Over the next few weeks, I’d like to look at the Lord’s tempting in the wilderness, His agony in the Garden, His arrest and trial, and then His crucifixion. What I’d like to do is take the four accounts in the Gospels and bring them together into a single narrative for each event. But before we do that, how about we set the stage with
The Lord’s Incarnation
When we begin our study of the story of the Lord’s tempting in the wilderness next week, we will discover that Matthew writes, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” (Mat. 4:1). Jesus was led of the Spirit. Matthew, Mark, and Luke would all emphasize that fact. Mark said the Spirit “driveth Him forth”, and Luke said that “He, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit, one of the members of the triune Godhead, had filled the Son of God, another member of the Godhead, and He’s leading Him. He’s driving Him forward into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. Christ was led with intent. He was led with a purpose, and that purpose was to be tempted of the devil.
Why was the Lord led by the Spirit? Didn’t Jesus, as an equal member of the Godhead, know within Himself what He needed to do next? Wouldn’t He know within Himself where He was to go in the wilderness? Surely, He did. Did His fasting 40 days and 40 nights somehow impair His divine abilities to know where to go or what to do? Surely not.
Although much of Christendom today has seemingly abandoned the doctrine of the trinity, or the triune Godhead, there is abundance evidence in Scripture. Consider 1 Joh. 5:7 in which we read, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” That’s pretty conclusive, isn’t it? Unfortunately, a number of modern Bibles remove this verse because they’re translated from corrupt texts.
However, we find in the King James Bible overwhelming evidence of the triune Godhead. Consider that the Father is called God. The Son is called God, and the Holy Spirit is called God. The Father is called God in verses like Rom. 1:7, “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Son is called God in verses like Heb. 1:8, “But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever...” Christ also declared Himself to be God when He told the Pharisees, “Before Abraham was, I am” (Joh. 8:58). Plus, the Holy Spirit is called God. Consider the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Peter said to Ananias in Acts 5:3, “why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost…?” Then Peter would say in Acts 5:4, “…why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.”
These three members of the Godhead are one. They are separate, distinct, and yet, they operate as one unit. Everything is of the Father, by Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.
When we heard the gospel of the grace of God, the Holy Spirit convicted us about the authenticity of Christ as the Son of God the Father who is worthy of all our faith and praise as our Savior because of His resurrection from the dead. In Rom. 1:4, Paul says that God the Father’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, was declared to be the “Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” The Holy Spirit declares to us that Christ, the Son of God, is worthy of all our faith, because of His resurrection.
We also learn in Titus 3:4-6 that because of the kindness and love of the Father, He designed for us salvation by grace through faith alone. That moment we believed, the Father shed on us abundantly the Holy Spirit who washed us and renewed us, all of which is through the atoning work of His Son. We have the direction of the Father motivated by all His love and kindness in having all of us washed and renewed through His Spirit by faith in His Son. We have the entire Godhead operating in distinct roles, but together as one, to accomplish our transformation into new creatures when we believe. They are all separate but acting as one in the means by which we may be saved, washed of all our sins, and spiritually transformed.
We find in Eph. 2:18 that “through him (through Christ) we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” Do you see the process? Through Christ, by the Spirit, unto the Father. Through that atoning work of Christ, we can receive eternal life by grace through faith alone, and now we have access unto God the Father by the Spirit.
When we study His Word, we learn the will of the Father (Eph. 1:5-9) through the words of Christ (1 Cor. 14:37) taught to us by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10). The very means by which we are even able to comprehend the sound doctrines of grace is according to the will of the Father, through the words of Christ, penned by Paul, made alive in us through the Spirit by the Word.
Yet, how can one even begin to explain the incarnation of Jesus Christ Himself? Is not God’s manifestation in the flesh endlessly fascinating, undeniably incomprehensible to our finite minds, and yet, also the greatest miracle in the history of universe?
For an incarnation to occur there must be the existence of that person first in a non-fleshly form. Then that person must take upon himself a body of flesh. Webster’s 1828 tells us that an incarnation is “The act of clothing with flesh. The act of assuming flesh, or of taking a human body and the nature of man.” That is exactly what the Lord Jesus Christ did.
The Lord would say in Joh. 6:38, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me…” He would say in Joh. 8:56, 58, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad… Before Abraham was, I am.” He would say in His High Priestly Prayer to the Father in Joh. 17:5, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.”
On His pre-existence, Paul would say of Christ in Phil. 2:6, “who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” He was an equal member of the Godhead, eternal in existence. He thought it not robbery to be equal with God. Not only did Christ never once feel the need to be elevated above the other members of the Godhead, but Christ also willingly “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7-8).
