Chapter I ..... Preparing for the Conflict
The record of the temptation is one of the unique passages of Scripture; for it is essentially an autobiography. The critics are very often most anxious so they would assure us, to find out some word from Jesus which is authentic. We can find it, those of us love God's Word and believe it, more easily and readily than they can, but here is a word from Jesus. There is nothing in prophecy that would indicate that our Lord was to pass through some period of temptation as we have in this record. Nobody else could have told us what happened on this occasion. You have here something that is essentially an autobiographical record from our Lord. That should give it an exceptional emphasis. It should come to our hearts with a sense of great importance, since it comes from Jesus himself, and is so deeply revealing. Our Lord, at the outset of his ministry, gives us something that is essentially from Himself. It is a revelation of His own heart. This must be the line of approach, because here you are having something revealed which is otherwise beyond human comprehension. In this record in the Scriptures, you have revelation and you have mystery -an exceptional balance whereby our Lord discloses something,and then draws a veil over so much that we should like to know.
This is therefore, an autobiography, and it is a revelation in measure suitable for our understanding of a spiritual experience in the most intense circumstances. The synoptic writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all make reference to this experience. Mark is much briefer. Two things that Mark records, however, are of interest. He was with the wild beasts in the wilderness, not, of course, that they haunted Him or that they had challenged Him. On the contrary, He exercised His sovereign sway over them in anticipation of the rule that He will ultimately exercise over the animal world. Mark also tells us (where possibly, we should not have expected such a reference) that angels ministered unto Him. In Luke we are told that afterwards angels ministered unto Him. In the consideration of our Lord preparing for the conflict there are four things that I want to dwell upon for our initial study.
First, the Tempted One; secondly, the Tempter; thirdly, the time, and fourthly, the place.
So this is a wonderful picture as you get the word of each Evangelist, all indicating the horror of this time with the devil, and also the fierceness of His sufferings as His spirit was subjected to all the subtleties and pressings of the enemy.There is a deeper meaning than any one of us yet understands in that sentence in our Lord's prayer: " Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" -because the higher the life with God, the fiercer the conflict.
The TempterWhat a tremendous factor he must be in the whole world today, we shall see later, pressing not merely into outrageous sin, but presenting subtleties and dealing with bread and with the kingdoms of man as he holds them in his hand. The Christian Church has not yet been awakened to what is its integral situation in a world of time. Satan is here called the adversary and the devil, which is a liar. The perfect Man faces the greatest rebel in God's universe. We need not suppose that Satan necessarily took upon himself incarnation at this time. He is a spirit who exercises his devastating sway over all men by gripping the mind and then indwelling the heart. When the hour is come for Judas, and the sop is given to him, Satan entered into him. The end of Satan, as it is the end of our blessed Lord, is indwelling by incarnation, and could be, by his refined subtleties through the period of this temptation, have gripped the mind of our Lord. He would have indwelt him to the destruction of every hope of God today.
The time of the temptation. Mark records that it was " immediately " after the baptism. That was a wonderful experience when the heavens were opened and the Spirit of God descendeduponHim in bodily form like a dove. Then " immediately " - see how graphically Mark puts it- "immediately the Spirit driveth Him into the wilderness." He passed, if I may put it in crisp language, from dove to devil-" immediately." From a holy and sublime fellowship to a fierce conflict, from a glimpse of His home in heaven to grapple with Satan. Up from the waters of the Jordan He came filled with the Spirit, to meet this being. Now this is a very important lesson for us to learn. God's heavenly blessings are often followed by fierce trials. It may be the the enemy is seeking to work adversely through the circumstance of every believer. That is one of the arresting facts of life.
You may be pressing on for blessing from God, but no less Satan is pressing on for his end as well. As surely as the heavens are opening the enemy will seek, through your holiest experience, to touch you in your circumstances. We shall learn, by the blessing of God how to meet the situation by following the example of our Lord, but there it is for the moment, an anti-climax immediately from all the fellowship of heaven to all the dreadful horrors of hell. This explains why so often there is a wilderness after the waters; why revival is held back, and when revival has started why it is restrained. It is because, while the Holy Ghost is working, Satan is plotting. The child of God coming into blessing must understand most clearly, that he is going into conflict, and that he is bound to be beset by these subtleties. We are pleading with God for the heavens to open, but we have not yet quite grasped that we need to be armed against the inevitable enemy. This, then, is the time of the temptation- immediately after great blessing - great conflict. If you press to a Jordan experience, Satan will press you to a wilderness conflict. Finally the place of the temptation. It has often been observed that our Lord was tempted in a wilderness, in sharp contrast to Adam, who was tempted in a garden. But let me go a little further to press another aspect of this wilderness.
This word for wilderness means solitude, and I think the solitude is the aspect to be emphasised. It is the conflict of the solitude that settles the issue of publicity. Our Lord is about to enter upon His ministry. Up to this moment He has not made a public speech, so far as we know, except in the temple at the age of twelve. So far as we know, He has not called a single disciple; He has not performed a single miracle. Shortly He would be doing so, but for the moment He waits. God has sealed Him from heaven, by the Spirit for the task of Calvary, and He goes into the wilderness filled with the Spirit. Still his inviolability and sinlessness must be tested out in solitude.
Many may have surrendered their all to God, so far as they know, and perhaps have not quite realised that they must still face the powers of darkness in the depths of spiritual experience to be tested out alone, in solitude. What is there which is bringing us to a point beyond which it seems impossible for us to go? We can only begin to look into the Word of God to see why it is; and it may be this is the explanation. Filled with the Spirit we may have been and yet somehow, we are arrested. We have not been able to face up to those forty days. There is that wilderness and it is too stark and bare and dreary to be faced, and we have tried to by-pass it. S o the Spirit leads, the Spirit drives so that Jesus, in solitude, might come to grips with Satan. If you know anything of Jordan experience at all, you will know how strong is the urge on one's spirit as God blesses, but the Spirit drives and drives into the wilderness, and the heart says, " Dare I face Satan there; dare I do it? It is the wilderness that holds us back.
Well, He went, and if you follow Him you will come exactly where He came - to a searching out in the depths - a testing out not by the grace of the Spirit, but by the fierceness of the adversary, and where you fear to be. And the place of your fear is the place of your wilderness, and the devil is there.
So He went and according to the measure of our spiritual experience and the reality of our sonship we must go too.
Can you see your wilderness, that place that has for long seemed so bare, unattractive, and uninviting? It is a solitary place - so secret, indeed you may not be able to define it to your best beloved,- but the Spirit is driving you. He is leading you to that place. We can run from it and say, "O God it cannot be." That would be retreat! We can by the blessing of God, try again. We can go again to Jordan, and go on and through the wilderness in the power of the Holy Spirit. God give us the grace so to do.
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