Luke 3-4, the Baptism and Temptation of Christ
Before Jesus, baptisms were performed in local Synagogues for converts or proselytes. It was an initiation ceremony, which identified a person with Judaism. When John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness—away from organized religion—he offered a different type of baptism, and predicted still another baptism by the Holy Spirit made possible by Jesus. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance according to the message he was preaching, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. His audience needed to have a change of mind that bore fruit in a changed life. John’s audience was looking for the Messiah to come and set up the kingdom. This is what John proclaimed as being “at hand”. John was baptizing them so they would be identified with this change of mind which involved confessing their sins and preparing for their Savior. They needed to be separated from the religious systems of that day. John also predicted in Matt.3:11 that “He who is coming after me is mightier than I…and He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”. This is the spiritual baptism taught by the N.T. authors that occurs at the time of your salvation. You didn’t necessarily know it or feel it, but when you first truly believed in Jesus as your Savior you were baptized (indwelt) by the Holy Spirit with all the ramifications that this includes(see 1 Cor.6:19; 12:13, Eph.1:13; 2:18; 1 Peter 4:10, Rom.8:26). All these baptisms are to be differentiated from the sacrament of baptism now practiced by the church. When Christians receive water baptism, we are primarily making an outward profession of an inward faith. The practice is based on Jesus’ command in Matt.28:19 and the practice of the early church in the book of Acts.
There was a baptism in Matt.3:15-16 that was a one time unique event never to be repeated by anyone. Jesus came to be baptized by John the Baptist. This surprised John as you might imagine, and he tried to prevent it saying, “I have need to be baptized by You”, meaning Jesus has no need to repent or confess or be identified with John’s ministry to sinners. Jesus is the sinless Son of God. I ask you the question then—WHY WAS JESUS BAPTIZED?
Jesus answered John saying, “Permit it at this time…to fulfill all righteousness”. After being baptized, the Spirit of God descended visibly and came upon Jesus, and God spoke from heaven confirming that “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”. Knowing that it is unwise to argue with God, it is certain that this was a necessary and very important event.
Keep in mind that this is the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry so first of all, Jesus is being introduced to the world as the Son of God. After an eternity of glory in heaven and some 30 years of living in obscurity on earth, the Messiah is revealed publicly for the world to see. Secondly this event has a purpose “to fulfill all righteousness” which is puzzling because the Law included no requirements about baptism. Therefore this must have something to do with John’s ministry, and Jesus’ purpose in coming into the world. Remember that baptism is all about identification. In each of the different baptisms the recipient was identified with something. If Christ were to provide righteousness for sinners, He must be identified with sinners. This baptism then was the willing, voluntary identification of the sinless Son of God with the sinful people He came to save; as Jesus would say, “I came to seek and to save the lost”, and “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners”.
Thirdly this baptism was His initiation to be the sin bearer. Jesus was being introduced as the person who would bear or take on our sins.
Therefore, Paul would write years later in 2 Cor.5:21—“God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”
In one more important event similar to His birth, His life, His ministry, and His death; Jesus humbles Himself and submits to God’s will. In this way God’s love was poured out on us who did not deserve it.
The Temptation of Christ
In Luke 4:1-13, we read about the second part of Jesus’ preparation for public ministry. Right after the baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the adversary of God. This section will prove that Jesus is both fully human (and able to be tempted), but sinless and able to overcome all temptations. We might be surprised that the Spirit would lead Him out to suffer and endure in this way. Remember that when Jesus took on the flesh and became fully human, He placed the exercise of His divine knowledge and power under the discretion of God the Father (see Phil. 2:6-9). It was God’s plan that Christ’s faith and sinlessness be fully tested. We read of three different temptations that Satan used against Him, each especially suited to Jesus’ situation and weaknesses. You and I might be tempted in other ways that suit our weakness, maybe to do with sex, or alcohol, drugs, materialism, but Satan crafted three special temptations just for Jesus. Jesus was very hungry, He came to set up the Kingdom of God, and He came to Israel to be accepted as their Messiah from God. Therefore, Satan offered Jesus three shortcuts to satisfy all of those issues.
At this point it is important to answer a theological question that has plagued the church for 2000 years—Since Christ was God, was He really able to be tempted? God cannot sin, so there was actually no value in tempting Him, right? Did Jesus even feel the desire to make the bread, take the kingdoms, and force God to protect Him? The answer is that Jesus was temptable in the sense that He was hungry, and He did feel the need for the bread. He wanted the bread. In His humanity, He wanted to avoid the pain of the cross, so yes these were real temptations that Jesus felt. Could He have sinned? The answer lies in Christ’s unique nature of being fully man and fully God. His humanity was hungry, but His deity was able to overcome His feelings of hunger. Think of a pliable wire that is easily bent, but if attached to a steel bar, it cannot be bent. Therefore Christ was able to be tempted, yet able to not sin. I can think of two valuable reasons for His temptation as it affects us. First, to be a perfect sacrifice for our sins, Jesus had to be proven sinless, and secondly as the author of Hebrews 4:15 says, “we have a high priest (Jesus) who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin”.
The first temptation involved Jesus’ great hunger after fasting for 40 days. I have never gone without food for very long, so I have no idea what that would be like, but I am certain I would succumb to any temptation for food. Jesus had a powerful hunger, and He knew He had the creative power as God to turn the stones into bread. His physical needs made this a real temptation, yet He knew it was God’s will that He endure it. He would not do something outside God’s will, and He would not use His power for the wrong reason. In Luke 4:4, Jesus answered him using the Word of God from Deuteronomy 8, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”. Jesus recognized the priority of God’s Word over man’s desires.
Next the devil tried to divert Jesus from His mission to atone for man’s sin before bringing in the Kingdom of God. First Jesus had to suffer and die. Satan was offering a pain-free shortcut. Satan gave Him a vision of all the kingdoms of the world, and offered them to Jesus if He would just worship Satan. Can you remember all the times you and I desired pain-free quick solutions to our problems? Jesus felt the pull, and His flesh and blood wanted to avoid the suffering, but again Jesus answered from the Word of God, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve”. It is often God’s better plan that our problems be solved with difficulty, and take much longer than we would want to struggle with them. Jesus recognized that He would have to sell out and break the first and most important commandment if He would take the easy way and avoid the cross.
The third temptation was perhaps the most subtle. Since Jesus is the Son of God, why not jump off the Temple wall into the deep Kidron Valley below so that in full view of the priests and leaders of Israel, God’s angels would fly in and rescue Jesus, thus proving who He is and be accepted by all? Why not make it clear to all that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah of Israel, instead of risk that Israel would not recognize Him? Satan even quoted Scripture from Psalm 91, which describes God’s protection for those who believe. Jesus corrected Satan’s misuse of the Scripture by responding, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”. Satan’s error was that Psalm 91 does not promise protection for self created crises or tests. Jesus was no doubt referring to Moses’ reference in Deut.6:16 of when the Israelites tested God by demanding water immediately or they would return to Egypt back in Exodus 17:1-7.
So that we might relate these temptations to our own experience, let’s see if we can categorize them. First our physical needs and desires for stuff and money tempt us every day. Secondly, we always want to avoid pain and suffering, and are tempted to take any shortcut or compromise. Lastly, our pride demands that we elevate ourselves and promote our glory rather than risk rejection. Praise God that Jesus chose to live in absolute submission to the will of God.