And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil... And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee... (v. 1-2, 14)
I am struck, today, more by the bookends on either side of Jesus' temptation, than by the temptation itself. Jesus was filled with the Spirit at his baptism, and immediately led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where he was tempted. This confronts and deconstructs some huge assumptions in my own heart and mind.
My instinct is to think that being filled with the Spirit removes temptation from me. Being filled with the Spirit, I assume, should free me from any sinful desire or fleshly distraction and it should empower me to be singularly focused on godly activity and consumed by godly impulses. Luke 4 dispels that silly mythology. Not only was Jesus filled with Spirit and tempted. But he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness surrounding where temptation would come for him.
That is not to say he was tempted by the Spirit. Scripture is clear God doesn't tempt anybody. But God does send us into wilderness settings and realities which always present temptations. And Jesus overcame temptation and lived sinlessly, so being tempted in such environments should not discourage us or defeat us. Temptation is normative for life in the wilderness. And what temptation presents us with is an opportunity to sin, and an opportunity to worship by depending upon God, leaning into his power, and trusting in His word.
And v. 14 tells us that Jesus emerged from the wildnerness empowered by the Spirit. So Jesus was filled with Spirit, not to live outside of difficult earthly realities or above spiritual darkness and attacks, but rather to live within them while holding fast to the presence and power of God. And when, by His Spirit, we overcome temptation, we emerge from those situations stronger in the Spirit.
Moment by moment, as we walk by the Spirit, we are confronted with temptations that will quench the Spirit's work and drown out the voice of the Spirit, or which will nurture the Spirit's work and tune in more attentively to the voice of the Spirit. Whenever we step into new interactions, new social environments, new work demands, new wilderness settings that prey on our weaknesses, we have the opportunity to return from them in the power of the Spirit.
Jesus succeeded in his 40 days in the wilderness, where we so often fail. But because he overcame, we can overcome by following Jesus in our reliance upon the Spirit. What's perhaps even more encouraging is that we can overcome even when we fail. Because even when we fail we have the chance to confess, repent, and to be cleansed by the Spirit, and filled again to walk by the Spirit.
So let's go walk by the Spirit... but let's also be quick to admit when we operate in the flesh so we be reconciled again, to live Spirit empowered lives, even in the midst of wilderness realities.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up... And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. (v. 16, 29)
Reading this text, I can't escape from this fact... the people closest to Jesus, most familiar with Jesus, most exposed to Jesus, most connected to Jesus, were also those most hardened to Jesus and most numb to Jesus. Those people who had the most personal connection to Jesus were those so angry with him that they drove him out of town and wanted throw him off a cliff.
That's a jolt for someone like me who has been immersed in church, the Bible, Christian community and ministry environments from childhood. That stuff doesn't ensure my immunity to drift or resistance, it actually might make me more vulnerable to drift and resistance. Because nearness to Jesus and familiarity with Jesus, when it's void of intimacy with Jesus and surrender to Jesus, can make my diminished view of Jesus seem credible. That's what happened to so many in Nazareth.
In knowing Jesus personally, they didn't know Jesus at all. In seeing Jesus up close, they didn't see Jesus at all. In listening to Jesus, they never heard his voice. Because they made assumptions about Joseph's oldest son, they never had room to encounter God's only Son. In our exposure to Jesus and nearness to Jesus, it's easy to think we know Jesus better than we actually do. And before you know it, the real Jesus has little resemblance to the Jesus we're following.
We have to be vigilant in guarding our hearts from boredom and disenchantment with what is extraordinary. We must war against the impulse to think that we know Jesus better than we do. We will either take Jesus for granted and distance ourselves from him, pushing him away. Or, we will be constantly rediscovering the real Jesus in all his beauty and varied grace, so that we constantly reattach ourselves to him as he really is, and not as presume him to be.
“I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” (v. 43)
In this passage, Jesus demonstrates his power over demons and disease, confirming that his authority extends over both the natural and the supernatural realms. And yet, in v. 43, Jesus declares explicitly the purpose for which he came to be the ministry of preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.
There are a few other times during his ministry where he specifically states the purpose for which he came, but healing is never among those purposes. In other words, Jesus' healing ministry was a supplemental part of his ministry. It served to authenticate the primary ministry which the proclamation of the gospel. The power Jesus demonstrates in his preaching and teaching, which was broadly recognized, drew credibility and confirmation through the signs and wonders he performed.
It is important to understand that people in 1st century Galilee, just like people in 21st century across the globe, get caught up in the sensational and supernatural manifestations of power. We start to seek signs and elevate miracles as an end in themself, which was never their purpose. Jesus' miracles were intended to draw attention to the message of the gospel. The signs Jesus performed were about persuading people of the salvation he came to provide.
We need the categories of signs and wonders, and of miraculous healing and deliverance. These are a real part of the ministry of Jesus then and now. But the larger purpose of his earthly ministry was gospel proclamation, and the larger purpose of the ministry of his people today is also gospel proclamation. God's miraculous intervention in the natural world is ultimately about God's miraculous redemption of natural men, so that they might become partakers of the divine nature.
