The Spirit driveth Him into the wilderness.
An awful and mysterious passage in the life of One whose tastes and habits were the very opposite of those of the prophet of the desert — One who loved men and cities, free social intercourse, and scenes of active usefulness. No sooner does Jesus undergo the high consecration of baptism than, instead of stepping forth into public life, He flees to solitude. We cannot unveil the deep mystery of this season of thought and trial. But may we not suppose that when the Spirit descended on Christ, He who had so suffered the limitations of humanity as already to have needed to grow in wisdom and strength, may first have realized, in His human thought, the tremendous import of His mission, and at the same time may first have grasped the superhuman powers with which to work miracles? If so, overwhelmed with the vision before Him, He may well have sought solitude to meditate on His great work, to obtain inward mastery of His own stupendous powers, and to wrestle with and conquer the fearful temptations that would rise up, urging Him to desecrate those powers to selfish purposes.
I. CHRIST WAS TEMPTED. He was not only tested as by a touchstone, but by the more searching ordeal of a direct persuasion to evil. In all there is a lower as well as a higher nature, a self-interest as well as a conscience of duty. If Christ was tempted, it follows that(1) no innocence and no strength can make a soul unassailable by temptation, and(2) to feel the force of temptation is no proof of guilty compliance.
II. Christ was tempted BY SATAN. Temptation arises from without as well as from our own hearts. This is why the purest mind is liable to it.
III. Christ was tempted AT THE COMMENCEMENT OF HIS MISSION. The greatest obstacles often beset the first steps of a new course — in attempting a new work, in first attacking a bad habit, in entering on the Christian life. This tests genuineness and teaches humility, self-diffidence, and reliance on God. It is a great thing to begin the Christian campaign with a victory in the first battle.
IV. Christ was tempted WHEN UNDER HIGH SPIRITUAL INFLUENCES. "The Spirit driveth Him."
1. God permits, nay, requires, us to pass through the fire of temptation.
2. Great spiritual elation is often followed by deep depression.
3. New endowments bring new dangers. They who stand highest are in danger of falling lowest.
V. Christ was tempted IN THE WILDERNESS.
1. John found the desert the best scene for his life and work, Christ found it a region of evil influences. As one man's paradise may be the purgatory of another, so the haven of refuge of one may be his brother's most dangerous snare.
2. Christ was tempter in a solitary place. We cannot escape temptation by fleeing from the world; we carry the world with us to our retreat.
This wilderness has been identified, by the voice of tradition, in the Greek and Latin Churches, as that wild and lonely region between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, called in modern geography, Quarantania. It is an extensive plateau, elevated to a considerable height above the plain of Jericho and the west bank of the Jordan; and hence the literal accuracy of the expression in St. Matthew, that Jesus was "led up" into the wilderness. Travellers have described it as a barren, sterile waste of painful whiteness, shut in on the west by a ridge of grey limestone hills, moulded into every conceivable shape; while on the east the view is closed by the gigantic wall of the Moab mountains, appearing very near at hand, but in reality a long way off, the deception being caused by the nature of the intervening ground, which possesses no marked features, no difference of colour on which to fix the eye for the purpose of forming an estimate of distance. Over this vast expanse of upland country there are signs of vegetation only in two or three places, where winter torrents have scooped out a channel for themselves, and stimulate year after year into brief existence narrow strips of verdure along their banks. The monotony of the landscape and the uniformity of its colouring are varied only when the glaring afternoon sun projects the shadows of the ghostly rocks across the plain, or, at rare intervals, when a snowy cloud, that seems as if born of the hills themselves, sails across the deep blue sky and casts down on the desolate scene the cool dark mantle of its shade. A more dreary and lonely scene it is impossible to imagine.
Here we learn that God is our Leader into all things which are good for our souls, and that even temptation may be good for us. The same Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness leads us thither too.
1. Christ went into a desert to make expiation for the sins which are committed in society.
2. He went to endure fasting for man's luxury; to suffer want for man's extravagance.
3. He went into the wilderness immediately after His baptism, teaching us thereby that those who are baptized should die from sin and rise again unto righteousness.
4. It is absolutely necessary for us all sometimes to stand aside from the busy crowd, and to seek quiet and retirement for prayer and self-examination, without which our spiritual life must grow feebler and fainter till it dies.
