Jesus’ Preparation Was a Declaration of His Dedication

Posted: October 1, 2012 in Mark, Sermon Manuscripts

This morning before we dig into our text I think it’s important that we spend a little time setting a backdrop for the message, so turn in your copy of God’s Word to the book of Genesis. While you’re turning there to Genesis chapter three, let me quickly catch us up to speed on what’s going on there.

By the time we’re three chapters into God’s Word, we find creation week to have been completed, culminating with the creation of Adam and Eve. At the end of chapter one, “God saw everything He had made, and behold, it was very good.” Chapter two goes into more detail about creation…in chapter three we find that all is good in the world. Adam and Eve are happily husband and wife. They belong to each other. They had been told by God to be fruitful and multiply. To “fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

That’s the life, right? I mean, God basically said here’s a peaceful, perfect garden. Have kids and make the whole earth look like this. Spread this beauty everywhere. There is no animal you need to fear, no animal that will oppose you. Have fun. Oh, there is one exception to all of this. Eat anything you want, as much as you want, except for one tree. One very special tree. I’ve named it the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. All you need to know about it is that it’s off-limits. If you disobey me and eat the fruit on that tree, mark my words. You will die.

Too easy. Grow a family, cultivate a garden, have the run of the land? Enjoy the presence of God forever? That sounds great! And yet it’s not too much longer until we see a new character enter the story- Lucifer, aka The Devil, aka Satan. The greatest liar ever known. During his conversation with Eve he told her “You won’t die if you eat that fruit. God knows that when you eat the fruit your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing everything.”

Seems that no one is impervious to the temptation to be God. Satan certainly knew that one from first hand experience. Sadly and stupidly, Eve buys into that lie. She eats the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And then she gives it to her no-good husband who apparently did nothing to dissuade her from this sin, and he eats it too.

And sure enough their eyes were opened. Opened to the reality that they had screwed up. Things were different. They realized they were naked, and shame replaced fun. Fear replaced joy. When they knew that God was coming their way, they hid themselves from the Creator who had lovingly fashioned them with His own hands.

Can you imagine that? I mean, just try to wrap your mind around this. Adam and Eve enjoyed the very presence of God in their every day life. Not a nebulous “God is all around us” thing, but a constant part of their reality. Open, unfettered, welcome access to God. And when they botch it all up and realize they messed up, I don’t think coming to God even crossed their mind! Instead they grab leaves and try to cover themselves with it. They were now ashamed of the bodies that God had created them with. They no longer enjoyed the intimacy of their marriage, they hid themselves.

When they heard God coming towards them, they had the opportunity to run to Him, to beg His forgiveness, to cry out for mercy, to desperately try to fix what they had broken. But they don’t. They hide. They’re scared. They’re ashamed of their nakedness. They now fear God, and up until this day I don’t think they knew what fear even was. Can you envision God’s heart breaking as He sees His children cowering from Him in fear?

God could have destroyed them. He had every right to. Of all his creation, the ones most precious to Him were the first to rebel against Him. But instead of slaughtering them, He sacrificed one of His spotless animals and made skin coverings for them. Yes, spiritual death entered the world that day in a way that has plagued mankind ever since…but God covered their sin and spared their lives.

And He gave them a promise, what we call the “protoevangelium,” or “first Gospel.” It’s that promise in Genesis 3:15 that a descendant of Adam and Eve’s would ultimately crush the head of Satan. Some 4,000 years later that promise is fulfilled in the Cross of Christ, where the Son of God redeemed His people by bearing their sins upon himself, where the wrath and justice of God was satisfied in His son, where our sins were placed on the sinless One and He absorbed our punishment. Where he said “It is finished.” Paid in full. Debt cancelled.

Three days later, Jesus rises from the dead. Forty days after that He ascends into Heaven. Less then two weeks later the Holy Spirit comes and the New Testament Church is birthed. Now fast-forward 25 years or so and the Church is under the gun. Nero is now the emperor of Rome and Christians all throughout the Roman empire are viewed as subversive outlaws. It’s especially horrendous in Rome, where your allegiance to Christ served as your death sentence.

