The Baptism and Temptation of Jesus

A Sermon by Nate Wilson in fulfillment of a requirement by the Rocky Mountain Presbytery for ordination, Jan. 2002.


Read passage: Matt. 3:13-4:11 (My rough translation follows)


Then Jesus comes from Galilee up to the Jordan to John to be baptized by him. But John wanted to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and You come to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Let it be now, for this is fitting to us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he let him. But after being baptized, Jesus immediately went up from the water, and, look, the heavens were opened to Him and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him, and look, a voice out of the heavens saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I delight.”


Then Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit to be tried by the devil. And after fasting 40 days and 40 nights, He then got hungry. And coming near, the tempter said to him, “If you are the Son of God, speak so that these stones become bread.” But in answer He said, “It has been written, ‘Not upon bread alone will man live, but rather upon every word proceeding out of the mouth of God.’”


Then the devil took him into the holy city and stood him upon the wing of the temple and he said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it has been written that ‘He will command his angels around you, and they shall lift you upon their hands, lest your foot might stumble against a stone.’” Jesus was speaking to him, “Again it has been written, ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’”


Again the devil takes Him into a very high mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them and said to Him, “All these I will give to you if you will fall down and worship me. Then Jesus says to him, “Get lost, Satan, for it has been written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and you shall serve Him alone.’” Then the devil lets Him go, and look, angels come near and were attending to Him.



I have been asked to focus on the two events by which Jesus began His ministry years: His baptism and His temptation. We are not going to go into depth on each of the temptations here, but my object is to show the relationship of these two events to the ministry of Jesus and how they apply to us as ministers of the Word.


Statement of Problem

In 1997, I purchased a copy of Microsoft’s Office software package. The logo on the package was a picture of a puzzle made of five interlocking pieces, representing Microsoft Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, and their new product, Microsoft Outlook. But the logo looked kinda strange. The four original software programs formed a neat square, but Microsoft Outlook was hanging off the end of the square like a misfit that never could find its place. Practical use bore out my suspicions from the logo, and I had all kinds of problems with that first version of Microsoft Outlook. You know, the baptism of Christ and his temptation are two passages of scripture that seem like that misfit piece hanging off the end of the logo. They just don’t seem to fit.


Have you ever wondered why Jesus was baptized by John? Earlier in the chapter, it says that John baptized with water for repentance (v.11), his message was “Repent…” (v.2), and that the people confessed their sin as they were baptized (v.6). Did Jesus have sins that He needed to repent of? Did Jesus need to be baptized?


Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, wrote of Jesus, that “He committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth.” That was also Pilate’s verdict when he tried Jesus: “I find no fault in Him.” Even Jewish leaders, when they tried to find fault with Him, could not identify any sin, but had to hire false witnesses! Jesus never sinned. He lived the uniquely perfect life in total obedience to all the law of God. When Elizabeth said that Mary was blessed among women, it was more than just verbal blessings – can you imagine having a child who never disobeyed you? “Jesus, change your brother James’ diaper and then take out the trash.” “Yes Ma’am!” Jesus was perfect; He had no sin, so he had no need to be baptized for the remission of sin.


And Jesus is more than just perfect; Jesus is God! He was divinely conceived and born of a virgin, He did what only God could do by claiming to forgive sins, He accepted the worship of  His disciples as “Lord and God,” He claimed to be God when He said “Before Abraham was I AM,” and it was His claim to be the Son of God and Son of Man that finally drove the Jewish leaders to crucify him as a blasphemer. Jesus’ claims to be God were substantiated by God the Father at His baptism and later on at the transfiguration, where God said, “This is my Son…” Even Satan in the temptation admitted Jesus’ divinity when he used a first class conditional to start conversing with Jesus: “If You are the Son of God (and my grammar implies that you ARE), speak in order that these stones become bread.”


When Jesus came to be baptized, John recognized that Jesus did not need his baptism, and he objected, “I have need to be baptized by You, and You come to me?” John’s baptism was impossible for someone who had not committed any sin. Likewise, the temptation of Christ is impossible if we believe that Jesus is God, for the scriptures say that “God cannot be tempted by sin” (James 1:13). James had personal experience with this because Jesus was his big brother – he had seen that no matter how irritating he was as a little brother, Jesus would not sin! Tempting Jesus to sin was like a babysitter tempting a 10-year-old to eat brussel sprouts. It just doesn’t work!  If Jesus is God, He cannot be tempted to sin or repent of sin; it’s impossible! So why would Jesus go through the motions of being baptized and tempted? Couldn’t He have just shown up for Easter Friday and saved us without all the stuff inbetween?