Note that it was immediately after His baptism our Lord was led into the wilderness to be tempted. Satan, like a pirate, sets on a ship that is richly laden; so when a soul hath beer laden with spiritual comforts, now the devil will be shooting at him to rob him of all. The devil envies to see a soul feasted with spiritual joy. Joseph's parti-coloured coat made his brethren envy him and plot against him. After David had the good news of the pardon of his sin (which must needs fill with consolation), Satan presently tempted him to a new sin in numbering the people; and so all his comfort leaked out and was spilt.
THAT THEY COME TO THE BEST OF MEN.
1. To test the work and progress of their moral character.
2. To impart to moral character new traits of beauty.
II. THAT THEY OFTEN FOLLOW TIMES OF HAPPY COMMUNION WITH GOD.
1. These altered conditions of soul are often sudden.
2. They are disciplinary.
3. They are unwelcome.
III. THAT THEY MARK IMPORTANT CRISES IN THE SPIRITUAL HISTORY OF THE GOOD.
1. They aid self-interpretation.
2. They give insight into the problem of sin.
3. They afford an opportunity of asserting moral supremacy.
IV. THAT THEY ARE FREQUENTLY FOLLOWED BY THE SOOTHING MINISTRIES OF HEAVEN.
1. These ministries are angelic.
2. They are personal.
3. They are opportune.
4. They are soothing.Lessons:
1. That temptation should not cause us to depreciate the worth of our moral character.
2. That temptation should increase our knowledge of self, and enhance the progress of our being.
3. That the devotions of the good should prepare them for struggle with evil.
4. That solitude is no safeguard against temptation.
5. That heavenly ministries are at the disposal of a tempted, but prayerful, soul.
6. That man has the power to resist the strongest opposition of hell.
It was not a vision but an actual occur. fence between a personal Saviour and a personal devil.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. The time. After His baptism. Before His public ministry.
2. The place. It was solitary, dreary, dangerous.
3. The Divine agency. Appointed and regulated by God.
4. Angelic ministrations.
II. THE DETAILS.
1. To the use of unlawful means of extrication from difficulties.
2. To presumption on Divine support under self-sought dangers.
3. To spiritual idolatry.
III. ITS USES.
1. It tried His character as a man and as a Mediator.
2. It showed His power to overcome the devil.
3. It qualified Him to sympathize with His people.
IV. ITS LESSONS.
1. From the contrast between the issues of the temptation in paradise and of that in the wilderness.
2. From the instrument which was used in repelling the temptation. The sword of the Spirit.
3. From the hopes it inspires of victory over all our enemies.
From the baptism He went up, as it were, towards God as the "Beloved Son;" but from the temptation He comes earthward as the Son of Man. The Jordan lies on the heavenly, the wilderness on the earthly, side of Christ. There is a "river," but there is no wilderness, in heaven.
Christ, having received the Spirit, EVER AFTER LIVED UNDER HIS IMMEDIATE GUIDANCE.
1. Everything that Christ said and did expressed the mind of the Spirit. In this respect He is an example.
2. The intensity with which Christ acted is expressed by the word "driveth."
3. The Spirit, as a leader, often takes into the wilderness,
II. Christ having been formally anointed to His offices, PREPARES HIMSELF BY FASTING AND PRAYER FOR HIS WORK. It was after Christ bad spent forty days in this employment that He was tempted. He afterwards acted in the same manner. Our example.
III. CHRIST HAVING RETIRED INTO THE WILDERNESS, HE ALLOWED HIMSELF TO BE TEMPTED OF THE DEVIL.
IV. The temptation of Christ FOLLOWED CLOSE UPON THE ENJOYMENT OF THE HIGHEST RELIGIOUS PRIVILEGES.
V. Christ was tempted IN A PLACE INTO WHICH THE SPIRIT HAD LED HIM.
VI. It is stated that Christ, during His stay in the wilderness, WAS WITH THE WILD BEASTS.
VII. On this and other occasions ANGELS MINISTERED TO CHRIST.
SATAN, THE PRINCE OF DEVILS. Numbers of his agents. His apostasy, and ruin of man. His power on earth, a kingdom. Organized. Long almost undisputed.