So we find Mark, who was a contemporary of Peter and Paul, writing this book to those Christians in Rome who are being severely persecuted. And one of the challenges that Walt and I are dealing with is that if it’s true that Mark’s Gospel predates the other three, Mark’s readers would have no more detail into the life of Christ than what Mark presents. Even if Matthew’s book came first, it’s highly unlikely that it would have circulated to the point where Mark’s readers could supplement Mark’s account with Matthew’s. So what I’m driving at is this- Mark wrote what he wrote for a very specific reason to a very specific audience. The challenge is not that we add details to Mark’s account, though of course this is greatly beneficial to us some 2000 years later…the challenge is in trying to figure out why Mark said exactly what he said to the mostly-Gentile Christians in Rome.

So put yourself in their shoes. There’s no electricity. No heat. No air. No indoor plumbing. The government they live under is against them. Their friends and family members are being murdered for their faith. And so as they’re going through this letter they see Mark explain that John the Baptist was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. They saw how multitudes had come to him to be baptized. They saw how Jesus, their savior, the one many remembered or had grown up hearing stories about, was baptized by John in a crazy symbolism of how Jesus would soon stand in the place of sinners so that we could in eternity sit with Jesus.

And then they saw in verse twelve that after the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ after His baptism, “The Spirit immediately drove Him into the wilderness.” And they probably stopped right there to scratch their heads. The wilderness? What? Cause I mean, Jesus had just been baptized. He had just been anointed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. He had just heard God the Father say “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” And so what we would expect to see is ok, Jesus is on the scene. He’s already given us a picture of his ministry, that He would stand in the place of sinners. The Holy Spirit is leading, guiding, empowering him, communing with Him. Now it’s time to get started. Let’s see this ministry of Christ’s begin.

But not so fast. Following His baptism, the Holy Spirit drove Jesus even further into the wilderness, further into isolation. And it wasn’t so that Jesus could have one last time of earthly fellowship with His Father. It wasn’t to wrap His mind around the task that was before Him. It was so that he could endure misery, suffering, and temptation in a way unparalleled in His life…until the day He hung on the Cross in our place.

And here’s the part that may have confused those Christians in Rome. See, they were used to the proverbial life in the wilderness. They were used to suffering, to misery. But we don’t see Jesus accidentally finding himself in the midst of it. We don’t see God sitting back and saying “Aw man. That wasn’t supposed to happen. I guess I’ll do my best to make some good come out of it!” No, God purposed to send His Son into the wilderness. It was part of His plan.

But…but what about “He leads me beside still waters?” That’s true. But he’ll also lead you to raging seas. And so the Christians in Rome reading this letter by candlelight, fearful for their lives, need not fear that in their times of suffering God has left them. Hardship in our lives is no indicator that God has abandoned us in our time of need. If anything, they are a sign that God is there, refining us, molding us, transforming us. As we look at the turmoil in our own lives, the craziness, the stress, the temptation, the sin, it’s easy to tell ourselves that God isn’t here. This can’t be part of His plan. But it is.

And it gets worse for Jesus. It wasn’t simply just a day trip for Him. Mark tells us that He spent the next forty days out there, being tempted by Satan. Probably still dripping wet from His baptism, Jesus leaves with only the clothes on His back and the shoes on His feet. No food. No shelter. Nothing but the unbearable midday heat, the cold rock-hard ground to sleep on at night. Perhaps near water, perhaps not. He has 960 hours to be hungry, tired, alone, and continuously tempted by Satan.

Years ago I was with a group of soldiers at my reserve unit and one of the guys there was showing off his tungsten carbide wedding band. Fascinating metal, this tungsten carbide is. Made from forging together tungsten and carbon at several thousand degrees, the result is a metal that is extremely hard and impervious to almost any attempt to scratch.

