This may sound surprising to you, but Satan is a Bible scholar! He knows the Scriptures so well that he can twist them a hundred different ways. he does it all the time -- not just in the secular world but in the Church as well. So How do we combat his false teaching? In this lesson from Mark 1:9-13, Stephen encourages us to fight fire with fire!
MARK - THE GOSPEL OF ACTION
“FIRST THINGS FIRST”
Jesus was about to embark on His public ministry and, before that began, four things had to take place. The first one you’ll find in verse 9, as we continue going through the Gospel of Mark, and that is, the point of separation. Mark, chapter 1, verse 9, “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.” Now, we looked, last time, at the baptism of John and now we find that Jesus Himself is submitting to that baptism. Why would Jesus Christ be baptized to reveal His repentance if He, indeed, had had no sin? Well, we need to dig a little deeper, for just a moment, and remember, as we discussed last Sunday, that this was a prophet of the Old Testament and this was what we would call proselyte baptism. It wasn’t a new believer’s baptism that we experience, once we give our trust and faith to Christ. It was the proselyte baptism. Whenever a Gentile would reject his paganism and turn to Judaism, he would be baptized by the prophet or the priest. Well, Jesus Christ here gets involved in, what we would call, the proselyte baptism. And we need to answer the question, “Why?” I’m want to give you three things. His baptism represented, first of all, a moment of declaration. A moment of announcement or declaration. Isaac asked his father, centuries before, “Father, here is the altar. Here is the wood. But, where is the sacrifice? Where is the lamb?” And John the Baptist would take that question, that had echoed down the centuries, and he would then announce to all of those who watched, “Look! Behold! This man coming toward me is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It was a moment of announcement.
You know, as I thought about John the Baptist and the opportunity he had to announce to the world, then and there, that the Lamb had come or was coming. You know, as I thought in my study, “Boy, I wish I could have said that myself.” Wouldn’t that have been fascinating and fantastic to be there on the verge of the New covenant and announce to the people that it’s coming? Then the Holy Spirit struck a chord in my heart and He said, “Don’t you understand, YOU have been given the opportunity, and so have YOU, to announce to the world that He did come.” So it was a moment of announcement.
Secondly, it was a moment of decision for Jesus Christ. At this point in time, would turn His back on His little home in Nazareth, the carpenter shop, and the work that He did and He would now, full time, enter that ministry. And He knew it headed to the cross.
Thirdly, it was a moment of identification. That is, when He was baptized, Jesus identified Himself with the believing remnant who were gathered around John the Baptist. And Jesus put His stamp of approval on John’s ministry and He said, “You are indeed following the truth.” And Jesus Christ identified Himself with that remnant. So there was the moment of separation.
Notice verse 10, there was the moment of anointing. “And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him”. This was the fulfillment of Isaiah, chapter 11, verse 2, “And the spirit of the Lord” - the prophet writes - “shall rest upon Him”. It’s fascinating that the Spirit would take the form of a dove, isn’t it? Why, here is the Messiah, the King, who has come to establish a kingdom. And yet, He chooses the symbol of peace and of love because He has come to establish this kingdom, not with the sword that remains in the sheaf, He’s come to establish it as a dying Savior, a heart filled with love for His subjects.
Notice, in verse 11, there is the moment of approval. “And there came a voice from heaven, saying, ‘Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’” This was also, it takes us back to Psalm, chapter 2, where God says, “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” - upon Him am I well pleased - “. . . Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” This is a fulfillment of that prophecy. You see, it’s fascinating, as I have studied the life of Christ, that nothing happened by coincidence. It seemed like every step that He took was a fulfillment of prophecy, was pre-ordained, and it was so. But He was not unlike every man or woman today, every step that you take is ordained by God. He is at the helm, if you will yield to Him. He is in total control, if you will give Him the control. And so, Jesus Christ comes up out of the water, has the Spirit descend, and then comes a voice from heaven. We know, from another gospel, that they didn’t understand the voice. They just heard, what they thought was, thunder. But yet, Jesus heard, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” It was a moment of approval. That is, that God the Father put His stamp of approval on this person as being divine and being who He claimed to be, that was, the Messiah.
