CHRIST IN THE WILDERNES(1)
‘Jesus … was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being forty days tempted of the devil.’
(1) In the volume on Matthew, twenty-four pages are devoted to the Temptation. It seems convenient, therefore, that Luke’s account should be treated more briefly.
Christ Jesus, in becoming man, voluntarily subjected Himself to the discipline of temptation.
I. Tempted of the devil.—Christ became incarnate to redeem the world from sin, to restore the authority of God on earth, and to destroy the works of the devil. Is it then to be wondered at, that the devil, who had seduced man to sin, and whose rebel kingdom had been set up on earth, should rouse himself at the very outset of Christ’s mission for a desperate struggle to retain his authority?
II. Tempted as our Representative.—Christ was the Head and Representative of the human race. It is in this light that the temptations of Christ reach their fullest significance. Christ came to restore a fallen race to its loyalty to God and, in the place of the usurped kingdom of Satan, to set up once more the everlasting Kingdom of Heaven. His first victory over the devil is at once the prophecy and pledge of His final triumph over sin, and of the redemption of His people.
III. A contrast.—Adam was the first head and representative of our race, and as such he had to endure, as Christ had to endure, the temptation of the devil. But how different was Adam’s temptation from that of Christ! Adam was tempted in the midst of plenty, Christ in the midst of poverty. Adam was tempted once only, Christ was ‘forty days tempted of the devil.’ Yet Adam fell, while Christ overcame! And this overcoming is the first act in the redemption of our race.
—Rev. Canon Duncan.
‘As great movements in human affairs have each their wilderness, so every individual life that is truly great has its times which are filled with what seem mere delays and hindrances, and which are really preparations. We mark this in the wanderings of Abraham, the long tuition of Jacob before he became Israel; in the captivity of Joseph in Egypt, and the exile of Moses, as in the persecuted youth of David. These are ancient examples; but the experience which they represent is never old. The lesson of the wilderness is written broadly over sacred history, and it is deeply marked in modern life as well.’
From a position of honour and glory Christ passed immediately to a season of conflict and suffering. The portion of Christ will often prove the portion of Christians. From great privilege to great trial there will often be but a step. Mark:—
I. The power and unwearied malice of the devil.—If he cannot rob us of heaven, he will at any rate make our journey thither painful.
II. The Lord’s ability to sympathise with those that are tempted.—This is a truth that stands out prominently in this passage. Jesus has been really and literally tempted Himself.
III. The exceeding subtlety of our great spiritual enemy, the devil.—Three times we see him assaulting our Lord and trying to draw Him into sin. Unbelief, worldliness, and presumption are three grand engines which he is ever working against the soul of man, and by which he is ever enticing him to do what God forbids, and to run into sin. Let us remember this, and be on our guard.
IV. The manner in which our Lord resisted Satan’s temptation.—Three times we see Him foiling and baffling the great enemy who assaulted Him. He Who was ‘full of the Holy Ghost,’ was yet not ashamed to make the Holy Scripture His weapon of defence and His rule of action.
—Bishop J. C. Ryle.
TEMPTED THROUGH THE BODY
‘And in those days He did eat nothing.… Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’
I. Tempted through the body.—Each one of us has a body, and our body has its natural desires, yet most of our temptations to evil come through them. Sometimes the temptation comes through physical suffering; days, weeks, months of bodily infirmity or pain have to be endured, and as the infirmity or pain grows, and all human means fail to bring any relief, the tempter would have you ‘curse God and die,’ and thus escape a life of misery and pain. But Christ is here tempted
(a) To doubt God’s Providential care.
(b) To exercise His own power.
II. The Tempter repelled.—Christ, having taken our nature upon Him, felt that He had to meet the temptation, not in His Divine power, but in His human trust.
(a) The greatest peril in temptation is the inducement to gratify lawful desires by unlawful means. If Christ had yielded He would have destroyed the blessed example of His human trust in God.
(b) We should not give way to human weakness. Christ was human, but in the dignity and strength of His manhood He resisted the devil. So can we. Christ conquered, not by denying that He was an hungered, or that He desired bread to satisfy it, but by asserting the supremacy of the spiritual life, and of His trust in God.
