Let's turn together to Mark's Gospel chapter 1, Mark chapter 1 - and if you haven't been with us in previous weeks, we are taking these Sunday mornings a series through Mark's account of the life of the Lord Jesus in his Gospel. The last two Sunday mornings, and three inclusive of this morning, we're looking at two verses, verses 12 and 13, that comprise in detail and yet in fullness the account Mark gives of the temptation of our Lord Jesus - or, as we have titled it, 'The Servant's Test'. So this morning's title is 'The Servant's Test - Part 3', and we'll just read verses 12 and 13: "And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him".
Now let me recap for a moment or two on our last two weeks. We pointed out in our first study of the temptation that there is a purpose in the brevity of Mark's account in comparison with the likes of Matthew and Luke's account of the temptation. The reason is found in the context. First of all we find John the Baptist declaring Jesus the Nazarene to be that messenger that Isaiah prophesied, and John prepares the way for the Lord. Then we find in the baptism of the Saviour that the Spirit confirms this fact by descending upon Him in the form of a dove. Then the heavens opened, and the Father declares Him to be His only beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. Then we find, immediately after the baptism, the temptation, or the testing of the Servant of the Lord. I emphasised to you that I believe that Mark's point is that the Messiah, the King, the Son of God, has been declared in the wilderness, but this One is God's Suffering Servant prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures. He's not allowed to go back into Jerusalem and set up a kingdom and a throne as we would understand that, but He has to stay out in the wilderness, in the desert, and He must suffer. It doesn't matter who He is in that sense, God's will for Him, God's way for Him was not one of force, one of splendour, one of majesty, but rather one of suffering, testing and temptation.
Now His whole temptation was - and we haven't time to look at the individual aspects of it - but it was a temptation to choose an easier path, not the path of suffering, not the path of humiliation and trial. Now we'll look into that in a bit more detail in a few moments, but we learned from the Servant of the Lord's temptation, first of all that this test came immediately after a spiritual high. We emphasised how, at times, we can have a wrong perspective concerning temptation and testing. We tend to think that the holier we become, the more like Jesus we are, the less we will be tempted, the less we will be tried and struggle with sin - but, in fact, Jesus shows us that this is the opposite, the contrary is the case: that the greatest temptation ever is here, and yet it's immediately following the greatest event ever up to this point, the baptism of the Lord Jesus. So we can expect to be tested and tempted immediately after great spiritual zeniths in our experience.
Then the second and third points that we looked at in our first week were these: though temptation is instigated by the devil, Satan it was here, and we find in God's word in James 1 that God doesn't tempt anyone with evil, yet God was sovereign in the arrangement of this test of the Servant of the Lord, and He is also sovereign in the arranging of our life's affairs. We have God's word that He does not allow us to be tempted over that which we are able. We see it in the life of Job, we used illustrations from the life of Joseph to show that God in His sovereign purposes allows temptation to come into our lives not for the same reasons as the devil - he wants us to fall - but God wants us to be strengthened, to be fortified through victory over temptation for the task that He has for us in this life. We applied this by asking the question: how do we react towards temptation? Do we cower from it? 'Oh, it's coming from the devil' - and it is coming from the devil, but do we fail to see that God has a purpose in it as well? He has allowed it into our lives so that we might overcome, and in overcoming have strength to overcome again and again and again, and do God's will in our lives.
Then last week we looked at how the servant's test can be an agonising experience. This, of course, was communicated by the graphic scene that is painted for us here in these verses. The Lord Jesus was in the wilderness, He was there 40 days. He was not just tested by a devil or some demon, but by Satan himself. He was with the wild beasts, and all this imagery is there to convey to us that this was an agonising experience. I spent a lot of time emphasising this, because I feel that sometimes we are in danger of thinking that the temptation of Christ was all an act! That He wasn't truly tempted, that it wasn't real - as if it was easy in some sense for Him! If you want to know about that, I haven't time to go into it this morning, get the recording of last week. We found that the explanation of these difficulties is found in the two natures of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ could not have sinned because He was God's Son, and yet at the same time He had to be truly tempted if He is to succour those who are tempted, if He is to be a Great High Priest to us, who is able to sympathise with our weaknesses. It had to be real, and yet He couldn't sin. We applied that by saying that temptation will often be an agonising experience for all of God's servants. We will have to, from time to time, go the hard road that Christ knows all about and understands - and yet, through it all, we know that He has gone before us, and He can give us strength to overcome just as He did.
