Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Gospel Of Mark, Part 4 - The Temptation Of Jesus

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
Mark 1:12-13
In these two verses we read that Jesus, the very Son of God, was in the wilderness for forty days, and He was being tempted by Satan. Have you ever stopped to think about what these verses say? Have you ever considered that Jesus Christ - God in the flesh - was tempted by the devil? That is exactly what we are reading here.

In the Gospel of Mark we are not given any details; here we are simply told that immediately after His baptism Jesus was sent by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, with the wild animals, for forty days where He was tempted by Satan and ministered to by angels. Here, for example, we are not told that for these forty days Jesus didn't eat anything. Here we are not told that at the end of these forty days Jesus was weak and hungry, or it was at that time that Satan chose to launch his attack. We are also not given any details about the nature of these attacks, nor are we told that Jesus withstood Satan's attacks by knowing and accurately using the word of God in His defense (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13). All of these things are important, and we can read about them in the other Gospel accounts, but for some reason none of them is included here.

As we approach these two verses there are several approaches we could take: we could study the Greek to see what it means that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness; we could speculate on what it means that the angels ministered to Him; we could even do a study of the significance of the forty days and see what forty days means in the Bible, but if we do all of that and miss the point of what the Gospel writer is trying to tell us here we have just wasted our time.

So what is it that the Gospel writer wants us to see here? Could it be that the thing that we really need to understand is simply that Jesus was in fact tempted by the devil just like we are?

In the letter to the Hebrews we read:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Hebrews 4:15
Did you catch that? Jesus was tempted in every way that you or I have ever been (or ever will be) tempted. Why is that ? Hebrews 2:17 tells us that Jesus had to be made like us in every respect so that He could be our merciful and faithful high priest; in order for Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins He had to be like we are (yet without sin).

Verse 18 then goes on to say:
For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 2:18
Because Jesus was tempted He is able to help us when we are tempted. What does this mean? It means that Jesus understands the weaknesses we have because He was made just like us. It means that He knows what it is like to be tempted, because He was tempted. And it means that in temptation there is always a way out (see again Hebrew 4:15; Jesus was tempted yet He remained sinless).

In 1 Corinthians we read:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13
There are several important things in these verse:
  1. There are no temptations that are unique to you or me; we may all struggle with different specifics, but the specifics all lead back to what is common to man - rebellion against God.
  2. God is faithful - this verse promises that He will never let us be tempted beyond what we can endure.
  3. God will always make sure that in every temptation we have a way of escape
These are great promises and we would all do well to remember them.

So what have we seen here? In the Gospel of Mark we saw that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the devil. We then went to Hebrews and saw that Jesus was tempted in every way we are, but that He remained sinless (this is an important thing to understand - it means that temptation is not a sin and that just because you are tempted does not mean that you have sinned). And finally we looked at 1 Corinthians where we saw that we have a faithful God who will keep us from any temptation that we cannot resist and that when we are tempted He will always provide for us a way of escape.

So the next time that you face a temptation think about Mark 1:12-13 and remember that Jesus also faced temptation, and that because He faced temptation He is able to sympathize with our weakness. And then rejoice that this same Jesus is our Great High Priest.
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