Temptation: Mark 1:12-13

I want to say something about temptation. It happens to me.  It happens to you. It’s part of life. Let’s be clear. Jesus knew about temptation. It was part of His life too.

Mark doesn’t actually talk about the specific temptations faced by Jesus. For those, we need to check out the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

When we do, these ‘temptations’ might seem a bit irrelevant to us. Turning a stone into bread. Power over every civilization in the entire world. Throwing himself from a tower, in the assurance that he will be rescued by angels. All of these are delivered if Christ will only worship Satan. Jesus rejects his temptations because they are against God’s will.  We know that because he rejects them by referencing Scripture.

Think about your own temptations. Tempted to dive into a relationship which you know is wrong. Money or property which isn’t yours, but you could just take it. Do something which you know you really shouldn’t.  Don’t do something which you know that you really should. Tempted to do things which are contrary to Scripture.  This is the stuff of life.

We are tempted because we think these things are possible. Like a misbehaving child we are tempted to push the boundaries. You’ve probably tried it. You might have got away with it. You might not.

Jesus had been fasting for days. The temptation to turn stones into bread must have been enormous. There are millions of people in the world right now who would do it if they could. The difference with Jesus is that the one who turned water into wine clearly  could if he chose, actually turn pebbles into bread rolls. The one who was given all authority in heaven and earth, could have subjugated all the nations and assumed power over them. The Son of God could summons the angels in time of need. So the point is that these are temptations which were within His reach. He could have done these things.

Here’s the point.  He was tempted by things which he could do. I can’t do the things Jesus could do. He knew that they were things which God didn’t want Him to do. Three times he resisted temptation, because He was  committed to doing what God wanted Him to do.

There will be times – no if’s, no but’s – when you will be tempted to do things which you might think you can get away with. Things which you know that you shouldn’t be doing. Things which you think will make you feel good. If you want to follow Jesus, the answer is simple. Don’t do it.  Be strong. Just don’t do it.

13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10: 13

Previous post in this series

Animals and Angels.. Mark 1: 13

Mark is the only Gospel writer to mention animals in the presence of Christ in the wilderness. Jesus, we read, was ‘with the wild animals,’ (Mk 1:13). One could read this as a sign that at a time of vulnerability he was protected (Barnes, Mk 1:13). On the other hand, one has the sense of these creatures being a benign presence. Are they perhaps mentioned to demonstrate the power of Christ over creation. Animals in the wilderness which would normally present a danger, subjugated –  become companions of Jesus at a time of trial (see Barclay, Mark 1:13).

There is another angle. In the final stages of preparation for his launch onto the public stage, the power and majesty of Christ is demonstrated in many ways. In echoes of past prophecies, we might see the bear, the goat, the desert lion – wild animals – even the wolf, laying down with the Lamb (Isaiah 11:6; 65:25; Hosea 2:18).

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Jn 1:29

As with Mark, the Angels are mentioned by Matthew. In his Gospel, Matthew mentions that they attend Christ after his trials. ‘When the devil had departed…’ (Matthew 4:11) What a picture! That angels who have so often been our unseen protectors in difficult times, are there to gently encourage and minister as we recover.

Jesus,’ writes William Barclay, ‘was not left to fight alone, and neither are we.

Next Post in this series

Previous Post in this series

Wilderness: Mark 1:12

It is often said that, after believers baptism, there can be a sense of anti climax, challenge and even temptation for the new believer.

‘So in all the children of God, extraordinary manifestations of his favour are wont to be followed by extraordinary temptations.’ (i)

Here is Jesus walking a similar path. From the drama and wonder of His own baptism, Christ is thrust into a place of challenge, darkness and temptation. For Jesus, the period of temptation is extended (40 days is not to be taken literally (ii)), and he faces extreme attacks attributed to the great adversary, Satan.

?

