In initiating his ministry, Jesus showed by example the way in which people are to become right with God. This is the way of righteousness. John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance. Jesus was baptized by John, not that he needed repentance, but rather because "it was proper to do this to fulfill all righteousness." (Mat 3:15) This baptism is not the baptism of the Holy Spirit which Jesus offers, for John says, "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (Mat 3:11) Repenting is not the same as being born of God. A person repents when he recognizes that he is going the wrong way and decides to turn around and follow Jesus. This is the initial stage of discipleship. Those who have been born of God should lead others along this path.
John's baptism is liken to the crossing of the Red Sea, just as Paul writes of the people of Israel, "They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea." (1Cor 10:2) But this is only the beginning of a long journey as God prepares them to enter the promise land. After crossing the Red Sea, Israel entered the desert to receive the Law of God and to experience temptations. Jesus did the same. After being baptized, "Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil." (Mat 4:1) In the case of Israel, they were led into the desert by the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. These represent the leading of the Holy Spirit.
When one repents and decides to follow Jesus, the Spirit leads such a person into the desert of humiliation. The pupose of this is to develop in the disciple the most essential of character qualities, which is humility. All other Christlike characteristics are dependent upon this one, as well as are the limit of one's maturity and the level of fruitfulness. The way in which He accomplishes this is to first give the Law. This was the first thing he gave to Israel after they entered the desert. For the disciple, this simply means that he is going to be challenged to develop a submissive attitude as he accepts Christ as Lord. Christ will challenge his disciples not to simply call him Lord, but to treat him as Lord by obeying his commands. Practically, this means reading the Bible with an application-oriented mindset.
When Jesus was faced with temptations in the wilderness, he responded with the Law. Each of his responses came directly from the book of Deuteronomy, which had been given to the Jews when they were in the desert. And it is insightful to consider the context of one of his quotes:
"Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." (Deut 8:2,3)
Jesus succeeded where Israel failed. For practically that whole generation lusted after evil things and God killed them in the desert. Paul writes, "These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" (1Cor 10:11,12)
At this stage, "the law is put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith." (Gal 3:24) It does this by first convicting us of our sin and our innate sinfulness. For "through the law we become conscious of sin." (Rom 3:20) The Law does not perfect, but humiliate. Those who refuse to be humiliated through conviction of sin turn back and are destroyed. "If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing [about] our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them." (2Pet 2:20,21)