Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
In his baptism our Lord was proclaimed as the Messiah. This must have intensified his feeling of the burden and glory of his vocation. A ferment of emotions must have been stirred in his soul. The inquisitive, critical eyes around him, the eager questioning to which he must straightway have been subjected, the necessity of determining what course he should pursue, made solitude a necessity for him at this time. He must ascertain with definiteness the principles which are to guide his work. And the great problems which presented themselves as he looked forward to his work were these: What use may I make of the powers committed to me? What means may I legitimately use to convince the people? What kind of Messiah am I to be? His mind had to work itself clear of all popular fallacies regarding the coming kingdom, and his heart had to face and count the cost of all that would come of resisting or disappointing popular expectations. Rejecting, therefore, the idea that he might use his miraculous power for his own comfort, he affirmed from the first the principle that he lived and worked for others. Rejecting the idea that he was to be a mere Wonder-worker, he at once adopted the slow way of moral influence and waiting on God's time. And, thirdly, rejecting the idea that he might be an earthly Prince, he from the outset sustained the role of a spiritual King.
I. THE TEMPTATION TO USE HIS MIRACULOUS POWER FOR HIS OWN SUSTENANCE AND COMFORT. Absorbed during all these days in thought and mental conflict, the claims of intense bodily hunger at last make themselves felt. He finds himself faint, far from any dwelling where he could get food; ready to perish, and too giddy, sick, and spent to seek for relief. But he carries in his own Person the power to turn the very stones of the untilled hillside into bread. Why should he not use this power? Because he has taken the nature of man, to live a human life under human conditions, and were he to relieve himself of every threatening danger and evade every difficulty by a quick appeal to his supernatural power, this entrance into human life would be a mockery. His freedom from sin would have been no example to us if the danger and discomfort of resisting sin and living righteously were only in appearance. (Compare the chapter in 'Ecce Homo,' on Christ's credentials: "This temperance in the use of supernatural power is the masterpiece of Christ. It is a moral miracle superinduced upon a physical one... The kind of life he prescribed to his followers he exemplified in the most striking way, by dedicating all his extraordinary powers to beneficent uses only, and deliberately placing himself for all purposes of hostility and self-defence on a level with the weakest.") Every young man looking forward to his career should bring himself to the measure here presented. I have certain gifts, means, capabilities, by which I can secure comfort and position in the world. For whose benefit am I to use what I have? He would be a fool who feared to bid every young man choose as Christ chose. You foresee discomfort, the obscure and dingy ways of poverty; you foresee what you would sum up in one word, "starvation." But choose as Christ chose, and though you may make what men will call a very poor thing of life, or lose it, you will find life eternal. Let no parent be so ill a counsellor as to turn away a son from generous self-sacrifice. Every man has his time of temptation; and once committed to certain courses of choice, is hampered.
II. THE TEMPTATION TO WIN THE PEOPLE BY AN ASTOUNDING FEAT. The vulgar seemed to expect that the Messiah would leap from a pinnacle of the temple. And now that Jesus was proclaimed, how could he more readily win the people's assent to his claims? He had not been in a hurry to proclaim himself, but now something must be done. The leap had no horror for Jesus; had it been warranted, he would not have feared it. It was an easy method compared to the tedious instruction; the slow, disappointing appeal to right feeling; the weary ministry he actually chose. How often must this temptation have returned when he met stupid, prejudiced, contemptuous people! How easy to refute their accusations by stupendous miracle! But to work a miracle merely to show that he had the power, to give a sign to those who merely asked for a sign, Christ constantly refused. His miracles had always another motive and a real occasion. Miracles did convince men of his Messiahship, but only when they saw that the miracles were dictated by loving consideration of the actual necessities of the men about him. And suppose such a leap, or any other such marvel, had been the manifestation of God! How feeble, how incongruous a testimony! Shall we ourselves take the quick road or the slow one? Shall we force God's providence? Are we to make opportunities for ourselves, or to wait till God gives us occasion? Shall we expect God's help when we have not used the ordinary means for escaping from danger or attaining our object (not used the stair to get down from the pinnacle)? We tempt God when we neglect the ordinary means.
III. THE TEMPTATION TO BE AN EARTHLY, NOT A SPIRITUAL KING. No one ever felt so much capacity to govern well, to reform social abuses, to lift a people to the pinnacle of glory. He felt in himself a power he must have longed to exercise for men's temporal welfare. Satan whispered, "You have come to bind men in a universal brotherhood, but it is hopeless to effect this by acting on men individually and spiritually. Men do not care to be delivered from sin; they do not wish to be led back to God, and you will never make the world what you wish it. But make an earthly kingdom for yourself; that is possible; no mere shadowy imagination. The people are now waiting for a leader who will throw off for them the Roman yoke, and lead them to dominion." We know this temptation in its petty appeals to our avarice or love of display, to our hankering after posts of influence, to our desire to be known. We know it also when we wish Christ had provided for his people earthly good as well as spiritual. Nothing but a preference for what is spiritual will secure us against the temptation to wish, either for ourselves or others, what constitutes the glory of this world.
1. Temptation is possible without sin. Until the will consents, sin is not committed. Our Lord was tempted, yet without sin.
2. The depth and reality of our Lord's humiliation. His ability to sympathize is founded on his being of one nature with us, and living a life unsheltered from the temptations which assail us. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.