Please begin by reading Mark 1: 1-13. The first three gospels mention the baptism of Jesus and the Spirit leading him into the desert. But what caught my attention is the little detail found only in the gospel of Mark. We are all familiar with the story that Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. But Mark, believed to be the first and the most concise gospel, does not provide us with many details of this episode; instead, he adds a tiny, interesting phrase that is peculiar to Mark:
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him (Mark 1: 12-13).
It is quite common for wild animals to be found in the wilderness of Judea where Jesus is believed to have spent forty days. So, Jesus faced not only a spiritual battle with Satan, but also the physical pain of hunger and thirst as well as the dangerous reality of the wild beasts around him. However, I think, Mark’s intention of including this little detail goes a bit further.
As noticed yesterday, the desert is a place that represents an experience of the Israelites’ wanderings and testing in the wilderness of Sinai. Mark is emphasizing the true desolation and fierceness of the time Jesus spent in the desert by mentioning that he was with the wild animals. However, perhaps Mark is also hinting at the reversal of the scene in Genesis 3. For Mark, Jesus’ wilderness experience, as the second Adam, could also be identified and compared with the experience of the first Adam. While Adam was in a friendly wilderness where the animals around him had not yet become dangerous, yet in this ideal situation Adam yielded to his temptation leading to the fall. In contrast to Adam, Jesus Christ, the second Adam, came to a fallen world and was surrounded by the truly hostile animals. But unlike Adam, Jesus overcame not only his temptations, but also the beasts as he came out victoriously from this wild experience. The submission of the wild animals to Jesus is the hope of the restoration and renewal of God’s creation when the Kingdom of God is fully realized on Earth.
Therefore, since Jesus Christ passed through this struggle in the desert, he is able to sympathize with us and guide us when we go through our wilderness and temptation. Jesus had been with the wild animals, and they did not harm him. Whatever might be your desert experience today, Jesus gently comes along saying, I know how you feel! I have been there. So, he is able to protect us and lead us out of our desert today. Further, Jesus also teaches us through his experience how we should live and act in the face of danger and trials in our everyday life. May we continue learning from him. Amen.
Let us read Matthew 4: 1-11. I must submit, this is one of the most challenging passages in the New Testament. The Gospels (except John) and other passages agree on the reality of the temptation of Jesus Christ. For me, the question is not that Jesus was tempted by the devil, though there is so much to comprehend and unpack there. Instead, it is the unignorable fact that Jesus was ushered into the desert by the Holy Spirit immediately after these crucial events:
John’s declaration that Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1: 29).
Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3: 13-17; Mark 1: 9-11; Luke 32-22; John 1: 29-34)
The descending of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus.
John the baptizer’s bold testimony that Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and that he is indeed “the son of God” (John 1: 33-34).
These events and assertions are vital and leave no doubt about the divinity of Jesus and his being the Messiah. Nevertheless, these facts also do not prevent Jesus from being led into the desert and from being tempted. To tell the truth, the Gospel writers use these expressions:
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1).
“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him” (Mark 1: 12-13).
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil” (Luke 4: 1-2).
The Holy Spirit was present at the conception of Jesus and attested the Father’s affirmation of his Sonship and his obedient life. That same Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil! In the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus, and the Father approved him; but in the wilderness he appears to be deserted. It seems like God left him alone. In the most trying moments when Jesus needed to hear the voice of God, that affirming voice was absent. When Jesus wished to recognize the signs of divine presence and power, those signs had vanished leaving him on his own.
The desert or wilderness is a reminder of the experience of the people of Israel and their testing during their forty-year sojourn after leaving Egypt. It is a symbol of the everyday cycle of life that we face on earth. It is a phase in the normal life of a follower of Christ, where the possibilities of temptation are the strongest and where we may find ourselves most vulnerable to these temptations. Jesus Christ underwent this phase even before he launched his ministry.
However, Jesus could not be our Messiah, if he were oblivious to the most troublesome moments of loneliness and temptations that we go through in our life despite following Jesus and being in the will of God. He could not be our Savior if Jesus were unaware of the most formidable human temptations and our most vulnerable moments as a result of such temptations. So, thank God the Spirit led Jesus into the desert!
Today, if you find yourself walking through the wilderness phase of your life, please be assured that Jesus Christ understands and sympathizes with you and he will see you through this desert. And those of us who may not be in the desert at the moment, are you prepared to undergo this phase in your life even when you are filled with the Holy Spirit? Or are you like many who merely want the power of the Holy Spirit without the consequences and temptations that may come as a result of being anointed by the Spirit? May the Lord help us to be prepared for both. Amen.
