"Jesus, led of the Spirit"

1867 293 There is a subject of considerable interest in the earlier parts of the gospels, but more especially to be found in Luke, Mark, and Matthew, since these three display Christ in His human relationships as the devoted servant of God, or as the perfect man in the midst of mankind, or in the narrower circle of the nation as the only true Israelite — the Messiah, the promised seed. The subject of interest to which I would call attention is introduced to us in what has just been said as regards the characteristic differences of each evangelist, and is nothing less than the fact, that the Lord in His lifetime on the earth regained, and beyond measure surpassed, every position in which God as Creator, or Almighty, or Jehovah had been discredited, and forced into the strange place of a Judge; whether by Adam's sin and forfeiture of Eden, or by man's break down as the servant of God, or by the nation of Israel's rebellion in Canaan, and its consequent dispersion to the uttermost parts of the earth.

Let us begin with the example last named and call to mind, as Matthew describes to us, the state of Israel when the real son of David, and son of Abraham was given the faith of the nation at His birth in Bethlehem. Under the Roman yoke, as the Jewish people were, instead of under the direct government of their Jehovah God (as was their normal position in the world), carried into Babylon as they once were, and, lastly, made tributaries to Caesar — these are sufficient contrasts with the times of Jerusalem and Solomon to assure any who need such a proof of the displeasure of Him who had sold them into the hands of their enemies. The whole line of prophets opens out to us the moral causes and political reasons of this favoured nation's overthrow and punishment in the righteous ways of their Jehovah — "God of the whole earth." In brief, their pathway out of Egypt and across the Red Sea, by Moses, and the overwhelming destruction of Pharaoh and his hosts, were but the inauguration of a new race of people, with whom God had bound Himself up by promises and covenants, which threw them out into the pre-eminence that marked their every step with Jehovah, the God of Israel. The responsibility was equal to the height of this distinguished nearness; therefore both are declared under that one charter of their true liberty — "You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities," saith the Lord. Egypt, the wilderness, Jordan, and Canaan once shone bright, magnificently bright, as they were led on by "the pillar and the cloud," the "visible glory," and the "ark of the covenant." What a people is this, called out to make a history for themselves, and under what auspices! How grandly they come out with Moses under the strong arm of Jehovah's deliverance, and how victoriously they enter into the land with Joshua, under "the captain of the Lord's host."

But where was all this glory gone when Jesus was born into their midst? "Ichabod" had been written as a premonitory warning in the days of Eli, and Ezekiel had witnessed the departure of the glory in his times, only to be exceeded by the actual poverty which marked the royal house and illustrious lineage of David when Joseph, the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ, closed up that line and gave room for the offended pride of the people, "Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? . . . And they were offended in him." That wonder of the world has collapsed, and a theocracy has broken down when connected with the responsibility of the nation, as the Creator had been previously outraged in the person of Adam, the man upon whose fidelity hung the destiny of the whole world. Alas, for mankind and the bright prospects of Israel besides! All is gone out in darkness and disgrace that once shone so brightly; the whole is in ruins, one vast overthrow; the hour of Satan's triumph and man's defeat! God has been dishonoured everywhere and on all points — wherever He came out to walk with His creatures. The walk in the garden — how short! and the walk with Israel, the beloved people. How all is become the witness of God's righteous indignation and of man's punishment! The cradle of heaven-born hopes and promises is turned into the grave of the saddest disappointment and shame. Satan seems to be master of the whole position, walking to and fro throughout the whole earth, in the title and power which human transgression and God's holiness had put into the devil's hands. Will God leave all this that He created for His own praise and delight in the hands of the enemy? Has He no resources adequate to such an occasion? Has He no one in reserve to make such an extremity as this the grand opportunity for vindicating the glory of God against Satan?

