We’ve spent a few weeks on the opening verses of Mark’s gospel. Firstly, we spent a Sunday thinking about the first verse where Mark reminds us that the gospel is all about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And we thought about what all those different names and titles signify: ‘Jesus’ means ‘Saviour’ and he saves all who trust in him from the condemnation we deserve for our sins. ‘Christ’ means ‘Anointed’ and he was anointed with the Holy Spirit who enabled him to fulfil his ministry. And he’s the Son of God who has come down from heaven to deliver his people from our sin and misery just as he promised he would.
And then, secondly, we spent a Sunday thinking about John the Baptiser who announced that someone was coming after him who would baptise his people with the Holy Spirit. And, of course, he was talking about the Lord Jesus who was coming into the world to live for us and to die for us and to rise again for us in order inaugurate God’s new covenant. And by this new covenant God promises to pardon our sins forever; and he promises to give us a new heart to love him; and he promises to give us the Holy Spirit to help us to walk in his ways.
And then thirdly we thought about the Lord’s baptism; and how heaven was torn open and the Holy Spirit descended on him as a dove; and God the Father’s voice declared about him:
You are my Son, whom I love.
And I linked what happened at the Lord’s baptism to what we read near the end of Mark’s gospel, where we read about the Lord’s death on the cross; and how the curtain of the temple was torn open; and the Roman centurion declared about him:
Surely this was the Son of God.
And we thought about how at his baptism and at the cross, the Lord was identifying himself with sinners like us; he took the guilt of our sin upon himself. And because heaven was torn open and the Holy Spirit descended on him and equipped him to fulfil his ministry, so now the entrance into God’s presence has been torn open for sinners like us so that we may come before God in worship and look forward to coming into his glorious presence in the life to come. And whoever confesses that Jesus Christ is both my God and my Saviour receives the forgiveness of sins and the hope of everlasting life.
Right at the beginning of Mark’s gospel, every part of his introduction reminds us in different ways that Jesus Christ who died for sinners is our Saviour; and through him sinners like us are reconciled to God and we can look forward to coming into his presence in glory. Well, today we’re going on to think about verses 12 and 13 which come at the end of the introduction to Mark’s gospel. And in these verses we read about the Lord’s temptation in the wilderness.
The Beginning of the Conflict
And so we read in verse 12 that at once the Spirit sent him out into the desert.
The Lord has just been baptised, and anointed with the Spirit and declared to be God’s Son. But there’s no celebration afterwards; there’s no fancy dinner to commemorate this special occasion; there’s nothing like that, because instead he’s immediately sent out into the desert by the Holy Spirit. And the word Mark uses for ‘sent out’ can also be translated ‘driven out’ or ‘cast out’. So, though the Lord has gone out into the desert to be baptised with John, the Spirit now drives him deeper into the desert. And out there, in the desert, he’s confronted by Satan who tests and tempts him.
Interestingly, Mark doesn’t give any of the details about the temptation. You need to turn to Matthew and Luke to find out how the Devil tempted him to turn the stones into bread; and tempted him to throw himself from the roof of the temple to see whether the angels would save him; and tempted him to bow down and worship the Devil. Mark doesn’t give us any of the details. He simply tells us that the Spirit sent him out into the desert; and he was in the desert for 40 days, being tempted by Satan. However, Mark does add one little detail which the other gospels leave out, because Mark tells us that he was with the wild animals. This conveys to us how the desert was a hostile place, a place of danger and foreboding. However, the Lord was not entirely on his own, for his Father in heaven sent angels to minister to him and to help him.
So that’s today’s passage. After the Lord’s baptism, the Son of God was driven out into the desert where he remained for 40 days and where he was confronted by Satan and where he was in danger from wild animals, but where the angels ministered to him.
A Lifetime of Conflict
From time to time you might have seen a boxing fight on TV. You know, one of the fighters is the world champion; and the other one is the challenger, the contender, the one who wants to see whether he can beat the champion and take the title. And just before the fight begins, they meet in the centre of the ring and touch gloves. And then the bell sounds and the fight begins; and the two fighters approach one another and one of them takes a first jab at his opponent. They’ve started and the fight is underway. But perhaps there’s a long way to go before the fight is over, because this is only Round 1 of perhaps 10 or 12 rounds in total.