Rev. Canon Duncan.
‘Bread stands for earthly things—gold and silver, houses and lauds. Solomon drank the cup of earthly pleasure dry: he was by turns, for so we read in the Book of Ecclesiastes, the man of science, the man of pleasure, the fatalist, the materialist, the sceptic, the epicurean, the stoic, and at last a believer and a penitent (Ecclesiastes 12:13). He tried hard to live by bread alone, and he found it could not be done (Ecclesiastes 2:4-12).’
TEMPTED THROUGH THE WORLD
‘If Thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be Thine.’
I. The spirit of the world.—When our Lord was offered the kingdoms of the world in return for an act of homage, in His mind the proposal would assume the aspect of an expedient for advancing His Kingdom, with the policies and prudences and compromises of this world. Yet we can hardly contemplate a ceremonial and bodily prostration as being the first and last of what was proposed. By falling down and worshipping the spirit of the world, I understand lowering the ideal of Christ’s intended kingdom, and enlisting in its favour, and employing as agents in its extension and maintenance, the passions, the methods, and the ambitions which might without harshness or exaggeration be included in the word ‘worldly-mindedness.’
II. Our Lord does not hesitate in His answer.—He replies, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.’ Thou shalt make Him no more co-ordinate than subordinate with any other object of worship. The Gospel of grace must contract no contamination from an alliance with sin, or by a coalition with anything that deserves the name of worldliness.
‘Satan has no more ready, potent, or successful instrument of assault upon the personal religion and Christian usefulness of the believer than the world. Failing, in the case of our Lord, to secure homage and worship by the presentation of worldly blandishments, he plies his arts with His followers, wounding the Lord in the person of His disciples. The world, that had no attraction for Christ—save only its redemption—alas! constitutes one of the most seductive temptations of the Christian. Satan is constantly presenting it in endless forms of attraction, wearing as many disguises and backed by every species of argument. There is not a ruse he does not employ by which to bring the world to bear upon the Christian. The eye delighting in beauty, the ear ravished with sounds, the taste delicate and dainty—“The lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye and the pride of life”—are so many media through which the attractive power and ascendancy of the world attain an easy conquest in the mind of the Christian.’
TEMPTED THROUGH PRESUMPTION
‘And he brought Him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple.… Jesus answering said … Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.’
I. This temptation came to Christ when He was on a high and holy place.—He was tempted to presume on God’s protection. In every duty that God requires of us, and in every path that Providence maps out for us, we shall have the Divine protection; but if we turn aside or go our own way we have no promised protection. Christ repelled the tempter with the written Word.
II. Christ would not cast Himself down from—
(a) His religious privileges.
(b) The authority of Scripture.
—Rev. Canon Duncan.
‘The pinnacle is none the less dangerous because it happens to be “the pinnacle of the Temple.” To stand on a high place in God’s house, to minister to the great congregation, is very honourable, but it is a responsible and perilous position, from which not a few fall. Well did the builders of our old cathedrals and churches carve their grinning fiends and demons, clustering around the roofs and towers of those holy places, for churches and holy places have often been the scenes of the devil’s greatest victories. When men have escaped the temptations of the devil everywhere else, they have been met and overcome in the temple. As St. Augustine says, “Even in the harbour ships are broken, and from the temple men fall.” Look into Church history. Whence all this heresy and schism, this bitterness and strife, this pride and worldliness? Whence, but from the temptations of the devil?’
‘This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.’
Jesus had returned to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. It was now some months since He had left His home to go away to Jordan’s side, where John was baptizing. Now He returned alone. In the meantime many things had happened. The fame of Him had gone through all the region round about. He had taught in their synagogues, being glorified above all; so that now, when He returned once more to His own home and stood up, as His custom was, to read the lessons, He was received with eager, if somewhat critical, interest. Unrolling the scroll as the minister handed it to Him, and finding the beautiful passage in Isaiah 61, He read it aloud. In the middle of reading the second verse our Blessed Lord stopped and, rolling up the scroll, gave it back to the minister and sat down. Sitting among the Jews was the attitude of the preacher; when, therefore, Jesus sat down after His reading, the people knew that He would preach, and the eyes of all men in the synagogue were fastened upon Him. And the sermon? The Evangelist gives us but the opening sentence, yet that one sentence is a clue to all: ‘This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.’