What an hour! what a new moment in the everlasting interests of God and His creatures is this! and how answered and met? "When the fulness of time was come God sent forth his Son, made of a woman." He who alone could be the light in the midst of darkness like this has come forth from God, and is come into the world; has taken on Him "the seed of Abraham;" has taken "part with flesh and blood" to be made "perfect through sufferings." What a relief and resource to us, as we are now called to trace the new history and ways of "flesh and blood" in this Jesus-Emmanuel; for, having come upon no less an errand than to glorify God in the very place where He had been outraged, and to finish the work which was given Him to do, now comes the question, Where will this Jesus, the Messiah, begin this mighty work — the complete vindication and reinstatement of God by Him "who was found in fashion as a man?" His first steps will be surely over the pathway of His people Israel's disgrace, according to that word "out of Egypt have I called my Son;" on that spot He will plant His feet, and light up once again, with more resplendent glory than ever attached to their earlier history (when "baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea"), the way that He will make for Himself as He passes from Egypt into the wilderness with John the Baptist, and down into the waters of Jordan with His repentant people in their confession of their sins, that He may join them as the fulfiller of all righteousness. He is up to the height of the faithfulness of God, the Jehovah of Israel, and He is down to the level of the remnant's condition and state.* What a new link is this in Jordan between God and His people! and how different from their triumphant march over that river with Joshua, and the typical ark of the covenant before the God of the whole earth! If, however, this new place of John and Jesus, and the remnant and Jordan, bring up their reminiscences and regrets, in comparison with the illustrious journey of the same people with Moses and with Joshua, yet the scene before us in Matthew iii. is morally resplendent in its own peculiarities. The nation or the believing remnant must learn the holiness of their Jehovah, whose almighty power they had celebrated on the shores of the Red Sea, and looked at in the light of "the holy, holy, holy One of Israel;" they had now to find that self-same power against them, to drive them out from the very land into which it had once set and defended them. The Jehovah that teaches with a strong hand has set them their lessons now, according to what they have been towards Him; and it is at this point that Jesus by His forerunner identifies Himself with the remnant, who are morally in the place corresponding to the ways of God in righteous government towards them. They are come out at the call of John the Baptist, instead of Moses, when the "I am" had sent him as the deliverer in power; and are confessing their sins with the hope that the kingdom of heaven which John preached as at hand should be set up under the Messiah who was to come after him. The antitype of the ark of the covenant is now in Jordan with them; and "thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness" from the lips of Jesus is but the counterpart of that other word which tells us "it became him for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." It is upon these new associations between the Messiah and the people and between Jesus and Jehovah that the heavens will fold themselves back in approbation and delight. They have found their relief in the activities which have given the remnant in Jordan their resource. "And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water, and the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God like a dove descending and lighting upon him." The heavens in their history had long ago gathered blackness in the days of Noah and had folded themselves up in impenetrable silence till now. For what had they to look down upon with satisfaction, or for the God whom they concealed to commend? But to the man coming up out of Jordan they will delightedly open, and the voice from within, as well as the dove from without, will alike tell of God's vindication by accrediting Him who has done it as "my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." What new relations are witnessed to here, and what a new starting point is this! The priests' feet stood firm in Jordan, but never after this fashion. True the nation may have forfeited every title to blessing and have been turned out of Canaan to take the place of repentant sinners; but who is this stranger in their midst and yet no stranger? and what is He with them for, and what will His identification with them procure for them in the title of righteousness towards Himself and as the securer of grace and forgiveness to them? These are the new questions. But the heavens and "the Spirit like a dove" have united themselves with the man upon earth, and that man "the beloved Son." Jehovah is once more set in relation with His ancient people, not under the new covenant as yet, but by means of Him who will be in due time its mediator, though at present the only true Israelite and the veiled Messiah. Man in the person of Christ supplies to Jehovah the ground and reasons for coming out afresh as the "leader" according to His own righteous government of this new man! "It became him for whom are all things and by whom to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." Israel and man had not only broken down before God in Eden and in Canaan, but had put power into the hands of Satan; for the wages of disobedience are thus turned into capital for the devil; and if this Second man is equal to all emergencies and calls on one in His position, He must overcome him who overcame Adam, and will be led into temptation.

[*This last, of course, in grace, not in personal estate. Ed.]

"Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil." Man in the garden and Israel in the wilderness had fallen under the temptations to which they were exposed on their way into rest. "They could not enter in because of unbelief." As a man come into the midst of all that was "groaning under the bondage of corruption," what course will He pursue in His active love but that of "perfect through sufferings?" And consequently He will be pre-eminent as "the man of sorrows" and acquaint Himself with grief. "Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses;" moreover He will go down into poverty and say, "foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." He will accept no exemption from the range of human griefs and sorrows and sufferings, but be the One in their midst who will go more fully than any else possibly could into their sources and extent, on account of His own inherent perfectness and so take up all in the real feelings of manhood, yet according to God and with God. Strange sight! then was Jesus "led up of the Spirit" and a fresh moment of interest is come; and another question is to be tried — will He who has just been marked out by the heavens allow Himself to be tempted of the devil, that He may conquer every where by life and morally too in life, where all else have been overthrown, till at last Jesus will by His own death "overcome him that had the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage?"

