The Temptation of Christ
Topic: Temptation Passage: Mark 1:12–13
Matt pointed out last week that Mark’s gospel is the action gospel, it moves with urgency. The word euthus, which means directly, at once, immediately, is used 47 times in this short gospel. And we see it here: Jesus is baptized by John in the river Jordan and the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. There is a double urgency here: urgency of time (the Spirit immediately) and urgency of force (the Spirit drove). The Spirit immediately drove…
So there is a tremendous urgency on the part of the Spirit that Jesus go deep into the wilderness before anything else happens. Before he heals one person or casts one demon out or preaches one message, he must immediately be driven into the wilderness, where he will be tempted by the devil, and the question is why? Why is it so urgent he go? We can understand the devil being eager to tempt Jesus, but why is the Spirit so determined that Jesus immediately encounter temptation at the hands of the devil?
The answer to this question is hinted at in the first verses of Mark’s gospel. Look at verse 1: no details of Jesus’ virgin birth or Herod or the magi or the trip to Egypt and that’s on purpose. Mark begins abruptly with these words: the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. It’s reminiscent of Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”
And then look with me at verses 9-11. After being baptized the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. Now, the imagery of a dove being used to describe the Holy Spirit is something we’re pretty used to, so that probably doesn’t seem odd to us, but it wouldn’t have been an image the Jews of that day would have been familiar with. Nowhere in the OT is the HS directly referred to as a dove. But there is one place where there is an indirect imagery: Genesis 1:2 “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering (literally “fluttering”) over the face of the waters.”
Now the Spirit flutters down from heaven upon Jesus and God the Father declares Jesus to be His beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased. It reminds us of God’s declaration at the end of the first day of creation after He had created Adam when He declares His creation to be very good.
Jesus is God’s perfect fulfillment of what was supposed to be in His creation. God will reboot creation through Jesus Christ – all who come to faith in Christ are made new creations. Jesus came as the second Adam, man as God had intended him to be, the One who would succeed where the first Adam failed. In Genesis the very next thing after the creation is the account of Adam and Eve being tempted by the serpent to disobey God’s command not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, so here the very first thing that the second Adam, Jesus, must face is the devil and his temptation.
I. Temptation, Round Two
So this is temptation, round two. Adam and Eve fell to the devil’s tempting lies and that is the originating point for every evil and heartache in the world. Man was immediately separated from God (that is how Adam died instantly- they died spiritually), God cursed the earth, and sin, which is simply rebellion against God permeated the world because it permeated man’s heart. Evil, wickedness, injustice, oppression, deceitfulness, greed, lust, anger, heartache, suffering, and death all entered the world that day and have been inseparably interwoven into man’s history and all our lives ever since.
Jesus, as the second Adam, needed to face the devil’s temptation if he was going to identify fully with sinful humanity and be qualified to stand in our place. But he needed to face and overcome temptation in his humanity – no help from his divine nature. Jesus was fully God and fully man, but he needed to face temptation on the same ground we do: as a man, not as God.
So Satan comes to tempt his human nature and both of them know this is a high stakes moment. This is an unprecedented moment – never before has God taken on human nature. Never before has it been possible for Satan to tempt God. Satan hooked Adam and Eve by tempting them and he knows that if he can hook Jesus’ human nature and get him to sin, he will have won everything. He would have the ultimate triumph over God –God would be destroyed as God. Getting Jesus to sin would mean Satan had sealed the eternal doom of every man, woman and child because Jesus would not be qualified to be our Savior. We look at the cross as the definitive moment when Jesus triumphed over the devil, and it is, but the cross would not have been possible if Jesus had failed this crucial test.
Mark’s account is very short because he wants to emphasize the cosmic confrontation between Jesus and Satan, but let’s turn to Matthew 4 to briefly consider the nature of the temptations Satan threw at Jesus.