I. What was fulfilled?—He tells us that the good things which Isaiah spoke of are coming true now in a way far more wonderful than the prophet could have dreamed. ‘This day is this scripture fulfilled.’ Now is the new era; now the acceptable year indeed has come. We ourselves know how literally the Lord fulfilled His Word. And we know, too, how, in another sense, more deep, more wonderful, more spiritual, He made His words good. He did indeed bring in the year of jubilee, the Gospel era. The whole New Testament is but one long story of light and hope and freedom, and all the comfort which Jesus brought to men. Thus, in a burst of inspired enthusiasm, Jesus gave to His own people, in His own old home, the joyful tidings He came to bring to men.
II. The message the same to-day.—And still the message of Jesus is the same to-day, and still His Word goes out to England as it went out to Nazareth long ago, and still He is present among us with His power to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and to make His words good. To the spiritual sufferer Jesus is present with us in power to-day, as He has ever been. We are bound to assert that He in His Divine Spirit, through His Word, His ministers, His sacraments, and in whatever other way it may seem good to Him, is preaching good tidings, is binding up the broken-hearted, is breaking the power of the wicked, is making men see deep things which they only can describe. We are bound to think and assert that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is a living power here in England to-day.
III. A simple faith needed.—These are Christ’s words. At first, indeed, men wonder and admire; soon comes the critical and controversial spirit. Better is it far for us if we could accept our Lord and His Gospel in simple faith. The world may laugh at simple, childlike faith, but simple, childlike faith is about the best thing that man can have. Happy is the man who can still take Jesus at His word, who can believe that He is the Son of God Who came to save the world, who can trust to Him every burden, who will look to Him for the hope of everlasting life, and who can live in the power of that faith.
—Rev. P. M. Smythe.
Standing on the summit of Old Testament prophecy, and gathering about Himself the fullness of its glory, He declares Himself as the realisation of Isaiah’s grandest language: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me.’
I. Christ uses this prophecy as entirely personal to Himself.—Witness this fact, said He, the ‘Spirit of the Lord is upon Me’; Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled; the Holy Ghost testifies through Me, and this is all-sufficient for your belief in My Messiahship. Here is the keynote to His ministry, the assertion of His own Divine consciousness, and, on this basis, He rests His claims to be accepted and trusted. What else save this consciousness of Himself could impart spiritual life to their consciousness?
II. The Lord Jesus asserts distinctly that the Holy Spirit was the anointing or unction for His Divine ministry.—The words are explicit: ‘Because He’—not an influence, but a character; not an attribute or quality, but a Divine person—‘because He hath anointed Me to preach the Gospel’; therefore stand I here as the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy. He claims attention and homage on the ground that the Spirit rests upon Him. The stress which the Lord Jesus laid on the Spirit’s co-operative agency with Him is one of those truths on which He insisted as cardinal. Recall the message He sent to John the Baptist in prison, and you find it little else than a quotation from Isaiah’s prophecy. Throughout the ministry of three years it was His supreme vindication against vexatious doubts, the hasty judgments, the querulous impatience of His most trusted friends.
FAITH AND GRACE
‘And He said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is acceptable in his own country. But of a truth I say unto you, There were many widows … and unto none of them was Elijah sent, but only to Zarephath.… And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.’
Luke 4:24-27 (R.V.)
Our Lord is thinking of those who never draw near—of those who will not press in. And the worst is that it is among His own peculiar people, in His own home, that this misadventure is at its height. It is those who should know Him best who call upon Him least. It is they to whom He has been familiar from childhood who are unable to make use of His compassion. Familiarity itself has blinded them; their privilege has proved their ruin. Elsewhere, in strange places, among outlying heathen, He wins recognition. He is honoured as a prophet everywhere, except among His own people and in His Father’s house.
