You may ask yourself, “why does Jesus need to be baptised? Surely he is the only person who doesn’t need it?” But the point of Jesus wanting to be baptised by John was that Jesus was identifying himself, not with God, but with the people who needed to repent. Repentance is a vital part of the preparation of living for God. This is all part of God’s plan to rescue the world – God’s big plan that had been in existence for a very long time. For Jesus to rescue people from their just fate, they need to be able to repent and they need to be forgiven for all of their sins. As Tom Wright puts it, “If Jesus, is to do all this, this is how he must do it: by humbly identifying himself with God’s people, by taking their place, sharing their penitence, living their life and ultimately dying their death.”
So that is why Jesus came to John to be baptised (see Matthew 3:13-17). When Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt, they crossed the Red Sea on dry land. God blew the wind until the water piled up on either side, allowing the Israelites to cross in safety, and hence escape the Egyptian army who was chasing them. Not only did this save them, it also confirmed to them their status before God – that they were God’s children, loved by him. In a similar way, when Jesus came up out of the water at his baptism God declared him to be his son. He is how the Israelites should have looked like, ideally.
But the people of Israel had gone their own way, away from God, and had lost touch with what his plan entailed. They were looking for a messiah who would lead them victoriously in war against the Roman occupation, but at Jesus’ baptism God was reminding everyone there that, through the symbol of the dove, the way of salvation would be through peace. The coming of God’s spirit, also symbolised by the dove, would enable Jesus to take our judgement on himself and complete God’s saving plan – the fulfilment of his mission on earth.
The writer of Hebrews said that Jesus was tempted just like the rest of us:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.
Jesus is Tempted
So, it is only to be expected that Jesus was faced with the temptations from the devil after his baptism. Many Christians have found that as they get closer to God, and do more work for him, the devil comes to attack. It is not surprising that, after the affirmation from God that Jesus is his son, the devil comes to derail the plan. This is a crucial point just before the start of Jesus’ ministry. He needs to ensure that he has the right basis for that ministry, and so he needs to put the devil straight. If he doesn’t now the whole plan could be at stake, derailed at the very start.
But we don’t need to fear: Jesus knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows his father, and he knows the scriptures. He is totally committed to serving God, and no one else, and that means he can combat the devil’s temptations every time. Each of the texts that Jesus uses to reply to the devil are taken from the story of the Israelites in the wilderness, in Deuteronomy 6-8.
The Israelites had come through the water of the Red Sea, and Jesus had just come through the water of baptism. They had spent forty years in the wilderness, and he was about to spend forty days and nights in the desert. But unlike the Israelites, Jesus wasn’t going to fail. As I said previously, Jesus is what the Israelites should have been from the start. The Israelites failed to be the great light that the people of the world were to see in the darkness, but Jesus would be that light.
Going a little further in chapter 4 of Matthew we read:
‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles –
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.’
So, Jesus wasn’t tempted away from God’s plan. Instead, he made sure that the route would eventually take him to the cross. The devil tried to stop him from carrying out what God was calling him to do, but Jesus was totally committed to that plan. A plan that would take him from his baptism to a ministry of servanthood, and eventually suffering and death.
What About Us?
So far, this has been a description of Jesus’ baptism and temptations in a nutshell – a very brief history of what happened approximately 2000 years ago. But we can’t leave it there. What does it matter? How does this affect you and me today? Looking back at Jesus’ baptism, we can see that we need to listen to that same voice of God.
If we repent and put ourselves at God’s disposal, we will hear him speaking to us. God, who loves us, wants to affirm us as his children also, and will equip us with his spirit so that we may live lives for him. We have been looking at being prepared for challenges, and how it helps to be encouraged. How does it help you by knowing that God is for you? If God is for us, who can be against us? Jesus ultimately won, even though, at times, it looked like the world was against him.
We saw in part 2 of this series that, “whenever God moves opposition comes,” and by committing ourselves to God, which we do, corporately, at every covenant service, we can be sure that the devil will become more interested in us, and we will face our own temptations. We may be tempted in very different ways, but they will all try to divert us from the plan that God has for us. The problem isn’t as simple as being tempted into sinful ways, but the devil will try to distract us from the path that God has laid out for us, which we were commissioned to follow at our baptism or when we committed ourselves to Christ. God calls us to live victorious lives for him, and we can therefore expect the devil to do everything he can to distract us from that.
We will encounter both good and evil along the way, but the good encounters can help to strengthen us for those evil encounters. Notice that Jesus was baptised before he was tempted. But remember, we are God’s children, he has called each one of us, and so we can use the same method of defence that Jesus did.
Get to know your Bible and learn how to use it. Keep listening to God and put your whole trust in him – he will never fail you or let you down. God has affirmed us as his children, equipping us with his spirit so that our lives may be swept clean and ready for use. God has called us to bring his light into this world – never let anyone entice you back into darkness.