Solution: Christ’s Vicariousness

The key to the puzzle of a sinless Son of God being tempted and baptized for the remission of sin is the vicarious nature of Jesus, as the second Adam, the representative of man before God. In order to save us, Jesus, the Son of God, had to become like us. That is why the first few events in His life are intensely identificational with humanity – His birth, His baptism, and His temptation. In fact, these events of Christ’s life closely parallel the beginnings of the nation of Israel, with a calling out of Egypt after Herod’s threat, a baptism paralleling Israel’s journey through the Red Sea, a voice out of the heavens after the baptism paralleling the covenant at Mt. Sinai, a forty-day time in the wilderness paralleling the 40 years in the desert, and an entering upon the divine calling in the Promised land. Jesus underwent baptism and temptation in order to identify with sinful human beings.


The book of Philippians says that Jesus “emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And while He was found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death…” In our confession, it says that the sufferings of Christ consisted not only in His death, but also in “His being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, and undergoing the miseries of this life.” Not only did He humble Himself by becoming a human being, but after becoming a human being, He continued to humble Himself. The choice for the holy Son of God to identify with sinners, including temptation, confession of sin, and receiving punishment for sin was a conscious choice to humbly take the place of sinners in the sight of a holy God.


We believe that Jesus Christ bore our sin vicariously on the cross, so it should not come as a surprise to us that Jesus could also repent vicariously in the baptism. After his initial objection, John expressed this concept of vicariousness eloquently the next day when he called Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” The lamb was the perfectly innocent party killed in a sacrifice for the atonement of sins. That’s exactly what Jesus was.


Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53 describes this concept of substitutionary atonement – in fact, it is probably the passage that inspired John to call Jesus the “Lamb of God.” This is so significant, we need to read the actual prophecy – I’ll be using the NAS Version:


“He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due?


“His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.


“As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.”


Jesus was the Lamb of God who had “done no violence” yet was “cut out of the land of the living” through his death on the cross, taking on Himself the “stroke” of punishment for the “transgressions of [His] people.” Jesus “rendered Himself as a guilt offering” to “justify the many” as “He Himself bore [our] sin…” The language of substation and vicariousness is all over this passage!


Not only did Jesus fulfill Isaiah 53 with his death on the cross, but also in His being “numbered with the transgressors.” In Luke’s parallel account (3:21), it says literally, “in the baptizing of all the people, Jesus also was baptized.” By showing up with the nation of Israel on the bank of the Jordan River, Jesus fully identified Himself with Israel and all of mankind, being numbered with us sinners in order to save us. That’s why Jesus insisted that the baptism of the sinless Son of God would fulfill all righteousness; Jesus was consciously identifying with mankind and taking the place of a sinner at the very outset of His ministry years.


Operation of H.S.

As soon as Jesus is baptized, an amazing thing happens; the heavens open up and the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus, and the voice of God the Father speaks, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I delight.” Lest anyone think that it was a normal thing for Jesus to be baptized, lest anyone dare to imagine that Jesus was a mere man, God speaks forth and sets the record straight in a public way. This is the Son of God. And in consummation of the preparation for the messianic work of Jesus, God Himself anoints His Son, and not just with oil but with the real thing symbolized by the oil in all the previous anointings of all the prophets, priests, and kings before Him – the Holy Spirit Himself. This Holy Spirit is the same one who set the stage with a human body for Jesus within the womb of Mary. This Holy Spirit is the one who anointed Jesus for the carrying out of His ministry, and this Holy Spirit is also the one who drives Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted.