The text demands that Christ is thrust into the wilderness immediately after baptism. The text demands that he is thrust there by the Holy Spirit. The time of testing after the thrill of baptism is a time ordained by God. There is something really important here in terms of our own times of temptation.

In this life it is impossible to escape the assault of temptation; but one thing is sure – temptations are not sent to make us fall; they are sent to strengthen the nerve and the sinew of our minds and hearts and souls. They are not meant for our ruin, but for our good. They are meant to be tests from which we emerge better warriors and athletes for God. (iii)

Temptation is tough. The challenge is at its greatest when we are in our place of wilderness. Yet even then, under the protection of a faithful God it is to be resisted, endured, and ultimately defeated.

‘The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.’ 1 Corinthians 10:13.

  • John Wesley, Commentary on Gospel of Mark, Mk 1 v12
  • Barclay, Mark, Mark 1:12-13
  • Barclay, ibid

Previous Post in this Series

Next Post in this series

Answered Prayer – Immeasurably More..

Last Sunday, I was event manager for Worship in the Park (#WorshipinHorshamPark), a Christian event in the local Park. For several weeks, I and others had been prayer walking the space, asking God to take control of the event. The weather forecast had been good and we looked set for a great event. Then, 24 hours before the event, the forecast changed. Rain, with the threat of thunderstorms. We kept praying.

Apart from the fact that people wouldn’t turn up in the rain, we hadn’t planned a covered stage. We weren’t equipped for wet weather. Rain, any rain, would cancel our event.

In the hour before the event, during the set up and sound checks, three times it rained and we had to cover everything with tarpaulins. It was dull, overcast, and looked set to rain during the event. We kept praying.

Then, five minutes before the planned start time, something extraordinary happened. Around 200 people turned up. The clouds cleared. The sun came out. The people worshipped.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.                      Ephesians 3:20-21

Previous Post in this series

Christ – Baptised. Mark 1:9-11

John’s baptism was for repentance and the forgiveness of sin. Why, then, did Jesus, the one who was without sin, need to be baptised?

The concept of baptism didn’t start with John. Ceremonial cleanliness and ritual washing had been part of Jewish practice for generations. All Jewish people were familiar with it. At his consecration as a Priest, Aaron and his sons were washed with water (Leviticus 6:8). It was an act of cleansing for both men and women. By the time of Christ there had developed a practice of washing the whole body as part of an ‘initiation’ when someone converted to Judaism. It symbolised transformation. Purity. A new start. A new beginning. (The Mikvah – Chabad.org)

Obviously, this was a huge moment for Jesus. Here he was, about to step out of the shadows, into the final phase of his ministry. There is a sense of consecration at the start of his journey. A ‘new beginning’. A new start.

That’s all fine, passingly interesting, and there’s much more we could say about all that, but I think the true reason may be rather simpler. The question was, remember why did Jesus need to be baptised? I believe that the simple answer is that he didn’t. I believe that he consciously chose to be baptised. Why would he do that? Because he knew that this was God’s will for him.

‘Behold,’ says John, when he first sees Jesus approaching. ‘The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’ (John 1:29). There is no question. John knows that this Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah. No wonder he is hesitant about baptising him. But Jesus steps into the water. ‘It I right that you baptise me to fulfil all righteousness.’ (Matthew 3:14). This act of extraordinary humility by the Son of God was part of God’s plan for Jesus. His acceptance of John’s baptism was an act of obedience at the start of Hs journey.

And so Jesus is baptised. An act which fulfilled all righteousness, unquestionably. An act of extraordinary symbolism, undoubtedly. An act which His heavenly Father wanted him to be a part of, absolutely. An act of obedience, self evidently. 

