Highs and Lows in the Christian Life – 1:9-13

The starting point for this expositional series can be found here.
The previous entry can be read here.

As a kid, growing up in the church, summer camp was a more or less yearly occurrence. If you’re not familiar with the concept, allow me to explain. Summer camp is typically about a week away from the distractions of life, away from the influence of parents, away from typical churchy things. Instead, fun abounds, friends are hung out with, and God is experienced. Several times a day throughout a week, in the midst of fun and freedom, chapel services are held where Junior High and High Schoolers are confronted with the truth of God’s Word.

It is indeed a great time. However, for me, living in the desert and going to camp in the mountains, talk of “heading back down the mountain” was synonymous with “losing the mountaintop high.” Camp is much too good at playing with peoples’ emotions. The week will undoubtedly end, and when it does, the troubles of life will come back and potentially undo everything gained in the week at camp.

Today’s Text

Mark writes, “And it was in those days Jesus went from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens being torn open, and the Spirit, like a dove, descending to Him; and a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are My beloved Son, with You I am pleased.’ And immediately the Spirit cast Him out into the desert. And He was in the desert forty days, being tempted by the Satan, and He was with the beasts, and the angels served Him.”

Where we’ve been…

At this point in our study through Mark’s account of the Gospel of Jesus, we have been buried deep in the prologue. Jesus’ ministry has not yet started. Mark explained Jesus’ true identity (1:1). Mark took us back into the Old Testament to prove John the Baptist’s true purpose/identity to us (1:2-3). Mark showed us John the Baptist in action, ultimately further proving that He is the precursor to the Messiah (1:4-8). And today, in verse 9, Mark connects these two strands of thought together.

But, just like summer camp brings a spiritual high that can quickly die when the week is over, Mark demonstrates for us in our passage today that it is normal for the Christian life to have spiritual highs and spiritual lows. No matter which side of the valley we are on, and even if we are inside the valley itself, God is always present with us, and it doesn’t take Him by surprise. Because He is there in all of the situations, we can and must trust Him.

God is there in the spiritually high times (1:9-11)

First, the Christian life has times that reveal without a doubt that we belong to God. Mark writes in 1:9-11, “And it was in those days Jesus went from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens being torn open, and the Spirit, like a dove, descending to Him; and a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are My beloved Son, with You I am pleased.’”

Before moving on, it is important to note as regards the entire section—verses 9-13—that Jesus only does two things. Everything else is done to Him. Jesus surrendered Himself to the Father’s will. In these verses, the only two things He actively does is “go” to where John is baptizing, and “see” what the Godhead is doing. He is baptized, is cast out, is tempted, and is served. If Jesus, before His ministry started, was completely surrendered to His Father’s will (and the actions He will do during His ministry are Him still exhibiting surrender to His Father’s will), we must actively submit ourselves to God and be more passive in life.

We try much too hard to control every little thing. We need to trust God. We feel like we must always be doing something. This is why we don’t pray as much as we should. We don’t feel like prayer accomplishes anything. The truth is that prayer is an outward symbol of a passive, trusting life. If we truly trusted God and were submitted to His will, we would pray. God is in control; we cannot be; we must evidence our trust in Him by seeking His face in prayer.

But, i digress.

It is at this point that Jesus steps on the scene. Jesus grew up in Nazareth in Galilee, but when Mark 1:9 starts, Jesus travels southeast to the Jordan River. When He gets to the river, John baptizes Him. Nothing else is stated. John baptizes Jesus.

It is what happens afterward that gets the focus in this section.

However, it is necessary to note what John’s baptism was for.

Remember verse 4?

John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance toward forgiveness of sins.” Mark glosses directly over this fact because for Him it wasn’t an issue. Jesus was baptized. It’s a fact. Mark is relating facts.

But Jesus never sinned, right?

Right.

I’ll allow Daniel Akin to explain why Jesus was baptized. “He aligns Himself with those He came to save.”[1]

Mark 1:5 had explained that the whole countryside was going out to John for baptism, and part of this baptism was that they were “confessing out their sins.” Mark is very clear that all Jesus did was go to John, who baptized Him. Jesus confessed nothing because He had nothing to confess.