That’s perhaps one way of thinking about what we have here in today’s passage. Remember this is only the introduction to Mark’s gospel; and in these introductory verses — verses 1 to 13 — Mark is setting the scene for everything that will follow. And so, in this introduction, he tells us briefly about this first encounter between the Lord Jesus and Satan in order to say to us that this is Round 1 of a longer fight which will continue throughout the rest of the gospel. That’s why Mark doesn’t go into the details of the temptation the way Matthew and Luke do; he doesn’t need to go into the details, because all he’s doing is setting the scene and making clear to us that the Lord’s life on earth will be one continual fight and battle with the Devil. Throughout his life on earth, the Lord will have to withstand attacks from the Evil One. And just as the desert was a hostile place, filled with wild animals, so he’ll face many enemies and dangers and temptations and trials wherever he goes in the rest of his life.
And so, for a few minutes, let’s think about the rest of the gospel to see how it was one long continual fight.
Sometimes he was confronted in a very open way with demons and evil spirits. So, for instance, in verses 21 to 28 of chapter 1, we read how the Lord was in the synagogue in Capernaum, teaching the people. And the people were amazed at his teaching, because he spoke with authority, unlike the teachers of the law who normally preached in the synagogue every Sabbath Day. But just then a man who was possessed by an evil spirit interrupted the service and cried out:
What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!
Now, the Lord was able to deal with this demon very easily, because with a word he silenced the demon and commanded the evil spirit to leave the man alone. But there you have it: very early on, a confrontation with one of Satan’s demons.
And then, there was that other occasion, which we read about in chapter 5, when the Lord crossed the Sea of Galilee and came to the region of the Gerasenes. And immediately he was met by that man who was possessed by a legion of demons. And the poor man was demented because of these demons, and he used to cry out and cut himself among the tombs day and night because of these evil spirits in him. But again, the Lord was able to deal with this legion of demons easily, and he sent them out of the man and into the herd of pigs.
The Lord was able to deal with these demons and unclean spirits easily enough. However, the fight with Satan took other forms and very often the Devil attacked him by causing the people around him to confront him. For instance, he often had to put up with and to endure opposition from the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, all the religious leaders who were like wild animals because they kept attacking him with their questions and their complaints and their accusations. We see it in chapter 2 and in the story of the paralysed man whose friends lowered him down through a hole in the roof so that the Lord Jesus would see him. And do you remember? Instead of healing the man straightaway, the Lord pardoned him for all his sins. And we read how the teachers of the law who were there, thought to themselves:
Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming!
And later in the same chapter, they complained to his disciples because he was willing to eat with and associate himself with tax collectors and sinners. And then, in the same chapter again, they complained about him because they thought he was letting his disciples break the Sabbath Day. And in chapter 3, we read how they were watching him, the way a lion might watch a herd of deer; they were watching him, looking for a reason to accuse him. They were ready to pounce on him because they hated him.
But, of course, it wasn’t just the teachers of the law and the Pharisees who attacked him. In chapter 6 we read how the Lord was teaching in the synagogue one Sabbath Day in his hometown of Nazareth. And while many of the people were amazed at his teaching, others began to complain and to criticise him. They said:
Where did this man get these things? What’s this wisdom that has been given to him? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son?
And we read that they took offence at him. Instead of welcoming him, and believing in him, they turned on him.
So, the Lord faced demons and evil spirits; and he faced the teachers of the law and the Pharisees; and many of the people who heard him also took offence at him. And so, his life was one long, continuous battle. Satan was attacking him in different ways and wherever he went, it seemed as if wild animals were snarling at him and attacking him. But, of course, the fight was going to get worse, wasn’t it? And the Lord Jesus knew all about it. And so, in chapter 12, the Lord told a parable about a vineyard. A man had a vineyard and he rented it out to some farmers. At harvest time, he sent his servants to collect the rent, one after another. But the tenants beat some of the servants and killed the others. Finally, the landowner sent his beloved son. He said:
They’ll respect my son.
But when the tenants saw the son, they said:
Here’s the heir. Let’s kill him.
The Lord told this parable because it was about him: he’s the beloved Son, whom his Father sent into the world; but instead of respecting him, the world hated him. And so, throughout his ministry, the religious leaders opposed him and the people opposed him; Satan opposed him; and the fight got harder and harder until finally, in chapter 14, we read how the religious leaders began to plot together how they might kill him. And then Judas Iscariot, his disciple, agreed to betray him. And then the guards arrested him. And then the members of the Sanhedrin lied about him and falsely accused him. And then Pilate passed the death sentence on him. And then the soldiers took him and they beat him and whipped him and crucified him and laid his body in the tomb.
