s Creator. He was greater than Moses because He was the Rock that Moses struck in the wilderness that provided water to the people of Israel (1 Corinthians 10:4).

Jesus knew who He was. He was fully aware of His identity and was not ashamed or afraid to admit it. Because it was His identity that gave Him the authority to do what He had come to do. It was C. S. Lewis who said, “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).

Just a few chapters later in John’s gospel, he records another encounter between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders. This time, Jesus claims to have the ability to bestow eternal life on men. He describes them as His sheep, those who hear His voice and follow Him. When they do, He states, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28 ESV). Of course, this kind of language infuriated the Pharisees, but Jesus makes it even worse by adding, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:29-30 ESV). And His enemies didn’t miss His point, because John states that they “picked up stones again to stone him” (John 10:31 ESV). And they justify their actions by explaining, “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).

Identity. It means everything. Even for those who don’t belong to Christ and who refuse to acknowledge the reality of God, identity is the driving force in their lives. It determines everything about them – what they eat, how they dress, where they live, the kinds of friends they choose, the brand of clothes they wear, the make of car they drive, and the way they feel about themselves. Every human being is in search of their identity. And we have plenty of help in determining what our identity is – including parents, peers, social media, the culture, the world of entertainment, the messages of advertisers and marketing firms, and the morally vacuous voice of modern identity politics and intersectionality.

For the believer, discovering who we are is simple. Our identity is made clear for us by virtue of our relationship with Christ. Because of Him, we are sons and daughters of God, co-heirs with Christ, righteous in the eyes of God, citizens of the Kingdom, members of the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit, and so much more. Jesus knew who He was. Do you? And if you know who you are, do you live like you believe it? Jesus did, and so should we.

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

 

If You Are the Son of God

1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God,
    and him only shall you serve.’”

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    to guard you,’

11 and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. – Luke 4:1-13 ESV

This well-known passage, containing Luke’s account of the temptation of Jesus by the devil is familiar to most of us, but there is an important aspect of this dramatic encounter that is often overlooked. The immediate context is essential if we are to understand all that we see happening in this story. Jesus had just been baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. And in his gospel account, Mark records:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. – Mark 1:9-12 ESV

Mark gives the impression that Jesus was somehow driven by the Spirit as if He had to be forced. But Luke paints a different picture, describing Jesus as being “led by the Spirit in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1 ESV). The intensity of Mark’s language seems intended to convey the speed with which Jesus departed and the feeling of strong compulsion He felt from the Spirit of God. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul describes the incarnation of Jesus in terms designed to emphasize the radical nature of this change in status.

…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… – Philippians 2:-7 ESV

Jesus emptied himself. The Greek word Paul used is kenoō, and it comes from a root word which means “to empty.” But what is Paul inferring here? Did Jesus become any less God when He came to earth in human form? Did He empty Himself of His divine character or capabilities? It seems that the best way to understand Paul’s words is to keep them within their context. He states that Jesus was in the form of God, but did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped or clung to. While He enjoyed His rightful place at the right hand of God the Father in heaven, He willingly relinquished His rights and regal role, choosing instead to take the form of one of those He had created.

Jesus left behind the glory of heaven where He was worshiped daily by the angels and enjoyed unbroken fellowship with God the Father, and took the form of a helpless infant. He became dependent upon others to care for Him. He set aside His divine rights and privileges in order to accomplish His Father’s will. And during His earthly life, Jesus subordinated Himself to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, operating under His direction and by His power. He was no less the Son of God. He had not given up any of His divine powers or prerogatives. But during the time He lived on this earth in human form, Jesus chose to do so as a man, completely dependent upon the Spirit of God in every way.

And notice what Mark records God saying to Jesus immediately after the Spirit descended upon Him after His baptism: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” God confirmed the identity of Jesus. His humanity had not changed His identity. He was still the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. He was still fully divine and “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV). He was God in human form. His name was “Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1:23 NLT).

But why is this important? What difference does it make? The answer lies in what immediately happened after Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness. He had been led there by the Spirit of God, and yet, he found himself being assailed by Satan himself. For 40 days, Jesus had fasted from food and water, leaving Him in a severely weakened condition, both physically and emotionally. He was drained of energy. His humanity was running on fumes. And notice the words Satan spoke to Jesus while in this weakened and vulnerable state: “If you are the son of God…”

Satan began by questioning the identity of Jesus. Forty days earlier, God had proclaimed, “You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased.” Now, after more than a month of complete isolation from human contact and total abstinence from any source of nourishment, Satan raised doubts about Jesus’ identity. Was He really the Son of God? Is this the way God treats His own? In His emaciated and weakened condition, did Jesus even remotely reflect the image of God?

But Jesus’ physical condition did not alter His identity. He was no less the Son of God in His famished and dehydrated state than He had been as an infant in the manger in Bethlehem. Jesus knew who He was, and He knew why He had come. He was fully aware of His identity and His purpose. So, the temptations of Satan proved ineffective. And notice the nature of the three temptations the enemy used.

The first one involved getting Jesus to use His divine power to turn stones into bread. Could Jesus have pulled this off? No doubt about it. But it would not have been within God’s will. And Jesus was aware that Satan was attempting to get Him to use His divine rights and privileges for purely selfish reasons: To meet His own needs. So, Jesus rejected Satan’s offer, saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Luke 1:4 ESV). It’s interesting to note what Jesus said to His disciples on another occasion when they offered Him food to eat, and He responded, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about” (Luke 4:32 NLT). When they questioned whether He had already eaten,  Jesus simply replied, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work” (Luke 4:34 NLT.

Satan was trying to get Jesus to place His own physical needs ahead of His Father’s will for His life. But Jesus wouldn’t take the bait because He knew who He was and what He had come to do.

The second temptation involved Satan’s offer to give Jesus authority over all the kingdoms of the earth in exchange for His worship. What’s the problem with this scenario? As the Son of God, Jesus already had authority over all the kingdoms of the earth. Paul reminds us, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16 ESV). Satan was offering Jesus power He already possessed. In His weakened state, it could have been easy for Jesus to question His own power. But He didn’t. Instead, He responded, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Luke 4:8 NLT). Jesus wasn’t tempted by Satan’s offer of power because, as the Son of God, He was all-powerful. Jesus saw Satan’s offer of power in exchange for worship as what it was: idolatry.

The final temptation features Satan taking Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem. And, once again, he questions Jesus’ identity, saying, “If you are the son of God…” Then he challenged Jesus to throw Himself off the pinnacle, so that God would send angels to rescue Him before He ever hit the ground. What’s going on here? Again, it is a direct assault on the identity of Jesus, but also an attempt to get Jesus to violate that identity. Satan was giving Jesus a different purpose than the one God had given Him. As Jesus Himself state, He had come “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 ESV). He came to die, not to be rescued. And the manner of His death had been pre-ordained from before the foundation of the earth. This was a temptation to live outside the purpose given to Him by God the Father. And it was a temptation to trade obedience to the will of God for prominence. But Jesus wasn’t interested because He knew who He was and what He had come to do.

So, what’s the point? How does this apply to you and me? Take a look at Philippians 2:3-5. Notice what Paul says to the believers in Philippi as they struggle living out their faith amid conflict and persecution. They are under direct attack by the same enemy who accosted Jesus in the wilderness. And Satan is using the same tired tactics to get them to forget their identity in Christ. He is offering them pleasure, power, and prominence in exchange for their worship. He wants them to think about themselves, to focus on their own needs, to seek immediate relief from their problems by turning their backs on God. He is offering them what they already have in exchange for their denial of who they truly are. But Paul reminds them:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus – Philippians 3:3-5 ESV

Have the mind of Christ. Think like He does. See life from His perspective. He knew who He was. He was confident in His identity. And we should know who we are. We are sons and daughters of God, joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, redeemed, forgiven, righteous, holy, saints of God, heirs of the Kingdom, citizens of heaven, ambassadors for Christ, ministers of reconciliation, members of the body of Christ, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, and as Peter puts it, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV). It is when we forget our identity that we fall prey to the attacks of the enemy. Recognizing who you are and why you are here, your identity and purpose, is the key to living for Christ and like Christ. A Christian who is unsure of His identity will always seek it in pleasure, power, and prominence.

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

 

Sinners in Need of a Savior.

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:9-13 ESV

By this point in Matthew’s narrative, it is obvious that there is something radically different about Jesus. He is not your average rabbi or teacher. He has supernatural powers that allow Him to heal with a touch of His hand or a word from His mouth. He exhibits a never-before-seen authority that allows Him to cast out demons and control the wind and waves of the sea. To the Jews, He’s like nothing they have ever seen before. To the religious leaders, He is an enigma and a growing concern, because of His increasing popularity among the people.

And in today’s passage, we are going to see yet another aspect of Jesus’ radically different nature. We have already seen that He has no problem associating with the unclean, such as the leper whom He touched and healed. And unlike most Jews, Jesus was willing to have contact with Gentiles, even healing the servant of the Roman centurion. Now, in Matthew’s account of his own calling by Jesus, we are going to see that Jesus broke all rules of social protocal by associating with known sinners, such as tax collectors. It just so happens that Matthew himself had been a tax collector, and his retelling of his call by Jesus provides the perfect occasion to, once again, illustrate the radically different nature of Jesus’ ministry.

Just as He had done with Peter, Andrew, James and John, Jesus used a simple two-word phrase to issue His call to Matthew: “Follow me.” And Matthew records that he did just that. Luke provides us with a bit more information regarding this initial encounter between Jesus and Matthew.

Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. – Luke 5:27-28 ESV

We’re not given an explanation as to why Matthew (Levi) had two different names, but it was probably nothing more than a case of him having a given name as well as a nick-name. But Luke makes it clear that Matthew “left everything” and followed Jesus. He turned his back on what had to have been a lucrative business as a tax collector in order to obey the invitation of Jesus. And one of the first things he did was invite Jesus into his home for a meal. It was this occasion that set the stage for yet another illustration of Jesus’ out-of-the-ordinary behavior. Evidently, Matthew wanted his friends and business associates to meet Jesus, so he records that he invited “many tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:10 ESV). Notice the close association between these two groups. From a Jewish perspective, tax collectors were despised and seen as some of the worst of all sinners. They were traitors to their people, choosing to make a profit off their fellow Jews by collecting taxes for the Roman government. Tax collectors were well known for their corruption and vice. They were viewed as social pariahs by the Jewish community. Which explains why Matthew invited other tax collectors and known sinners to his party. And yet, Jesus willingly accepted Matthew’s invitation, choosing to dine with those whom the average Jew would readily shun.

The Pharisees who witnessed this appalling scene addressed their shock to the disciples of Jesus, asking, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And before the disciples had a chance to respond, Jesus provided the Pharisees with an answer:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” – Matthew 9:12 ESV

This carefully worded retort from Jesus was like a missile aimed at the prideful arrogance of the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus knew exactly what they were thinking and was well aware that these men saw His actions as unacceptable and unworthy of someone who claimed to be a faithful Jew, let alone a rabbi or teacher. In their minds, Jesus had discredited Himself by His actions. But Jesus’ statement revealed the radical difference between His outlook on sinful humanity and their own. The Pharisees saw themselves as anything but sinners. They were not only Jews and, therefore, part of the chosen people of God, but well-respected religious leaders and experts in the law of Moses. They were professional law-keepers, priding themselves on their knowledge of the law and their adherence to it. But as Jesus had revealed in His sermon on the mount, most of their interpretations of the Mosaic law were flawed. And their so-called righteousness was deemed inadequate by Jesus when viewed from God’s perspective.

The problem, as Jesus exposes it, was that these men did not see themselves as sinners. They prided themselves on their righteousness and their ability to earn a right standing with God through their actions. Which is why Jesus refers to them sarcastically as “those who are well.” They had the mistaken impression that they were somehow better than the tax collectors and sinners sitting at the table with Jesus. It is reminiscent of the story Jesus told about the two men praying in the temple. Luke tells us that “Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else” (Luke 18:9 NLT). In the story, Jesus compares the prayers of tax collector and a Pharisee. The tax collector “dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner’” (Luke 18:13 NLT). But the Pharisee exhibited a dramatically different attitude.

“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’’” – Luke 18:11-12 NLT

Notice that the Pharisee prided himself on a sinlessness that was based on his self-manufactured righteousness. He fasted and tithed. He didn’t cheat, commit adultery or sin. But remember what Jesus said in His sermon on the mount: “But I warn you–unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” (Matthew 5:20 NLT). This self-produced kind of righteousness was inadequate. It was insufficient to earn anyone a place in the Kingdom of God. No man could earn his way into God’s favor. As Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23 NLT).

The Pharisees, standing outside Matthew’s house and shaking their judgmental fingers in the face of Jesus and His disciples, pridefully viewed themselves as non-sinners. They were above the fray, having already earned their right standing with God through their status as God’s chosen people and their strict adherance to the law. But Jesus reveals that He came to minister to those who recognized their need for a physician. In other words, He came to provide spiritual healing to those who recognized their sinfulness. Like the tax collector in Jesus’ story, they cry out, “be merciful to me, for I am a sinner!”

When Jesus stated, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners,” He was not commending the Pharisees or indicating that they were somehow exempt from the need for His salvation. He was simply stating that their prideful belief in their own self-produced righteousness was going to keep them from ever admitting their need for a righteousness outside of themselves. They were convinced that they could earn a right relationship with God on their own. They needed no Messiah. But they were wrong. Dead wrong.

Jesus refers the Pharisees to an Old Testament passage they would have not quite well: Hosea 6:6:

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
    the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Like their Old Testament ancestors, the Pharisees prided themselves on their strict adherance to the laws of Moses and their keeping of the religious rules and rituals associated with temple worship. But in all their activity they had lost their knowledge of God. It had become all about rule-keeping, not a relationship with God. And these arrogant men were as guilty as their ancestors, whom God condemned as little more than hypocrites.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

Jesus willingly associated with sinners, because they are the ones for whom He came give His life. And while the Pharisees refused to admit it, they too were sinners in need of a Savior. But pride and self-sufficiency would prevent them from seeing and admitting their need. Their self-reliance would keep them turning to Jesus for the salvation they so desperately needed.

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