Now our fifth and final point - which was to be the fifth point in my first sermon three weeks ago, but we have broken it into three now - is that the servant's test or temptation is lonely, but there is supernatural aid. The servant's temptation is lonely, but there is supernatural aid. I get this point from the closing words of verse 13: 'and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him'. Now, let me say first of all: when we speak of loneliness in temptation, I'm not talking about the feeling of shame that we often have when we are tempted with sin. Let me explain: sometimes when you're tempted with something that seems irresistible to you, you say to yourself, 'I must be the only person that struggles with this particular thing. I must be the only one who has this problem. Other Christians must be stronger than me, that they're able to overcome this particular type of sin and iniquity'. Maybe the loneliness is so great in your particular temptation that you feel: 'I could never share the struggle that I have with this particular temptation with anyone else, they just would not understand. I feel so alone'.
Now let me say right away, on the authority of God's word, that that type of loneliness in temptation is an unnecessary loneliness. We're going to spend this morning looking at how you can be lonely in life's tests and temptations, but that type of loneliness is a satanic deception. It is an attempt of the devil to keep people under subjection to sin, and prevent them seeking help from other Christians. Of course, as I've taught you on many occasions, you have to counteract Satan's lies by the truth of God's word. What is the truth of God's Word regarding those issues that I have already mentioned? Here it is, 1 Corinthians 10 verse 13 that we have quoted several times in these services: 'There is no temptation but such as is common to man'. There is no temptation coming to you that has not been experienced by other people, and is not common to others in humanity. So right away, there is that lie of the devil that you're the only one struggling with this and having problems in this area, it's blown completely out of the water. God's word is saying to you that there has no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man. Your temptation, however unique you feel it is to you, is common to other people.
But here's another string in your bow when it comes to those lies, and this is far greater in its weight. It's found in Hebrews 4 verse 15, and we've already quoted it: 'We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses; but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin'. Not only is temptation, and your particular type of temptation, common to other men; it was common to Christ! Now perhaps not specifically in relation to the exact thing you're tempted with, but we looked last week at how the Lord was tempted in three areas: the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. We don't have time to go into all the ramifications of that, but those are the three general types of temptation that any of us can be tempted by - and He was tempted in those ways! So don't believe the lie of the devil that you're something special in a negative sense, with the struggles that you have and temptations and tests that are in your life, it is common to man, it was common to Christ - and therefore it should be no surprise that it's common to you! Therefore you should not feel alone in that sense, because you have the companionship of other Christians - though they don't often talk about it and admit it - and you have also, more importantly, the companionship of Christ. So you, in your test and temptation, you ought to be offering help to those who are tempted, because you struggle with similar things, and also you ought to be seeking help from other Christians - but far greater than that: you have been offered the help and the sympathy, the succour and the encouragement of the Saviour Himself. You've got His companionship.
Do you seek that in temptation? I think sometimes we're nearly afraid of the Lord Jesus when we are tempted with sin. We're afraid that He wouldn't want to talk to us about all those grubby things. That's another lie! He wants to come alongside us and help us with our struggles, and He understands as a man, though apart from sin. A good illustration I heard of, related to this, how the Lord Jesus sympathises with us and is with us in our struggles with sin. Imagine that you were walking through a field, and all of a sudden you pierced your foot on a thorn. Now instantly, physiologically in your body, the nervous system kicks into action. Your nervous system will notify of the wound in the foot - but who will it notify? Well, it notifies your brain - if you've got one! If your brain is not conscious of that notification, you won't feel any pain in your foot. It has to go straight to the brain. It seems as if the brain is suffering, because the brain is the centre of the entire nervous system, it is the centre of all your human sensation. So instantly, on receiving the message from the afflicted member, the foot, the brain, as it were, comes down into the foot - as it were, it enters into a perfect sympathy with that other member of the body.
What an illustration of the body of Christ! When we are suffering, we ought to feel the suffering of our other brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12: 'That there may be no division in the body; but that the members may have the same care one for another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together'. If there is someone struggling with trials, testing, temptation in this place, the other members ought to be a help to them. Yet, what a wonderful blessing it is to know this morning that our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Head of His body, actually like the brain coming down to the foot and entering into a perfect sympathy with that pierced member, can enter into all our problems, all our struggles, all our trials, all our temptations apart from sin. Does that not encourage you? If you want a verse for it, it's found in Acts 9:4: 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'. He was persecuting the church, murdering Christians; and yet Christ, when He appeared to him on the Damascus Road, levelled against him the crime of persecuting Jesus.
