Baptism of the King
Thirty years after His birth, Jesus was baptized by John. Why did Jesus submit to baptism, since He was sinless? He did not need to repent of any sin nor did He need to be cleansed of any sin. Indeed, John objected, having recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) and Son of God (John 1:34).
John’s incredulous response to Jesus was, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” (Matt. 3:14). Jesus answered John’s objection with these words, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness,” (Matt. 3:15).
In submitting to baptism, Jesus was beginning the fulfillment of God’s righteous plan of redemption. The sinless Savior was identifying with sinful humanity. He who would someday be our Substitute, taking our sins and God’s judgment of our sin on Himself, humbled Himself at the Jordan River to be, as Isaiah prophesied, “Numbered with the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). It was the first step in the outworking of God’s eternal purpose, whereby, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Baptism was also an expression of surrender to the Father. Here, at the Jordan River, at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus surrendered to His calling to be the Lamb for sinners slain, the holy sacrificed Substitute for sinners. At the end of His ministry, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He would surrender again.
Through resurrection, the Father vindicated Jesus’ act of humility in submitting to crucifixion. At the Jordan, the Father vindicated the Son’s humility in submitting to baptism. First, the Spirit of God descended on Jesus in the form of a dove (Matt. 3:16). Doves were used in sacrificial rituals in the temple, especially by the poor who could not afford a lamb. It may be that the Holy Spirit, in appearing as a dove, was depicting Jesus’ sacrifice.
Though it does not say that anyone other than Jesus saw this, the Holy Spirit may have taken physical form to provide Jesus with visual confirmation of the anointing of God that came upon Him at His baptism. That anointing represented empowerment for service, as we read in Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted (humble); He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord,” (Isa. 61:1,2a).
Jesus quoted that passage at the beginning of His ministry and applied the text to Himself (see Luke 4:18,19). Why did Jesus, the Son of God, need the anointing of the Holy Spirit? In becoming Son of Man, He did not cease to be God, but He voluntarily laid aside the independent exercise of some of the rights and privileges of Deity in humble submission to the Father. Therefore, He was entirely dependent on His Heavenly Father for the accomplishing of His mission. He said, “I do exactly as the Father commanded Me,” (John 14:31).
“For I did not speak on My own initiative but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment as to what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49).
“Truly, truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19).
Jesus cast out demons by the power of God, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28).
He healed by the power of the Lord, “One day He was teaching; and there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing” (Luke 5:17).
All of His miracles were the result of God the Father working through Him, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22).
Peter summed it up with these words, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him,” (Acts 10:38).
The Spirit of God came upon Jesus to empower Him for the work of ministry.
A second sign of the Father’s approval at the Jordan River was His own voice, speaking from the heavens, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased,” (Matt. 3:17). We do not know if anyone else heard this but Jesus did.
With these words, “My beloved Son,” the Father testified of the Deity of Christ. The Father confessed that Jesus is of divine origin. He also expressed His pleasure over the humility that would, within three years, provide salvation for sinners. No Old Testament sacrifice had ever been entirely pleasing to God for it could not take away sin, only covering sin until our holy High Priest presented Himself as the unblemished Lamb sacrificed for our sin. But now the ministry of the Lamb had begun, the great redeeming work would soon be accomplished, a sacrificial work which would reach back in time to cleanse the righteous Old Testament saints and reach forward in time to cleanse each person who turns from sin to Christ. The Father was well-pleased.
Oh the depths of the love of God for sinners! Isaiah wrote, “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him” (Isa. 53:10). We cannot measure the infinite, eternal love of the Father for His beloved Son, yet it pleased the Father to crush His Son for our sake! Oh the depths of the love of Jesus for sinners! “He poured out Himself to death,” (Isa. 53:12b).
At the Jordan River, Jesus humbled Himself to identify with sinners. But God exalted Him, anointing Jesus as our great Redeemer and expressing pleasure at Christ’s act of humility. Three years later, Jesus would again humble Himself by taking our sins upon Himself on a cross. Yet again, the Father would exalt Him by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at the right hand of the majesty on high. How altogether lovely, this sacred and mysterious patten of humility and exaltation!
Jesus, eternal member of the Trinity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, left the riches and glory of heaven, emptied Himself,
“Taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men.
Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself
by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him
the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus,
every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth
and under the earth and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ
is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phlpns. 2:7-11).
