Now let's turn again to Mark chapter 1, and we'll read verses 12 and 13 again: "And immediately" - and we saw, didn't we, how important that word 'immediately', or 'right away', or 'straight away' is in Mark's Gospel. "Immediately the spirit driveth him", the Lord Jesus, "into the wilderness", or the desert. "And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted", or tested, "of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him".
Let's pray: Father, we thank you for Paul's children's talk, and we take a moment even to remember some of the children in the Fellowship who will be doing the 11+ again this week. But we pray for us all Lord, for we have tests every day of our lives, and so often we feel that we fail You miserably. Lord, as we come to focus upon Your only begotten Son, we pray that we will fix our eyes, fasten our eyes on Him, on His conflict with the devil, and His victory, and that we will be enabled by Your grace to have enough faith to believe in Him for our own present victory. Help us now we pray, and may Your Spirit be abundant upon us now, in the Saviour's name, Amen.
I've entitled the message this morning 'The Servant's Test'. Of course, we saw in our introductory message several weeks ago, months ago now, that this is the Gospel that chiefly takes up the theme of the Lord Jesus as the Servant of the Lord, the suffering Servant. Now there's so much, believe it or not, in these two verses on the temptation of the Saviour in Mark's Gospel, that I'm going to span this particular study over two weeks. So this is 'The Servant's Test - Part 1'. Matthew and Luke's Gospel are much more comprehensive in their account regarding the temptation of the Lord Jesus, but we must resist the temptation to expound their accounts rather than Mark's account. We will look specifically at Mark's account, and why it is the way it is.
I've taught you from the beginning of our studies that Mark has a specific purpose in how he lays out the life of the Lord Jesus, not least in his account of the temptation. There is a purpose in the brevity of his account. Matthew takes several verses and goes into great detail, deals specifically with each temptation as the devil sent them to the Lord Jesus - and yet here we have an account of the temptation that's only in two verses, but there is a reason for that. Mark has an emphasis, there is a point that he is wanting to make, and if we delve into Matthew and Luke to embellish Mark's seemingly short account, we will miss the point entirely of why he records it the way he does. So right away I want you to know that I'm going to pay no attention this morning to Matthew's account or Luke's account, and though they deal with the specific temptations, Matthew in particular, I'll not be looking at that this morning. I want us to get Mark's purpose, Mark's perspective, in how he gives us the temptation of the Lord Jesus.
His point is simply the theme of this Gospel. He wants us to see the Lord Jesus as the Servant of the Lord, and he wants us to realise - remembering that Mark's Gospel was given to the early Christians - that all of us are servants of the Lord as well and, if we are to be servants of the Lord, temptation will be a permanent feature of our lives. That's not all he wants us to see: he wants us to see that Christ overcame the temper, and because of that we, as the subsequent servants of the Lord after Him, can know victory through Christ.
Now let's remind ourselves of the context of where we find these two verses. We've read it again this morning, John the Baptist - who, remember, was Isaiah's prophesied forerunner of Messiah - has prepared the way of the Lord, and declared that Jesus of Nazareth is God's Messenger. We have also seen that the Spirit confirms this by descending upon the Lord Jesus at His baptism like a dove, then the heavens cleft and are torn apart, and we hear the voice of the Father declaring: 'This is my beloved Son in whom is all My delight'. Now context is extremely important for us to get the point of what Mark is saying - indeed, it's important in any book or portion of the Bible. But here is his point: all of these verses up to now have been commendations of the Lord Jesus Christ as God's Messiah. They have been authentications of Christ's identity. But now he comes in verses 12 and 13, and here is his point: all that makes no difference, who Christ is, who John says He is, who Isaiah says He is, who the Holy Spirit says He is, who the Father says He is - He still must suffer temptation, He still must suffer trial and pain and tribulation to do God's will.
Let me tease it out a wee bit for you, so that you really understand where I'm coming from. Though He has been clearly declared to be God's Son, though He is being declared here as the King who is bringing His kingdom, in a sense, in the wilderness, after this identification of Him, He is not permitted to go back into Jerusalem and live the life of a King, and live the life of the Messiah as the Jews expected it - God doesn't allow Him to go back and set up an earthly kingdom, He must stay in the wilderness! In spite of who He is, He must be in the desert, He must be tempted of the devil, and of course Mark's great theme is that He must go to the cross. In other words, He must do God's will in God's way, and God's way was the way of suffering not the way of force.