Instead of Christ confessing, God confesses something. He does this in two ways. First, in verse 10, God comforts Christ with His Holy Spirit. Second, in verse 11, God declares truth over Christ.

While the crowds were likely looking on, wondering who this man was who didn’t confess anything before He was baptized, probably talking aloud about the pride of the man being baptized who “refused” confession,  Jesus is shown a vision. In His vision, the heavens tear open. The Greek word behind it is one that refers to a violent tearing. Akin explains,

Isaiah 64:1 had predicted this: “If only you would tear the heavens open and come down, so that mountains would quake at Your presence.” The tearing apart of the heavens signals a significant moment in history and in the life of the Servant King. In this way the Father first gives His approval through action.[2]

While people may not have understood the situation and may have laughed and mocked, God comforts His Son by sending the Spirit to Him. John’s account of the Gospel describes the Spirit as a comforter. Mark here uses a figure of speech to describe the Spirit’s relationship to Jesus. Doves are gentle. It landed on Jesus like a dove. God cared about His Son and wanted to comfort Him.

But that was not all.

God vocally confessed to Jesus instead of Jesus confessing anything. “You are My beloved Son, with You I am pleased.” There is no greater news a person can hear! To be told that your father is pleased with you is incredibly comforting. If you never got this kind of positive reinforcement in your life, i am deeply sorry.

But God says this about His Son. Despite the potential taunts from the crowd, God is pleased with His Son. He wants Jesus to know that He is in this with Him. It is all part of the plan, and even Jesus needed positive reinforcement to keep Him going in life

Now, as believers, we cannot take this verse and say, “God says this about me.” Other verses are similar that we can use for this sort of positive reinforcement from God, but Mark 1:11 refers to Jesus. We are not sinless. We are not perfectly following God’s plan for us. We are not Jesus. But thank God, that despite these facts, Jesus came and gave Himself for us!

God is there in the spiritually low times (1:12-13)

Secondly, the Christian life is not foreign to the concept of temptation and tribulations. Mark writes in Mark 1:12-13, “And immediately the Spirit cast Him out into the desert. And He was in the desert forty days, being tempted by the Satan, and He was with the beasts, and the angels served Him.”

This is huge. Right off the bat in Mark’s gospel, we have been told that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, which God the Father vocally announced to Jesus at His baptism. Then, when we look at the Scripture quotations in verses 2-3, we realize that the first one is from Malachi 3:1. When we realize this, we realize that Mark didn’t quote the whole verse. The whole verse goes on to explain, “Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,” says the LORD of Hosts” (Malachi 3:1b). Therefore, if Jesus really is God, as Mark has already stated repeatedly, and if John the Baptist was really His messenger as Mark proved in verses 4-8, then once God vocally identifies Jesus in 1:11, shouldn’t Jesus go to the temple as Malachi prophesied?

Nope.

Instead, He goes farther into the desert.

Why?

At the very least, it wasn’t Jesus running from His destiny. The text says the Spirit cast Him out into the desert. The Spirit refers to the Holy Spirit, who is God. When Jesus goes into the desert, He is following God’s will.

And what was God’s will for Jesus in the wilderness?

It was to be tempted for forty days. It is interesting that Mark says nothing about Jesus fasting for forty days. For Mark, that is an unimportant point. Mark’s emphasis is that for forty days Jesus was tempted; Mark grammatically states that for the whole forty days Jesus was tempted; it wasn’t merely three temptations at the end of forty days of fasting.

And Jesus never sinned.

What does this say about us?

We look for excuses to give in to temptation. We might force ourselves to stand for a week, but then we cry, saying, “It’s too hard,” and instead of falling on Jesus we believe Satan when he whispers, “God is trying to keep you from happiness.”

Jesus stayed strong for thirty-three years.

The fact that Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus’ first temptation was food related probably means that during the entirety of the forty days Jesus was tempted to cease relying on God and provide sustenance for Himself. He resisted this urge. He also fought the temptation to complain and blame God for putting Him in that situation.