Testing the King
(Matt. 4:1-11 Mark 1:12,13 Luke 4:1-13)
At Jesus’ baptism, the voice of the Father spoke, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” (Matt. 3:17). The Spirit of God appeared, “Descending as a dove and lighting on Him,” (Matt. 3:16). At the Jordan River, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God and anointed for ministry.
Yet following His baptism, Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil,” (Matt. 4:1). Mark is even more emphatic, saying, “Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness,” (Mark 1:12); (NKJ, “drove Him into the wilderness.”)
Notice it is the Holy Spirit who just anointed Jesus for ministry, who now leads Jesus into this confrontation. It is Satan who tempts but it is God who purposes the conflict. Notice the word immediately (Mark 1:12). Triumph at the Jordan was quickly followed by testing in the wilderness.
Luke adds an important detail, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness,” (4:1). Led around speaks of intentionality. Notice also the word impelled (ekballo, Mark 1:12). This word speaks of necessity. It was necessary that this confrontation take place between the true King and the counterfeit prince of this world.
Jesus was full of the Spirit, full of the power and presence of the Lord. At the Jordan He had heard the voice of His Father confirming His identity. He experienced the anointing of the Spirit for ministry. Now, certain of His mission, filled with the Spirit of God, He is led into a time of testing. This confrontation was necessary, for Jesus came “to destroy the works of the devil,” (I Jn. 3:8). That destruction had to begin with victory over the personal attacks of Satan. The Lord could not destroy the devil’s power over humanity unless He first overcame that same power in His own life. (This is a principle which is true also for our lives).
The wilderness of Judea is a desolate area of searing heat, dry crumbling ridges and harsh desert. How completely different from Eden where, surrounded by perfection, Adam fell to temptation. The first Adam succumbed to the devil’s enticement in a beautiful garden. Jesus, the second Adam, triumphed over the devil in a barren wilderness. In overcoming Satan’s temptations, Jesus proved Himself worthy to be Savior and Substitute for all the fallen sons and daughters of Adam.
The word tempted, peirazo (Matt. 4:1, Mark 1:13, Luke 4:2) from the noun peirasmos, has to do not only with temptation but also trial, testing, proving, examining or assaying (which is the process by which we determine the worth or purity of a metal). The same word, may be translated in all those different ways. We translate based on the context. Satan intended to tempt Jesus away from His mission. God allowed this as a test to confirm Jesus in His mission. What Satan intended as a temptation to corrupt Jesus, God allowed as a test or trial to prove the purity of Jesus. What Satan intended for destruction, God allowed for confirmation.
This is also true in our lives. James reminds us, “Let no one say when he is tempted (peirazo), ‘I am being tempted by God’, for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13). God does not tempt us but He does allow tests (peirasmos), not that He needs to learn anything about our faith but to show us areas of vulnerability where we need to grow and so we can prove the reality of our faith to ourselves. In the testing and proving, we are strengthened, established in our faith. Therefore James exhorts us, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials (peirosmos), knowing that the testing (dokimion, trying) of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
God allows a test, a trial (peirosmos), for the purpose of producing endurance which leads to maturing of faith and character. Satan will try to turn the test into a corrupting temptation (peirosmos, same word). Our response determines the result.
So God moved His Son into the wilderness for a time of confrontational testing with the devil. Jesus “fasted forty days and forty nights,” (Matt. 4:2). He pushed aside all the noise and clutter of life, even food, so that He could be alone with His Father in undisturbed communion. Though the confrontation with Satan appears to have taken place throughout the forty days, it was when Jesus became hungry, at His greatest point of weakness and vulnerability, that the devil came to Him with three very specific temptations.
Notice the lead-in to the first temptation, “If you are the Son of God” (Matt. 4:3). The voice of God had spoken clearly at the Jordan, confirming Jesus’ identity as Son of God. But the enemy is probing, testing Jesus’ certainty as to His identity. “Did God really say that? Are you sure you heard correctly? Do you really know who you are?”
How similar to the devil’s approach to Eve in Eden, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?’” (Gen. 3:1). It is important that we know the word of God which reveals the heart and mind of God. Our adversary cannot mislead any man or woman who can testify, “Indeed, God has said.” We must know who our God is and who we are in Him.
We might also translate the word if with since. In this case, Satan was saying, “Since you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread,” (Matt. 4:3). In a manner of speaking, he was saying, “We both know who you are. So use your miraculous power to serve yourself.”