Possibility of sin, Peirazw

So, now the time comes to explain the unexplainable: How could Jesus, the Son of God, be tempted to sin? Was it possible for Jesus to sin? To sin would be to deny His very nature. Yet Hebrews four tells us that Jesus was “tempted at all points, like as we are.” All we can say is that Jesus was tempted, but remained without sin. In this, too, He identified with us in order to be our savior. He couldn’t be our savior if He had sinned, but He couldn’t have been one of us if He hadn’t been tempted. Yet it goes deeper than that. The Greek word for “tempt” has a broader range of meaning than the English word “tempt.” Peirazw actually has a primary meaning of testing for genuineness – trying something to see what it really is. When Jesus was tried in the wilderness, He was being tested as to whether He were genuinely one of us, or if He would act as though He were not one of us. Satan’s scheme was diabolical – using the very things that were natural for the Son of God in order to get the Son of Man to act out of character.


The Three Temptations

In the case of the bread, Jesus was experiencing the pangs of hunger, something that God would never experience because He is totally self-sufficient. As God, there would be nothing wrong with turning the stones to bread and satisfying that hunger. The problem was that Jesus was identifying with us humans and not with God while he was on earth, so it would have been out of character for Him as a man to start acting like God again. Jesus chose to be like us and suffer hunger and depend upon God’s provision for His food rather than to act like God. Likewise with the temptation to leap off the wing of the temple, it is the nature of God to desire glory and to desire it rightly. As God, he could have done anything He wanted, but this was not His path on earth. Jesus chose to live under obedience to God and not seek glory for Himself but rather endure shame. Finally in the case of the kingdoms of the world, it was Jesus’ right to rule over the kingdoms of the world – God had promised this, but He was not pursuing that kingship right now, He was identifying with us humans in order to save us, so He chose the path of a worshipper of God rather than the king that He was.


Illustration: George Washington

Jesus became one of us, passing up all the rights and privileges He deserved as the Son of God, in order to save us. The magnitude of this act defies comparison, but let me tell a little story from the life of George Washington as an illustration. General Washington was in a very difficult situation at Valley Forge. The Pennsylvania winter combined with short supplies was taking its toll on his troops as they prepared to resist the mercenary soldiers the British king had hired to keep the American colonists under his thumb. It was at this time that a cook came to George Washington bearing a plate of food. “General Washington, here’s your dinner.” “Have the men been fed?” Washington asked. “Well, we haven’t been able to feed them all, but we reserved the best for you.” “But have the men been fed?” persisted Washington. “General Washington, you are the general, you deserve this privilege!” “Take my food and feed my men… and never forget, lad, that freedom comes at a price!”


Even though, as General of the army, George Washington had the right to the best portions of food, he nevertheless gave up that right in order to identify with his men and win the war for independence. That is but a pale reflection of what Jesus did in the wilderness. Jesus gave up all the self-sufficiency, glory, and kingship that rightfully belonged to Him as the Son of God, and He chose instead to be a genuine man, with all the helplessness of hunger, all the shame of humility, and all the powerlessness of obedience to His Father. Just like us. It had to be that way. He passed the test. He was genuine. Jesus really had become one of us. He “was made to be sin for us in order that we could become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)



Now, we can see that these puzzle pieces of the baptism and temptation of Jesus actually are consistent with the work of Christ in Scripture. They are not some irrelevant appendage to the Gospel story; they are in fact essential to the ministry of Christ. The fact that He allowed Himself to be baptized and to be tempted shows that Jesus held nothing back in fully identifying with us in order to save us. This calls for two responses:


1. Adoration

First, this calls for adoration. What an awesome God we serve! How mind-boggling His love is that He would want to identify so closely with us in the filth of our sin. How immeasurable His grace that He would empty Himself of all His glory and become a real man in order to save us. Halleluiah; what a savior!


2. We should follow in His footsteps

Second, we should follow the example of Christ. If He gave up privileges that were rightfully His in order to identify with us, we should do the same in order to identify with the people He has called us to minister to. For George Washington in Valley Forge, it meant giving up his food. For Hudson Taylor, it meant growing a pigtail and enduring the ostracism of British society in China. For Adoniram Judson it meant giving up his health in order to bring the Gospel to Burma. For many of us it has meant giving up our family to move far away to Colorado. For each of us, it may be something different that we have to give up in order to fully identify with the people God has called us to, but, as George Washington said, “freedom comes at a price.” Are you willing to pay that price for the sake of God’s people? Jesus suffered for us more than we can ever imagine and left an example that we should follow in His steps. Let us joyfully follow in His steps, filled with awe at our wonderful God and savior!

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