Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In The Wilderness - Mark 1:12-13

"And immediately the Spirit impelled Him
to go out into the wilderness.
And He was in the wilderness forty days,
being tempted by Satan;
and He was with the wild beasts,
and the angels were ministering to Him."
(Mark 1:12-13)

The temptation of Jesus is a very well known New Testament story. It's recorded in all of the gospel accounts except for the book of John. Both Matthew and Luke give much more detailed descriptions than does our friend Mark. The latter succeeds in summing up the whole experience in only two verses and gives a solid cliff note of Christ's "crisis". Two verses covering 40 days!

Now, with that said, I must admit that everything in me wants to run to those other gospel accounts and share with you the lessons I've learned in times past from the "extended-play" versions. Matthew and Luke's renderings are truly deep mines containing many precious jewels. They are rich with insight into the schemes of Satan. They are full to over-flowing with pictures of the three-fold Achiles' heel that dwells in all of our hearts (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life). And they abound with examples of how to properly defend ourselves with the sword of the Spirit against those wicked and dastardly devilish schemes. Oh, how I want to go there! But I have made a promise to myself that I am going to stick like glue to Mark and focus on what he deems necessary for the moment.

So, what does Mr. Mark have to teach us this day? Well, I have personally learned 4 things from these 2 verses.

First, Mark teaches us that suffering and struggle and temptation and wilderness experiences are not necessarily a sign of God's displeasure with us. Clearly the details of this account tell us that trial and tribulation come to those whom the Father loves and lauds as well as to those who are in stubborn rebellion against Him. Affliction, temptation and tearful testings are not only for those who are justly under His holy wrath and righteous displeasure - they are often meted out as refining fire to those whom He highly esteems!

Think about it, this is the wilderness temptation of Jesus! It is Jesus, folks! The same Jesus who has just been publicly declared to be the much loved Son of God. He has just been lifted up as the One in whom the Father is well pleased. He has, only moments before, received a glowing recommendation and the apex of accolades. Yet IMMEDIATELY after these wonderful words - these true words - the precious words - Jesus is being led by the Spirit into the wilderness where He spends 40 days in that desolate place being terribly tempted by the devil.

Friends, there is much here to encourage us and to sober us in our journey through this fallen post-Eden desert. Being deeply loved by God gives us no exemption from the wilderness!! Christian, be encouraged that - no matter what you are facing - God loves you! Be sobered that He loves you enough to test, try, and sanctify you through the fire of affliction. Wisely, He will not leave us as we are and mercifully He will, through the wilderness, make us what we should be! Trials come even to those whom He is well-pleased with. Jesus Himself reminds us that "In the world you will have trouble, but take courage; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Are you facing a wilderness? Take comfort and find courage my fellow Christians for you are in the company of Christ. Truly, we have a High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses for He has been tempted in all things as we are. (Hebrews 4:15) Truly, because He has walked the wilderness road before us He now earnestly pleads with us to "draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)

Secondly, Mark infers that God has a hand in the trials that come our way. Notice that it is the very Spirit of God who leads the Son of God into this wilderness. It is ultimately not Satan who devised this plan and this place. No, it was God. And God was leading, guiding, and directing Jesus into this trying place. Just as it was with Jesus here in Mark 1, so it was with Joseph (Genesis 45:5-8), so it was with Job (Job 1:7-8), and so it is with us. Surely "our times", all our times, "are in His hand" (Psalm 31:15).

I don't know about you, but I find a lot of hope in that. There is nothing that comes my way - no good thing, no bad thing, no pleasant thing, no painful thing - NO thing that has not ultimately come to me through the all-wise, all-loving, and all-sovereign hand of God. The path I follow - be it stony or smooth, be it beaming with light or shadowed in darkness - that path is carved for me by my God "in perfect faithfulness" (Isaiah 25:1) and shall accomplish His good pleasure in me in His perfect way and on His perfect day (Romans 8:28). The temptation of Christ was a good thing. It was a good thing because He who was tempted in all things as we are did so "without sin" (again see Hebrews 4:15) and that made Jesus an acceptable Savior - a Lamb without blemish or spot - a sinless Sacrifice on our behalf. May we thank God for the temptation of Christ and may we flee to this victorious Warrior in our own temptations!! That leads me to lesson three.

Third, Mark teaches us that there are real enemies who would seek to undo us. The passage says, "And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts." The passage speaks of two different enemies - the spiritual and the physical. Clearly we all can name countless tangible "wild beasts" who have tempted us to sin -even friends and family (not to mention our own flesh) can act as "wild beasts" from time to time. I don't want to spend my time on the "seen" enemies this morning - bottom line, we need to avoid those people and those places that tempt us (1 Corinthians 15:33, Mark 9:43-48) and we need to avoid them like the plague!! I d0, however, want to pause for a moment on the "unseen".

Paul clearly tell us that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). The Word declares that we have real, true, and horrific unseen spiritual enemies. The devil is no dead dumb dogma - he is a real and active adversary.

It is he who came to Adam and Eve in the Garden and tempted them to doubt the Word of God and instead trust his own deceptive whispers (Genesis 3). It is he who sought to destroy righteous Job (Job 1 & 2). It is he who sought to accuse Joshua the high priest (Zechariah 3). And it is he who sought to mess up the Messiah (Matthew 4, Mark 1).

This same Satan seeks to devour us. He often disguises himself as an "angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14) and sneakily looks for ways to snatch up the seeds sown upon the paths of our lives (Luke 8:12). Know that he is and that he "prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Know that he is and that he is a prowling liar - "he is the father of lies" (John 8:44). Know that he is and that he is a prowling, lying thief - "the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy" (John 10:10). Know that he is and know that he is looking for opportunities to trip you up. "Do not give the devil an opportunity"  (Ephesians 4:27). Know that he is and "put on the full armor of God that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil" (Ephesians 6:11). Know that he is and know that if, by grace, you "resist him, he will flee" (James 4:7). All of this brings me to the fourth and final thing that Mark teaches us.

Fourthly, Mark teaches us that while we have a real enemy, we also have a real Ally. "And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were minstering to Him."

While Jesus was battling in the wilderness He was not alone in the battle - angels were ministering to Him. Friends, we are not alone in the battle either - and we have One much more capable and competent than just the angels fighting with us and interceding for us! We have Jesus!! We. Have. JESUS!!

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who wil bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intecedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written. "For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loves us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:31-39)
Friends, the devil is real and the devil really comes to steal, kill and destroy us BUT Jesus is even more real and He has come to save us and give us life and deliver us from the snares of the wicked one.

Jesus has withstood the devil's temptations and in Jesus we can too! We must "be on the alert and stand firm in the faith" (1 Cor 16:13). As I recently heard Reed DePace proclaim from his pulpit in Montgomery, Alabama - the ONLY way we will stand firm is to stand behind Jesus!!

Beloved, Mark teaches us that even the dearly loved children of God will face trials and testings - testings ordained by the very Spirit of God. He tells us that there is a real enemy - but He also directs our gaze to the great Ally - "Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

Where are we standing this day? May we stand behind Jesus, hidden in the veil of His blood and kept safe and sound in the cross of Christ which has successfully crushed the head of Satan and has secured the salvation of our sinful souls!

Standing, by grace alone,

"For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as w are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of mercy, that we may find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:15-16)

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