“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment, heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'” ~Matthew 3:16-17
Jesus is a 30-year-old man making his first independent appearance in the Gospel at the Jordan River. He’s being baptized. In Matthew, this is the very first thing Jesus does. And right out of the gate, right out of the water, God blesses Jesus. Jesus is blessed by God.
Jesus hasn’t healed anybody, he hasn’t fed anybody, he hasn’t taught anybody, and he hasn’t raised anybody from the dead. Jesus hasn’t preached a single sermon, hugged a single child, or rebuked a single Pharisee. As far as we can tell, Jesus hasn’t done anything yet. But he is blessed by God.
This is my Son. He belongs to me. He is part of me.
I love him. I am committed to him. I cherish him.
I am proud of him. I’m happy with him. I approve of him.
Jesus is blessed by God before he can do anything to earn it or deserve it. God’s blessing is not predicated on Jesus’ performance or on Jesus’ abilities to live a good life or on Jesus’ works on behalf of the Kingdom. God blessed Jesus because he is his Son. God loves Jesus because he is his Son. He commits to Jesus and he publicly affirms Jesus because he is his Son.
“This is my Son, whom I love” is a quote from Psalm 2, which is about God’s messianic King who’s going to put down all rebellion in the world and destroy all evil. “With him I am well pleased” is from Isaiah 53, which is about God’s suffering servant, the one who will die for the sins of the people. God gives Jesus his great blessing, he declares his eternal love and his deep approval of Jesus before Jesus does any of this. God’s love for Jesus and Jesus’ identity as God’s precious child is not tied to what Jesus does or accomplishes. Jesus is first and foremost blessed by God.
In the very next verse, the opening of Matthew 4, Jesus is dripping wet from his baptism and led by the Spirit into the desert for a face-to-face meeting with the devil. And the very first words out of the devil’s mouth are, “IF you are the Son of God…”
He says it in verse three and he repeats it in verse six: “IF you are the Son of God…”
IF you are really loved by God… IF you really belong to God… IF you are really who God says you are… IF God is really pleased with you…
This is how the devil operates. This is his strategy.
God has just assured Jesus that he is God’s beloved child. God has just promised Jesus that he loves him and that he accepts him. And the devil immediately and directly attacks Jesus at that very spot.
Turn these stones to bread! Let’s see if you REALLY belong to God!
Jump off this building! Let’s see if God REALLY loves you!
The devil is asking Jesus to make God prove he really loves him and he’s really pleased with him. But you don’t need to ask God for demonstrations or proof unless you doubt. And that is the devil’s main goal. He wants Jesus to doubt the certainty of God’s unconditional love. He wants Jesus to lose the assurance of God’s eternal blessing and his approval. He wants Jesus to question it.
Do you see how the devil works?
It’s brilliant. And evil.