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. …
– Luke 4:1-2 (ESV)
You would think, having been baptized and filled with the Spirit, Jesus was now ready for His public ministry, but the Holy Spirit took Him out of the spotlight one more time for a final stage of preparation. Jesus was compelled to leave the life-giving Jordan for the barren desert to prove His baptismal commitment.
He went alone. As yet, there were no disciples, no train of followers, curiosity seekers, needy people in search of miracles, or self-righteous hypocrites. Other than the wild animals (Mark 1:13), Jesus’ only companion was the ever-present Holy Spirit… and that was enough.
Oh… and Satan was there, too – an integral part of God’s plan (Matthew 4:1). If you’re wondering how he came to be involved, perhaps it went a little like this…
Time: While John is baptizing Jesus at the Jordan.
The angels appear before God’s throne to give their reports, and Satan shows up.
God: Satan, what have you been up to?
Satan: Oh, you know me. Same old thing: going to and fro on the earth and walking up and down on it.
God: Have you considered My only begotten Son, how there is none like Him? Just look at Him down there at the Jordan. Absolutely sinless, righteous, and submitted to Me. And He allows not one evil thought to enter His mind. You see why I love Him so much, don’t you?
Satan: Well, what do you expect? He’s your favorite! You always protect him. Every time I try to get at him, you snatch him away. I almost had him that one time, and then you whisked him off to Egypt!
God: And your point is?
Satan: I just want you to play fair! Your son is imprisoned in a weak human body now… a body afflicted with needs and desires. Anyone will trust and obey if you bribe them with blessings. But touch even your son in the areas of his human limitations and he will stumble; self-preservation will kick in. He has to satisfy his own needs and wants sometime. Come on, prove me wrong!
God: Satan, My Son in your hands. Do what you need to do to prove your point, but do not kill or physically harm him.
As Satan leaves the presence of God with high hopes, a loud Voice from behind him calls down to earth, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus was in the desert 40 days. During that time, Satan tried to get Him to sin, but could not. During that time, Jesus ate and drank nothing. But the Holy Spirit that drove Him there also miraculously sustained Him. He felt no hunger until the 40 days were over. Then the lack of food caught up with Him and the three temptations recorded in the gospels occurred.
Why was it necessary for Jesus to be driven into the desert to be tempted of the devil? I can think of several reasons, but primarily I think it was to prepare our great High Priest to faithfully and compassionately represent us to the Father:
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. … Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
– Hebrews 2:10,17-18 (ESV)
For 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)
It’s a mystery why the all-powerful God in human flesh would need to suffer this way to help me in my temptations. I’ll never understand it, but I’m exceedingly grateful He did. Jesus learned in an experiential way what it means to endure suffering and temptation (Hebrews 5:8-10). I now have an advocate who remembers what it was like to go through the difficulties I experience, and this comforts me and also helps me trust Him.
As followers of Jesus, what can we learn from this time in our Master’s life? In what way are we to follow Him? Again, I can think of multiple answers to these questions. Here are a few:
Whether Jesus needed the Holy Spirit to resist Satan or not may be up for debate. All I know is my constant need for the Spirit. I have found walking in the Spirit rather than my own strength is the only way to have victory over temptation.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
– Galatians 5:16 (ESV)
When suffering, learn to forget the pity party and look forward to the benefits that will come about through endurance. I can’t see Jesus complaining “Why me?” during His trials. He even endured the cross looking forward to the joy that would result (Hebrews 12:2).
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
– James 1:2-4 (ESV)
To ‘count it all joy’ doesn’t come naturally, but it does come through the power of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise James would have given us an impossible command. Have I attained to this? No. But I am making progress.
Prepare to respond to temptation as Jesus did. This is not just a matter of memorizing scripture verses so you can throw them back at Satan when he appears. It’s about knowing and trusting in God, being confident of His protection and provision. It’s also about abiding in Christ, and being led by the Spirit. Jesus knew His Father so well, the scriptures He quoted came naturally. And He always countered Satan’s attacks by taking the focus off of His needs and wants and on to God. This is how we are to respond to temptation.