Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark
A devotional commentary by Michael Spencer
Compiled and Edited by: Michael Bell
Table of Contents
12 Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. 13 And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.
Mark 1:12-13 – NASB
Like so many things in Mark, this passage seems highly abbreviated when compared to the other Synoptic28 Gospel accounts. Matthew and Luke add details of the temptation that have become the center of many sermons and lessons. As a result, some of Mark’s version has been obscured.
The most striking thing about this passage is the verb ekballo used by Mark to indicate how the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert. Mark uses this verb 17 times, often in the context of exorcisms. The force of the verb is not captured by the NIV’s “sent”. Better is the NASB “impelled.” We are not to think that Jesus is reluctant to experience this chapter of his life, but to see the strong hand of the Spirit leading Jesus in his ministry. The Spirit of the Lord is truly “upon” him29 and we read of similar strong directions by the Spirit in both the Old and New Testaments.30 John’s gospel records many statements of Jesus explaining that he is in the world to do and say exactly what he is directed by the Father. We are not to think of Jesus as a puppet, but we are also not to think of the Holy Spirit as anyone less than the sovereign God! God’s Spirit is the mightiest of powers and we should expect strong leadership of the Holy Spirit in those things that are in the plan and purpose of God.
The experience of Jesus as a Spirit-filled and Spirit led human being is important for Christians. In order to keep a real doctrine of the humanity of Christ, we must confess that the Spirit’s work in and through Jesus is not substantially different than in the life of the believer. The difference is in Christ’s sinlessness and divinity, but not in his human nature. We should not be afraid to study how Jesus experienced God. God will lead us as surely as he led Jesus. As we affirm that, let us remember where that leadership took him – to the cross.
Jesus goes into the desert “immediately” after the baptism. There is something of a pattern here for all who are interested in following Jesus. First, there is the place of obedience. Then there is the blessing of assurance that I am God’s child. Then there is the driving out into the place of temptation and testing. The place of temptation and testing is as much God’s work as the blessing at baptism. Mark is clearly telling his readers that, like Jesus, their testings and temptations are part of their experience as God’s children. We should beware of any version of Christianity that speaks of uninterrupted bliss without God-sent experiences of testing and temptation. In the desert Satan was the instrument of temptation, but the author of the experience was God. C.S. Lewis observed in The Screwtape Letters that God will not let a new believer live on the mountain top, but will drive him or her into the valley in order to develop faith and strength.31 While it may seem like a time of chaos, it is part of God’s purpose and God’s plan. It can result in a faith and strength that is not addicted to some emotional state, but dependent on God.
The desert is a familiar motif in the Bible as a whole. In the Old Testament, the desert was the experience between deliverance from Egypt and the conquest of the Promised Land. It was a place of cleansing and purification through testing and often painful trial. The Prophets looked back at the desert as the time of Israel’s true “romance” with God; the time when God prepared his people to be his covenant bride.32 It was in the desert that Moses met God through the burning bush,33 Hagar experienced God’s compassion,34 and John the Baptist prepared for ministry. The desert also has negative connotations: This passage speaks of wild animals. David speaks of “a dry and dreary land where there is no water.”35 It was also seen as a habitation of demons.36 From the very beginning, Jesus’ path is not only to heavenly glory, but a road of conflict with evil.
Mark omits the fasting of Jesus and the nature of the temptations, but he is clear that this was not a physical test but a spiritual battle. Jesus was tempted by Satan himself. This encounter between Jesus and the arch fiend has to be one of the most fascinating moments in the entire Bible. Even the other synoptic Gospels treatment is surely not exhaustive. The author of the book of Hebrews tells us that “because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”37 He builds on this theme by stating that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.”38 These verses describe the entire incarnation, but the focused temptation of Jesus is also in mind. I must firmly reject that interpretation of the temptation which says Jesus could not have sinned. The writers of scripture want us to see this as real battle. The victor is the almighty Son, but in this time he is weak and weary like we are, yet he has resisted and shown us how to resist.39 His victory over every kind of temptation is a hope to every person who prays out of their own existential struggle. “Nobody understands me like Jesus”40 is the truth.
I cannot pass this passage without poking at least once at those who would deny the existence of Satan. While I accept that Jesus was a man of his time, I do not believe Satan is a cultural symbol, but an essential part of the biblical portrayal of evil. The Bible’s picture of evil includes fallen humanity and a fallen creation, but there is more – there is a personal and diabolical dimension of evil that is not explainable by environment or heredity. Jesus believed in fallen creation and sinful people, but he also believed in the personal, intelligent and malicious enemy of God.41
God often seems to use forty days or forty years to do his work in the lives of his chosen. We ought to beware of those who believe God can be manipulated by imitating forty days of prayer or fasting. Such ascetic imitation may be impressive, but it is not the point of the passage. Jesus was in the wilderness long enough for God to prepare him for his destiny.
Mark then gives us a glimpse into the presence of angels assisting Jesus in his time of testing. Angels appear throughout the Bible as ministering spirits. The birth accounts in Matthew and Luke show that angels have been involved with Jesus from the very beginning. Luke has a similar story of an angel ministering to Jesus as he prays in anguish prior to his crucifixion.42 The book of Revelation is our best study of angels, showing that the angels are devoted to the worship of the Son of God.43
Mark is not trying to present Jesus’ experience of angels as unique. Throughout the book of Acts there are stories of angels involved with the early Christians. I believe that they are involved with us as well. Having said that, the Bible discourages interest in angels on the level we are seeing it today. Most cults and even many orthodox Christians cross the line in fascination with angels into something approaching idolatry. Much false information about angels is transmitted through the New Age movement and other spiritual counterfeits. We should be grateful for the ministry of angels, but not seek to invoke or manipulate them. Angels do their business without our assistance or applause.
Before we leave the story of the temptation, I think it is important that we reconsider one key point. The temptations that we face are not unique. Jesus was tempted as we are, yet did not sin. In a future chapter we will explore this further. Why do we so often fail when we are tempted? How did Jesus have a human nature yet not sin? Knowing that Jesus was tempted as we are, but did not sin, not only gives us confidence in him, but also gives us confidence that he can help us in our own times of testing. This is only part of the good news that Jesus offers, for he is about to step onto center stage for the first time and let the world know that “good news” has arrived!
 Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the Synoptic Gospels because they share many of the same stories, often with similar wording, and often in the same sequence.
 Luke 4:18
 1 Kings 18:12, 2 Kings 2:16, Ezek 3:12, 14 ff, 8:3, 11:24, Acts 8:39 ff.
 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Chapter 9.
 Jeremiah 2:1-3; Hosea 13:5
 Exodus 3
 Genesis 16
 Psalm 63:1
 Matthew 12:43
 Hebrews 2:18
 Hebrews 4:15
 Ephesians 6:10-18
 Nobody understands like Jesus. Music & lyrics by Linda Greenfield & Michael Fenemore. 1984
 Read People of the Lie by M. Scott Peck. While I can’t endorse most of Peck’s work, this psychiatric case that this book makes for the existence of the devil is very good.
 Luke 22:43
 Revelation 5:11-12; Revelation 7:11-12
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