You know, I’ve given you two ways that we can, as well, find approval with God. II Timothy, chapter 2, verse 15, by study, “Study to show thyself approved unto God”. You know what you and I always do? We are always, constantly praying, “God, I want your blessing. I want to feel your presence.” But how often do we kneel and say, “Oh God, I want your approval. I want to live my life in such a way that you can put your stamp of approval on it.”? I think we should turn our heads away from the blessings that we seek and instead, like the old puritans, seek the approval of a Holy God. II Corinthians, chapter 7, verse 11, says that we can be approved by purity, “In all things ye have approved yourselves to be” - pure.
Now, we move into the temptation, where I want to spend the majority of our time this morning. That’s why I’ve hurried through these other three verses. You need to turn to Matthew, chapter 4, because that’s a detailed account of the temptation of Jesus Christ. Matthew, chapter 4, is where we’ll look, verses 1 to 11. And I’ve divided, for your benefit in your notes, the temptations. The first temptation is found in chapter 4, verses 3 to 4. Let’s start, though, with verse 1, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit” - this was the “then” after the baptism - “into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward” - hungry - “And when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If thou be the Son of God,’” - you ought to circle the word, “if” - “‘command that these stones be made bread.’ But He answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’’” This is an appeal to the physical appetite of Jesus. You understand that He has just fasted for forty days. He’s been out there alone in the wilderness. You’d think that after His approval, after His anointing, after His baptism, after all of these things, God would then open the door to the ministry. And that didn’t happen. Following that came forty days of testing. You know what you and I think, “Well Lord, I’ve been anointed and filled with the Holy Spirit. I’ve received the approval. I’m living life on a limb. Now open the door to ministry, let me walk right through it.” And He says, “No, I’ve got a season of testing for you. I’ve got a season of difficulty for you.” Strange, is it not? And yet, Jesus Christ faced the very things that we face and vice versa.
Now, I had you circle the word “if” because it seems that Satan comes to the Lord and says, “If” - indeed, you could insert the word “indeed” - “If” - indeed - “thou be the Son of God”. You see, Satan has just overheard the declaration by God the Father, “Thou art My beloved Son”. Satan comes right in with an attack, “If indeed you are the Son, what are you doing out here hungry? The Son of God, hungry? Ridiculous! If you really are the Son of God, then I want you to turn these stones into bread. Take care of your natural desire. Take care of you hunger. Why, would God stand in the way of fulfilling what you need?” The primary thrust of Satan’s attack here, and I’ve given you, is Jesus Christ’s loyalty to the will of God. Let’s jump just a little deeper. When Jesus Christ left heaven, we often think that He left all of the splendor. And that’s right. We think that He left the very presence of God. And, in a sense, that’s right. We think that He left the royal position of heaven’s court. And that’s right. But you need to understand, as well, that Jesus Christ also voluntarily gave up His right to independently use His divine attributes. That’s a mouthful. He voluntarily gave up the independent use of His divine attributes. So, you see, He came to earth to live like man, although He was God. And listen, He could have snapped His finger and a seven course meal, instantly, would come into existence. He could snap His finger again and an oasis be created in the wilderness with a nice palm tree and a cool breeze. And, He could have clapped His hands and servants would have been created to serve Him. Snapped His fingers and a plush couch to recline on as He ate. He could have done all of that. It would have been wrong for Him though, because He would have worked independently of the will of the Father. He would have used His attribute when it wasn’t God the Father’s will. And it would have been just as wrong for Him to use His attribute to turn stone into bread as it would to create a pleasant world to sup. You see, Jesus Christ, and this is the thrust of this temptation, Jesus Christ was totally committed to the will of God the Father. If God the Father did not give Him bread, He would not snap His fingers and create bread. And I’m so glad because, listen ladies and gentlemen, you and I, as you well know, do not have the ability to satisfy our desires and our needs by snapping our fingers. He faced that like we face it.
In fact, notice His answer, “But He answered and said, ‘It is written,’” - then circle the word “Man.” “You come to me as if I’m the Son of God, and I am, but listen, I’m meeting you head on as a man.” “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” There are three things here that jump off the page to me. The first is His statement, “It is written”. “It is written”. You know, most of us would have problems finding the book of Deuteronomy, but Jesus Christ knew what was written so well, that in all three temptations, He quotes something from that ancient, dusty book that we rarely even look into. I think it’s somewhere back here. “It is written,” on that He hung His defense. And I’m so glad because, you know what, when you face the tempter and I face him, guess what our resource is? “It is written,” this book. He faced him like a man and He defeated him the same way that you and I can defeat him, through the word.