II. CHRIST CAME TO DISPUTE HIS AUTHORITY. Took an affecting view of human vassalage.
III. SATAN, AWARE OF HIS ADVENT, UNDERTOOK TO CONDUCT HIS TEMPTATION. Made His life an incessant conflict.
IV. THE DEFEAT OF SATAN QUITE RECONCILABLE WITH HIS PRESENT PREVALENCE.
V. Called a spirit, TO EXCITE OUR VIGILANCE. An unclean spirit, to awaken our antipathy. His influence over the heart, great. But only exercised with our consent.
VI. THE PERIOD OF HIS REIGN LIMITED.
ITS PERILS. Eve was tempted when she was alone; the suicide succumbs when he is pushed with the last degree of loneliness; the darkest thoughts of the conspirator becloud the mind when he has most deeply cut the social bond; when man is alone he loses the check of comparison with others; he miscalculates his force, and deems too little the antagonism that force may excite.
II. ITS ADVANTAGES. The risks of solitude are in proportion to its value. Man cannot reach his full stature in the market place or in association with the excited throng. The desert was to Christ a holy place after the initial battle. In the first instance He was led up into it to be tempted; but often afterwards to be comforted.
Some people see nothing in the world but the wilderness, the devil, and the wild beasts. Resist these temptations, and thou wilt find it full of angels.
Tempted of Satan
The number forty seems to have had a special mystical meaning. Nine instances in the Bible of events which occurred for forty days or years.
1. The Flood.
2. Bodies embalmed forty days before burial.
3. Israel's wanderings.
4. Goliath's defiance of Israel.
5. Elijah fasted.
6. Ezekiel bore the iniquity of Judah.
7. Repentance of Nineveh.
8. Our Lord's temptation.
9. Interval between resurrection and ascension.
The word temptation has three meanings in the Bible.
1. A trial of our faith, to bring out some hidden virtue. Thus Abraham was tempted of God.
2. A provoking to anger. Thus we tempt God (Psalm 95:9; Psalm 106:14). So we say of a provoking person that he has a trying temper.
3. A leading into sin. Thus we are tempted of the devil.
1. To strengthen our faith. The unused limb becomes weak and tender; the neglected instrument of music gets out of tune; the untouched weapon loses its keen edge. So, many a man knows nothing of self-denial until God tries him by a great sorrow.
2. To bring out latent good qualities.
3. To make us watchful. We must prove our armour. We must learn our weak points.
4. That He may one day give us our reward (James 1:12).
Did Christ, then, merely suffer in the wilderness as any other man has done? Suffering is a question of nature. The educated man suffers more than the uneducated man; the poet probably suffers more than the mathematician; the commanding officer suffers more in a defeat than the common soldier. The more life, the more suffering: the billows of sorrow being in proportion to the volume of our manhood. Now Jesus Christ was not merely a man, He was Man; and by the very compass of His manhood, He suffered more than any mortal can endure. The storm may pass as fiercely over the shallow lake as over the Atlantic, but by its very volume the latter is more terribly shaken. No other man had come with Christ's ideas; in no other man was the element of self so entirely abnegated; no other man had offered such opposition to diabolic rule; all these circumstances combine to render Christ's temptation unique, yet not one of them puts Christ so far away as to prevent us finding in His temptation unfailing solace and strength.
No sooner was Christ out of the water of baptism than He is thrust into the fire of temptation. So David, after his anointing, was hunted as a partridge upon the mountains. Israel is no sooner out of Egypt than Pharaoh pursues them. Hezekiah had no sooner left that solemn passover than Sennacherib comes up against him. St. Paul is assaulted with vile temptations after the abundance of his revelations; and Christ teaches us, after forgiveness of sins, to look for temptations, and to pray against them. While Jacob would be Laban's drudge and packhorse, all was well; but when once he began to flee, he makes after him with all his might. All was quiet enough at Ephesus before St. Paul came thither; but then "there arose no small stir about 'the way.'" All the while our Saviour lay in His father's shop, and meddled only with carpenter's chips, the devil troubled Him not; but now that He is to enter more publicly upon His office of mediatorship, the tempter pierceth His tender soul with many sorrows by solicitation to sin.