So my friend here decided to demonstrate this. He pulled out his Gerber multitool, opened up the file on it, and proceeded to vigorously file the outside of his wedding band for several long, entertaining seconds. Then he blew off the dust, buffed it on his shirt, and showed us how his ring was surprisingly untouched. Now that was pretty cool! A ring like that? Indestructible? Cool.

He then took the demonstration a step further. Next was the impact test. We didn’t have a hammer on hand, so we used the next best thing- an iron collar that was used to keep weight plates on a bench press bar. Balancing the ring on its edge, my friend confidently raised high his make-shift hammer, swung it down, and then proceeded to watch his wedding band absolutely shatter beneath the force of his swing! Yes, tungsten carbide is a metal so hard that it’s near impossible to scratch…but because of it’s unique properties it’s rather easy to shatter one, and shatter one he did! He tested his ring, surpassed its breaking point, and ruined it. And this is what Satan tried with Jesus.

Forty days, Satan tried to make Jesus sin. He knew that if he could make Jesus sin just once that He would no longer be a suitable sacrifice for His people. We could go to Matthew’s and Luke’s account of this time, look at the various types of temptation that Jesus faced, but Mark doesn’t do that. In that one simple sentence he tells his readers, “Yeah, Jesus was isolated from people, hungry, tired, worn, miserable, and continually tempted to abuse His divinity, to deviate from the plan to rescue His people.”

His people. What do you think Jesus thought about those forty days? As each day passed and His body grew weaker, as He abstained from food and pressed into His Father, as He resisted temptation after temptation after temptation, who do you think was on His mind?

See, Jesus was in the wilderness so that He could fully identify with His people. He was undergoing temptations that we ourselves are daily confronted with. The writer of Hebrews explains why- he says, “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. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Think about that part. Because Jesus has been in our shoes, has faced our temptations, we don’t go to Him just to receive help fighting against our own temptations…but we can go to Him and receive mercy when we fail to resist temptation and we fall. Every temptation that Christ endured, every time He chose not to use His divine power, but chose to be subjected to life as fully human yet fully God, He did so that He could rescue sinners who were unworthy of rescue. That Jesus withstood temptation to forgive those who don’t is huge- especially to Mark’s readers.

There was a unique phenomenon occurring in the early church, something we don’t experience here in America. As Christians were increasingly persecuted for their faith, there evolved a group of people known as “confessors,” or those who confessed their faith and were persecuted for it. Those persecuted to the point of death were known as “martyrs.”

But there were also Christians then who faced constant temptation to renounce their faith. And some did. They became known as “lapsis.” Those going a step further and surrendering Scriptures to be burned were known as “traditores.” Granted, I would allow that many of them who claimed to be Christ-followers, only to turn their back on the faith, probably were not believers in the first place. As John says in 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

But get this- there were some lapsis and traditores who could not continue in their forced apostasy and recanted their recant of their faith. And they died for it. And the early church didn’t really know what to do with these apostates-turned-martyrs. But I can imagine that some of the former lapsis were hit a little close to home when they see that the Captain of their Salvation endured temptations like even they had never experienced, so that in turn He could forgive them for turning their backs on him.

Some of you here might be thinking “I would never renounce my faith! I could never turn my back on my Savior!” But…isn’t that what we do every time we sin? Don’t we realize that every sin we commit is the reason that Christ hung on the Cross? Every temptation He endured, over a month alone in the desert, was for us! So don’t hide in shame from God when you fail. Jesus knew it was coming even as He underwent His own temptation.

Couple more thoughts and then we’ll wrap this up. Mark gives us two more observations about Jesus’ time in the wilderness. He said, “And He was with the wild animals…” Now he doesn’t tell us that Jesus was stalked and surrounded by these wild creatures. He doesn’t tell us that Jesus is out there in the desert playing hide and go seek with the hyenas, fearing for His life- you know, just another aspect of His suffering. Think about it- Jesus created these animals. Do you really think He now fears them? I don’t think so.