Let us begin today by reading Matthew 3: 13 – 17. Before kissing goodbye to his mother, Jesus toiled for long as an industrious artisan in Galilee, where he had to dirty his hands daily stooping down to sweep the floors as he lived like us. However, after he left the home to do what he had come to accomplish on this Earth, Jesus did not immediately step into a busy ministry. Instead, he stepped down into the Jordan Valley.
He must have known the ministry of his relative, John the baptizer, who had a weird sense of fashion. Jesus knew that the core part of John’s heart searing message was a call to repentance, a call that echoed in the Jordan Valley like thunder capable of splitting rocks! But Jesus knew that John’s goal was to open and prepare the hearts of his people to receive his Messiahship.
So, why did Jesus come down to the Jordan Valley to John the baptizer when he had nothing to repent of? He was sinless from his birth. As a matter of fact, John the baptizer himself testified about Jesus saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1: 29 ESV). And yet, Jesus is going down to the Jordan Valley.
This was a symbolic act of Jesus as he slowly makes his way to the Jordan Valley. It was part of his mission on Earth, which began when Jesus stepped down from heaven and took flesh. Then, as we read two days ago (see here), Jesus stepped down into the ordinary life of people like you and me, that is, toiling hard with his hands to make ends meet. Jesus stooped down to work with stones, wood, or mud, in order to completely identify with us, the working-class people. And now, as Jesus stepped down into the Jordan Valley, he was stepping into the space of sin and repentance.
Arriving where John was, Jesus did not just stand on the bank of the Jordan River observing others. He does not just stand on the side with us in our human sinfulness and brokenness. Jesus has not only stepped into the Valley from as he came from Galilee, but he also stepped down even further into the muddy waters of the Jordan River and was baptized there. In doing so, Jesus stood with us in our sins. He took our shame upon himself. This is who Jesus Christ our Savior is! He does not lecture us on our failings and moral decadence; rather, he steps down to where we are to meet us there. He is willing to be humiliated. He is willing to be counted with us a sinner in need of repentance for the grace and forgiveness of God when he did not have to do so (Matthew 3:14-15).
That is why, Matthew notes for us:
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3: 16 NRSV).
Therefore, to affirm who he was and all that he has been doing, the Holy Spirit descended on the baptized. In fact, we find ourselves in the presence of the Triune God who testified and approved the work and mission of Jesus Christ. Why did Jesus’ father declare that he was “well pleased” with him? What had Jesus done to please him? Nothing much in terms of preaching, teaching, healing, or performing amazing miracles. None of these had started yet. Nevertheless, God was pleased with Jesus’ submission, obedience, his stepping down to the lowliest places on earth, working hard to support his family, dirtying his hands, bending knees to clean up the floors, and wading into the grimy waters of the Jordan to completely identify with us. These are the actions that so pleased the Lord!
Today, let us praise God for who Jesus Christ is and what he has done for us. Likewise, let us also take a step further and imitate him, his actions and attitude, so that our heavenly Father may be pleased with us (Ephesians 5: 1-2). Amen.
Please begin today by reading from Joel 2: 28-32, which is the closing section of Joel chapter two. We saw in yesterday’s post that after their repentance, God blesses and satisfies his restored people. Having established this outward visible blessing, Joel now prophesized the oncoming spiritual blessing and renewal, which constitutes the true restoration.
This spiritual renewal will come in the form of something unprecedented and powerful: “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh”! This is unlike what is described in the previous sections of this chapter. Those events came to pass in Israel during Joel’s time. This promise of the Spirit, on the other hand, is a prophecy in the more distant future and Joel links it with an apocalyptic event, “the day of Lord” (vs. 30-32). Notice that the prophecy is preceded by “Then afterwards” (v. 28) and “in those days”(v. 29). This is a common parallelism that Hebrew prophets and poets often employed for rhetorical effect and to emphasize the point they were making. And the point in Joel’s case is that it will come to pass sometime in the future.
The Spirit is understood as God’s Spirit, the Holy Sprit in the New Testament. The primary meaning of the outpouring of the Spirit on his people is a divinely inspired spiritual ecstasy which enables them to find a transient prophetic fervor and make prophetic utterances. We can also find examples of this in 1 Samuel 10:10 and 19:24 in the time of Judges in Israel. God had used this phenomenon earlier also with seventy elders of Israel under Moses’ leadership for the purpose of endorsing their calling and leadership:
Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. (Numbers 11: 25 NRSV).