The lion is said to be boldest in the storm. His roar, it is said, never sounds so loud as in the pauses of the thunder; and when the lightning flashes, brightest are the flashes of his cruel eye. Even so he who goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, often seizes the hour of nature's greatest distress to assault us with his fiercest temptations. He tempted Job when he was bowed down with grief. He tempted Peter when he was weary with watching and heart broken with sorrow. And here, too, he tempts Jesus Christ when He is faint with hunger.
Satan will lie in wait for the Christian in his time of weakness, even as the wild beasts do at the water side for the cattle coming to drink. Nay, when having resisted manfully, the Christian has driven off the enemy, he should look well that he be not wounded by the vanquished foe, who often makes a Parthian retreat.
It is when a child of God is fullest of grace; when he has been declared to be a "son," even a "beloved son" of God; when he has made a public profession of Christianity, that he is most of all exposed to temptation. It seems strange, at first thought, that it should be so; but a little reflection dissipates the strangeness. Let me try to illustrate this. A toolmaker, I suppose, has finished an instrument, but it is not yet sent forth. Why Because he has not "tested" it. Well! Enter we his workshop. You look in and observe the process. Your first impression is, he is going to break it. But it is not so. Testing is not an injury. The perfect weapon comes out the stronger, and receives the stamp that will carry it over the world. Even so the testing and trying of the Christian is not an injury. He who has formed the believer for Himself is not going to break or destroy the work, the beautiful work of His own hands. He is purifying, fitting, fashioning, polishing. Carry this along with you, and you will understand how it comes about that at the very moment of your being "full" of the Holy Ghost, at the very moment of your announced sonship, you are most violently assailed.
I.SONSHIP DOES NOT EXEMPT FROM TEMPTATION.
II.TEMPTATION DOES NOT INVALIDATE SONSHIP.
III.TEMPTATION, RIGHTLY CONSIDERED, MAKES SONSHIP A LIFE AND POWER.
()Adam yielded; Christ overcame. Adam's sin contains all the sin of his children; Christ's victory contains all the victories of His people. There was the vice of all sinning in the one, and there was the virtue of all conquering in the other, When we sin we go down to that sin by the same steps which Adam trod, and when we foil the tempter, we do so with the same weapons that Christ wielded.
()Man is like iron fresh from the mine. The worker of the rude metal will thrust a crude bar of it into the blazing furnace, and turn it hither and thither in the glowing fires, and then lay it on the anvil, and beat it with innumerable blows, and crush it between inexorable rollers, and plunge it into the smothering charcoal, and turn and thrust and temper it, till at length it is no longer the hard, brittle, half earthy material, but something different — tougher, stronger, purer, and more valuable. He does this that the worthless may become useful, and that iron ore may be converted into steel.
()At one o'clock precisely on the 25th of June, 1807, two boats put off from opposite banks of the Niemen, at the little town of Tilsit. They rowed towards a raft in the middle of the river. Out of each stepped a single individual, and the two met in a small wooden apartment on the raft, while cannon thundered from either shore, and the shout of the great armies on either side drowned the roar of artillery. The two persons were the Emperors Napoleon and Alexander, met to arrange the destinies of the human race. But how vastly more important the interview of the text; in the persons employed in it, in the nature of the transaction, in the result.
()Satan would convert Christ; darkness would blot out the light, or throw at least a shadow on its brightness; foulness would cast a stain on the white robe of purity; evil would triumph over good. But no I Light is stronger than darkness; good than evil. The Son looks up to the Father, and in that Divine strength casts the evil one behind Him, and is left alone on the field, more than conqueror.
()Sinlessness is negative, holiness is positive; and it was requisite that the "second Adam," like the first, should encounter the devil before His sinlessness could unfold into holiness.
()Run with the wind and you hardly know it is blowing. Run against it, and you are convinced of the existence of a resisting medium, and in direct proportion to the speed with which you run, will be your consciousness of the force by which you are opposed. Thus as long as you run with the devil and promptly do his behests, you may be inclined to deny his existence; disobey him, and you will be made painfully aware of his presence, and his endeavours to thwart all your efforts after good.
