Outwardly the situation was idyllic. I was in paradise (a Persian word meaning an enclosed garden), surrounded by all things bright and beautiful. I could pat my panther friend, and the birds ate berries from my hand (Mark 1:13). But inwardly I felt menaced by deadly danger. I was also struggling to grasp the meaning of the voice from heaven : "You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22).
Since I was a child I had talked to God as Father, as the prophets had done. "You, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old" (Isaiah 63:16). "My Father, you are the friend of my youth" (Jeremiah 3:4). "A son honors his father, and servants their master. If then I am a Father, where then is the honor due me?" (Malachi 1:5). And when my parents came to look for me when I was questioning the learned rabbis, I had said "I must be about my Father's business" (Luke 2:49, lit. "The things of my father"). And my mother knew I wasn't talking about carpentry.
But there had been no voice from heaven when others were baptized by John. I seemed to have been singled out as the Father's son in a special relationship. And God did not say "you have become my son," as if I had just begun in that role. It was as if I had been the son of God long before I knew it. Was this what my mother had been told before I was born? "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called Son of God" (Luke 1:35). That did not sound like a son of God in the ordinary sense of people who call God their Father.
And I remembered what Joseph had told me when he explained I was not physically his son. An angel had told him "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:20). From my earliest days my mother had talked about her experience of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35, 41, 2:40 AV). In my teens I had learned to distinguish the gentle breathing of the Spirit from the urges of my own instincts. And from the time I left Nazareth five weeks ago (Mark 1:4-5, 9) the Holy Spirit had unmistakably guided me (Mark 1:12-14, Luke 4:1,2). Here I was in the wilderness of Judah in the very cave where David had hidden from his enemy in the area of Engedi (The Goat Springs, 1 Samuel 24:2). Was I destined to be the Messiah in the line of David because Joseph had adopted me? Or was I in some sense the eternal son of God who had reigned as the Lord King Messiah of the Old Testament?
My one desire was to get to know the voice that had called me his own son. Surely a son should talk to his father? But a powerful force seemed determined to keep me away. Then I remembered the story of what God said to Job. "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless man who fears God and turns away from evil." Then Satan answered, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house, and all that he has on every side?" (Job 1:9-11).
Was there some battle in heaven I could know nothing about? Would the adversary be allowed to cover me with boils? Could the evil force keeping me away from my Father be a personal being? I felt a cold shiver down my back, and I rushed out from the cave into the sun. My panther friend knew I was terrified and she came and laid her head in my lap.
The only way I could keep my sanity was to keep going over in my mind the scrolls from the various books of the Law and the Prophets and the Writings in the synagogue library. I had memorized all the Psalms and the five scrolls of Moses, and I was familiar with all the stories of our history, and the writings of the prophets and wisdom writers. As long as I kept reciting them, I seemed to be at peace. When dark thoughts surrounded me in the cave I would shout out the Psalm of Moses (Psalm 90). Then go into the next psalm. "You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, 'My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.'
And then I would glare at the hidden enemy, "He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday (Psalm 91:1-.6). I discovered that Satan can't cope with being resisted (James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:9). The art was to fight with the sword of the Spirit, the word of God (Ephesians 6:17).
In the next few weeks I learned a lot about the resources I had at hand. The work was becoming clear. My people were still in exile. I had to make the Kingdom of God visible in a community of disciples who would be filled with the Spirit. And through them the dry bones of Israel would be made to live (Ezekiel 37:14). And the whole world would be renewed.
But I had made next to no progress with the words I had heard at my baptism. I had to talk to God as my Father, and know what he had in mind. But something was now making that very difficult. I could hardly pray, let alone have a heart to heart conversation with my Father. Perhaps I was too comfortable in this paradise?
The next day I walked up the wadi to a desolate area of the wilderness where I could not even hear the sound of birds. I wanted total silence to see if I could hear the words of my Father and find out who I was and what was going on. But it wasn't his voice I heard. "Command this stone to become a loaf of bread" (Luke 4:3). Perhaps when I was filled with the Spirit at my baptism I was given the power to create bread from the thousands of rocks that dotted the hillside? And I was certainly hungry. I had fasted like Moses for nearly forty days (Exodus 34:28, Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:2). So the idea of chewing into a large pita bread was very appealing.