I. A law of human experience.—He is only verifying a law of human experience. So He recalls as He turns back to those ancient Scriptures which are the record of man’s historical relationship to his God. There His own present experience in Galilee finds its parallel sure enough. Always it had been with others as it was now with Him. Always the prophet has had to face this cruel rebuff. Always those nearest have proved to be the farthest off. Always the privileged have missed what the outcasts have discovered.
II. This restraint set on the Divine compassions by human failure to evoke them, runs down very deep into the principle of the Incarnation. It is startling to us that God should accept such limitation. Yet we can see that the very fact that He accepts it is a measure of His respect for man. It is we who dishonour man by asking God to save him in spite of himself, regardless of his consent and desire. God will do no such thing. The man is not really saved until our Lord can pronounce, in that strong way of His, ‘Thy own faith hath saved thee.’
III. The whole problem of faith lies here.—The appeal to the faith of the man, to his personal co-operation, is the inner vital truth of Christianity. Yet all the problems so familiar to us in their perplexity start up at once. If the merciful action of God must wait upon faith, how terribly it is curtailed! And, then, this faith, that releases grace, and closes with the Divine offer—what is its character—its nature? Problems indeed! How can it be helped if once faith is pronounced essential? And that it is essential Christ Himself, in the simplest Gospel story, long before the theologians had got at it with their subtleties, perfectly plainly pronounced. ‘He could do no mighty works there because of their unbelief’; ‘Canst thou believe?’ ‘All things are possible to them that believe’; ‘He was astonished at their unbelief.’
IV.—The silence of Christ.—Is there anything more remarkable in the record of our Lord than His reticence—His silence? How seldom He will speak until He is questioned! He will only go where He is asked. Men must seek Him out and find Him: ‘Rabbi, come down, ere my child die.’ From the first hour it was so. He did nothing until somebody had discovered Him and appealed to Him. And with Him we know well that it was not through lack of pity or of power that He suffered Himself to be circumscribed, but solely in order to secure human faith, human co-operation—solely because He so valued man’s personal will that He would do, and could do, nothing without it. As with God in Christ then, so now. God’s redemptive action on earth is so broken, and uncertain, and obscure, and fragmentary, just because He is determined to have man as His fellow-worker. He will lay Himself alongside of man; He will put Himself in harness with man; He will keep pace with man; He will go only so far as He carries man with Him. And man is irregular, man is uncertain, man is fitful, man is obscure. Therefore God submits to fitfulness, to obscurity; therefore He is satisfied with jagged edges and incomplete achievements, and recoils, and disfigurements, and dishonour, and delays. If man will not believe, then God will do no mighty works.
Is not that the secret of all the trouble that is brought before you to-day?
—Rev. Canon Scott Holland.
THE POWER BEHIND
‘His word was with power.’
Christ’s word was with power, and it was the consciousness of this that enabled the first Christians, with all their knowledge of human weakness and moral evils, to aim so high, and yet to go forward so hopefully, so triumphantly, into the struggle.
And if we ask in what the power of Christianity lay, as distinct from the authority which a high and pure ideal exercises over the conscience, we find that:—
I. It placed the Christian in organic relation with a higher and supernatural life.—Nothing could have brought the high ideal of Christianity within the region of practical effort for the ordinary man but the belief that a new power had entered into human nature, and that man had become something different from what, in sad experience, he knew himself to be. ‘Teach a man,’ it is said, ‘that he is something greater than he is, and he will soon come to be what he believes himself to be.’ Christianity did not merely teach men that they were greater than they thought; it claimed to make human nature greater than it had been. As Jews, the first Christians were familiar with the thought of a people singled out to a kind of priesthood among the nations brought near to God and entrusted with His oracles, that through them He might educate the world. But that old idea would not contain the wider truth, the larger hope of Christianity. So the new wine burst the bottle. Jewish exclusiveness must be abandoned if the world is to receive the idea of the redemption of man as man, through Him in Whom differences of Jew and Gentile, male and female, barbarian and civilised, disappear, because He is the perfect Man. That notion of the universality of Christianity, though but slowly realised by the first disciples, is yet implicit in Christ’s own teaching; and the Incarnation, both in the order of time, and in the order of thought, is the ground of belief in the brotherhood of man, in it is the justification for that ‘enthusiasm of humanity’ which has become a catchword of the day. And the sure hope which carried the Christian forward was a supernatural hope. Chosen out of the world, the object of the world’s hatred and persecution, he was yet, as he believed, the purpose of God, the world’s conqueror. By the mere fact of his being a Christian he was (if we may use such a phrase) on the winning side in the great moral struggle between light and darkness. The future was with him. For a moment his faith might fail, when Christ, the embodiment of all his expectation, died upon the Cross. But with the new assurance of the Resurrection, the new presence of Whit-Sunday, he went forth fearlessly to overcome the world, the forces of the world, the forces of evil within and around him, knowing that he was endued with power from on high for the regeneration of man.