Who leads this Jesus into the wilderness? and why must He be "led of the Spirit" "to be tempted?" are enquiries which we may very well make, and which get their answer and meaning as we see the devil leaving this victorious One, and angels coming and ministering to Him! Regaining the place which Adam lost can never be the measure of His paths, who, in making a new position for Himself, surpasses every previous one. Thus, if we inquire what He was to God, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" is the answer. Do we ask what He was for man? "The Spirit in the form of a dove," alighting on Him and abiding, is the unmistakable reply. Do we ask what He was for Israel? Let Egypt, the wilderness, and the waters of Jordan with John and the remnant of that day and the opened heavens, say. If we further enquire what He was as regards the devil, man in the person of Christ is master of the entire position, and has made all His own. He who fasted forty days and forty nights and was afterward an hungered could not be moved away from His allegiance to God nor out of the place of devotedness which became Him as the true servant. He closed His heart against all that the devil had to offer to the extent of "the glory of the world."

Man had dishonoured God as creator long ago, but this second bows to what it became God to do, and is led to be tempted that He might go lower than all mere human responsibility and failure, and likewise go higher for God than any previous claims had demanded from man. Thus He will go up to the mountain-top, and take His seat as the great expositor of the mind of Jehovah, as regards the principles on which the incoming kingdom should be founded, and the style of behaviour suited to those whom He would introduce into it; for they are to be "perfect as their Father in heaven is perfect," who makes His "sun to shine upon the evil and the good." Moreover Moses said on his mountain, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; but this expositor will say, "If thine enemy hunger, feed him," and "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven." There is no compromise anywhere: God and the relations with His creatures, even conduct and responsibility under Christ's presence, and personal care in the midst of His disciples, are raised; the claims and holiness of God are alike met and exceeded in doctrine on the mount, and in loving obedience by Christ Himself. The devil is nowhere with this last Adam (after his temptations in the wilderness) till Gethsemane, where the last efforts are tried by Satan to terrify that heart by death and the grave, which he could not shake by the blandishments of the world.

Man, in the person of Jesus, has gone down under everything, having emptied Himself and been obedient to death, even the death of the cross: and what could God do on His part but raise Him up over everything, and give Him a name above every name that is named not only in this world but in that which is to come? God has man to glorify as the righteous reward of His obedience and sufferings, and, finally, His death, the death of the cross, where He made atonement for our sins by bearing them, and suffering the just One for the unjust, and putting out of sight all the hindering causes of sin and guilt for ever. By the blood-shedding of Christ, God has been set free from all the calls of judgment which pressed for punishment and death; for Christ has died in our stead. He has liberated God. So that having a Man in the heavens whom He has glorified, the counsels and purposes from everlasting in Christ can now come in, and God even go beyond Himself, in all that He had ever set up in creation and Israel, by bringing in His own mysteries, "the things which had been kept secret from the foundation of the world." And who has done all this, but that very Jesus-Emmanuel who has also carried His believing people outside the range of death and judgment, to make us partakers in a life with Himself, the risen One, which, by the power of the indwelling Spirit, will enable us to take up every principle of conduct, and to be satisfied with nothing less than to live Christ over again till He comes to have us with Himself where He is!

In the mean time, while waiting for Him, what dignity attaches to the saint of this dispensation as told, "Ye are the temple of God," and "the Spirit of God dwelleth in you." And again, "Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body [and in your spirit, which are God's]." The Lord Jesus made a position for Himself as a man when upon the earth, and elevated doctrine and practice to such an extent that He will at last die to put God in the place of a Justifier; and, by His own session at the right hand on high, become the head of life to His Church, that His members may go back and take all up in living power which He ever spoke or did, and be in this way superior to all that became mere man as man; and finally that they may be like Himself in nature, righteousness, and glory, as the proper manifestation of the unfettered power of God on behalf of Christ and the Church for ever.

J. E. Batten. (On the testimony of T. B. Baines.)