The Jordan led to the Wilderness by a straight road. A first step without slipping leads to the second. Victory opens the way to fresh struggles for higher victories. The perfect naturalness of Jesus is revealed here, His human naturalness. He had taken the decisive step into the Jordan waters. And while absorbed in prayer had become conscious of a new experience. The Spirit of God came upon Him in unusual measure. The effect of that always is to awaken to new alertness and vigor every mental power, as well as to key up every moral resolve. Jesus is caught
at once by the grasp, the grip of this new experience of the wondrous Spirit's control. Keenly alive to its significance, awakened anew to the part He was to perform, and to a consciousness of His peculiar relation to God and to man, He becomes wholly absorbed in this newly intensified world of thought.
Under the Spirit's impulse, He goes off into the solitude of the wilderness to think. And in this mood of deep absorption, with every faculty fully awake and every high moral impulse and purpose in full throb, came the temptation with the recorded climax at the close.
There came an intensifying of all His former consciousness, and convictions, regarding His own personality and His mission to mankind, as absorbed from the Hebrew parchments, with the undercurrent, lying away down, of a tragedy to be met on the way up to the throne.
Jesus was a man of great intensity. He could become so absorbed as to be unconscious of other things. As a boy of twelve, when first He caught fire, He was so taken up with the flood of thoughts poured into His mind by the temple visit, that for three days and two nights He remained away from His parents, simply absorbed in the world of thought awakened by that visit. He could remain forty days in the wilderness without being conscious of hunger. The impress of that forty days mentally remain with Him during the remainder of His human life. Intensity is possible only to strong mentality. The child's mind, the undisciplined mind, the mind weakened by sickness or fatigue goes quickly from one thing to another. The finest mental discipline is revealed in the greatest intensity, while yet all the faculties remain at normal, not heated, nor disturbed by the discoloration of heat.
He withdrew into the wilderness to think and pray. He wanted to get away from man that He might realize God. With the near flaming footlights shut out, He could see clearly the quiet upper lights, His sure guides. These forty days gave Him the true perspective. Things worked into proportion. He never lost this wilderness perspective. The wilderness means to Him alone with God, the false perspective, the flaming of near lights, the noise of men's shuffling feet all gone. And when He went out among men for work, that wilderness atmosphere went with Him. And when the crowds thickened, and work piled up, and dangers intensified, off He would go for a fresh bit of improvised wilderness.
The temptation follows the natural lines of man's powers. Man was made with mastery of himself, kingship over nature and all its forces, and utter dependence, even for his very breath, upon God. While made perfect in these, he would know them fully only through growth. He had three relationships, to God, his fellows, and himself. His relation to God would keep true the relation to himself, and adjust the relation to his fellows. Keeping God in proper proportion in the perspective keeps one's self in its true place always. Utter dependence by every man upon God would make perfect harmony with his fellows. The dominion of nature was through self-mastery, and this in turn would be only through the practice of utter dependence upon God.
Now all sin comes under this grouping, the relation to God, the relation to others, within one's self. Temptation follows the line of exaggeration, misuse, misadjustment, wrong motive. It pushes trust over into unwarranted presumption. Dominion over nature crosses the line into the relation to other men. Fellow-feeling gives way to an ambition to get ahead of the other man and to boss him. Proper appetite and desire become lust and passion. The dominion that man was to have over nature, he seeks also to have over his brothers, so crossing the line of his own proper dominion and trespassing on God's. Only God is to have dominion over all men. Where a man is lifted to eminence of rule among his fellows he is simply acting for Somebody else. He is not a superior. He is a servant of God, in ruling over his fellows.
John's famous grouping of all sin as |the lust of the flesh, lust of eye and pride of life,| refers to what is out |in the world.| It touches only two of these three: sin in one's self and in relation to his fellows, with the dominion line out of adjustment. Out in the world God has been left clean out, so the phase of trust isn't touched upon by John.
Jesus' temptation follows these natural lines. Improper use of power for the sake of the bodily appetite; to presume on God's care in doing something unwarranted; to cross the line of dominion over nature and seek to control men. For, be it remembered, Jesus was here as a man. The realm of the body, the realm of religion, the realm of wrong ambition, these were the temptation lines followed then, and before, and ever since.
The going into the wilderness was planned by the Holy Spirit. He was in charge of this campaign of Jesus to win back the allegiance of man and the dominion of the earth. Jesus yielded Himself to the control of the Holy Spirit for His earthly mission, even as later the Holy Spirit yielded Himself wholly to the control of the exalted Jesus for His earthly mission.
Here the Spirit proves Himself a keen strategist. He drives hard at the enemy. He forces the fighting. A decided victory over the chief at the start would demoralize all the forces. It would be decisive of the whole conflict, and prophetic of the final outcome. Every demon possessing a man on the earth heard of his chief's rout that day, and recognized his Victor, and feared Him, and knew of his own utter defeat in that of his chief. Having gotten the chief devil on the run, every sub-devil fled at Jesus' approach.
The Spirit would show to man the weakness of the devil. The devil can do nothing with the man who is calmly set in his loyalty to God. This new Leader of the race was led up to the dreaded devil that men might know for all time his weak spot. The poison of those fangs is completely neutralized by simple, steady loyalty to God. But the rattles do make a big scary noise.
It is safe to go where the Spirit of God leads, and not safe to go anywhere else. The wilderness, any wilderness, becomes a place of victory if the Spirit of God be leading there. Any temptation is a chance for a victory when the Spirit leads the way. A man's controlling motive determines the attractiveness or ugliness of any place. To Jesus this wilderness barren was one of the mountain peaks. Its forbidding chasms and ugly gullies and darting snakes ever afterwards speak to Him of sweet victory. The first great victory was here. He made the wilderness to blossom with the rose of His unswerving loyalty to His Father. And its fragrance has been felt by all who have followed Him there. To the tempter it was a wilderness indeed, barren of anything he wanted. He quit it the first chance he could make. He would remember the beasts and serpents and dreary waste. For here he received his first death-thrust.
Every man whom God has used has been in the wilderness. The two great leaders before Jesus, and the great leader after Him, had each a post-graduate course in the University of Arabia. A degree in that school is required for those who would do valiant service for God. Only so can the eyes and ears be trained away from the glare and blare of the crowd. They needed it, we need it, for discipline. He, the matchless Man, for that too, and that He might make it a place of sure victory for us.