The Lord was hungry after a forty day fast but He would not serve Himself for He had voluntarily emptied Himself of the independent exercise of some of the rights and privileges of Deity in humble submission to His Father, taking the form of a servant (see Phlpns. 2:7,8). He was still God, God in human flesh, but He came to serve, not to be served so this temptation violated His reason for being incarnate in human flesh.
On an even deeper level, Satan was suggesting to Jesus that He would need to use His power to take care of Himself because His Heavenly Father would not. It is as if the Tempter was saying, “God led you out here into this desert and you are hungry. But I don’t see any food. God has forgotten about you. What kind of God is that? You’ll have to do this on your own.”
Satan is suggesting that it is incompatible to be both Son of God and hungry. It’s as if he’s saying, “Since you are God’s Son, and we both know that, how could He abandon you like this?” The subtle temptation here is for Jesus to fulfill His mission apart from His Father, to use His anointing and gifting to serve Himself.
This is a powerful temptation to people who have leadership ability, who know their calling and gifting, who are willing to work hard to see something accomplished but it’s not happening. God is operating on a different calendar but there is a temptation to rewrite the calendar. In fact, this is a powerful and familiar temptation to anyone who follows the Lord yet encounters a trial, a test. Sometimes it seems that God is not responsive to our need and we are tempted to use our resources and our giftings to serve ourselves.
Jesus refused. How many times, in the coming days, He would say, “The Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing,” (John 5:19).
“For I did not speak on My own initiative but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak,” (John 12:49).
“For I have come down from heaven not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me,” (John 6:38).
Having emptied Himself of the independent exercise of the rights and privileges of Deity, having humbled Himself and taken the form of a servant, Jesus depended on the Father’s provision for all He did and said. At the beginning of His ministry, Satan tempted Jesus to abandon this position of trust and humble submission. How similar to a final temptation, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross,” (Matt. 27:40).
The first Adam, filled with the abundance of the garden of God, abandoned his calling for a piece of fruit. The second Adam, hungry from fasting, was tempted to abandon His mission for a piece of bread. Jesus refused, instead answered the tempter with Scripture, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God,’” (Matt. 4:4). Better to obey the word of God, wait on God to fulfill His word, hope in God, trust in God, depend on God, than to assert ourselves apart from God.
There is something in this world more important and more necessary than bread and that is the truth and power of God released through the word of God. Our highest priority should be to know and obey God’s word. How else will we live out the mission He purposed for our lives? Better to persevere, press on in serving the Lord without an answer, without a resource which we think we need, than to use our gifts and resources to serve ourselves.
How can we discern when we are serving ourselves? It is healthy to exercise self-care, to maximize health, to develop gifts, resources, opportunities. When does self-care become self serving? I believe it is a matter of orientation. If our orientation is to serve God with our health, gifts, resources, opportunities, if God’s kingdom priorities are our priorities, then the Holy Spirit will enable us to avoid the trap of living for self.
Jesus taught, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you,” (6:33). This He learned by experience. And so must we learn by our experience.
In the second temptation, the devil took Jesus up to the pinnacle of the Jerusalem temple and quoted Scripture: “If (or since) you are the Son of God throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He shall give His angels charge concerning you ...’” (Matt. 4:5-7).
Satan was saying, in effect, “OK, you won’t act independently of the Father. Then jump from the highest point of the temple (the drop was about 450 feet) and force the Father to save you, thereby demonstrating that you really are His Son.”
Notice that Satan is now quoting Scripture, in response to Jesus standing on the word of God. But Satan twists God’s word to suit his own evil purposes, whereas Jesus applies the Word truthfully and accurately.
The devil did not need to add that the people of Jerusalem would certainly have been drawn to such a spectacular demonstration of Jesus’ identity. A false Messiah would surely have been attracted to the idea of the spectacular as Jesus warned, “False Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matt. 24:24). Great signs and wonders do not necessarily validate the truth of a ministry. Even well-intentioned ministries often seem more intent on offering people a good show rather than calling them to the diligent pursuit of a holy, faithful life.
Jesus refused the temptation, saying, “On the other hand it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,’” (Matt. 4:7). Jumping off the pinnacle of the temple may sound like great faith but is actually a demonstration of the absence of faith. Forcing God to act reveals a lack of trust in God — He will not act on my behalf unless I force His hand.