II. Again the Divine touched the human in an intensely personal relationship.—We see this most plainly in that virtue in which the Christian stood most opposed to the heathen world—the virtue of purity. Here, more than in either of the other parts of temperance, Christianity was committed to an ideal, unknown and unintelligible to heathen morals. We know how the controversy with heathen impurity showed itself in the early days of the Church. What were the weapons which the Christian teacher used? What was his appeal? We have been told of late years that ‘there is no true foundation for the strictest sexual morality other than the social duty which the Greeks asserted.’ Did he appeal, as we might now, to reverence for human personality? To a chivalrous respect for womanhood? To the theoretical, the actual, equality of all members in the body politic? There is not one word of this, nor could there be, for as yet there was, outside the Christian Church, no recognition of humanity as a family with equal rights. What, then, is his appeal? It is direct, personal, immediate. ‘What! know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?’ There were also for the Christian two kinds of love, love to God and love to man. Charity was always a theological virtue; it was love of God, and of our neighbour in God. It was that personal relation of the Christian with God in Christ which saved his service of God from melting away into a dreamy pantheism, and his service of man from being dissipated into a generalised feeling of benevolence. The Master had said, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.’ And the disciple was quick to interpret the thought. If Christ gave up His life for us, we ought also to give up our lives for the brethren.
III. Once more the power of Christianity consisted in the fact that it dealt with man as a social being.—Hence Christianity is not cast upon the world to triumph by its own intrinsic truth and beauty. Nor are individuals, as individuals, drawn to Christ without designs to their fellow-men. The Christianity of Christ is truer to human nature than the Christianity of many Christians. For if we honestly ask ourselves, How did Christ will to give to humanity the salvation which He has wrought for it? we are bound to answer, whatever our prejudices may be, He did not write a book; He did not formulate a creed—He founded a society. He selected and trained its first members for the work they were to do, and then sent them forth to gather into the spiritual kingdom, by the power of personal influence, those who were far off, as well as those who were near, ‘Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.’ In these days we spend so much anxious thought on the development of the Church that we are tempted to lose sight of this primary fact. But all these questions as to what is permanent and what is transient in the organisation of the Church serve to throw into the shade the fact which lies behind them all—the fact, namely, that the Christian, just because he is a Christian, is a member of a spiritual society, of which Holy Baptism is the initiatory rite, the Eucharist the living bond of union, while its Magna Charta is the Sermon on the Mount. In the early days of Christianity there were no Christians unattached.
Rev. Canon Aubrey Moore.
‘Judged, at least, by those among whom He lived and wrought, our Lord’s claim justified itself in that region where a pretended authority would be most easily found out. Evil spirits recognised His voice. With authority and power He commanded, and they obeyed. If men question His power in the moral world, His power to forgive sins, Christ refers them to that which is open to the eyes of men. “Whether is it easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee, or to say, Arise and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (He saith unto the sick of the palsy), … Arise, and take up thy bed, and go unto thy house.” Thus by proving His power in the world of nature Christ prepared the minds of the Jews to believe in His power in the moral world. With us it is necessarily different. We have exchanged the naively objective attitude of ancient thought for the distrustful introspectiveness of modern days. And it is easier for us to believe in miracles on the strength of what we know of Christ’s power in the moral world, than to base our faith in that power on the evidence of miracles. We must begin with what is nearest to us. And the present power of Christ in the moral life is nearer to each one of us than the miracles which witnessed to that power in days of old.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Luke 4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany