Are you as troubled as I am that the first thing the Holy Spirit did after Jesus baptism is to lead Him into the wilderness to be tested? This seems a good place to begin a challenge to our ideas about suffering, being filled with the Spirit, and certainly about what the Gospel does to our quality of life. At the same time it is the most logical thing in the world. The Father’s pronouncement of Jesus’ Sonship should be tested by the devil.
We often speak of trials as making us what we are. I think it is better to say that they reveal what we are. These tests, for we humans are not pass or fail. They are “show and tell”. At every crossroads and at every impasse, what we do next reveals our character and whether or not we will depend on God our ourselves.
The devil and our sin nature work in tandem to lure us into shortcuts to getting or stealing for ourselves the very things God has already promised us. The devil told the woman that to eat the fruit would make her “be like God”. She was created by God, in God’s image. She was, in fact, more like God before eating the fruit than after. The devil’s offers usually result in us losing what we already have in exchange for exactly what we hoped to never get.
Jesus did not need to prove He was the Son of God, that was declare by the Father Himself. Nor did He need a shortcut to “ruling the nations of the world.” That was promised Him as recorded in Psalm 2. The devil’s question is a two-way trap, phrased so not that if Jesus does not act, He denies His Divine Sonship and so that if He does act, Jesus betrays His Divine Sonship.
The answer to this dilemma was not simply in recognizing what the devil was doing, but by declaring what God was doing. All of Jesus responses come from Deuteronomy, the story of Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness. In chapter 8, the LORD explains what the 40 years was all about:
All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, so that you may live and increase, and go in and take possession of the land which the Lord swore to give to your forefathers. And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, in order to humble you, putting you to the test, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you go hungry, and fed you with the manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, in order to make you understand that man shall not live on bread alone, but man shall live on everything that comes out of the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. So you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son.
I would put it simply this way- the wilderness and its trials are intended to train us to trust and depend upon God and believe His promises, relying upon them rather than upon ourselves, our methods, technics, and abilities.
In the last sections of Matthews Gospel, we had called about honesty and humility. The people of God must be real about their sin and real about their successes. The way into the Kingdom is through the door of my disqualification. It is about God’s grace. It begins with my saying- “I am in need of much help”.
The next principle is that of dependence. As children of God we must continually depend on God. I am disabled by sin and selfishness, but I am in the arms of One Who is able.
Even more, we are in the care of One Who lived the life we could not live and gained the victory we could not win for us. Jesus’ dependence on the Father we speak of as His “active obedience”. His passive obedience, death on the Cross was made effective by His active obedience. He could only die a sinless death because He lived a sinless life. Only the innocent could die for the guilty and so that perfect life was needed to take our place. This then shows us how deep our dependence must go- His life, in exchange for ours.