Is that not an encouragement? We ought not to be lonely in that sense. We've got the companionship of other Christians who should be there for us. You should be there for other folk, they should be there for you - and praise God, we have Christ, a Great High Priest who is there for us, and enters into all our struggles with us. But in saying that, there is a loneliness in testing and temptation, and one aspect of it is that there is a loneliness which is a trial in itself. Your trial might be being lonely, but then in the other regard there is a loneliness that is derived from other types of tests and temptations, it's a secondary fact and yet it is so real as well. I believe you can see both of those types of loneliness in testing in the suffering Servant, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me explain: first, Jesus knew loneliness as a trial in itself all through His life. Therefore He can sympathise with us - we'll be thinking soon about how there was no room for Him in the inn, how Herod was intent on murdering Him, how when Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus went into Egypt He would have been separated from His wider family circle, how when Joseph probably died - and we have that from inference, from the lack of mention of Jesus' earthly guardian on the earth after a certain age of the Lord Jesus - the Lord was living in what we could only term as a single-parent family. He was in that struggle, and aspersions would have been cast on His birth and on His mother for how He must have been born if they disbelieved the virgin conception. Then when the Lord Jesus came into adolescence, and became older, He probably assumed the responsibility for the leadership of His family after the decease of His father. He was earning a living as a carpenter in the carpenter's shop as a young man, perhaps robbed of some of His childhood. Maybe He was caring for His younger brothers and sisters, bringing them up - and yet later we find out that they actually, His brethren and sisters, forsook Him, thought He was mad. So what we are seeing here as we get this picture is that the Lord Jesus knew loneliness as a trial all through His life. He knew loneliness in family life.
You've heard the expression: 'I'm surrounded by people, and yet I feel so lonely'. Sometimes that's how we feel. I wonder is that how you feel today? Here's the Lord Jesus, I know people think: 'How could He know what it's like to be a husband when He was never married? How does He know what it's like to be a father or a mother when He never had children?'. He acted like a father in that home, He acted like a parent bringing up these children. Not only did He act like a father and a husband, but in this sense He knew what it was to be forsaken by all, even in His family. Yet He did not have His own children to rear, and to bring a heritage to His name, and to bless His soul as children do. Yet He never had a companion in life, a wife, for He never married. In fact, He had no house, He had no home, He had loneliness continually in His life. Then there was loneliness in His ministry, for we read that the disciples forsook Him, and His friends betrayed Him, and His own people crucified Him. There on the cross we hear Him cry out: 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?' - His own Father and God forsook Him!
Do you want to talk about loneliness? He knew loneliness as a trial all through His life, but He knew loneliness in temptation of His life, in the actual temptations He endured He knew an awful sense of loneliness because of them. Now you look at verse 13: 'He was being tempted' - and I showed you I think last week, or the week before, that this is in a continuous tense, which means that His testing and temptation didn't finish in the wilderness. This is the Gospel of the Suffering Servant of Jehovah, His whole life is to be one as a Man of Sorrows, of suffering trial and temptation. But it's this phrase I want you to notice in verse 13 as well: 'He was with the wild beasts'. Now here is this archetypal temptation, the temptation of Christ, and it's described that He is alone with the animals in the wilderness - what does that mean? It means His mother was not there. It means there was no prophet like John the Baptist preparing the way for Him there in His temptation. It means there were no disciples round about Him, encouraging Him or praying for Him. It means there was no adoring crowd waiting on the next wonderful word or miraculous miracle. He is in His test, in His temptation alone. He must ascend the mount of temptation alone. He must endure it alone. He must overcome alone. He must descend from it alone.
If we had time, we could look at the many aspects in which Christ's temptation in the wilderness parallels the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. But let me say that the temptation of the Lord Jesus was far greater, more difficult than Adam and Eve's. Think about it for a moment: Adam and Eve had each other, they had fellowship with one another, they could encourage and rebuke each other. They weren't fasting, not 40 days, not even for one meal. God said: 'Of every tree of the garden you can eat, there's only one I don't want you to eat of' - so they could eat anything except this one tree! By contrast, the Lord Jesus had no human fellowship. In the wilderness He had no food to eat, and after He fasted 40 days and 40 nights, the Bible says He was hungry. Now I ask you: have you ever heard of a loneliness like this? Jesus knew loneliness as a trial all through His life, but He also knew loneliness in these specific temptations of His life. He knew loneliness like no one. The poet said:
'Alone, yes, Jesus was alone,
In that great stretch of sand and stone;
And later in earth's noise and din,
Alone since He was free from sin.
Men who gathered to be taught
Oft failed to reach His inmost thought.
Still later 'neath a darkened sky,
They listened to a lonely cry
From One upon the accursed tree:
'O, why hast Thou forsaken me?'