All of this goes back to the amazing love and humility of the triune Godhead. Not one of them ever think themselves worthy of a higher exaltation than the other two, but rather all three are willing to humble themselves before each other. In Phil. 2, we have the willing humility and humiliation of Christ. In return, Paul tells us in Phil. 2:9-10 that God the Father “hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.” At the end of everything, the end of all ages, at the beginning of our eternal state with God, we learn in 1 Cor. 15:24, “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.” Then, in 1 Cor. 15:28, we read, “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” Do you see the pattern of humility between those two figures of the Godhead? The Lord humbles Himself before the Father and dies for the whole world. The Father humbles Himself before His Son and gives Him all rule and authority. Every soul that ever lived will one day bow to Him. Then, in the end, the Son gives everything back to the Father, and in the eternal state, God will be all in all with His creation. We will be in Him, and He will be in us.
Plus, there is also the Holy Spirit, who is a distinct and equal member of the Godhead, who also has an intellect (1 Cor. 2:9-13), will (1 Cor. 12:4-6), and emotions (Eph. 4:30; Rom. 15:30), who lives to humbly serve Christ and the Father, who seeks no glory, and who also inspired the written Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16), moving holy men of old to speak the words of God (2 Pet. 1:21). As a result, Christ and God the Father have chosen to honor the work of the Spirit, as said in Psa. 138:2, by magnifying “thy Word above all thy name.”
We know that the Holy Spirit loves to make us new creatures the moment we believe (2 Cor. 5:17), to be Himself the earnest of God’s purchased possession (Eph. 1:14), making all of us alive unto God (Rom. 6:11), and He lives to manifest in us the life of Christ and the will of the Father. He sheds abroad in our hearts the love of God (Rom. 5:5), because He intimately knows God the Father and He wants us to know God intimately (1 Cor. 2:10), as well, and to love Him intimately, because the Spirit knows personally that God is infinitely worthy of all our love and praise. The Spirit does all these things through the power He possesses within Himself as He strengthens us and energizes us when we study His Word (Eph. 3:16).
Of course, with respect to the incarnation of Christ and God becoming clothed with flesh, how can we not also consider Joh. 1:1? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Christ was with God, and He was God. We know from Joh. 1:14, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us… full of grace and truth.” The Greek word for Word is Logos, and I’m moved by the thought that Logos isn’t just the word spoken or how that word sounds or the meaning of that spoken word, but Logos also points back to the conception of the thought that produced the spoken word from God that created everything that exists. Logos points to not simply the spoken word that brought the world into existence, but it points to the source of the spoken word and the very thought behind the creative power and divine authority that brought our universe into existence, and that source is found in the person of Jesus Christ who was and is God who had become clothed with flesh.
Yet, Logos is even more than that. Logos points to the thought itself that chose to produce all life, which takes us to the very meaning of life itself. Why did God even conceive the thought that produced the action of the spoken word that created all of us even though He knew in advance that we would, in our free will rebel against Him, fall into sin, and need redemption? He still created us and died for us because He wanted to love and to have a relationship with free-willed humans who willingly chose to love Him in return.
The Lord Jesus Christ was and is eternally Logos, the source, the power and divine authority behind the spoken Word that created everything in existence. Christ is the eternal Word who in time became flesh. By using the word Logos, it would seem John was endeavoring to bring out the full significance of that miracle in the manger, the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, to impress upon us that Jesus spoke with ultimate authority, because He is the one who spoke the universe into existence. The brilliance of presenting Christ as Logos is that it elevated Him infinitely above pagan concepts of deities. He wasn’t just with God, but He was God, as well. He was eternally pre-existent involved in the act of creation, and therefore, He will always be superior to everything, everyone, and He will always be one with God.
In the phrase “the Word was with God,” the preposition “with” indicates both equality, distinction of identity, along with unity. In other words, He was face-to-face with God. Christ was face-to-face with God the Father. He was equal to God. He was in perfect oneness with the Father of all glory. Christ, the “Word,” is deity, eternal, one with God, co-equal with God, face-to-face with God the Father, yet distinct. We have external coexistence, eternal equality, eternal oneness, and eternal unity of Christ with God the Father.
We can never separate the Living Word from Christ Himself. You cannot have one without the other. You cannot have Christ without the Living Word, and you cannot have the Living Word without Christ. Bullinger would write, “As the spoken word reveals the invisible thought, so the Living Word reveals the invisible God.” Just as words reveal hidden thoughts, Christ came into this world to reveal the hidden God, and Christ Himself is the Living Word of the living God, the one who spoke the words of God the Father to mankind, revealing to us all the hidden thoughts of the Father for the world. Christ said, “I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things” (Joh 8:28). He said, “I and my Father are one” (Joh 10:30). He said, “I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works” (Joh 14:10). He said, “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (Joh 14:9).