So what is the lesson for all of us today as servants of the Lord? It is simply this: there is no such a thing as an un-tempted servant of God. The testing of the Servant of the Lord in Mark 1 should convince us of that fact. Indeed, it is true that the greater service, and the more we accomplish for the Lord, the greater will be our suffering, our testing and temptation. One of the greatest temptations - and I'll deal with this, perhaps, next week - is not so much the temptation to immorality, but the temptation to try and do God's will in another way other than His way: the temptation to choose an easier path. That, in essence, is what this temptation of Christ was - but we'll look at that next week.
But what can we learn from these two verses in the time that we have this morning? There are three things that I want us to learn. Next week, in the will of the Lord, we'll look at the fact that the servant's testing can be an agonising experience: He was 40 days tempted of Satan with wild beasts in the wilderness. Then we'll look, God willing, at how the servant's temptation is lonely: He was in the desert, He was alone, the wild beasts surrounded Him - and yet there was divine aid, the angels ministered unto Him. But we'll leave that to next week - the first thing I want you to note this week from the Servant's test is that the Servant's temptation was immediately after a spiritual high. It came right after a spiritual peak or zenith in the life of the Lord Jesus, and it's the same in our experience as well. It came after His baptism, and we learnt - if you can remember it - that His baptism was the public identification with salvation, the Saviour saying: 'As I'm going down under the water, I also have a baptism to be baptised with on the cross. I'm identifying with you as sinners, because in a little while, 3-and-a-half years, I'm going to identify with your sin on the cross and take it as if it's mine'. It was His consecration to that great work of saviour-ship as Messiah, but it was also recognition of the Father: 'This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased'. It was also preparation and unction of the Spirit, the Spirit was strengthening Him as a man to accomplish the task which God had set Him.
Now note, look at the words of the Bible in verse 12: 'And immediately' - immediately He was baptised, at once He was driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to the temptation. Now one scholar has said this, and I think it is very apt: 'This statement, 'and immediately', is less temporal and more theological' - less temporal and more theological, what does that mean? He's not wanting us to grasp the time of it in the sense of how quickly it happened, but he wants us to grasp the theological truth of the chronology of His temptation. In other words, it was after this spiritual peak that He was driven into temptation. Here is a truth that we must get if we're ever going to survive temptation: the servant's temptation often is immediately after a spiritual high. There was no interval between the glory of His baptism and the hardship of His temptation, and incidentally if we were to turn to Mark chapter 9 we would find out that the same is the case in His transfiguration: 'And as they were coming down', having seen the glory of the Lord Jesus revealed to them, 'he charged them to tell no-one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean'. So, whilst we see a glimpse of His glory in transfiguration, the Lord was still labouring this point: 'Look, it's not all about the glory just now, but I've got to go to the cross, and I've got to die and rise again'. It's the same in His baptism, it's not all glory, and identification, and clarification from God: this Servant must suffer.
Though He was a King, He is God's suffering Servant, this is God's path for Him - and can I say: this is God's path for us. In a moment the Holy Spirit carried Him from light to darkness. In a moment He went from knowing the Father's smile to Satan's wile. It was as if, in an instant, after the heavens being opened, that all hell was opened upon Him. Does that tell us anything? Of course it does: it tells us that the experience of all of God's servant's ought to be the same, and is the same. I wonder are you going through this? You've heard the expression: 'I feel in my life that I take one step forward and two back. I have a mountaintop experience, but the valley is just round the corner'. We experience this, we get a blessing and it's not too long, in fact probably the next moment, when we get a discouragement or a curse even. This is outlined for us, this is the experience of God's Servant, the Messiah - but it will be ours as well: we are often tested immediately after a spiritual highpoint. Elijah found it in the valley after his great victory on Mount Carmel.
There is a spiritual principle in this that I want you to grasp, because it's so important and vital if you're ever going to overcome temptation and face it the way the Saviour did. I think, in measure, it's outlined in Luke 12, where the Lord Jesus said after telling a parable: 'Everyone to whom much was given, of him will much be required; and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more'. What is this principle? Now listen carefully: the more spiritual you become, the more testing you will experience - did you hear that? The more Christ-like the Holy Spirit will conform you to, the more you will know excruciating temptation. Now I think, by saying that - I hope you've grasped it - I have uncovered how, at times, as Christians, we have a wrong perspective relating to temptation. Perhaps with some of us we have this in our heads, that the more spiritual we become the stronger we are to face and to overcome temptation. In a measure that is true, but we often equate that with: 'Well then, that means you'll have less temptations, or your temptations will be less strong' - that is wrong! The holier you are, the more temptation you will face!
