Monday, September 1, 2014

Good Shepherd Church Seminary; Jesus the Man; Baptism Part 2 - Module 16



Objectives; By the end of this Module you should;
- Know about Jesus' experience in the desert
- Have an understanding of the role that prayer, time for reflection in silence and fasting had in Jesus' Life
- Be able to explain the role of the Witnesses to Jesus as Son of God, the Promised Messiah

Jesus prepares for His Public Ministry after Baptism;
1. To the Desert
2. Pondering the Witness of John
3. Affirmation; the Witness of God
4. The Judean Desert
5. The next step

After the Baptism Jesus was guided by God's Spirit to spend time in quietness in the desert; in confrontation with satan, who had usurped leadership of the earthly world (Matthew 4;1).

Jesus left the cool water of the Jordan River to forge deep into the dusty dry desert, to test His personal human mettle and to seek confrontation with satan, the head of the fallen angels. All the Scriptures, and God's Planning had led to this moment; to put a plan in place to wrest back humanity from satan's total control, and to negotiate a peace between God and humanity, healing the breach which had marred the relationship from the time of the Fall. Jesus fasted for forty days and nights, lost weight, felt weak and had resultant low mood. He felt really hungry, and in this weakened state it occurred to Him to turn stones into bread. 
Jesus had come to know He had supernatural powers, and as a young man He now had to decide how to use these spectacular abilities; for His own benefit, or solely for the benefit of others.
Jesus chose to resist the temptation to use His powers in a casual way.
He decided that the true bread for Him was that of obedience to every Word from God (Matthew 4;1-4/ Deut 8;3). Jesus was drawing on the Torah and His own inner knowledge of the Father, when He made this decision. Jesus described to Matthew quite clearly that He had been tempted by satan in a personal, confrontational way. 
Satan - who had not known that Jesus had escaped the holocaust of the infant victims in Bethlehem at Herod's massacre - suspected that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, his nemesis, survived to threaten his kingdom on earth.
He wanted proof, so challenged Jesus to prove His status as Son of God by turning some stones on the desert floor into bread.

Thereafter, satan placed Jesus on Jerusalem Temple's highest point.
How did this happen? We do not know. No eyewitness reports from others are extant to this happening. In some way, however, satan had Jesus precariously on a high pinnacle, challenging Him yet again to prove whether He was the Son of God by throwing Himself down in the trust that God would save Him.
Satan was quite aware of what had happened at the Baptism, when God the Father publicly witnessed to Jesus' Sonhood, and His Spirit sealed this declaration in the form of a Dove.
This indeed spelled deep danger to the throne satan had usurped over humanity, and the kingdom he had put in place to ultimately reign over all in terror, in hell.

Satan knew that one of two options faced Jesus; first, that if He truly were the Son of God, the merging of His Divine essence with His human body in the Incarnation within the human Mary would have left Him vulnerable to earthly death. Thus, if He threw Himself down in a brave response to the challenge, He might have dashed Himself to pieces and died; thus removing the threat to satan's kingdom.

The other option was that Jesus would be miraculously rescued by God,thus proving to satan irrefutably that He indeed was the Son of God. It would also have removed from Jesus the right to call Himself the 'Son of Man', as He would have claimed special privilege to earthly saving from suffering and death in a way that is not open to the average human. 
Jesus refused to accept the challenge, stating that God should not be put to the test. In essence Jesus Himself is God; so He was not to be put to the test by a being He had created. Ultimate respect for the Creator was in order (Matthew 4;7; Deuteronomy 6;16).

The final challenge to Jesus by satan was satan's showing to Him of all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. Satan, the liar incarnate, promised to give all the kingdoms to Jesus if Jesus bowed down and worshipped him. Jesus rejected satan and reprimanded him roundly, commanding him to worship the Lord our God, and serve Him only (Deut 6;13). Satan, seething, left Jesus' company.
He was baulked of his true intent, to bring Jesus as human under his control.
He foresaw trouble ahead for his kingdom, and started to plan to bring down whatever efforts Jesus was obviously about to launch against him.

When satan had left, the footsore, weary, gaunt and hungry Jesus was attended by devoted angels who had watched the cosmic battle of wills with trepidation. The war on earth for the souls of humanity over all ages had begun in real earnest.

Jesus had humbly submitted Himself to John's baptism. John had paved the way for Jesus through his preaching.
John had clearly warned all he met to "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matt 3;2).
John, a towering figure in spiritual history, had his coming foretold by the prophet Isaiah as "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord,make straight paths for Him!'" (Matt 3;3, Isa 40;3).
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus relates that John drew great crowds; they massed about him, and he had great influence over them (Antiquities 18,5,2   116-119).
John witnessed that Jesus is the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world (John 1;29).

