Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. – Matthew 4:1 ESV
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. – Mark 1:12-13 ESV
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 he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. – Luke 4:1-2 ESV
These three gospel accounts provide us with a composite picture of what happened immediately after Jesus’ baptism by John. Matthew simply says Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness. Luke indicates that He returned from the river Jordan and then was led by the Spirit in the wilderness. But Mark indicates that the Spirit immediately drove Him out. Mark had a love for the word “immediately,” having used it 46 different times in his gospel. But regardless of how each of these men chronicled the events surrounding Jesus’ wilderness experience, they all clearly state that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit. The 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness were part of God’s plan for His life. And Jesus, determined to obey the will of His Father, listened to the promptings of the indwelling Holy Spirit and did as He was commanded.
What amazes me about this entire story is the very fact that Jesus, the Son of God, was filled with the Holy Spirit and followed the Spirit’s direction in His life. Why would Jesus, as the Son of God, need to the filling of and direction from the Spirit of God? We must always remember that Jesus came to earth as a man. He took on human flesh. In order for the sins of man to be paid for, a sinless sacrifice was required. And while the sacrificial system God had ordained in the Old Testament could provide temporary forgiveness for sin, it was impermanent and incomplete. The write of Hebrews tells us, “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3-4 ESV). The sacrificial system was a shadow of something far greater to come. The death of bulls and goats could never fully satisfy the justice that God required. It would demand the death of a man – a sinless man. “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book”’” (Hebrews 10:5-7 ESV).
It was essential that Jesus become a man. The sins of mankind demanded a payment. But because God is holy, only a sinless sacrifice would satisfy His justice and righteousness. Just as goats and bulls acted as substitutes for the people in the Old Testament, a man would be required to act as scapegoat for the sins of mankind. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “For this reason he [Jesus] had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17 ESV). So Jesus became a man. He took on human flesh. And when the people of His day looked at Him, that is what they saw – a man. We know from the Scriptures that Jesus was fully human and full divine. He was the God-man. But to the disciples and every other individual, He appeared to be just a man. That is why His baptism is so important. As a man, He followed the will of God. At His baptism, He received the indwelling Holy Spirit, confirming His divine Sonship, but also indicating God’s coming plan to fill every child of His with His presence and power. Jesus, as man, was filled by the Spirit of God. He was led by the Spirit of God. He was protected by the Spirit of God.
Why would God require His Son, the Savior of the world, to undergo 40 grueling days without food and water, facing the relentless attack of Satan? Why couldn’t Jesus have just launched into His earthly ministry without having to endure this painful experience? It was essential that Jesus prove Himself to be morally qualified to act as the substitute for the sins of man. It was not enough that He be human. He must also be sinless. Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness would prove His worthiness. But His ability to withstand the temptations of Satan was not self-manufactured. It was divinely provided. It was the Spirit of God who gave His humanity the strength to say yes to God and no to Satan. In this experience we have a foreshadowing of the same divine power that each of us as believers have received. What Jesus did during those days was made possible by the indwelling Spirit of God. And we have that same Spirit within us. That does not mean that you and I can live sinless lives. The key difference between Jesus and us is that we have a sin nature inherited from Adam. Jesus did not. He had no earthly father. Jesus was born without a sin nature. But we can still say no to sin. We can still live in obedience to God, rejecting the temptations of the flesh, the world and Satan. Why? Because we have the Spirit of God living in us. But we must let Him lead us. We must allow Him to empower us. We must daily depend on Him to protect us. Jesus showed us the vital necessity of the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. He also demonstrated the victory that comes when we willing submit to His leadership in our lives.