We pause and pray: 'Lord, help us guess
The depth of that great loneliness''.
Now here's the application: He's going up the mount of temptation, led by the Spirit. He is being tempted by the devil. What's happening? He's going on with God! He's going God's direction! He's batting away, as a holy man, all of these temptations to take an easier route, an easier road, and because He's going on with God in God's way He is lonely. If we are to go on with God, we'll experience it too. Someone once said to me: 'Have you ever climbed to the top of a mountain? The higher and higher you get, the fewer people are there with you'. Maybe at the top, at the pinnacle, you're left there on your own. It's the same in the Christian life: the great temptation is to take an easier route, an easier road. Some temptations will make you lonely, or perhaps loneliness, my friend, is your specific temptation and trial - being on your own. Now here's the wonderful message that I want you to grip today: the servant's temptation and testing is lonely, but there is supernatural aid. There is! It is found in these words at the end of verse 13: 'He was with the wild beasts, and the angels ministered unto him'. Angels were ministering unto Him!
Now, we don't have time for a study on angels in this meeting, save to say that Hebrews chapter 1 verse 14 gives us an interesting insight into what their purpose is. The writer says: '[Angels] Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit eternal life?'. What does that mean? Angels are our helpers. Now if you think about this, from the beginning of the Bible to the end, we don't have time to go through every instance, but remember Hagar? She knew what loneliness was. She was an outcast into the desert, Abraham and Sarah had cast her out, and in Genesis 16 there is Hagar with Ishmael her son, and we read that the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness. She's in the wilderness, she's cast out, she's tested and tempted and tried, and an angel finds her. When we look at the Exodus, that is the first exodus of the people of God out of the bondage of Egypt from their first wilderness experience, what is it that leads them out? It's an angel. I believe it's the Lord Jesus Himself, the Angel of Jehovah - but there is an angel leading them out of the wilderness from their testing and their temptation.
A parallel story, very akin to the Lord's temptation, is that of all the Elijah - and he's in the wilderness too. He's being fed in the barren desert by an angel - 1 Kings 19 tells us: 'He lay down and slept under a broom tree or a juniper tree, and behold, an angel touched him, and said, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. And he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the LORD came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; for the journey is too great for you'. There is Elijah saying: 'I alone am left! I'm the only one doing anything for God!' - and in his loneliness and his testing, God comes through an angel. Elisha and his servant are shut up in a place called Dothan, their enemies are pressing upon them, and the young man starts to shake and his knees knock, and he gets fearful - he doesn't know whether God is going to come through for them or not. In 2 Kings 6 it says that: 'Elisha prayed and said, O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see. So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha'. Yes, it was a lonely test, but there was supernatural aid, there were angels.
I was reading this week in my devotions, and I couldn't help apply it to this truth, about the three Hebrew children who were alone in the fiery furnace of persecution - and what do we read? The Emperor says: 'But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods' - or an angel, or some supernatural being - it was Christ! God's Angel! Then we find Daniel alone, cast into the den of lions - all alone, prey to those wilds beasts. In Daniel 6:22 the Emperor asks how Daniel could have survived, and Daniel says: 'My God sent His angel, and shut the lion's mouths, and they have not harmed me'. Praise God, He still has His angels, and even in the Christmas story Joseph was afraid, he felt all alone, he didn't know whether to take Mary to him as his wife because he feared that she had betrayed him. In a dream God's angel comes to him in all his fear and loneliness in that situation, and says: 'Fear not to take Mary as your wife'. Fear not! An angel!
Coming back to our Lord, and though we laboured the fact last week that He faced temptation as a man - He did, on His human strength alone, He had no earthly companionship. All these things that I have detailed for you were His experience with the wild animals in the wilderness, and yet He was not left to fight on His own. There was divine aid! The angels ministered to Him. We might feel like the loneliest person in the world in our particular circumstances, but we are not bereft of divine aid - we've got the angels as well! There is no indication, by the way, that these angels were withdrawn from the Lord in His life through all His experience of temptation. We have no reason to believe that divine aid will be withdrawn from us, and through our trials, though they come, and temptations, we don't need to be lonely because we have His companionship! We've got the angels, we've got the other members of the body, we've got the Lord Jesus Christ our Great High Priest, we've got the Holy Spirit who Jesus said: 'I will come to you', in the Holy Spirit, 'and I will send another Strengthener, Comforter to you'. We've got all these things, and even though we might be bereft of any human companionship at all, there is divine aid.