Now the test of whether you have this incorrect perspective or not, could be an answer to this question: how do you view God's servants who fall into sin? How do you view them? Are you scathing? Do you castigate them? Do you gossip about them? But suddenly, when you realise that those who perhaps are in the frontline of the battle - and I know that that's maybe not a good term, for we're all in the battle - but when we realise that those who are more holy, and do more for the Lord, face the devil's hordes in a more intense way, should we not have a little bit of sympathy? A little bit of grace? A little bit of compassion? Think about it: this was the greatest temptation ever, I believe that, and yet it was immediately following the greatest event ever - up to now at least - in the life of the Lord Jesus. The greater the event, meant the greater was the temptation.
Have you learnt that lesson: that the Servant's temptation was immediately after a spiritual high, and so it will be in your life. Whenever folk get baptised here in the church, and we have baptismal classes, I often warn them that Satan will go up a gear or two after their baptism. I have found that in my own experience, because you're identifying - it's a highlight, spiritually, in your life. I remember a young man, and his car was his pride and joy, and I remember in the kitchen in the old building I was warning the folk that were getting baptised before the event: 'Now, be careful, Satan will come in with temptation, and try you and test you'. I can't even remember the car, but it was a slick one - and right after the baptism, somebody he noticed going out had taken a key or a coin and gone right up the side of the car and scraped it all. Friends: do we realise this, even in countries where there's great persecution towards Christians, it's not when they profess faith with their mouth that they start to get persecuted, it's when they get baptised. It is tantamount, in some nations, to suicide in the sense that you're sealing your death warrant when you get baptised, because it's a public identification with Christ and the devil hates it.
Now you might be sitting there thinking: 'Well, why does it have to be like that?'. I mean, I would love it in my Christian life if I could stay on the mountaintop all the time, and there was no valley at the other side, if it was just going up and up and up and up, until we got to glory - that's not the way it is. It wasn't the way it was for the Lord Jesus in His trial, it's not the way it will be for us - but why? Are you thinking - you should be - why does it have to be like that? Well here is the second thing I want you to learn about the Servant's test that will help us in that regard: the Servant's temptation was arranged by the Spirit. The Lord Jesus' temptation was arranged by the Holy Spirit. Now both Matthew and Luke indicate that the Lord went into the wilderness under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but Mark is unique in his use of this strange word in the Authorised: 'driveth him into the wilderness' - and that really gives the sense. He was driven into the desert by the Spirit.
Incidentally, if you look down at verse 34 of chapter 1, this word is used of the Lord Jesus expelling demons and devils from folk. It is used again in the same context in verse 39, verse 43 - expelling demons! But here it is used of the Holy Spirit as expelling Christ into the wilderness! In Matthew 21 verse 12 it's used of the Lord Jesus driving and casting out the traders from the temple. Now that's the sense of the word in Greek, it has the idea of an external force against an unwilling object. Now whilst that is the sense right throughout the New Testament, that is not the whole sense here in relation to our Lord Jesus. There is the aspect of an external force, that is the Holy Spirit, but the connotation here is that the Spirit compelled the Lord Jesus forcefully and He was obedient. But I want you to grasp this aspect of how the Spirit compelled Him, not against His will, but nevertheless the Spirit drove Him to that place of testing.
What is the significance of it? Well, we'll see, hopefully, in a bit more detail next week in James 1 that the Bible is clear that God tempts no one. God cannot be tempted with evil, and He doesn't tempt anyone else with evil. Yet although that is the truth, God by His Holy Spirit is sovereign in how He arranges our temptations. The Spirit led Christ into the wilderness to be tempted, and the Spirit leads us in our lives into places where He tempts and tests and tries us. First Corinthians 10 tells us: 'no temptation has taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not let you be tempted beyond your ability; but with the temptations he also provides a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it', or that you may be able to endure it. Now the only way that verse could be true is if God has some kind of control over our temptations, and He does: the Holy Spirit arranges them.
Now think about this for a moment: the same Spirit that anointed Jesus at His baptism, is now the Spirit that is thrusting Him forth into testing. Now why is that? Why does temptation often come immediately after a spiritual high? Why does the Spirit and God arrange temptation for us? Well, I think in one sense the answer is the same for both us and the Lord Jesus Christ. In one sense, Christ was tempted for the same reason as we. Though Christ had no sin - and mark that very clearly, and we might deal next week with how we believe the Lord Jesus could not have sinned, it's not possible to think of that - and yet God's purpose in tempting the Lord Jesus is the same as His purpose in tempting us - or allowing Him to be tempted, I should say, God doesn't tempt anyone. But for arranging that temptation, His reason is the same as it is for us: He is strengthening us for the task that He has appointed to us. Do you hear that? He is strengthening us for the task that He has appointed to us - and He was strengthening the Lord Jesus.
