Matthew 4:1, "Then was Jesus
led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil."
This morning, we find ourselves at times in situations that are not pleasant (preferred) for any number of different reasons. Whenever someone goes through unpleasant seasons in life, the ultimate catalyst for the situation could be anything from personal sins, sins of others, etc. Far be it from any minister to dictate (with no knowledge of the situation) what the reason might be. Job's three miserable comforters were reproved for that very action, for they assumed that Job sinned to bring the destruction that he endured. Of course, we see other Biblical examples that describe men suffering for personal sins. David watched men die (from his own sons to 70,000 in three days) for sins that he committed. Yet others committed no sin to endure an unpleasant circumstance, sometimes that circumstance being to show the glory of God. (John 9) Whenever we ascribe some "formula" to determine root causes of things as general principles based on specific situations, we are falling prey to a logical misconstruction that assumes every like situation is caused from like roots (sometimes known as the "parts of a whole" logical fallacy).
Whenever unpleasant scenes come upon our travels here below, we may be enduring these things because of our own shortcomings (or the shortcomings of others), but there are times when we go through things - being led of the Spirit - to have His strength made perfect in weakness. When Ezekiel and Jeremiah preached to the people of Judah, there was certainly some unpleasantness in the "fall-out" from their efforts. Yet, they were still inclined and impressed - yea commanded by God - to fulfill those duties in His service. Jeremiah ended up in the dungeon of the prison, while Ezekiel found himself down by the river Chebar with the captives in exile from beloved Jerusalem. Ministers today may end up jailed for their service to God, but they should still be found performing their reasonable service to God in the exercise of their gift to His glory and the benefit/edification of His people. Further still, we may find unpleasant scenes on the heels of our most blessed moments.
Looking at the verse above, it is unequivocally clear that Christ went into the wilderness at the Spirit's direction. It pleased God that He do so, and unlike us, He knew exactly what He would be facing. If we ignore the chapter division and read the tail-end of the third chapter of Matthew and into the fourth chapter, we see a stark contrast of situations. Matthew 3 ends with the glorious depiction of Christ's baptism from John the Baptist. We have recorded in multiple gospel accounts the glory of God revealed on that day. The Father's voice is heard thundering down from heaven, while the Spirit's presence is manifested in the form of a dove lighting on His shoulders as He ascends out of the baptismal waters of the River Jordan.
What a sight! What wondrous majesty to be able to declare the rich manifestation of the glory of God! To all those present to witness such an event, would there be any conceivable reason to complain, grumble, doubt, despair, etc. about their lives? Whenever we have high spiritual moments in our lives, is there any reason to doubt or despair? Surely, those present on that occasion and us present in our occasions could certainly answer, "Nay verily." Yet, the very same level of assuredness needs to be found in the moments shortly thereafter. Christ experienced this rich sense at His own baptism, and we will experience a rich presence of God when we are likewise baptized in humble obedience to the Lamb as a manifest token of our love to Him, belief in Him, and desire to follow Him.
Immediately after this grand scene, Christ endures temptation, coupled with trying circumstances, that I cannot claim to have endured. I have never fasted for 40 straight days. I do not know what that feels like physically. He does. His body hungered, and His flesh was no doubt fatigued by the experience. Yet, He was led of the Spirit to do so. Mark uses stronger language in that it describes Him being driven of the Spirit into the wilderness. (Mark 1:12) Mark even makes the case that little to no time elapsed between Christ's baptism and His wilderness experience by employing the word "immediately.
How is this relevant today? The relevance is found when we understand that, as our example, Christ shows us not only how to deal with the situations in life but also sometimes the proximity of things in life. I suggest that Christ's baptism experience and temptation shortly thereafter are indicative of Satan's attempts to steal our joys at baptism and other rich spiritual times. Christ had no "honeymoon season" to quietly reflect on that rich time. Rather, He immediately had to do battle with His archenemy. We will not experience prolonged periods of spiritual relaxation after such times either, but rather, Satan will immediately come calling to rob our joy and tempt us to fall.
How often does discouragement or temptation arise after a good, Spirit-filled meeting? Sometimes it happens before we are barely out the door, or perhaps even before we get out the door. How long did it take you or me to stumble or at the very least be tempted after your/my baptism? I recall a sorrowful time in my youth when my younger brother and I were blessed to wash each other's feet at communion (the first communion after he was baptized). After such a moving experience and loving time, we found ourselves engaged in a fistfight later that afternoon at home, much to the chagrin of our parents. How quickly does that temptation well up! Mind you, we were not led of the Spirit or driven by the Spirit to beat up on each other, but I have been moved at times through some fires of temptation, that I believe the Spirit led me to and through.
Christ showed us that temptations are going to come. The enemy will seek to advance, especially after those "extra special" times. We should not be found trying to hide from our foe, like hiding in the dark after our spiritual high. Rather, we should be prepared and ready to withstand the spiritual wickedness in high places. What better time to be equipped, armed, ready, and willing than after those scenes? Yet, so often, my warfare is so very different from my Master's. He successfully repelled His foe at every turn, and through much more trying situations than I have ever seen. While I have not fared nearly as well as the Saviour during my battle scenes with the devil, I need to understand that He is faithful (I Corinthians 10:13), has given me the strength (Philippians 4:13), and never failed me in what He has impressed me with or promised unto me (II Corinthians 1:20). Therefore, I need to root out any grumbling, discouragement, or fear and deal with the enemy as He has called me to do.
Friends, I cannot answer certain questions about why certain people go through what they go through. Do they have secret sins that they are paying for manifestly? Possibly, but I really do not know. Are they suffering as a result of some other man's sins? Possibly, but again I do not know. Finally, are they suffering for the glory of God to be manifested in their life through the leading/driving of the Spirit? Again, it is possible, but I still do not know. The one thing I know is that all are possibilities, but my course is to ready myself for the Spirit's inclination and the inevitable onslaught by Satan. Most importantly, I need to be ready and quit like a man (I Corinthians 16:13) at my spiritual high points, for that is when the enemy strikes quickly and repeatedly. He tempted Christ for all of those forty days (as Luke 4:2 accounts), and while we are told of three specific instances, Christ went through 40 days of onslaught by His enemy.
However, if we are quit like men, strong in the faith, and holding our weapons high with His armour tightly bound about us, we can successfully repel the tempter's struggles. Why does he strive so hard for sometimes so long after those rich times? He knows what will happen if the joy we experience takes root, gets fertilized with meditation, and is watered with more teaching, instruction, and reading. The end result is a sweet blossom of praise to God that redounds to the glory of God. If he can strike while the joy is young (just a seedling), he stands a better chance of destroying our joyful moments. Let us never forget that even if led into and through a distasteful season there is even more joy at the end of the battle. Christ had angels ministering unto Him at the end of the temptation, no doubt also strengthening Him as the angel did in the garden (Luke 22:43) after the great anguish and fatigue of the body. We likewise, will experience strengthening at the end of a successful campaign against our foe as that sweet peace and strength whispers unto us, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."