The second thing that, kind of, jumps off the page is the word “man,” that I’ve already mentioned. You can jot that into your notes, the word “man.” That is, He faced him, not as the Son of God, that wouldn’t have helped us any, would it? He faced him as man.
Thirdly, it draws my attention to the highest purpose. He says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” “Listen Satan,” it’s as if He says, “the highest purpose for Me, on earth, and all of those who will one day follow Me, is not to satisfy my earthly desire, is not to satisfy a need that I think I may have.” The highest purpose in my life and in your life and in the life of Jesus Christ is to follow the will of God. Every word that proceeds out of His mouth, THIS, my highest purpose is to follow this book. Not to satisfy my cravings. And we live in a world that has gone mad in trying to satisfy the cravings of sensuality, of the physical appetite, whether it’s what we eat or what we wear or what we drive or whatever. It so involved and Jesus Christ simply ripped off the mask and said, “My highest purpose, if I wanted to eat I could snap my finger but that isn’t it. It’s to follow the will of my Father.”
Notice the second temptation. Verses 5 to 7, “Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, ‘If thou be the Son of God,’” - you ought to circle or underline the word “God,” this time seems to be the emphasis there - “cast thyself down; for it is written, ‘He shall give His angels charge concerning thee; and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.’” Satan says, “Okay, you want to draw out the sword of the Spirit, I know a few verses of scripture myself. It’s written, as well, that if you jump off here, He’ll give His angels charge over thee. You see, I know the book too.” And he quoted from Psalms, one of the Psalms. But now, the appeal here, unlike the first one, is to personal gain. You see, Jesus Christ had just declared that His trust and His confidence was in the will of the Father. Satan comes along and He says, “Okay, you have trust in Him, why don’t you just prove that He can handle your trust? Why don’t you just put your Father to the test? Why don’t you just show me, and show the world, that what you’re trusting in is a real and living God? How do I know? Are you really sure?” It was Jesus Christ’s confidence in God the Father that was attacked. In Psalm, chapter 91, verses 11 and 12, is the quote, “to keep thee in all thy ways”. That’s the phrase that Satan leaves out. Satan says, notice it again, verse 6, “He shall give his angels charge concerning thee; and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” He left out a phrase. He took the text but he twisted the text to make his point. The text, literally reads, “He shall give his angels charge over thee, . . . in all thy ways.” You see, a righteous man, in his righteous ways, can claim trust in the Father. If you keep your ways righteous, God will keep His promise. It isn’t that, “God will take care of me and, hey, if I want to jump off a cliff, go ahead. If I want to stand in the way of a locomotive, go ahead and stand there. If I want to do something foolish, if I want to throw away my funds, that God gives me, and then I say, ‘Okay, Lord, you pay the bills.’” That isn’t it. He will keep a righteous man in his righteous ways. But Satan twisted the text, he said, “Why don’t you just put God to the test?” You know something, ladies and gentlemen, it is the individual, who does not trust someone, who will put that person to the test to see if he’ll pan out. It is the person, who is unsure of another individual, that will make some experiment to try to reveal if they can be trusted.
So, what was Jesus Christ’s response? Look, “It is written again, ‘Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.’” “Don’t put God to the test. And my confidence in Him is so great, I don’t have to experiment. I don’t have to manufacture some test. I don’t have to jump off the cliff. I know He’s there. I don’t need to prove it.” You see, that’s confidence. It is the man with confidence who doesn’t need to experiment with God. It is the man with confidence in God who doesn’t need to wonder if He’s there. The man with confidence knows, He is there.
But, there is something else I need to uncover. We cannot, exactly, be sure but, during the time of Christ, there was a Rabbinical tradition. The tradition said, note this is not scripture but you remember the tradition that we talked about last Sunday. The tradition said that when the Messiah revealed himself, He would stand at the top of the temple. Do you remember that?