Let me ask a question: is the Living Word the Lord Jesus Christ or the words He spoke? Yes. When John says the “Word was with God, and the Word was God,” he’s saying that Christ was with God the Father, that Christ was also an equal member of the Godhead, because the Father and the Son are one, just as they are one with the Spirit, but that Christ Himself is also the Word of God, because He verbally expressed the thoughts and will of His Father in Heaven. He was not only with God, but He always is to us the Word of God itself, because He expresses the thoughts, the words, and the will of God the Father. The Word of God is more than just the written Word. The Word of God are the words themselves spoken by Christ who is verbalizing the thoughts and will of the Father. Christ is the mouthpiece, if you will, of the Word of God the Father. The idea of the Living Word is inseparable from Christ because He was the living one expressing the words of God the Father made alive in us by the Spirit. Those words are living not simply because they contain the life of God in the words but also because those words are the means by which we obtain eternal life because it’s the Father who justifies the believer.
Thus, we have in the glorious incarnation of Jesus Christ, God Himself clothed with flesh, and in Him, the entire Godhead operated as one unit. Christ spoke the words of the Father, and He carried out miracles through the Spirit. In Act 10:38, Peter would say that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.” Christ was anointed by the Father with the Spirit, and He was anointed with power “healing all that were oppressed of the devil”. I’d suggest Christ was anointed to begin miracles by the Spirit at His baptism, and Peter explained what it was He was anointed to do. To preach the words of the Father to the people of Israel. Plus, healings and exorcisms. Christ would even say in Mat. 12:28 that He casts out devils “by the Spirit of God.” He said, “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.” Here we have another mention of the entire Godhead in one verse. We have Christ proclaiming that He is doing miracles according to the will of the Father through the Holy Spirit. Everything in the Bible is of the Father, by Jesus Christ, through the Spirit. The entire triune Godhead operated as one in the person of Jesus Christ.
The promise that God would accomplish this amazing incarnation, of the Lord manifesting Himself in the flesh, goes all the way back to the fall in the Garden of Eden. In Gen 3:15, the Lord God said to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” That was a promise of pure grace. As soon as man fell into sin, a remedy was guaranteed, and a perfect hope was given from God to all mankind. All of humanity shall be delivered from sin by Eve’s child-bearing, that is, by the promised seed who shall descend from her. From her seed shall come the deliverer of fallen man out of the power of Satan.
And this prophecy is echoed in the words of Isa. 7:14 in which the great prophet wrote, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Again, in Isa. 9:6, we find, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” We also find in Heb. 2:14, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” The Lord Jesus Christ was God manifest in the flesh, made in the likeness of men, fashioned as a man. Our mighty Creator, who had formed the body of man from the dust of the earth, took upon Himself that same form and entered the world He Himself had spoken into existence. He came as Jehovah-God manifest in the flesh.
In Matt. 22, we encounter a moment in which a lawyer Pharisee tries to stump the Lord with a question so basic that a child could have answered correctly. Nonetheless, we find in Mat. 22:34-40 this story: “But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, ‘Master, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’” It’s certainly true that the law taught everyone that they were sinners. The law was a schoolmaster to bring everyone to Christ. Yet, the law was also holy because the law also commanded them to love. Why? Because God Himself is love. The highest form of God’s righteousness manifested in His people under the law was to love God first and then everyone else. That was always the highest and greatest commandment of the law.
Then the Lord turned the tables on the lawyer in what is perhaps one of the greatest comebacks in all the Gospels. We read in Mat 22:41-45, “While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying, ‘What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?’ They say unto him, ‘The Son of David.’ He saith unto them, ‘How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?’” How phenomenal is that response? Christ, who is of the seed of David (Luke 2:4), born in the city of David (Luke 2:4), raised in the house of David (Luke 1:69), to take the throne of David (Luke 1:32), how could David call Him Lord if He descended from his seed? How can God be the Creator all things and yet also be the son of David? Do you know how they responded? “And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.”
Of course, the answer had always been available to them with the prophecy of the virgin birth who shall call her child “Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14).
How exactly was this prophesied, miraculous conception realized? By the power of the Holy Spirit, called the power of the Highest. The Holy Spirit is the arm of power of God the Father Himself. The angel Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:35, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”She shall conceive the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. The divine power of God the Father in the Holy Spirit undertook the work of conception. The Holy Spirit would overshadow her. He wouldn’t possess her, like demon possession, but the Spirit would simply overshadow her. He would encompass her, enshroud her in a haze of brilliancy. In that process, the Holy Spirit would produce a human life, even more miraculously, the life of the Son of Man both human and divine.