Failure to trust God is sin and in sinning, Jesus would have forfeited His perfect holiness, thereby separating Himself from the Father and aborting His redeeming mission. Also, in forcing the Father to act, Jesus would have been acting independently of the Father, thereby negating His position of humble submission. This He refused.
Satan then moved to his most brazen temptation, showing Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give you if you fall down and worship me,’” (Matt. 4:8,9).
The first temptation was an inducement for Jesus to serve Himself, “Turn the stones to bread.” The second temptation was for the purpose of making the Father serve Jesus, “Force God to rescue you.” Now we arrive at Satan’s true objective, “Serve me. Worship me and I will give you what you came for — the kingdoms of this world.”
Jesus came to reclaim this world for His Father. He is the rightful King of kings and Lord of lords. In Revelation 5:2 an angel proclaims, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” That book represented the title deed to planet earth and John wept because no one was found worthy to open the book.
Just then, an elder said, “Stop weeping; behold the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals,” (5:5). John looked for the Lion but he sees a Lamb as if it had been slain, the holy Lamb of God, Jesus.
However, the means for breaking the seals on the title deed, the means for redeeming and reclaiming this world for the Father, was the way of the cross. The triumphant Messiah, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, had to be the slain Lamb. The King of all kings had to be the servant of all.
Satan was tempting Jesus to avoid the cross, to take what was rightfully His in a manner contrary to the plan of redemption. If Jesus had established His kingdom on earth without first redeeming sinners, there would have been no one who could have entered the kingdom.
This is always the devil’s offer: “Submit your talent, your creative intelligence, your sense of purpose, your hopes and dreams — submit it all to me and I will give you the success you desire. You can have everything you wanted, just bow before me.” Conveniently, he doesn’t require a literal act of worship. He simply requires that we abandon God’s way and have it our way. When we enthrone our self will above the will of God, we have worshipped at the devil’s altar and have given him lordship over our life.
“I Did It My Way” was a popular song, for good reason. It resonates in the proud heart of every fallen son and daughter of Adam and Eve. In fact, the first of our fallen family may have sung a song similar to “I Did It My Way” as they exited the perfect garden and entered a world of thorns and thistles and corruption and death.
We are reminded of the words of Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way which seems right to a man but its end is the way of death.” That way may bring us fame, wealth, power but in the end, it is only the way of death. How many gifted artisans have discovered this at the end of the yellow brick road. They bowed at the altar of self glory and gained wealth, fame, glory and applause but in the end, were left with a handful of dust.
Satan is a lier and the father of lies. In the garden he tempted Eve with the forbidden fruit, enticing her to place her will above God’s will. “You will be like God” he whispered. But in falling for the lie, she became less than the full human being made in the image of God. “You surely will not die!” he promised. Yet on that day, death entered Eve, Adam and all of creation.
Had Jesus surrendered to this temptation, He would have disqualified Himself from ruling anything other than a fallen world. He could not have redeemed the world; rather, He would have been the sinful king of a world of sinners.
Jesus again refused the temptation with God’s word, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only,’” (Matt. 4:10). Jesus will inherit the kingdoms of this world but only according to the Father’s plan, in His timing and only after walking the way of the cross.
Notice in dismissing the temptation, our Lord also dismissed the tempter. The devil fled at Jesus’ command: “Then the devil left Him and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him,” (Matt. 4:11). Surely the angels’ ministry included spiritual renewal and the physical nourishment that Jesus required after His long fast and spiritual conflict with the adversary. His needs were met by the God to whom He was submitted in humble obedience.
We see in Jesus a victorious pattern for our lives. We are tempted every day but James exhorts us, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” (James 4:7).
We submit to God as we refuse to serve ourselves, choosing to trust His kindness day by day; as we refuse to put Him to the test by presuming on His kindness with foolish decisions; as we refuse to bow at the altar of selfish ambition, self will and self promotion.
We resist the devil as we stand on the word of God, not just quoting it but living it obediently day by day. We resist the devil as we turn our eyes to Jesus who chose the way of the cross, Whose example is ever before us and in the light of Whose cross we may live.
Resist the devil while submitting to God. In submission to the Creator of the universe, who knows us and loves us, we will be given all the resources necessary to fulfill His design and purpose for our lives. As Jesus said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).
So we press on through the test, the trial, the temptation and as we do, as we let endurance have its perfect work and we enter a new level of maturity, in which we lack nothing.
1. Why did Jesus submit to baptism?
2. How was the third temptation of Jesus the most dangerous?