Episode 1. On the Surface
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We like surface things, comfort, recognition … worldly success. We just do. But as Jesus discovered, as He starved in the wilderness – during those tough times … it’s about something much …
We like surface things, comfort, recognition … worldly success. We just do. But as Jesus discovered, as He starved in the wilderness – during those tough times … it’s about something much deeper.
I wonder if I ask you to define success, exactly how would you go about doing it? I mean what does success mean to you? I know that for a long time success for me meant recognition, wealth. Whatever I chose to do, being the best and reaping the rewards and then when I had the rewards, spending them in ways that demonstrated that indeed I was successful.
Success meant achieving, being seen to achieve and in every way reaping the rewards and that’s pretty much the way of the world. Everything the advertising industry does reinforces that image of success, it’s a surface thing and by implication the things that constitute success, according to the world’s rules, those outwards signs of success, they’re supposed to make us happy on the inside. Well, at least that’s the theory.
I read a book recently by Doug Webster and it’s called, “Under the Radar”. It’s one of those short books that just blew me away. This week on the program we’re going to unpack that a little bit to see what he has to say. He makes the point that some of the most successful leaders he knows are people who have achieved so much but they’re people that you or I will never, never know.
In a sense they’re men and women who followed Gods call on their lives and flew under the radar of public recognition into the hearts and the lives of men and women and children around them. And it challenges our worldly images of success. Inevitably these great leaders are people who have spent time in the wilderness, people who have struggled and been vulnerable and allowed God into their lives in the midst of that wilderness.
Webster challenges me with this statement:
We shouldn’t be surprised that the Bible calls for leadership that the world doesn’t recognise as leadership. We have trouble identifying the ‘David’ type leader whose character and leadership have been forged in the wilderness while caring for the sheep.
It makes you think. We’re going to look at this week, Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus in the desert, being tempted by the devil. Here’s the Son of God and He ends up in this dark and lonely place but just before we go there, I’d like to share with you what happened to Jesus immediately before He ends up in the wilderness being tempted by the devil and it’s the story of His baptism, it’s pretty spectacular story. Matthew in his gospel chapter 3, verse 13 puts it this way, he says:
Jesus came down from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John the Baptist but John tried to send Him away saying, ‘Look I need to be baptised by you Lord and you come to me?’ But Jesus replied, ‘Come on, lets do it, its proper for us to do this and to fulfil all righteousness.’
So John consented. And as soon as Jesus was baptised He came up out of the water and at that very moment heaven was opened and He saw the spirit of God descending down on Him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This, this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased’.
Now I want you to think about that for a moment, is that success or what? I mean you go down to be baptised, you’re coming up out of the water, the heavens open up, God speaks:
This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.
This man is special, I tell you what, if I was in my baptism and that happened to me I’d be thinking, “Man I have arrived, I have made it, I am on a fast track to success in the Kingdom of God.” Wouldn’t you think the same?
And if we were standing there watching this, seeing Jesus come up out of the water and hearing that, God speak and the heavens open up and the spirit of God descend down on Jesus like a dove. We’d be saying, “now here’s a man who’s successful, here is a man worth following. This is exactly the sort of man I’d want to appoint as the head of my dynamic, fast growing, successful, contemporary Church. He’s got all the outward trappings of success.”
And you see that in so many Churches, again Webster writes:
Pastors and lay leaders alike judge success by worldly standards. The allure of great numbers and grand visions and expensive budgets and creative programming but it’s only a matter of time before they become disillusioned with the experts and the consultants and the executives whom they’ve chosen to run their Church according to a competitive business model.
Has a bit of a ring of truth about it doesn’t it? Because in Gods plan, well in Gods plan there’s something more something much more, something deeper.
This baptism of Jesus going into the Jordan and being baptised by John, it signalled the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. You see, the first three decades of His life, He was an apprentice carpenter in His dads carpenter shop in Nazareth, making chairs I guess and coffins and doors and God wasn’t in a hurry with Jesus but now, now Jesus is about to be launched into public life, into public ministry and He ends up with a stunning ministry.
We can read it in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, He heals people, He does amazing miracles, He does all sorts of things and ultimately He’s crucified on the cross and rises again.
So this was a fitting ceremony, a great rite of passage, pretty showy stuff to launch Jesus in His public ministry and if you or I were God, my hunch is we would have said, “right He’s ready, lets send Him out to the temple or the synagogue or lets go and do miracles. Let’s get Him out there, let’s get the recognition, let’s get Him on the circuit. Maybe He should write a book or two and publish and have a radio program.”
Surely from there, Jesus was on a fast track to success but look what happens next, immediately following that baptism. Luke’s gospel says this, Luke chapter 4, verse 1:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert where for forty days He was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and at the end of them He was hungry.
Well some fast track, I mean Jesus had a wilderness experience ahead of Him; He got led into the desert. I mean I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a desert, maybe you live near one. I mean Australia is 80% desert and what I know is when people get lost in a desert for a few days they can end up dying.
I mean it’s a harsh, horrible place, extremes of temperature, hot during the day, freezing cold at night. If I was God I wouldn’t have sent my Son there, I would have put him in somewhere comfortable and set him up for his ministry. Fortunately I’m not God.
Jesus had a wilderness experience starving, bedraggled, alone, vulnerable. In fact there couldn’t be a starker contrast between His baptism in the Jordan, fresh flowing living water, all these crowds, the public shows up, God shows up. Compare that to the wilderness, this place of desolation, completely alone except for the devil. Some fast track, some, some plan God, what were you thinking? But this was Gods chosen way and we’re going to look at that over the next few days on the program.
Jesus full of the Holy Spirit comes back from the Jordan and was led by the spirit into the desert. You see it wasn’t the devil that took Him there, it was God that took Him there because God had a plan, God knew that Jesus needed to spend some time in that wilderness, vulnerable and weak being tempted by the devil before He would be ready for the ministry that God had planned for Him.