Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Aug 23 2020 - Matthew 3:7-4:11 – Being led by the Spirit

When Jesus had been baptised by John, the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove. Jesus is affirmed by the Father and is anointed and equipped by the Spirit for the ministry for which he has been sent into the world.

The first act of the Spirit is to lead Jesus into the desert where he is tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:2). He is presented with three temptations; to turn stones into bread to satisfy his own hunger; to throw himself from a tower of the temple, relying on God to send his angels to rescue him; to gain the kingdoms of this world by offering worship to the god of this world. Jesus' response to each of these temptations determines the shape of his ministry. He will not use his own power to satisfy his own ends. He will not demand that he is kept safe from all danger. He will establish his kingdom not by the display of power which marks the rulers of this age, but through his death upon a cross – by submission to the will of the Father. This is why he insists on being baptised by John; he willingly identifies himself with us and enters into the pain of a broken world that through his brokenness and pain it might be made new.

There was an occasion when Jesus did seem to conjure bread out of thin air. He did it to feed the crowds who had followed him; he had compassion on them in their hunger. But when they came to him seeking more miraculous bread he told them that they must eat the bread of his body and drink his blood. They would have made him their king if only he would conjure up bread for them. He would not be their king on these terms; he must give himself to the cross if he is to give them life – and he calls them to join him in the way of the cross.

Standing before Pilate, Jesus knows that he has only to say the word and legions of angels will come swiftly to rescue him. But he submits to the tyranny and mockery of Roman power and to Jewish hatred. He submits himself to the cross. This is how his kingdom shall come.

Nor are things changed with his resurrection from the dead. His disciples eagerly ask him if he will now restore the kingdom to Israel. But Jesus is taken up into heaven, leaving them gazing upwards into an empty sky. They are left with the Spirit, the Spirit who drove Jesus into the desert, who now anoints and empowers them for their mission of building the kingdom of God in the face of the kingdom of this world.

We would like so much more from the Spirit: miracles that would at a stroke feed the hungry, heal the sick, banish death and wow the crowds. We would like to be protected from all harm – why should God let his people suffer? We would like to be able to be able to gain positions of influence and power in the world – for the sake of the gospel. We want the church to be powerful and we want power in the church. But the Spirit drives us into the desert place, to become familiar with hardship, suffering, powerlessness and loss. Like the Pharisees who came to John, we need to learn that we cannot come to Christ with the pride of our own ambitions but only in the humility of a disciple and a servant. The Spirit calls us to follow Jesus in the path of the cross for the sake of bringing life to the world – and promises that angels will attend us also, though they normally go unnoticed.

Lord, amid the clamour of a thousand insistent voices, help me to hear the whisper of your Spirit and to follow in the way of Jesus. May the words which you have spoken shape my life.

Peter Misselbrook