But as I thought about it, I realized that turning a stone into bread to satisfy my hunger right then was no big deal. What I was offered was a chance to build a kingdom where there was bread for all. Every rock in the land would feed thousands of people. Not only would I be able to meet the needs of the poor but, like Joseph during the seven years of famine in Egypt, I would provide bread for the world (Genesis 41:54-57). And with the money they paid I could finance the buildings that would be needed for the civil servants, and hospitals, and orphanages, and public baths. For two or three hours I found myself day-dreaming about all I would be able to do by the power I had been given.
But then I remembered our local atheist in Nazareth who had a pita bread nailed to his wall, and when people tried to convert him he would point and say "That is my God." Immediately I remembered the answer we gave him from the scroll of Deuteronomy. "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 8:3). With that I told Satan to get lost, and he retreated like a dog with his tail between his legs.. Perhaps it was more like a roaring lion with its tail between its feet (1 Peter 5:8).
I went back to my cave and had a really good night's sleep. But by morning I realized I still hadn't been able to chat intimately about my relationship to my Father. I knew I was still cowed by the satanic lies which came flying at me like fiery darts (Ephesians 6:16). Every lie denied the fact that I was the Son of God who loved me more than anything I had so far experienced. Satan was also accusing me of being a fraud (Revelation 12:10). As he had said about Job, "Stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face" (Job1:11).
So I decided to climb up to the highest mountain I could see. There was a magnificent view across the Dead Sea to Perea and Nabatea and the sheikh kingdoms of Arabia to the right. Behind me I could picture the Mediterranean Sea with all the Greek islands, and Rome sending out its legions to enslave us. Then I said "Father, it is time for us to talk. I hardly know you. Who am I? What are you going to say to me?"
But again it wasn't his voice that answered. Speaking of the nations of the world Satan said "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I will give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours" (Luke 4:5-6). The voice was certainly as loud and clear as the voice at my baptism. And it made my task very easy. I had kneeled in the Jordan to let John pour water over me. All I had to do was kneel down on this mountain and I would be given the authority I needed to bring justice and good government to every nation of the world.
Again I found myself day dreaming about the good laws I would establish. I would be a shepherd to the people like King David. I did not need to get my head turned like Solomon by marrying foreign women. But I would have the wisdom to settle the most difficult cases (1 Kings 3:9, 16-28).
But bit by bit I saw that the whole plan was built on a pack of lies. Samuel's first reaction was correct. When the people wanted a king like all the other nations "the thing displeased Samuel when they said, 'Give us a king to govern us.'" But when he prayed, he was told "Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them" (1 Samuel 8:7). It was obvious that the kings of Israel and Judah had mostly been a disaster when they lorded it over the people for their own glory. People want powerful tyrants. My aim was not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). How could I ever think of bowing down to worship that slimy creature?
By then I had learned that the father of lies (John 8:44) couldn't cope with a clear word of truth from God So I just quoted "The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear" (Deuteronomy 6:13). Why should I swear allegiance to my opponent? As the enemy slithered away I turned to my Father, and said "Thank you again for keeping me from total disaster."
But there was one more counter attack. Satan decided that the only way to disarm me would be by quoting Scripture. During the night I dreamed I was in Jerusalem, and I was looking down at the crowd below from the pinnacle of the temple (Luke 4:9). What a beautiful sight. Then I heard that smarmy voice quoting from the Psalm that had comforted me again and again during the past six weeks. "He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. In their hands they will bear you up so that you will not dash your foot against a stone" (Psalm 91:12).
Obviously the power of the Spirit would enable me to flutter gently down like a dove among my people. They would know I was not only a prophet inspired by the Spirit, but the Messiah himself. I did not need the economic power of being able to turn rocks to bread, or the political power of world dictatorship. They would be so impressed that they would be forced to listen to my words. The Word of God and the power of the Spirit would do the rest.
I could see Satan thought he had me pinned. If I rejected the power I was given, I was rejecting the work I had to do. How could it be done without spiritual power and miracle? But then I realized that faith can never be forced by the logic of miracles and superior reasoning. I did not want slaves to my power, but disciples who served for the love and joy of it. Jumping from the pinnacle of the temple was in my power, but it was no part of the agenda for my disciples, or the Kingdom of God. It would be tempting God, and I again remembered the words of Moses, "Do not put God to the test" (Deuteronomy 6:16).
I didn't even have to speak the words. A great load fell off my back, and I knew I was free from the constant taunts of the accuser (Matthew 4:11). With great joy I recognized the voice I had heard at my baptism, and I began a long heart to heart conversation with my Father. At first I imagined this was the way every believer talked to him, and it was. But by the time I was on my way home the Father had explained that I was his eternal Son, and he had sent me to take birth in this world (John 3:16).
Chapter 5 .....