Temptation is a lot like fishing
But first, we’re talking a lot about temptation, but what exactly is temptation? In a way, temptation is a lot like fishing. Or fishing is a lot like temptation, either way. The goal of fishing isn’t to feed the fish, although when I’ve gone fishing, somehow the fish are able to eat the worms without getting snagged. So when I go fishing, the fish look at the hook as a kind of fork from which they safely get their dinner. But in the hands of a true fisherman, the hook is a deadly instrument designed to pull the fish from a safe environment into a deadly environment where it will be gutted and eaten. Pretty gruesome when you think of it that way. So the worm or fly or jig or spinner has one purpose: to get the fish to say, “I want that!” and swallow it, not realizing that the desirable thing is hiding a deadly hook.
That’s how temptation works. When I was a little kid, my parents used to drum into my head, never to take candy from a stranger. Because wicked men have lured kids to their deaths by offering them candy. The candy snags the kid’s desire and blinds them to the dangerous intent behind the offer of candy.
Satan envisioned all the horrific effects of the fall when he tempted Adam and Eve – he disguised his temptation as wise counsel given for their good – so that they could experience a good thing that God was holding out from them. But he had murderous intentions from the beginning. Jesus said he was a murderer from the beginning. But his murderous hook is wrapped with a desirable bait – that’s temptation.
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1:14-15
Satan is subtle and clever – he doesn’t come to us with a one-size-fits-all temptation. What tempts me may not tempt you at all and vice versa. He studies us, he knows our weaknesses, our strengths, our propensities, our desires. He knew , he knew there was no way he could tempt Jesus to do something overtly evil so he came with temptations that were designed to hook Jesus’ human nature and simply move Jesus to act independently of his Father’s will.
a. Matt 4:1-3. After fasting for 40 days, Jesus was hungry, which meant he was now starving. Satan’s first temptation speaks to Jesus’ intense hunger: command these stones to become loaves of bread. Nothing wrong with that – bread’s a good thing, and it wouldn’t hurt anyone if there were a few less stones in the world. And he adds this subtle barb to the hook: God had spoken over Jesus, you are my beloved Son, why don’t you prove that you’re God’s Son? Jesus can fill his need for bread and prove that he’s the Son of God in one act – what’s not to like about that?
• The temptation is for Jesus to fill a human need apart from God’s will. To act independently of God, to take matters into his own hands. A lot of the temptations we face will be over legitimate needs gotten in an illegitimate way which just means any way that’s not God’s will. When we try to fill our lives apart from God we’re left empty and barren. So many people spend their lives running after bread rather than God and are left empty and barren at the end of their lives. It’s a terrible wilderness when it’s our lives that are barren, our souls that are empty. That’s trying to fill our lives apart from God. Rd vs. 4 -Jesus declared the centrality of God above all other considerations, including food to a starving man. We need some stuff, we need God more.
b. vv. 5-6. Satan then takes Jesus to the temple pinnacle and invites him to throw himself down because God’s word promises he’d be alright. God would command the angels to catch him – he won’t even stub his toe. And he could really prove that he is the one this scripture is talking about – or does Jesus have any doubt? Satan is a theologian – he knows the Bible well and he knows how to twist it to serve his own ends. He has studied God well, he once walked with God. Here he takes scripture and twists it to encourage someone to do something that is against God’s will!
• There is a danger that any of us can fall into and that’s twisting scripture to say what we want it to say, to interpret it in ways that justifies what we want. Peter talks about those who twist scripture to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16) – we need to be careful to handle God’s word with the utmost care.
• Jesus silences this temptation with another verse – one that exposes the twisted interpretation that Satan is putting on the other verse: rd vs 7
c. vv.8-9. This is the worst and the greatest of the temptations. What’s the hook here? Satan knows Jesus’ heart and mission: he loves the world and he’s here to save the world. Satan offers a shortcut. It’s not an empty offer: though the earth is the Lord’s, the kingdoms of the world and the glories of the world belong to Satan. Jesus could take this broken, snful world that he loves so much, a world that is ruled by Satan and he rule it with love and justice. He could be the Savior without the cross. It’s a shortcut to glory.