To make the situation worse, Mark tells us that He was with the beasts. Not only was He hungry and uncomfortable and, as 100% man, likely confused, but being around wild animals meant He was in danger as well. Throughout the whole situation, He had to trust God, and as God, He couldn’t sin, He perfectly trusted God the whole time.

But that doesn’t mean it was easy.

The passage concludes by telling us that the angels started serving Him. It doesn’t specify when they started serving Him, just that they did. Likely, Jesus’ temptations, as a man, were so strong that angels had to come to strengthen Him. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve those who are going to inherit salvation?” (1:14). The one who would make salvation inheritable Himself needed to be served by the angels. This is why the author of Hebrews would go on to say, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).

He is our hope when temptations strike. When we wonder why life is so hard, when we want to throw in the towel, when we want to excuse another relapse into sin, we must look to Jesus. He is our only hope.

He Wins the Victory in the End

It is important to note that Mark doesn’t tell us that Satan left Jesus. Mark doesn’t tell us that Jesus defeated Satan’s temptations. Mark doesn’t tell us that this was the end of Jesus’ temptations. Mark will later tell us this:

Then He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, be killed, and rise after three days.  He was openly talking about this. So Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.  But turning around and looking at His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan, because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s!” (Mark 8:31-33).

You see, while Peter was merely looking out for Jesus’ best interests, Jesus rebuked him, calling him Satan, because Satan was tempting Him through Peter’s words to ditch His mission of salvation which required dying. Satan was still dogging Jesus, tempting Him, even three years after the forty days of temptation.

Mark also relates the following in Mark 14:35-36. “Then He went a little farther, fell to the ground, and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him.  And He said, ‘Abba, Father! All things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.’” The reason He needed to pray in this hour was to get Him to the point where He could say, “Not what I will, but what You will.” Satan was tempting Him to ditch His mission. He had to entrust Himself to the Father to keep Himself focused on the reason why He came to earth. God answered this prayer and strengthened Him, but still, Satan was not defeated.

Mark relates the following in 15:29-32. “Those who passed by were yelling insults at Him, shaking their heads, and saying, ‘Ha! The One who would demolish the sanctuary and build it in three days, save Yourself by coming down from the cross!’  In the same way, the chief priests with the scribes were mocking Him to one another and saying, ‘He saved others; He cannot save Himself!  Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, so that we may see and believe.’ Even those who were crucified with Him were taunting Him.” Satan was tempting Jesus to abandon His mission through the mouths of the crowd.

Several hours later, Mark writes the words of Mark 15:37-39. “But Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed His last.  Then the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom.  When the centurion, who was standing opposite Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, ‘This man really was God’s Son!’” Just like the heavens were torn open, and the Spirit came down on Christ at His baptism, so also—the same Greek word is used here—the curtain of the temple is shredded in half. This shredding of the temple curtain means that Satan’s curse has been reversed, Jesus has defeated him, and humanity has access to God through Jesus. And to top it off, the centurion repeats what God had said at Jesus’ baptism. “This man really was God’s Son.”

Temptation plagued Jesus through His whole life, up to the minute He breathed His last. But praise God that He stood strong. Because He stood firm, we can be saved.

I plead with you today to believe in Christ if you never have before! He lived to save you. He died to save you. He rose again to save you. When you believe, trust Him to help you avoid the things you are tempted toward, the very things that separated you from God in the first place. His grace is amazing!

In conclusion, the Christian life can be a roller coaster of highs and lows. And Jesus’ life was no exception. If He had a roller coaster of a life, we should expect no less. Believe in Him, keep believing in Him, follow Him, repent of your sins, and praise Him for His victory over sin, temptation, and Satan. Because He was victorious, we can be too! Look to Him!

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus

The next post can be found here.

Thanks for reading.

 

[1] Daniel L. Akin, Exalting Jesus in Mark, Christ-Centered Exposition (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2014), 11.
[2] Ibid., 12.

 

 

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