Now please mark: that does not imply that the Lord Jesus was weak. No, no. But these temptations in Christ's life were the culmination of a lifelong process through His childhood, and His adolescence, and His young adulthood, a spiritual strengthening and maturing. It occurred throughout His life until now. The Bible tells us: 'He increased in wisdom and in favour with God'. Hebrews says He learned obedience through what He suffered. Now before I go on any further, and before your mind runs away with itself, let me say that, like many truths in the Gospels, there is a holy mystery regarding this truth of the Lord's temptation. I'll expand on it little bit more next week perhaps. So keeping in mind for a moment that God cannot tempt, and God cannot be tempted - James 1 tells us this - and yet we believe Christ could not have sinned, yet here He is tempted! We have to believe that His temptation was real, for as we'll see next week He couldn't succour and empathise and sympathise with us if it wasn't. But here's the answer: He was not tempted in His divine nature - remember He had two natures - He wasn't tempted to sin as God, He was tempted by the devil as a man.
Now why is that so important? Because God's purpose in trying Him and tempting Him was in order that He might overcome Satan as a man - that's important. Sure it would be nothing for God to overcome Satan as God, but Christ had to overcome in temptation as a man, without any help from His divine attributes, as a perfect man, as the last Adam, to undo everything that Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. There He is, and because He has been victorious we can overcome the devil also. So in that sense - and I want you to get this please - in that sense, Christ overcoming temptation was God's way of strengthening Christ's hand in the battle with Satan, and the battle against sin. He was the first man ever to resist the devil. He was the first man who obeyed God completely. There He stands in the wilderness, in our place, representing us - and He succeeds where our forefather Adam failed, and now He can give strength to succeed also.
So, therefore the implication of that is that the Spirit arranges our temptations too, to strengthen us. How do you view temptation? How do you approach it? When it comes along do you cower? Are you filled with fear and trepidation? 'No, no, not this again!'. How should you react when temptation comes? Well, this is teaching us, and James teaches us, that we should count it all joy when we meet various trials, because our testing produces faith and steadfastness, and if we let our testing and steadfastness have its full effect, we will be perfect, complete, and lacking in nothing.
Maybe one of the reasons why you have problems overcoming temptation is because of the way that you're viewing it? You don't realise that the Holy Spirit arranges your temptations for your good - that's what the Bible teaches. You're perhaps not realising that God, think about this, sees it as His will for your good that you be tempted. That's not how we think about it, is it? Well, we need to understand that He has a purpose in our temptation, and it's not that we should fall into sin, but it is that we should grow stronger, that our hands should be strengthened for the task that He has. Let me illustrate it to you like this: imagine a football player, a young man, and he's showing great promise. Suppose, for instance, he's on the second team, and he shows such skill on the pitch that his trainer is thinking: 'How am I going to bring this out of this young lad?'. Now what would the trainer do, do you think? Would he put him down to the third team, and see if his talents would shine there? Of course he wouldn't, he would break through everybody and not break any sweat at that - what does he do? He puts him in the first team where he will be tested as never before. He'll give him the chance to prove himself in the greater test - now look, that is it! That is the Spirit's intention for our temptations: that we should prove our faith, that we should grow stronger.
Whilst the Lord Jesus had no sin, and whilst He was not weak, there is no doubt that in Mark's Gospel this is one of the points that he is bringing to us: this was a test and authentication of who Christ was, and proving the strength that He would have not just to overcome the devil in our place in temptation, but to go all the way to the cross as a perfect man, and be our substitute, and finish the work! Now whilst that is the case, the Servant's temptation was arranged by the Spirit, the converse is also true - for He was tempted of the devil. So the third point this morning - the first one was: the Servant's temptation was immediately after a spiritual high; the second: the Servant's temptation was arranged by the Spirit, and so will yours be - the third is the other side of the coin: the Servant's temptation was instigated by Satan.
We found, and it is true, that God sovereignly arranges our temptations, He tempers them, He'll not give us anything that we can't handle - though the devil tells us so often that we can't handle it, and that's often why we fall on our face - but God is sovereign, God is measuring these tests out for us. Though He does not tempt anyone Himself, He sovereignly arranges them - but though that is the case, it is the devil himself who instigates our temptation. If God is arranging it for our strength and for a steadfast faith, the devil, the opposite, instigates temptation for our failure and our disaster. We must keep that in mind. It is very clear in the book of Job - read the book of Job if you never have, and study it in detail because there you have this tension. The Lord said to Satan: 'Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and an upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still holds fast his integrity no matter what you have done to him up to now'. So there is God arranging the temptation of Job, and yet Satan comes in and Satan answers the Lord and says: 'Skin for skin, all that a man has he will give for his life, but if you stretch forth your hand and touch his bone and his flesh he will curse you to your face'.
