When Christ stood full in the Jordan, water streaming from His face and hair, the Holy Spirit came down as a dove, and the Father voiced His approval (Matt. 3:16-17). Surely, some must have thought, we have witnessed the ordination of a king. And they had, though not the king they’d expected. For what other king would hear the voice of God proclaiming His divinity, only to find Himself next in a barren desert, beset by the devil? This moment in the Bible reveals a hard truth that should daily bring us to our knees—the very direct connection between anointment and trial.
Consider the chain of events that day by the river. First, witnesses heard the Father say: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (v. 17). Has there ever been a greater anointing in the history of the world? Only one man has ever been so honored, but what are we to make of the event that follows? “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt. 4:1). Anointing comes with a burden.
In this, as in so many things, Christ was walking a path that we might learn to follow. He walked it uprightly, but we often stumble. Consider Peter’s ordeals. He distinguished himself from other disciples early, by declaring a great truth: “You are the Christ,” he proclaimed to his Savior, “the Son of the living God” (16:16). In response, the Lord acknowledged Peter’s revelation had come from the Father, and He then declared that His church would be built on this rock-solid truth (vv. 17-18). He also revealed that the establishment of that church would involve His great suffering in Jerusalem (v. 21).
Peter, perhaps emboldened with praise, felt he had license to take Christ aside, to rebuke Him for such negative talk. “Get behind Me, Satan!” was Christ’s harsh rebuke to the disciple’s presumptuousness (v. 23). How crushing those words must have been, especially coming so soon after His proclamation about the depth of Peter’s faith. Being raised up gives us a far greater distance to fall, doesn’t it?
The Bible reveals a hard truth—the very direct connection between anointment and trial.
I need to remind myself that Christ knew Peter’s immaturity, knew that he needed to be taken down several notches, to be plunged into the refiner’s fire so that his spirit might come to reflect the love and humility of the living God. Even in proclaiming Peter’s faith, Christ knew its weakness and paved the way for its strengthening, as He does for all who persevere.
That strengthening is essential, because an anointing not only gives one a greater height from which to fall; it also sparks a light that the darkness hates. And so, many months later we find Peter reclining at the Lord’s table, having spent the day glorying in Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, still unaware of what awaits them all.
“Simon, Simon,” Christ says to him, using the name given by his parents, one that means “he has heard.” He says, “behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31).
When I read this, I pause to consider the dread Peter must have felt upon looking into the grave face of the living God and hearing those words. We know we’re pursued by a multitude of darkened and murderous angels, all of them consumed with a desire to drag us down into destruction. What must it have felt like to be told that the prince of these demons has demanded you by name? And to realize, further, that God Himself knows you will fail?
There was a time when I accounted Peter a weakling. As I’ve pondered these verses over the years, I’ve come to the opposite realization. Just rising from that dinner table and walking without collapse after hearing such a chilling prophecy likely took more courage than I’ve ever had to muster.
Christ raises us up to follow in His dreadful, glorious path, and we are exposed to the slings and arrows of a merciless enemy. We see this hateful pursuit in the flight of Moses from Egypt after he became a murderer, in David’s months of being hunted by Saul, in the persecution of the disciples. We see it today in the daily martyrdom of Christian ministers and missionaries in the darkened corners of the world. We see it in the alarming number of pastors who walk away from their calling.
Christ raises us up to follow in His dreadful, glorious path, and we are exposed to the slings and arrows of a merciless enemy.
Many of us have experienced it as well in our own lives, for while most of us are neither pastors nor missionaries, we are still called to train up our children, to minister to our families, to spread the good news in our communities. Who hasn’t had that feeling of being harassed by the enemy while trying to serve God? This doesn’t mean, of course, that every trial stems from anointment; I’ve faced my own share of trials as a consequence of my sins, for example. Not every hardship is borne of godliness, but it seems unmistakable that living out the Lord’s calling means enduring trials.
Anointment invites trials and suffering, but take heart. After He told Peter what difficulties awaited, Christ reminded him—and us—of His role as intercessor: “But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). We have the full armor of God—His truth, His righteousness, His Word, and our salvation, which He pours out not because we earn it but because He loves us more than we love our own children.
We have been called to trials, and often to suffering. But we have a great Protector. “No one,” Christ says of His sheep, “will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28). Remember that great promise when a trial befalls you. He holds you fast. He holds you close.