If you are the (a) Son (Child) of God....
Jesus shared water with us--he was baptized with sinners. He followed us into the water, but by so doing enabled something new to break into the world. He was filled with the Spirit, baptized in the Spirit. And declared to be the Son of God.
But this Son of God was no docetic theophany. This Son of God, conceived of the Holy Spirit, was also son of David, son of Abraham, son of Adam. He was the new Adam and the new Israel. He is a new beginning for humanity: "son of Adam, Son of God."
This new Israel is led to a place of testing for 40 days (whereas Israel was 40 years). Unlike the first Adam, however, his place of testing was no garden or paradise. Rather, it was the wilderness. Adam was tested in the garden--where he was placed by God--by the serpent. Jesus is tested in the wilderness--where he is led by the Spirit--by Satan. The serpent and Satan seek the same thing--to inculcate doubt, a desire for more, and mistrust.
The wilderness temptations are an identity test. "If you are the Son of God...." Are you really? Is that what you want? The wilderness is where Jesus learns obedience. The wilderness is identity-formation through identity-testing. God intends a test.
This wilderness experience is God’s design—Jesus is led by the Spirit. The presence of the Spirit does not mean the absence of testing, but rather the power to endure it, live through, and overcome it. Jesus is full of the Spirit. This is not some superior divine identity, but rather Jesus, the human being, filled with the Spirit. God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh and fill his people with his Spirit. Jesus lives as a human filled with the Spirit he will share with his people in his triumph. He baptizes us in the Spirit and fills us with the Spirit. In the wilderness Jesus is empowered by the Spirit just as we are empowered by the Spirit.
Jesus is the true human who is authentically tempted. Filled with the Spirit, he models for humanity how to live obediently, how to live an authentically human life. To be human is not to sin; that is to be less than human. True humanity is one living in complete dependence upon and in relationship with God. Humanity has a new start in Jesus, the new Adam.
In the wilderness Jesus deliberately empties himself of his power and faces temptation as a human being. He is Adam. Milton described Adam’s disobedience in Paradise Lost, but the subject of Paradise Regained is the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.
The temptation is the struggle of two kingdoms—the powers that reign in the world (ruled by Satan through Rome in Luke) and the kingdom of God. Satan seeks to divert the humanity of Jesus—seek his own interests rather than obedience; seek his own rather than God’s or the interests of others. What does it really mean to be about God’s kingdom business? Which kingdom will the Son of God serve? The three temptations of Jesus are counterparts to the three denials by Peter. Jesus does what humanity fails to do and thus shows humanity a different path.
Temptation One: Will Jesus follow the leading of the Spirit or will he exercise his power toward his own ends? Should we should cater to our every whim (note the function of fasting), fulfill our every desire, and embrace what we want rather then submit to self-denial for God’s sake. Do we use power for our own sake or for kingdom interests? Are we willing to deny ourselves something (anything or everything) for God's sake, for the sake of his kingdom?
Temptation Two: Will Jesus seize power by yielding to idolatry, following other gods? Will we achieve success, fame, reputation or goals by virtue of aligning ourselves with other powers than God so that we take the easy path to success rather than the path of suffering and self-denial. Will we submit to the ruler of this world and the powers of this world for the sake of our own interests, or--worse--construe the kingdom as best served through submitting to worldly powers? Will we seize political control—or whatever control (control of church, family, business, culture)—for the sake of the kingdom? Will we violate the principles of the kingdom for the sake of the kingdom? Will Jesus take up a new identity—the servant of Satan rather than the Son of God?
Temptation Three: Will Jesus force God to prove himself? Will he put God on trial to test God rather than trust him. Can God be trusted? Why are you in the wilderness? Doesn’t God care—do you believe he cares? Do you believe his promises? Should not faith leap blindly from the temple heights? The temptation is to prove our faith by testing God's promise. Or, perhaps, in the midst of the wilderness to declare our allegiance to God only on the condition that he rescue us from the wilderness. God must prove himself before we believe. The temptation is to try God rather than trust him.
The temptations about our own temptations—whether in a 40 day fast, or in the wilderness of loss--whatever loss. We are Adam, we are Jesus. He followed us into the water, and went into the wilderness to share it with us. He entered our wilderness in order to lead us out.
But the wilderness is important. It is tests our identity. It shapes our identity. The wilderness is where we learn to prioritize—we see what is really important and upon whom we truly depend. The wilderness is where we learn obedience—we seek out God’s way rather than our own; we follow his path to kingdom goals rather than our own. The wilderness is where we learn to trust—rather than demand, prove or test.
We are baptized. We are filled with the Spirit. And we are led into the wilderness to test our identity. The wilderness tests our identity—who are we? Whom will we serve? Whose interests are most important to us?
If you are a child of God, depend on God rather than your materialism, seek his kingdom rather than your own, and trust him rather than prove him. This is the path that leads out of the wilderness and to a cross but also to an empty tomb.