And so, it seemed that in the eleventh round, the Devil was able to knock him down with a blow that left him dead and buried. It seemed that near the end of this long continual battle, the Devil had won. It seemed Satan has triumphed over him.
But no, because very early on the first day of the week, the woman found the tomb empty. And an angel appeared to them and announced that the Lord Jesus who had died and was buried, had risen. The Devil may have thought he had won, and had destroyed the Lord Jesus, but in the end, in the end, the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, victorious over death and the grave, over sin and Satan; and he now rules over all things from his throne in heaven. And the Devil, who tried to destroy the Son of God, has been beaten.
And here’s the thing, from his throne in heaven, Jesus Christ, the Son of God — the one who has triumphed over death and the grave and over sin and Satan — Jesus Christ, the Son of God is extending his kingdom throughout the world, by setting men and women and boys and girls free from Satan’s tyranny and by bringing them into his own kingdom of grace. He sends out preachers to preach the good news; and through their preaching, he calls on people everywhere to believe in him. And whoever believes in him is added to his kingdom; and they receive from him the assurance of sins forgiven and the free gift of eternal life.
Back in chapter 1, the Lord Jesus was driven out into the desert to meet the Devil and to be tempted by him and to face the wild animals. That was Round 1 of one long continual battle with Satan and with all those who hated him on the earth. But in the end, in the end, Jesus Christ was victorious. And now he summons sinners everywhere to believe in him and to join him in his kingdom, which is an everlasting kingdom without end.
And so, I say to you, if you don’t already believe: Believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Believe in him, because whoever believes in him will have everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom.
Believe in him, because if you do not believe in him, then you will remain part of Satan’s dominion which is destined for destruction, because the Devil — who tried his best to destroy Jesus Christ — has himself been defeated; and he and all who belong to him will one day be condemned for ever. And so, believe in the Jesus Christ, the Son of God; and Jesus Christ, the Son of God will today rescue you from Satan’s dominion and will add you to his kingdom that will never end. So, believe in him and he will deliver you from the Devil’s dominion and give a you place in his own everlasting kingdom, where there will be peace and joy for ever and ever and where, for ever and ever, we’ll celebrate Jesus Christ, the Son of God’s victory.
But let me say something to those who already believe. And it’s this. While the Devil has been defeated, he has not yet been destroyed. And though he cannot attack the Lord Jesus who is now enthroned in heaven, he can still attack the Lord’s people who are here on earth. And he’s still able to stir up opposition against us from those who don’t believe. You face it in school and college where your unbelieving classmates pick on you for your faith or they mock you for what you do. You face it in the workplace, where your unbelieving colleagues criticise you or laugh at you or they’re scornful of you because of what you believe. Maybe some of you face it at home, because the members of your family don’t share your faith and they don’t understand why you believe. And very often, it seems to us that we’re surrounded by people who don’t believe what we believe and who are questioning us and criticising us and complaining about us.
And it’s hard, isn’t it? It’s hard. No one likes to be disliked. No one likes to be put upon like that. And more and more an unbelieving world will despise the Lord’s people and try to shame us for what we believe and for what we do.
But the good news is that the Lord does not leave us alone. When the Lord Jesus was in the desert, God the Father sent him angels to minister to him and to help him. And the writer to the Hebrews teaches us to believe that angels are ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation. So, whenever the fight is hard, we’re to remember and believe that the Lord is able to send us his angels to help us.
But as well as the angels, we’ve also got the Lord Jesus Christ on our side, don’t we? And since his life on earth was this one long continuous battle, then he knows all about what we’re going through. He knows what it’s like to suffer for righteousness’s sake. And so he knows what we’re going through when we suffer for righteousness’s sake. And he’s able to help us, because from his throne in heaven he’s now able to send out the Spirit who once sent him out; he’s able to send out his Spirit to help us and to strengthen us and to re-assure us and to encourage us to stand firm and not to give in. When everyone is against us, we know that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is with us, to help us by his Spirit. And so, we can look to him, our faithful Saviour, for the help we need to stand firm. And just as he was able to overcome the grave, so he’s able to help you to overcome whatever troubles and trials you may face in this world, while you wait for the Saviour to come again. And when he comes again, the battle will be over; the conflict will be through; and his people who trusted in him and who endured with him will enjoy perfect peace and rest for ever and ever in his everlasting kingdom.