• We will often be tempted to think that the ends justify the means – many evil means have been used to try to arrive at good ends, but it doesn’t work that way. The path we take is as important as the destination we arrive at, because the path will lead to the destination. Evil means leads to evil ends, and in this case, for Jesus to worship the devil would have been an evil beyond imagination.
• Jesus has had enough – look with me at verse 10. Once again Jesus places the will of God, the value of God, the Person of God at the center – only the Lord God is worthy of worship and only He is worthy of serving.
Adam and Eve were tempted to doubt God and His motives and to take one bite out of God’s will – just one bite, no big deal. And the horrors and heartache that have resulted from that one bite are incalculable. Jesus refused to take one step out of God’s will, but placed God’s will and word at the center of everything he did. How pleased the Father must have been as He watched His Son, in the face of the devil’s worst onslaught, never waver, never question Him, but honor and uphold His supreme value and goodness and word.
Jesus won the victory against Satan and temptation decisively. In our closing moments what are some of the implications of this victory to our lives?
a. Trust in Jesus’ total victory over our sin and Satan
The first and most important application of these verses isn’t to give us an example to follow, but to give us a champion to trust. He fought the devil on our behalf and won. Jesus is our hero, our warrior, our champion. When Satan left Jesus in the wilderness it wouldn’t be for long. Mark chronicles the relentless confrontations between Jesus and the demonic power of hell – but Jesus wins decisively every time.
And finally on the cross – at the point of Satan’s greatest onslaught - Jesus won conclusively. And he won the victory for us. Jesus’ victory over Satan and sin and temptation is our victory if we’re trusting in Christ as our Savior. So trust in Christ and be encouraged! Sin isn’t supreme, Satan isn’t the victor, our Savior, Jesus Christ is, and he has shared that victory with us. Trust in Christ and be encouraged in your fight with sin.
b. Fight temptation the same way Jesus did
1. Be filled with the Spirit – if Jesus needed the power of the Spirit to enable him to overcome temptation, how much more do we need to Spirit if we’re to win the fight over sin in our lives? Ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit each and every day.
2. Be filled with the Word – Jesus combated each temptation with scripture and that’s how we combat temptation in our lives too. Read God’s word each day and memorize passages, especially passages that speak to areas where you are struggling. It’s not called the sword of the Spirit for nothing.
c. Know that Jesus is a high priest that sympathizes with our sin
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. ~ Heb 4:15
We might think, but he never sinned, he never gave in, what can he truly know about temptation? I am weary not only of the temptation, but of the countless times I have given in. For him temptation was no big deal – he never gave in to it.
He never sinned, but he was truly and really tempted and we should never think that temptation was no big thing for him just because he didn’t give in to it. Wayne Grudem makes a great point about the difficulty of NOT giving in to temptation:
Just as a champion weightlifter who successfully lifts and holds over head the heaviest weight in the contest feels the force of it more fully than one who attempts to lift it and drops it, so any Christian who has successfully faced a temptation to the end knows that that is far more difficult than giving in to it at once. So it was with Jesus: every temptation he faced, he faced to the end, and triumphed over it. The temptations were real, even though he did not give in to them. In fact, they were most real because he did not give in to them. ~ WayneGrudem
We can know he feels the force of the temptations we face, and he sympathizes. When we cry out for strength, our cry does not fall on deaf ears. When we lay them at his feet, he doesn’t give them back. He lifts them from our shoulders and gives grace to resist.
When we fail (again) he doesn’t reject and condemn us, but as high priest he applies the blood of the lamb – his own precious blood – to cover our sins with forgiveness and mercy. He sympathizes with our weakness. That doesn’t mean he just pats us and says “there, there” – it means he forgives us and gives us a clean slate and it means he wants to give us his strength to overcome where we will fail every time in our own strength. Let's look to Christ who won the victory and fight in the strength he gives us.
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