Samuel Rutherford was locked in a prison in Scotland for his faith, and he was cut off from family and friends and all human companionship, and this is what he said: 'If God is with you, you will lack neither company nor comfort'. If God is with you, you will lack neither company nor comfort! The poem puts it well that I read this week:
'Is there a secret path of life,
Which you must tread alone?
A Coastguard walk with danger rife,
A walk which must be done.
You think it is a narrow way,
And only room for you:
Your Father is just there today,
For there is room for two.
Is there a secret cave of grief,
A dark and dreary place?
Are you cut off beyond relief,
Where wild sea waves embrace?
You think you are alone, sad child,
That none can come to you?
But in that cavern, lone and wild,
There always will be two!
Are you in secrets none can know,
Alone upon the sea?
Where unknown wins around you blow,
Tempted as none may be?
Your Father is upon the deck:
Alone? It is not true!
Though battered, beaten, half a wreck,
The lone boat still holds two!
Dear child, there is no secret place
Of work, or want, or woe,
But your Father's smiling face
Is there! You cannot go
Into the closet of your life,
But it will still be true:
When most alone 'mid cam and strife
There always will be two!'.
The servant's temptation is lonely, but there is supernatural aid. Can I conclude all these three messages by pointing out this: the Lord Jesus Christ's baptism was His expression of His willingness to do the Father's will. Satan's temptation was not motivated to get Christ to commit immorality, as much as to deter Him from choosing God's perfect will. The Father's will, the Father's way was one of suffering, was one of trial, was of temptation and loneliness - it was the hard path of obedience. It's always the temptation of the servant of the Lord to choose the easy way out, to avoid the Calvary Road, but He chose it - and He chose it for you, and He chose it for me. Here's the question: will you choose that road for Him? Will I?
C.T. Studd was in Africa, and he only went to Africa as a missionary in his fifties. He spent ten years, also, in China, and seven years in India. To go to the mission field C.T. Studd had to give up much wealth, a life of ease, friends and a career. Instead of having, at 50 years of age, like some of you, a very robust constitution - C.T. Studd had seven serious diseases ranging within the tall skinny frame of his body. No doctor would grant him a permit to go, but he went. He lived apart from his wife for many years, and only saw her on a number of occasions because of her health, before she passed away into the presence of the Lord. In Africa he lived in very spartan quarters, he had a small room, a mud floor, a simple rope bed, a chair, a desk - this is the founder of what we know today as WEC, the Worldwide Evangelisation Crusade. Near the end of his life he was heartbroken. His home committee who were encouraging him and meant to support him, they threatened to take over the heart of the African mission. Now eventually that was averted, but that sense of betrayal in his heart by some of his one-time supporters almost broke his heart, to such an extent that it just didn't seem to heal. He only got release when he came to his death, but what I want to point out to you is that his own words reveal the extent of his bruising, his suffering, his loneliness. Here's what he said: 'Sometimes I feel, and especially of late, that my cross is heavy beyond endurance, and I fear I often feel like fainting under it - but I hope to go on and not to faint. My heart seems worn out and bruised beyond repair, and in my deep loneliness I often wish to be gone - but God knows best, and I want to do every ounce of work He wants me to do'. Here's what his biographer says, which is profound: 'Steep was the ascent to the end of C.T. Studd's life. This pathway never laid its victory through fame or popularity, but taxed the conqueror with the full price always demanded of lonely aggressive pioneers. Who', he asks, 'follows in his train?'.
This was the way of the Suffering Servant. It has been the way of all God's subsequent suffering servants. Is it our way? Is it my way? C.T. Studd wrote these words near the end of his life: 'Don't seek a long life, Christ had a short one. Don't live in luxury, Christ lived and died poor. Don't live in pleasure, Christ pleased not Himself. Don't live for fame, Christ made Himself of no reputation. Don't live at ease, Christ suffered for you the shame and scourge of the cross. Don't lose your opportunity and inherit an eternity of shame and regrets hereafter'. Though it be lonely, may we all choose the Calvary Road.
Our Father, we know that the Lord Jesus did not suffer for suffering's sake, He endured the cross, despising the shame, for the joy that was set before Him. We believe we are His joy, and will be that joy when we are glorified in Him in heaven one day. But Lord, help us to realise that our suffering is not just for suffering's sake, for the suffering of this present age is not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us one day. Help us to consider Him, who endured such suffering, lest we faint in our faith. If there is one here without Him, help them to see that they cannot face this life apart from Him. May they repent of their sin and embrace Him as the only Saviour, as we ask the blessing of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is no longer the Man of Sorrows, but has been given a name above every name, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ we pray. 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 sixth recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "The Servant's Test - Part 3" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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