A Holy Hand-off Into Unholy Hands

It seems that before Jesus could go public with His ministry, His Father had arranged two meetings in preparation. The first was with John the Baptist in the Jordan (Matt. 3:13-17). In order to “fulfill all righteousness” Jesus, though without sin, identified with all mankind in their need for “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). And in so doing, when He came up out of the water, the heavens were opened above Him, the Spirit descended upon Him, and His Father declared His love and pleasure concerning Him.

But it’s the second divinely arranged appointment that’s captured my imagination. This morning I’m noodling on the temptation of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 4:1-11). No small undertaking for the Son of Man. Though the account is somewhat understated when it says that after fasting for forty days and forty night Jesus was hungry (4;2), the toll the temptation took on Him in the flesh is evident as at the end of it, “angels came and were ministering to Him” (4:11). So, this was not an insignificant experience for the One who “had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God” so that, “because He himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:17:18).

But what’s particularly grabbed me this morning is the manner in which Jesus is “handled.” And what I’m noodling on is the holy hand-off into unholy hands.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  

(Matthew 4:1 ESV)

Jesus was led by the Spirit. Through inner promptings, by divine urgings, Jesus walks in the Spirit and is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. That’s God’s will for His Son? A desert? That’s the Spirit’s role in resting upon Jesus as Jesus comes out of the waters of obedience? To lead Him into a barren place?

How out of sync is that with popular notions of being in the will of God? That God might, on the way to green pastures and still waters, determine that we should do some desert time is so not in line with our thinking. Instead, we are prone to view any barren spot as a clear indication we have somehow strayed from divine favor. But here Jesus is led by the Spirit into a lonely place.

But more than just being “dropped off” in the desert, there is a hand-off. The holy hands of the Spirit having led Him to the wilderness are then replaced with the unholy hands of the enemy as he takes Him from there.

Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple . . . Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 

(Matthew 4:5, 8 ESV)

I can’t imagine the nature of the supernatural dynamics that enabled the devil to “take” the Son of God. But the thought that Satan could in any way lay his hands upon Jesus in order to transport Him to the holy city, or to a high mountain . . . that the devil could have been given any permission to, in any way, direct the LORD of Heaven . . . the thought is mind-boggling. It just doesn’t seem right.

Would God really lead Jesus by His Spirit into a barren place only then to, in a sense, hand him over to Satan? Apparently so. Has a bit of Job ring to it (Job 1:6-12), doesn’t it?

What does it say about what we might expect as God continues His work of forming His Son in us? Might our desert places be ordained of God so that we might learn to stand as Jesus stood? Might the enemy’s attacks be permitted so that we too could experience the victory of living “by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (4:4) . . . and knowing the resolve to “not put the Lord your God to the test” (4:7) . . . and choosing to “worship the Lord your God and Him only” (4:10). Could be.

What’s more, what does this holy hand-off into unholy hands say about the depths of Jesus’ love for us? That He would subject Himself to the enemies best shot in order to become our merciful and faithful High Priest? And this wouldn’t be the only set of unholy hands that would be permitted to lay hold of Jesus.

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know–this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 

(Acts 2:22-23 ESV)

Led by the Spirit that He might be tempted by the enemy. Delivered up according to the plan of God that He might be killed at the hands of men.

O what a Savior!

To Him be all glory!

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