The mission of Christ was to “reconcile all things to Himself.” He was to be the last “Adam,” the one who would fix all things that were broken in the Fall. And so in the midst of the darkness, in the middle of this trail, as he’s hungry and wasting away, as his body is beginning to eat itself to survive, there is Jesus in the middle of these wild beasts, demonstrating His sovereignty, His rightful place as Creator, in a unspoken promise that restoration is coming.

Mark is the only one who mentions that Jesus was with wild animals. That was no accident. Part of Nero’s persecution of the Church including dressing Christians up in animals skins, throwing them into public arenas, and having thousands of spectators cheering as dogs were released to chase down, maul, and kill them. One eyewitness account said “Therefore, first those were seized who admitted their faith, and then, using the information they provided, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much for the crime of burning the city, but for hatred of the human race. And perishing they were additionally made into sports: they were killed by dogs by having the hides of beasts attached to them, or they were nailed to crosses or set aflame, and, when the daylight passed away, they were used as nighttime lamps.”

So in the wilderness Jesus is quietly reminding His people that though they may be persecuted, though beasts may destroy their flesh, Jesus is Lord over all Creation. Wrongs will be made right. When they arrest you and throw you to the dogs, you’ll get me. I’ll see you on the other side.

Besides the animals, we see that Jesus wasn’t alone. Mark tells us that “the angels were ministering to Him.” In ways unclear to us, Jesus was taken care of through this period of fasting and temptation, by angels no less. Further assurance that no matter how dark the night, how long the road, God will take care of us.

Mark’s message to the early church, his message for us today, is this: Do not be surprised when hard times come. They will. It’s part of life, part of our refining process. Don’t look at the wilderness before you and believe that God has left you- He hasn’t. Don’t look at your circumstances and believe them to be beyond God’s control- they aren’t. Trust that God will care for you, because He will.

As our musicians prepare to play I want to share one last thought with you- a passage of Scripture that Mark’s readers may have been familiar with, perhaps not. God made a promise to His people in Deuteronomy 31:6, a promise applied by the writer of Hebrews to the Church, a promise where God says this: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

About three years ago my mom and dad came up to visit Sarai and I in Indiana. It was a church night and Sarai and I had driven separate vehicles- for some reason I had made it home before she did. So there I was in the living room talking to mom and dad, trying to show them my awesome fire-starting skills. Wasn’t really cold enough to warrant a fire in the fire place, but I loved the smell, the sound, the sight- everything about having a crackling fire in the fire place.

So there I was on my hands and knees attempting to breath life into this really poorly built bundle of sticks when mom asked me a question about Uriah. It hit me then in the stomach like a sledge hammer- Uriah was still in the backseat of my car. I had totally forgot that I’d brought my son home from church.

I ran outside to the car and sure enough, he was there sleeping peacefully in his baby carrier- oblivious to the reality that I had forgotten all about him and left in him my car. I can’t even begin to tell you how much my neglect of my son wrecked me. As soon as Sarai came home I confessed to her my stupidity and cried over my failure.

Aren’t you glad this morning that God isn’t like us? Aren’t you glad that He promises to never leave us or forsake us? Aren’t you glad that in his forty days in the wilderness Jesus never lost sight of his mission? Our Journey Marker this morning is really simple- just a thought that I want you to soak in: “Jesus’ Preparation was a declaration of His dedication to His people.” Jesus’ Preparation was a declaration of his dedication to His people.

Perhaps you’re struggling, you don’t think you can make it. You can. He’s with you. Maybe you reached your shattering point and gave in to a temptation that you just couldn’t fight any longer. He’s there. Or you’re sitting here wrestling with the Truth, on the brink of trusting Christ as your Savior. Do it- He will not fail you. As we worship our God in this closing song, will you respond to the work of the Holy Spirit?

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