A Prayer for Gospel Prioritization:
Father, I want to see the demonstration of your power through miracles of healing and deliverance. And I believe your Spirit is able to operate that way today. I ask you for an ongoing openness to that kind of ministry. But, I also confess that the gospel message is not always enough to capture my heart and mind. I sometimes get bored with the simplicity of the gospel. I want to see signs and wonders... I even think sometimes I need them to believe the gospel. I admit that what is primary to you sometimes becomes insufficient in my own estimation. Forgive me for the equal and opposite errors of dismissing signs and wonders as impossibilities, and for overemphasizing the need for signs and wonders necessities. Keep me open to and not cynical about signs and wonders, while granting me faith to believe and rejoice in the foolishness of the gospel as the reality to which signs and wonders are meant to point us. Strengthen my faith in the gospel and devotion to the gospel with or without accompanying signs and wonders. And keep me alert to notice the more ordinary subtle, yet supernatural, work of your Spirit in and around me. Let Jesus' purpose of proclaiming the gospel be my own joy and purpose. Amen.
"...they left everything and followed him." (v. 11)
Peter, Andrew, James and John have this incredible personal experience in the presence of Jesus and encounter with the power of Jesus. That experience was actually not unique to them. We've read already of so many people having personal powerful experiences with Jesus, where healing and deliverance had taken place. What is unique to these 4 men, and the other disciples that would come behind them soon enough, was their response to Jesus.
"They left everything and followed him." Plenty of people enjoy the emotional uplift of Jesus' presence, and the sense of invincibility that comes from his power. Plenty of people delight in the blessing and good things that Jesus gives, but far fewer people delight in Jesus himself.
Peter's response to Jesus' miraculous provision for their economic need, wasn't to bask in the abundance, or to start rebranding his business or to develop a new marketing strategy to increase demand for their sudden and dramatic increase in in their supply chain. Peter experienced the power and presence of God in a tangible and material way and he responded by repenting of his sin and trusting in Jesus.
I wonder how many of us would see Jesus' provision of so many widgets as an endorsement of our lives rather than as a reason to confess our guilt and need before him. I tend to see visible success as reward for my life, rather than as grace despite my life. For all his impulsivity and insecurity that will be obvious in other moments, Peter's view of himself and Jesus in this moment is counterintuitive, unnatural and exactly right.
In what ways are you tempted today to see God's undeserved grace to you as God's earned payment to you? What kindnesses and gifts of God are tempted to fixate in to the neglect of their giver?
These first disciples didn't see God's abundant provision as something to be cherished, preserved or reproduced. They actually saw his blessing as something to be disregarded and surrendered to pursue closeness to Jesus himself... their hearts looked past the earthly comfort and success to the greater joy of intimacy with Christ.
As a disciple of Jesus, what possession, status or relationship might you be protecting and clinging tightly to under the pretense or assumption that it's God's provision, when it's actually keeping you from his call to follow him?
A Prayer for Relinquishing:
Heavenly Father, the Giver of every good and perfect gift, the one from whom all blessing flows, give me wisdom to distinguish between the wonderful gifts you lavish on me, and the ultimate gift of yourself given for me. Forgive me for the tunnel vision of my heart, that too often values things that flow from your hand more highly than you. Forgive my contentment with building my life on relationships, success, status and stuff detached from you. By your Spirit, would you help me to recognize those things which substitute for you, and would you help me relinquish their hold on my heart, that I might gladly give up any earthly gain or personal pleasure that I might gain Christ and follow him into eternal satisfaction. Amen.
And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Jesus performs 2 miracles in the first part of this passage... he heals the paralytic and he justifies the paralytic... To categorize supernatural healing for a natural ailment as a miracle elevated above divine forgiveness for human sin shows how small a view we have of our sin and of God's grace to us.
We're super impressed with physical healing but Jesus seems to regard pardon for the guilty as the greater work. It's just another example of how mixed up our categories are. We aren't even aware of our own real need... our deepest need, and so we miss Jesus' greatest provision.
That's what Jesus clarifies for the Pharisees and us in v. 31-32. The Pharisees didn't like the people Jesus associated with, because of they're obviously immoral lifestyles. They were broken and socially unsavory, which nurtured the self-righteousness of the religiously devout and morally upstanding elites. But Jesus tells us that their moral uprightness was a disadvantage to the Pharisees, because it masked their need and diminished any sense of their personal guilt before the Lord.
Jesus gets us thinking in the right categories though... telling us that he didn't come for the self-sufficient and self-reliant. He's a Savior, so the independent have no use for him. The point Jesus is making is not that anyone is healthy or righteous apart from Christ, but that those who can't see or won't admit the condition of their sin sick hearts have no part with Jesus. Jesus came to forgiven sinners, to cleanse the guilty, to free those in bondage, to raise the dead... and you can't receive what Jesus offers to you if you don't see your need for what he provides.
Jesus invites us to receive his mercy and grace, but not as those who are beyond the help and healing he brings. The key to life in Christ and with Christ is to recognize our moment by moment need for his grace toward our sinful condition, self-reliance, and willful resistance to him. To keep moving forward in Christ, we must keep admitting our total dependence on him... our need for grace is never less at any point in our walk with Jesus than it was when we first came to Jesus.
A Prayer for Dependence:
Lord, thank you that you have made my own inadequacies and sinfulness so obvious. Thank you for exposing the delusion and futility of my self-sufficiency. In your mercy, make it more obvious still. Keep me from ever believing I need you less than at any other point in my life, or less than anyone else in my life. Be my physician because I am sick and sinful and my condition is chronic. Keep me conscious of my utter dependence upon you so that I might never try to establish a life or identity independent of you. Amen.