Now, let’s go to the third temptation and notice something. Let’s go back to verse 6, “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down”. You notice verse 5, He’s at the top, or the pinnacle, of the temple. It’s fascinating that Satan knew the Rabbinical tradition. The Rabbis were expecting a Messiah. “When the Messiah comes,” they said, “He will be at the top of the holy temple to declare His kingdom promise.” So Satan takes Him right up to the very pinnacle. The word “pinnacle,” could be translated “wing.” It was the outer wing around the top of the spire. And people could go up there and walk around. It wasn’t like the Lord was standing on the edge of a windowsill or something way up there. He was on an actual level area where people could stand and walk. The fascinating thing is that it’s possible, and likely, that below Him, in the courts of the temple, people were worshipping, people were sacrificing, people were doing what the law commanded under the old covenant. They were doing all of that and Jesus Christ had come to reveal His kingdom, right? He’d come to say, “If you’ll follow Me, I’ll set up My kingdom.” And so, Satan says, “Look, if you’ll just jump off, the angels will come along and bear You up and they’ll lower You right into the midst of the worshippers. And they will declare You king. There will be no doubt. You’ll have the crown. They will not question that You are Messiah. Why, they’ll see You coming down! Man, can you believe that spectacle? The moment Your feet hit ground, they’ll robe You.” Tempting, perhaps. And yet, Jesus Christ said, “Oh, listen, I have complete trust and confidence in My Father that the way that He has designed for Me is the best. I don’t need to put Him to the test. I don’t need to experiment with Him, I’m confident of Him.”
Now, notice the third temptation in verse 8. “Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, ‘All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.’ Then saith Jesus unto him, ‘Get thee hence, Satan; for it is written, ‘Thou shalt worship the lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.’’” This is an appeal to His personal glory. You see the first test was an appeal to His physical appetite. Did He really believe that He was the Son of God? Then, if He would exercise His attribute independently of the will of the Father. The second one, if you really believe that He exists, why don’t you put Him to the test? And He overcame. Now, the final one is, “Lord, just how confident are you about your mission on earth? You’re confident about your place as the Son. You’re confident that the Lord, your Father, exists in heaven. How confident are you in your mission on earth?” This is probably the most difficult of all the tests that He faced. Now, you notice, when Satan attacked Him, he says he shows him, in verse 8, all of the kingdoms of the world and he says, “All of these things will I give thee.” We don’t know how he did it. I don’t know what multimedia presentation Satan gave to Jesus Christ. Somehow, in some unusual way, Satan brought, before the conscious mind of Jesus Christ, all of the kingdoms of the world; not just Judea, not just Jerusalem, not just that which He could see from the high mountain, but all the kingdoms, the unknown kingdoms, and all their splendor. China, across the seas, all of those kingdoms and all of their glory were passed, in one instant, before the eyes of Jesus Christ. And Satan claimed that he could give them to the Lord. And you notice that Jesus does not rebuke him. I would think that the Lord would say, “Hey, wait a second, they don’t belong to you, they belong to God the Father.” But He never does. Why? In fact, Christ will say, at a later point, that Satan is the prince of the world.
I want you to stop for just a moment, ladies and gentlemen, and understand the implication of that. Satan was largely responsible for the growth, for the success, for what was being done in the kingdoms of all of the world. It is no different today. As one commentator wrote, “All of the kingdoms of the world still are asleep in the arms of the wicked one.” That has some implications for our little kingdom, here is America, doesn’t it? Who’s in control? Ultimately the sovereign God but He has given but He has given a certain right to Satan until He comes back to manage the affairs of this world system and He is doing a marvelous job. He promises them to Jesus Christ, if he would only bow. I can imagine that Satan’s at the edge. He’s at the edge ever since he was kicked out of heaven, his main desire has been to receive worship, to receive worship, to receive glory. And now, he says, “Look, if you’ll just kneel for a second, just for a moment, I’ll give them to you.”
But notice Jesus Christ’s response, verse 10, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” You ought to underline the word “worship,” and draw a line to the word “serve.” Because Jesus Christ just took away the facade and said, “Wait a second, whom I worship, I ultimately serve.” Do you know something, ladies and gentlemen, that which you worship is that which you serve. Jesus Christ could not have kneeled for a split second and paid homage to Satan without ultimately having to serve him because whom you worship, you serve. There is a relationship between the two. I think the thrust of this temptation was that Jesus Christ could have the crown without the cross. “Listen, Jesus, if you will bow to me, I will give you all the kingdoms of the world. Have you not come to establish your kingdom? Have you not come to establish that kingdom which they have awaited for so long? If you bow, you can avoid the cross, you can avoid the suffering and the pain, you can have the crown now.” And Jesus turned him down and said, “Get gone.” - “Get thee hence.” - “Go. Get away.” - “It is written, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.’”