However, quite unlike the previous occurrences, in Joel’s prophecy of 2: 28-29, notice here the promise is for “all flesh” irrespective of their age, leadership, social status, or gender. Primarily, it was meant for the people to whom Joel prophesied and their descendants. However, in God’s economy of salvation the promise has been extended to the whole humankind irrespective of our race, class, gender, or status in society.
The outpouring or pour out means to cause to flow freely and implies that God will give the Spirit in abundance, as he always does, without reservation.
The Apostle Peter unmistakably applied the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy to the events of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Before his ascension, Jesus Christ had promised the Holy Spirit to his disciples in Luke 24:49 and Acts 1: 8. So, in Acts 2 when the disciples along with the Twelve Apostles received the promised Holy Spirit, they were ecstatic and filled with a divine prophetic passion. Peter, one of the Twelve, addressed the astonished crowd of thousands who had gathered in Jerusalem saying:
But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ (Acts 2: 15- 21 ESV).
However, this was just the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy of a spiritual renewal that Joel prophesied. It did not cease with the Day of Pentecost. In the book of Acts and in the rest of the New Testament, the outpouring continued throughout Israel and then in the rest of the world until this day.
This Spirit, the Spirit of Pentecost, is the Spirit of missions. He is the Spirit of transformation of lives, institutions, and cultures. The renewal the Spirit of missions creates is evident throughout the world which has experienced the outpouring of the Spirit down the centuries. And God’s Spirit is still moving around the globe in the most unanticipated ways and in the most unexpected places and among the most amazing people groups, just as it was prophesied. The threefold signs of the spiritual renewal are evident wherever the Spirit is outpoured.
People are prophesying, that is, bringing God’s word to those unreached people groups who have never had the opportunity to hear it until now. Praise God that this noble calling is no longer restricted to a privileged few from a certain social class or people of certain color, but God’s Spirit is using ordinary people for the proclamation of the Word.
People are dreaming, that is, dreaming of being and becoming what they have never been before. Dreaming and finding an identity as God’s own people, loved, lifted, and dignified. Dreaming of breaking off slavery, colonialism, and the fetters of oppression of all sorts throughout all cultures. And this is made possible today by the Spirit of God.
People are visioning, that is, seeing the possibilities and hoping for a liberated future that they have never envisioned before. They are reassured by the presence of the Spirit that it is now possible for their dreams and visions to become a reality by the power of the Almighty God who delights to abide with them. Praise be to the Holy Spirit! Despite the constant bad news of the pandemic and devastation, there is an extensive outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our day and age. Are you aware of it? Are you part of it? Does this excite you to participate in it?
The wilderness account of Jesus in Luke’s gospel chapter 4 is sandwiched between these two significant statements: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (4:1). After the devil “left Him until an opportune time,” Luke makes a point again, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside” (4:13-14 NIV). This is a very encouraging observation. The wilderness experience of Jesus was according to God’s plan. God’s Spirit led Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And He made sure that when he went in there, Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit.” Obviously, God’s Spirit didn’t leave Him alone in these difficult times. As a matter of fact, Jesus had such a fabulous time in the presence of God during His wilderness experience that at the end of it He returned to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit” (4:14). He would not actually dare venture out without being first “full” of the Spirit and then being led in the “power of the Spirit” to do what He was sent to do on earth. The Spirit of God accompanied Him and empowered Him for His daily ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing. Jesus was completely dependent on the Holy Spirit as His companion as well as the source of His ministry. Therefore, at the inaugural speech of His ministry in Galilee, in what is referred to as the “Nazareth Manifesto,” Jesus’ first words were: “The Spirit of God is on me, because he has anointed me…” (Like 4:18 NIV).
The Lord is faithful and He knows that in our own strength we cannot travel through the wilderness. Therefore, He has provided us, too, the uninterrupted presence and power of the Holy Spirit (please read, John 14: 25-27 and Acts 1:8). The Spirit is called our Helper, Comforter, and Advocate. He is the One who comes along side us and remains beside us to speak on our behalf. If you find yourself in a wilderness, today, where you feel lonely and deserted by even your loved ones, don’t be disheartened. Reread prayerfully the passages mentioned above, right now, and ask the Lord to fill you with the Holy Spirit. God has promised the Spirit to every believer. If you have never experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit; maybe, it’s your day today to claim your gift. He waiting to fill you and live in and with you forever, as a beloved child of God. The Spirit will guide you as He did Jesus not only in the wilderness but also throughout your life. Let us not attempt living through our difficult wilderness experiences without the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit. May we go ahead in the rest of the journey in the power of the Spirit. Amen.