During His time in the desert, Jesus pondered this witness of John, and its apparent fulfilment of the ancient Isaian prophecy. It became clear through the desert battle with evil, John's witness and Isaiah's prophecy, that the signs pointed to one conclusion; Jesus' understanding of Himself as the promised Messiah, the Son of God, was correct.

The Gospel writers speak of a Heavenly Voice speaking to Jesus at His Baptism, calling Him 'Beloved Son' (Matthew 3;17/ Mk 1;11/ Lk 3;22).
God's Voice affirmed He was well please with Jesus.
In Judaism, the testimony of a heavenly voice is a sign of special holiness. God's Witness sealed the crystallisation of Jesus' Vocation as Messiah transitioning into the Public Ministry phase.
Jesus would have pondered His Father's Words deep in His Heart.
His struggles as human to live out the Divine had been successful; He, the fully Divine, had become completely and incomparably human.
God the Father was pleased with His Word. And so, the work of the Messiah had - in the desert battle with satan - inexorably begun.

The Judean Desert is to the east of the hill country of Judea as it descends to the Dead Sea. It is a scorching hot region of cliffs, rocks and caves.
The Desert is almost barren of vegetation; hot by day, and cool at night. Jesus had been sent into the Desert by the Spirit of God in a majestic tradition which went back to the roots of Israel's faith.
It was in the Sinai Desert that God called Moses from a burning bush (Exodus 3).

As God's People wandered in the Sinai Desert, God bound them to Himself in the Covenant of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). The desert, in spiritual history, is seen as a place of intimacy with God.

The reason why there is this wilderness area near the Jordan is due to the effect of the 'rain shadow'.
As weather travels over Judea, it encounters the Judean Hills lying east of Jerusalem. As warm, moist air rises from the Mediterranean towards the hilltops, it condenses and drops its moisture just before crossing the hilltops. The air, now drier, continues its journey eastward towards the river. This area, starved of the more generous rainfall, becomes the desert Jesus fasted and prayed in.

Jesus had followed the Guidance of God to take time to spend alone with Him, and face satan in cosmic battle.
Jesus explored the wonderful confirmation God had given in public at His Baptism; acknowledging Jesus before all as His Own Son, and declaring He was well pleased with Him.
Jesus had spent His Youth in non-violence, love for others and hard labour with honesty.
God blessed these efforts which had forged a Character able to meet the dark depredations of satan with ability, courage and steel strength. Jesus had foiled satan's attempts to lure Him to cheapen His Vocation as Messiah to choose an inferior way of living this Vocation.
Satan had presented strategies to Jesus, to provide material wellbeing to people by food and miraculous endeavour. Jesus wanted a far broader renewal; not just bread for hungry mouths, but a splendid future in heaven with every need fully met, eternally.

The second strategy was to prompt Jesus to stage a spectacular public miracle, as proof that He is the Son of God. Jesus declined this opportunity; He wished to quietly become the Best Friend of each person eternally, not a nine-day wonder Who could possibly alarm people.

The third strategy was for Jesus to become a ruler. This would have completed Israel's hopes about the Messiah, to rule other nations as conqueror with a rod of iron. This would have deflected Jesus from the path of ruling over the universe in eternity, to a lesser role of a potentate on earth. This temptation was a deliberate insult to the depth and truth of the Inimitable Majesty of Jesus Christ as Lord. Satan resents his subordinate role as created. What was meant to be his greatest joy and achievement - created and loved eternally by God - became his greatest torture and resentment. He did not want to love God, respect God, serve God. He wants to be God, and to demean the One Who created him. A sorry state of affairs indeed.

Jesus made it clear that He would not take orders from satan. He was well aware as human of  the subtlety and cruelty of satan's character. 
Satan hones in on a person's vulnerable point, and then presents a strategy designed to plunge that person into difficulty and ruination. And the strategy is often designed to appear as a greater good. 
In Jesus' case, satan took Jesus' desire to save humanity, and presented three forms of modus operandi before Him.
To influence humanity by offering material things. To influence humanity by grandiose fame. And lastly, to influence humanity by conquering and ruling in luxury. 
The three strategies satan himself enjoys and employs in the endeavour for the moral downfall of many.
And Jesus, fittingly, gloriously and selflessly declined, setting the stage for the next step; He moved into Public Ministry.
And satan, baulked, watched from the shadows. This was one battle he had no intention of letting God win.

Rev Catherine Nicolette Whittle
Copyright 2014
Feel free to use Module for any worthy purpose

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