I want to take another look at these temptations. The first one, if we could put these in contemporary language. If you have notes, it would be the next page. Because I want to apply this tremendously powerful passage of scripture. The first temptation could read, “Go ahead, you deserve it.” You see, this was commitment to God’s will. And the need was there, the physical need of hunger. You know, the tempter is telling you and me, “Look, if you have a need, go ahead, fill it.” Why just think, Jesus Christ had the power to turn stones into bread and He had the hunger and it was a legitimate need. Why question it? Because God the Father hadn’t provided it. You know the temptation is, for you and for me, to fill all of our desires and leave God totally out of it. The tragedy is that so many times your needs can become your greeds and we have no way of checking and balancing the difference between my need and my greed. The check and balance is to go to the Father, “Lord, do you want me to have it? Is this what YOU would be pleased with?” The tempter says, “Go ahead, you deserve it.”
The second temptation was confidence of Christ in the care of the Father. “Do you really believe He exists? Well, if you do, you need an experience to prove it.” “Do you believe God exists?” “Oh, I do. You won’t believe all the wonderful things that are happening to me.” “Do you believe that the Father really cares for you?” “Oh, yes. My health is better than it’s ever been.” But what happens when your health is gone? What happens when difficulty strikes? What happens when it knocks at your door? Do you believe He exists? Do you live as though He did? Or is your first cry, “Lord, I need you to prove that you’re really up there, that you really care.” I think this is the temptation that most of us fall concerning, we believe He’s there when everything is so good. And when everything turns sour, we say, “He must not be alive. He must not care.”
The third temptation was commitment to the mission of Christ. It was to avoid the cross and get the crown. “Reach your goal the easy way. You know why you’ve come, Lord. You know why you’re here. Circumvent all of that. Get all around all the difficulty and the temptation and get right to the crown.” And Jesus Christ said, “No. The Father’s plan is that I go through three years of difficulty and suffering.” You know what the greatest commitment is in our lives? It is the commitment to be like Jesus Christ. “And I’ll be like Him. Oh, yes, I’ll follow that way, just as long as it avoids hardship. I’ll be like Christ, if it’s convenient.” Martin Luther, the great reformer, said that there are three great teachers in our lives: prayer, meditation, and temptation. Oh, we’d rewrite that: prayer, meditation, and blessing. Now, just admit it for a moment. You know, one of the greatest teachers, in your life, is the difficult time, is it not? When things are sour, when things are rough, that’s when you learn to trust. Don’t avoid that. You want to become like Christ, march through it. Be committed to the mission that He has given you to become like Christ.
Our response to Jesus Christ’s temptations, three words, in closing. Resist and appeal to scripture. Resist and appeal to this book. Maybe we ought to go back to Deuteronomy and at least find out where it is. Maybe I need to reacquaint myself with the words of scripture. Because when Satan comes to me, the last thing I’m thinking about is a verse of scripture. This is the answer. Resist and appeal to scripture.
Number two, remember Christ experienced a conflict. And I love this. We have a high priest who is touched with the feelings of our infirmities. When you are going through what you are going through, maybe today. When Jesus Christ is conforming you and breaking you and molding you, He’s gone through it, He’s experienced it, He knows the feelings that you experience today. So, remember that Christ experienced conflict.
And then finally, rejoice, victory is available! Rejoice, victory is available! I Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 13, says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” In the life of Christ now, let’s get real practical. We’re looking for an escape hatch. We think that, if the temptation comes and God has promised an escape, maybe it means that He’ll just snap it away if I pray and He’ll let me run. What was the escape that Jesus Christ experienced? It was knowing the word and it was obeying the word. And you have the same resource today. You want to escape temptation? Are you in the throws of difficulty? Whatever it might be, the solution, the escape is in knowing the word and doing the word. Maybe, hiding it in our hearts and when temptation comes, practicing the word.