God’s Word for You
Mark 1:12-13 The Temptation
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, June 26, 2021
Satan Tempts Jesus
12 The Spirit immediately sent Jesus out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels were serving him.
Throughout most Gospel accounts, it seems best to take each story as the writer presents it without comparing parallel accounts too much, otherwise the author’s point is easily lost. Here, Mark tells us so little that the temptation’s duration for the forty days is especially emphasized. Why doesn’t he mention the three temptations: to conjure up bread, to throw himself down from a high place, to bow down to Satan in order to gain power? If I may be so bold as to answer for Mark: He does not mention these partly because there were undoubtedly more than just these three. Mark’s words make us see the temptation lasting for the whole forty days, not just the last three days, which is the impression some are given by Matthew and Luke.
And yet there is a value in at least considering the three temptations even here. Luther considered the three temptations (Matthew 4:1-11) to be given to Christ physically in the wilderness (some theologians of his day speculated that they might have been more intellectual, merely in his thoughts). We agree with Luther. And then Luther went on to say that there is a picture of the history of the church in those temptations. “First, the church was tried by poverty and persecution under the Roman emperors. Second, by heresies, for Christ was not led into the temple but to the pinnacle above the temple, that is, beyond the Scriptures. Third, by wealth and power under the popes” (LW 54:79). That third temptation, wealth and power, continues today under the sway of the Televangelists and the so-called wealth and prosperity “gospel” of the evangelicals. All of these things are the temptations of Satan.
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness for the temptation. It was a test. The Son of Man, the Descendant of Adam, picked up where Adam left off, in the wilderness, being tempted by Satan. In this comparison, there is no counterpart to Eve. Or is there? Adam was tempted with his wife alongside (Genesis 3:6), and when she fell, he chose to follow her into the fall. Any husband would explain Adam’s choice by saying that he did so out of love for her. But Christ was tempted in the wilderness, on the one hand all alone, but on the other hand surrounded by all mankind; the whole human race. He had no one with him as a companion to support him and face his struggles along with him. But he was not alone in the world. He was surrounded by millions of living people, all of whom were under the curse of the fall; all of whom were condemned; all of whom needed salvation. There he was, all alone, tempted in our place, tempted while among us. He was tempted for us.
He was surrounded by wild animals. We are not told that they were dangerous, or that he had to defend himself by crushing scorpions with his sandals or by setting traps for the jackals of the Judean desert, or that the nesherim (vultures) were flying in their lazy circles over his head. Rather, we are told that he was with them. Just as Adam was surrounded by the wild animals when he fell, so also Christ was with the wild animals when he did not fall, and we remember that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22). For it was not only Adam and Eve and their descendants who were cursed, but it was “the plants and birds and rocks and things” (America, “A Horse With No Name,” 1971) that continue to suffer as a result of the fall into sin (Genesis 3:14-19). The livestock, the wild animals, the plants, and the ground itself was afflicted by the curse, and waits for the final end to the curse when the world is remade and the creation may serve God and man once again in paradise (Revelation 21:1-3).
Finally, Jesus was served by the angels. This is a comfort to us. For if Jesus himself was given help in his time of need and temptation, surely we will not be abandoned to Satan’s lies all by ourselves. Partly this is a reminder for us to carry the Word of God with us in our hearts always, to invoke the name of Jesus out loud as we pray so that the devil will hear the name of the Lord God, and Jesus said: “The Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (John 15:16). And the angels are a reminder that we have help from God in the unseen world of the spirits. The demons of hell creep and sneak along at the edges of our shadows, looking for ways to tempt us (1 Corinthians 7:5), to hurt us (Daniel 6:22), and even to kill us (Mark 9:22). But God sends his holy angels to watch over us and to defend us, “to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11).
As you meditate on the temptation of Jesus, remember that he endured his temptation for you. And latch on to this item that is too seldom remembered today: Christ was tempted when he was alone. When we are at our lowest, the devil will not spare us or play fair. The devil is never your friend; he is always your enemy, and he plays dirty. “When I’m down,” said Luther, “above all, I’ll flee from solitude. This is my only and my best advice: Don’t remain alone when you are assailed! Flee solitude! Do as the monk did who, when he felt tempted in his cell, said, ‘I’ll run out of the cell to my brothers.’ This is what I do too. I’d rather go to my swineherd John, or even to the pigs themselves, than remain alone” (LW 54:276-277). Solomon warned: “There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. ‘Who am I working for?’ he asked… This too is meaningless—a miserable business” (Ecclesiastes 4:8).
Content yourself with the company of Jesus every day, and of your brothers and sisters in Christ. And if they are too few today, then walk out like Luther to the company of the pigs, or to the other parts of God’s creation, and give glory to Jesus for “the plants and birds and rocks and things.” And be their companion, too.
Pastor Timothy Smith