Jeremiah would tell us in Jer. 31:22, “…for the LORD hath created a new thing in the earth, A woman shall compass a man.” The incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ was a new thing in the earth, a great hypostatic union in which the Lord Himself was manifest in the flesh being fully God and fully man. The Lord Jesus Christ is without question the most amazing figure to ever walk this earth. There is nothing to which He may be compared. There is nothing like Him that ever came before nor will anything like Him ever come again.
Pastors and writers use the word hypostatical to indicate that the union of the two natures in Christ was a personal one. Hypostatical is derived from the Greek word that is translated “person” in Heb. 1:3, “the express image of His person” – His hypostasis. This means primarily that though Christ has two natures He is but one Person.
How can He be both man and God, both human and divine? How can He be finite and yet infinite? Is this not an incomprehensible mystery? Yet, I cannot help but wonder, are we not each a person even though we’re made up of spirit, soul, and body (1 Thess. 5:23)? Are we not made of both spiritual and physical elements? Are not these two substances distinct, yet united, to create one whole person? Are we not physical and spiritual as much as Christ is both human and divine? Are not our physical and spiritual substance united to form a single person as much as the human and divine elements formed the person of Christ? Plus, do we not find our flesh and Spirit at odds just as Christ at times found His human and divine natures at odds? Or shall we concede that any illustration fails because nothing can compare to this miraculous new thing God created in the earth that will forever be beyond our human grasp?
Christ was human in many respects. He had a regular human body, circumcised the eighth day (Luke 2:21), although His flesh was without the corruption of sin (Rom. 8:3). He possessed a soul (Matt. 26:38). He had a human spirit (Luke 23:46). He was hungry (Matt. 4:2), weary (Joh. 4:6), thirsty (Joh. 19:28), and sleepy (Matt. 8:24). Yet, He was also divine, called “the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16). He accepted worship due only to God (Joh. 9:38). He exercised all the prerogatives of His Deity, such as forgiving sin (Matt. 9:2, 6; Luke 7:47, 48). He declared Himself to be God to the Pharisees (Joh. 8:58). He unveiled His glory to His disciples at His transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-8). He could choose to give up His own Spirit when the act of redemption was complete (Luke 23:46). Who but God in the flesh could have the power to lay down His life and to take it up again as He said in John 10:18? He is called eternal (John 1:1). He showed omniscience (John 16:30). We find in a number of stories, like John 6:60-64, that Jesus “knew in Himself” the inner thoughts of His disciples. He is also omnipotent (Heb. 1:3), immutable (Heb. 13:8; 1:12), and all of the moral attributes of God are His also, exhibited all throughout His earthly life, such as holiness, righteousness, goodness, grace, and truth. I’d suggest He was also omnipresent even when He was in the flesh because He was one with God. He was one with the Father and one with the Spirit, who was literally everywhere.
Having considered all of this, how can we believe that Christ somehow emptied Himself of His divinity and His powers? How could that even be possible? If He was only a man or emptied Himself of His deity then how can we explain His transfiguration? I’d suggest that Christ merely veiled His powers. He chose to not exercise the powers He always had and always will. He was not unable to assert His powers. He was able to not assert His powers.
Because Christ was also human, He could be tempted, which meant He could have chosen to sin. He could have chosen to say “no” to the cross. Why should Paul praise His obedience unto death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:6-11), if disobedience was impossible? If we are now free to choose between the flesh and His righteousness (Rom. 6:13,16), was not Christ also free to choose between His human and divine natures?
The Lord learned obedience through the things He suffered (Heb. 5:8). How could He learn obedience experientially if there was no open door to disobedience? How could He feel temptation if there was no possibility to succumb to it? Christ chose to not sin every day and He chose to go to the cross. If it was His choice to go, then it was also His choice to not go. Who but Jehovah-God could be said to yield up or dismiss His own spirit? It was He who had before asserted calmly His full authority when He said, “I lay down My life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay down My life, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17-18)
Thus, Christ’s constant choosing to not sin, His constant choosing to obey His Father all the way to the cross, makes His love sacrifice for us even more personal, even more glorious, even more astounding, and that should make us love Him and praise Him forevermore.
Having set the stage with the hypostatic union, the two natures in Christ, both human and divine, as well as the open door to Christ to choose to sin, we’ll consider next week, His tempting in the wilderness.