‘As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove ad alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said ‘You are my Son. With you I am well pleased. ’(Mark 1:11)

Next post in this series

Previous post in this series

The influencer.. Mark 1:5-8

In this first quarter of the 21st Century, we have a new concept of what it means to be an ‘influencer’. An influencer is someone who is perceived as having authority or knowledge on a specific topic and who attracts the interest of large numbers of people. Today, we have ‘cultural influencers’, some of whom can claim millions of followers. Their endorsement of a product or a lifestyle choice can inspire a large tranche of their admirers to change their behaviour. For better or worse, social media influencers can be a powerful force in contemporary culture.

John the Baptist was perceived as having very specific knowledge and authority and he quickly attracted the attention of a very large number of people. His promotion of a lifestyle focussed on repentance before God and acceptance of his forgiveness inspired many to want to listen to him and share in his baptism of water. Within his own culture, John the Baptist was, by the most contemporary of definitions, an influencer of his day.

Leaving aside the immeasurable differences in styles of communication in 1st Century Palestine against 21st Century world, I want to highlight two key differences in the style of influence.

Firstly, there is the act of commitment of followers. Today, I can follow anyone I choose by simply clicking on a screen. Job done. To follow John involved rather more commitment. It involved travelling into the wilderness, facing dangers and difficulties which are beyond the experience of even the most experienced modern travelers. Yet people came. From Jerusalem. From all over Judea. Travelling, almost exclusively  by foot through the hostile environment, often for several days or more. To find John the Baptist at his work involved determination, effort and commitment.

Secondly, the purpose of his message. Social media influencers are, for the most part, about self promotion. We can optimise our websites, manipulate meta data and tags, influence algorithms, and play a host of tricks to encourage people to follow us. There are exceptions, but most influencers are generally self interested. We live in a celebrity culture, where success is measured in ‘clicks’, ‘likes’, ‘follows’, and generated advertising income. Whatever the message of John was, it was not about self, but about someone else. The Gospel writers present him as a signpost linking the coming of Christ to the prophets of old. They also describe a signpost pointing towards the future. His message was to herald the arrival of one who was to follow him. One whose sandals John was not even fit to untie. The message was not about John. It was about Jesus.

Today, we may see influencers with followers in the million. We will never know how many followers John had, but it probably numbered a few thousands. Yet 2000 years later, the message of this influencer continues to resound through the ages. The prophetic voice calling in the desert, proclaiming ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord’.

Next post in this series

Previous post in this series

John appeared.. Mark 1:4

From The Friars - CFR Blog: John the Baptist‘And so, John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.’

Horsham, 3rd September 2023

It is in verse 4 that the drama starts. My French Bible (i) begins this verse with the shortest of sentences. ‘Jean parait.’ The message is clear. After 400 years of prophetic silence, ‘John appeared’. His name is rooted in the Hebrew name of Yehochanan, which means ‘the grace or mercy of Jehovah’ (ii). ‘A most proper and significant name for the forerunner of the God of All Grace.’ (iii)

There is a parched, unwelcoming and sparsely populated desert area between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. Sometimes referred to as Jeshimon, this is an arid, bare and sterile land. Mile after mile of scorched, unwelcoming emptiness, where virtually no plant life can thrive. This strip of utterly waterless land is the wilderness of John the Baptist. This is exactly the type of place where the prophets of old were to be found.

How, in such a place, was John able to baptise people? In the midst of this desolate place, the wilderness is dissected by the River Jordan, and it was here that people flocked to meet and listen to John. (iv)

Here is a man who looks like a prophet, in a place where you might have expected to find a prophet in the days of the ancients.

“This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” (Matthew 3:3, referencing Isaiah 40:3, NIV)

There can be no question that the silence is over. Be in no doubt, says Mark, here is a genuine prophet, a voice calling in the wilderness,  preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

  • Bible du Semeur, Nouveau Testament, Marc 1:4
  • Adam Clark, Gospel of Mark Commentary
  • Adam Clark, ibid
  • The actual site of Christ’s baptism is believed to be Al Maghtas, sometimes called Bethany beyond the Jordan, on the east bank of the Jordan about 8 miles north of the Dead Sea (whc.unesco.org)