Well, I hadn't really planned this, but perhaps I'm going to blog through The Gospel of Matthew. As I said yesterday, I'm just trying to overcome my own familiarity and read the text with "fresh eyes," and I'm using these blog-posts to help me do so. I'm reading one chapter a day, so stay with me and perhaps we'll learn things together.
Matthew 3 ends with the baptism of Jesus and the descent of the Spirit of God upon him. In The Presence and the Power G. E. Hawthorne writes:
Immediately after Jesus was baptized, the Spirit descended upon him, entered into him, filled him without measure, and remained within him. The consequence of this crisis event was that the entire course of Jesus' life was forever changed. From this moment onward the directing and empowering impulse of the Spirit of God ordered the way he was to go, the things he was to say and do.That's something I hadn't thought about before. The descent of the Spirit was a kind of crisis in his life. What would come after was going to be in some way drastically different than what came before.
And what's the first thing the Spirit does? Leads him into a desert wilderness--in fact, John the Baptist's old stomping-grounds--where he'll be tempted by the devil. Note this: he is led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted. Yup, that's what it says at 4:1.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.To put it another way, it was a part of God's plan for Jesus that his Spirit-led ministry should be inaugurated by a close-encounter with evil, a full-frontal assault of the enemy. This was the first demonstration, for Jesus' benefit alone, of the power that the Spirit's presence would give him.
It kind of reminds me of a verse I read this morning:
It is good for me that I was afflicted, / that I might learn your statutes. Ps. 119:71Or, in Jesus' case, It is good for me that I was tempted, that I might learn the real power of your indwelling Word.
Well, much more can be said (and has been) about all these desert temptations, but in the end Jesus comes out of that experience as a sort of new and improved John the Baptist, preaching exactly the same message ("Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand"), but unlike John accompanying that preaching with healing on a massive scale. People come flocking of course, and this carpenter's son from Nazareth seems invested with a power heretofore unknown. The obvious question, for one reading this account 2000 years later, might be: Okay, but what's all this about a kingdom?