So there's the two, and you've got to have the two: God is arranging it, and yet Satan is instigating it. God is doing it for our strength, and yet Satan is doing it for our failure. You must beware, because Satan is real, and Satan is a fearful foe. As Luther put it:
'For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe,
Whose craft and power are great,
And armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal'.
So we should beware of Satan, and we should know that we are not his equal, and that's why we should not lead ourselves into temptation - though God can arrange it, we're not to run into it! We're not meant to flirt with it! We're not meant to look for it, or be in the place where it will come before us! No! We're meant to flee from Satan! But though we are not his equal, praise God, Christ in the wilderness was more than his equal, and because He defeated him there, and defeated him at the cross, He has made us more than conquerors!
Satan is a defeated foe, but let me say before I leave this point - and I'm almost finished - this is one of the great paradoxes of spiritual life. You see the trial you're going through? You see the test? You see the temptation? God has allowed that, and indeed God has put His stamp on it that it should come into your life. He has arranged it by the Spirit that you'll not have too much, but you'll not have too little. Yet there is Satan, and he is operative in trying to pull you down as a child of God, trying to discourage you, trying to depress you, trying to discredit you. This is the tension right throughout the Christian experience, and it's a mystery - life is a mystery, and the Christian life is a mystery. Joseph found it in the pit, then he was in Potiphar's house, then he's in the prison, then he comes to the Palace - up, down, up, down, mountain, valley, mountain, valley - and at the end of it all God's word says: 'As for you', Joseph said to his brothers, 'you meant it for my demise, you meant it for evil, you meant it to destroy me that I might fail my God and my family; but God meant it for good'.
Now let me ask you, because this is vital, this is why I wanted to spend so much time on this this morning, because if you're ever going to overcome temptation you've got to see that there is this tension in the Christian life: it's not all sunshine and roses, as that stupid song says! It is a battle! It is a fight! The Holy Spirit arranges temptations and trials, even the very cross has this paradox in it - you remember the apostle saying: 'This Jesus delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men'. Do you see the two things? God had predestined and planned before the foundation of the world that Christ should go to the cross and die for sinners, and yet wicked men took Him by their hands and put Him to death.
What temptation are you facing today? What temptation have you been subjected to? Maybe you've failed so many times you wonder is it possible to have victory at all? Can I say to you: yes, yes it is possible, indeed it is inevitable through, and only through, the Lord Jesus Christ, and only by facing your trials and your temptations the way He did. How's that? By recognizing that to suffer tests and temptations is part of what it is to be a servant of God. We can expect testing, especially after spiritual climaxes and zeniths, it will come! Also: we will overcome when we understand that although the devil wants us to fall into temptation, God has willed it for good, and therefore we ought to rise to the occasion, and realise that God is going to give us the gift of strength when we overcome, and He will lead us from strength to strength.
Is that your perspective? Is it Mark's? Can I read you, as I close, a hymn - it's not one we're going to sing - John Newton, that great slave trader that was converted and then wrote 'Amazing Grace', and then became a vicar in the Church of England, he wrote a wonderful hymn about the confusion that many have regarding trials and temptations in the Christian life. People who think that 'This shouldn't be happening to me! I'm a Christian, I'm a child of God, why is it happening to me? Surely I should be delivered from all these hardships now that I'm one of God's children?'. They fail to realise that this is not just happening to you because the devil has instigated it at times, but it's happening because God's Spirit has arranged it for your good, for your strength, for your faith, for your victory. It follows the progression of his thought in that struggle, listen to it:
'I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.
'Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.
I hoped that in some favoured hour,
At once He'd answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow'r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow'rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
'Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.
These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may'st find thy all in Me'.
God willing, next week we'll look at two more aspects to the Servant's test.
O Lord Jesus Christ, who as man on this earth was completely victorious over Satan, help us in our temptations. Lord Jesus Christ, who defeated him through shedding Your precious blood on the cross, give us power to overcome him. Lord Jesus Christ, who said to Peter: 'Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to sift thee as wheat, but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not', pray for us, strengthen us and send Your grace. Now unto Him that is able to keep us from falling, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the fourth recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "The Servant's Test - Part 1" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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