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From Bethlehem to Calvary - Chapter Three - The Second Initiation - The Baptism in Jordan
III.

In this intimate episode in the life of Jesus Christ we are given perhaps the first real insight into the processes of His innermost mind. The following words open the story and are significant:

"And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil." (St. Matt., III, 17, IV, 1.)

This story of the temptation in the wilderness is most controversial. Many questions have been propounded and much agony of soul has been experienced by the serious believer who endeavors to reconcile common sense, Christ's divinity, and the devil. Was it possible that Christ could in reality [108] be tempted, and if so, could He have fallen into sin? Did He meet these temptations as the omnipotent Son of God, or did He meet them as a man and therefore subject to temptation? What is meant by the devil? And what was the relation of Christ to evil? Had this wilderness story never been told to us, what would have been our attitude to Christ? What really took place in the consciousness of Christ while in the wilderness? For what purpose are we permitted to share with Him this experience?

Many such questions arise in the mind of the intelligent man, and many have been the commentaries written to prove the particular point of each writer. It is not the purpose of this book to deal with the difficult subject of evil, nor to define the times when Christ was functioning as a man, and when He was functioning as the Son of God. Some believe that He was simultaneously both, and was "very God of very God," (Athanasian Creed.) and yet essentially and utterly human at the same time. People make these statements, but they are apt to forget the implications. They affirm with decision their point of view, and omit to carry their attitude to a logical conclusion. The inference is that we are allowed to know about the temptation in order to teach us, as human beings, a needed lesson; let us therefore study the story from the angle of Christ's humanity, never forgetting that He had learned obedience to the divine spirit, the soul in man, and was in control of His body of manifestation.

He was "in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin;" (Hebrews, IV, 15.) He came in a human body, and was subject to human conditions as also we are; He suffered and agonized; He felt irritation, and was conditioned by His body, His environment and the period, as we all are. But because He had learnt to master Himself, and because the wheel of life had done its work with Him, He could face this experience and meet evil face to face, and triumph. He taught us thereby how to meet temptation; what to expect, as disciples preparing [109] for initiation, and the method whereby evil can be turned into good. He met temptation with no great new technique or revelation. He simply fell back on what He knew, what He had been taught and told. He met temptation each time with "It is written," (Matt., IV, 4, 7, 10.) and employed no new powers to combat the devil. He simply utilized the knowledge which He had. He used no divine powers to overcome the Evil One. He simply used those which we all possess - acquired knowledge and the age-old rules. He conquered because He had taught Himself to overcome. He was the master of conditions at that time because He had learnt to master Himself.

Such a mastery by the soul may indeed be utterly beyond our immediate attaining, but the command of Christ stands for all time: "Be ye therefore perfect;" (St. Matt., V, 48.) and some day we too shall meet the temptations in the wilderness and also come forth as He, unsullied and undefeated. Such experience is inevitable for all, and cannot eventually be escaped. Christ did not escape it, and neither shall we. "It is the possibility of being tempted," says Dr. Selbie, "which shows the real greatness of human nature. Apart from it we should be merely unmoral creatures... It is with the capacity to choose between ends, and the actions leading to them, that the possibility of sin emerges." (Psychology of Religions, by Dr. Selbie, p. 228.) This calls for more than superficial consideration. Humanity itself is at stake, in the wilderness story. The whole world of material things, of desire and of ambition, was arrayed before Christ, and because He reacted as He did, and because none of these aspects of life could affect Him, we too can stand free, assured of our own ultimate victory. Christ as man achieved victory. We too can do the same.

To this triumph of the soul over matter and of reality over the unreal, Christ gave testimony in the wilderness experience, and it is towards the same goal that all who follow in His steps are moving. The triumph which was His will [110] be ours when we meet the problem in the spirit in which He met it, turning the light of the soul upon it, and resting back upon past experience.

In the Baptism initiation, Christ's purity and freedom from evil had been demonstrated before men. Now they have to undergo a different test. From the crowd and from the experience He went to the solitary place, and for forty days and nights He was alone with Himself, standing between God and the Evil One. Through what agency could this evil force reach Him? Through the agency of His own human nature, through the medium of loneliness, of hunger and of His own visions. Christ was thrown back upon Himself, and there, in the silence of the desert, alone with His thoughts and desires, He was tested throughout all the parts of His nature which might be vulnerable. "As He is, so are we in this world," (I St. John, IV, 17.) vulnerable in all points. The difficulty with most of us is that we are vulnerable in so many petty ways, and in every trifling situation we are apt to fall. The crux of the situation, as far as Christ was concerned, was that these three temptations were climaxing tests, in which the three aspects of the lower nature were involved. They were synthetic temptations. In them was no petty, trifling, silly tempting, but the gathering up of the forces of the threefold lower man - physical, emotional and mental - into one last effort to control the Son of God. Evil is thus constituted, and we shall all some day have to face this testing - this triple evil, this devil, such as Christ faced. Three times He was tempted, and three times He resisted, and only after this capacity to react to form and to material benefit had been finally put aside was it possible for Christ to pass on to His world service and the Mount of Transfiguration. One of the finest thinkers in the field of Christian interpretation today tells us that "all they who are destined for the Kingdom must win forgiveness for the guilt contracted in the earthly aeon by encountering steadfastly the world-power as it collects itself for a last attack. For through this guilt they were still subject to the power [111] of ungodliness. This guilt constitutes a counterweight which holds back the coming of the Kingdom." (The Mystery of the Kingdom of God, by Albert Schweitzer, p. 235.)

Christ faced this last attack and emerged victorious, thus guaranteeing to us our ultimate victory.

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