With the wild beasts.Is this only one of those graphic touches which this vivid writer so often gives us? Was it a forcible way of describing a total absence of human sympathy? No doubt it served this purpose, but this was not all. When we recognise the correspondence between this and Adam's temptation, our thoughts fly at once to Paradise, and we remember that he too was with the wild beasts, and that God had given him dominion over them, and that during the brief duration of his innocence he must have exercised it unfearing and unfeared. And we fancy we can see in this short but pregnant sentence a hint that He who came to inaugurate an era of restoration, and bring back the times of man's innocence, was not unmindful of the lower creatures and their subjection to vanity. It was a promise of what should one day come to pass when broken harmonies should be restored, and the prediction in Job 5:23, receive its fulfilment. It matters little that we can point to no evidence of its accomplishment as yet, because with the Lord a thousand years are but as one day, and one day as a thousand years. There is no question that the hope was created, and that it laid hold upon the mind of the early Christians, in support of which we have the testimony of the Catacombs, where our Lord is so frequently represented in the character of Orpheus attracting wild animals of divers kinds by the sound of his lyre. The same was perpetuated by later legends, which made the surpassing goodness of St. Francis throw a spell of mysterious influence, not only over his fellow creatures, but over birds of the air and beasts of the field.
()Before the fall Adam dwelt with the beasts on terms of closest friendship; but on the entrance of evil man grew cruel and beasts grew fiercer. But when Christ appeared, free from the taint of sin, the old relationship revived. The disturbed harmony of Eden was restored in the wilderness. Goodness is an unrivalled tamer of the animal creation, and Christ's sojourn with savage beasts is an infallible pledge of the millennium.
And the angels ministered unto Him.There are many who deny the existence of any spiritual beings save God and man. The wide universe is to them a solitary land, without inhabitants. There is but one filled with living creatures. It is the earth on which we move; and we, who have from century to century crawled from birth to death, and fretted out our little lives upon this speck of stardust which sparkles amid a million, million others upon the mighty plain of infinite space, we are the only living spirits. There is something pitiable in this impertinence. It is a drop of dew in the lonely cup of a gentian, which imagines itself to be all the water in the universe. It is the summer midge which has never left its forest pool, dreaming that it and its companions are the only living creatures in earth or air. There is no proof of the existence of other beings than ourselves, but there is also no proof of the contrary. Apart from revelation, we can think about the subject as we please. But it does seem incredible that we alone should represent in the universe the image of God; and if in one solitary star another race of beings dwell, if we concede the existence of a single spirit other than ourselves, we have allowed the principle. The angelic world of which the Bible speaks is possible to faith.
()Little is said [in the Bible] of angels. They are like the constellations in space; there is light enough to reveal, to show that they are; but more is needed to reveal all their nature and functions.
()Their airy and gentle coming may well be compared to the glory of colours flung by the sun upon the morning clouds, that seem to be born just where they appear. Like a beam of light striking through some orifice, they shine upon Zacharias in the temple. As the morning light finds the flowers, so they found the mother of Jesus; and their message fell on her, pure as dewdrops on the lily. To the shepherds' eyes, they filled the midnight arch like auroral beams of light; but not as silently, for they sang more marvellously than when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy. They communed with the Saviour in His glory of transfiguration, sustained Him in the anguish of the garden, watched Him at the tomb; and as they thronged the earth at His coming, so they seem to have hovered in the air in multitudes at the hour of His ascension. Beautiful as they seem, they are never mere poetical adornments. The occasions of their appearing are grand, the reasons weighty, and their demeanour suggests and befits the highest conception of superior beings. Their very coming and going is not with earthly movement. They are suddenly seen in the air, as one sees white clouds round out from the blue sky in a summer's day, that melt back even while one looks upon them. We could not imagine Christ's history without angelic love. The sun without clouds of silver and gold, the morning on the fields without dew-diamonds, but not the Saviour without His angels.
()I have ever with me invisible friends and enemies. The consideration of mine enemies shall keep me from security, and make me fearful of doing aught to advantage them. The consideration of my spiritual friends shall comfort me against the terror of the other; shall remedy my solitariness; shall make me wary of doing aught indecently; grieving me rather that I have ever heretofore made them turn away their eyes for shame of that whereof I have not been ashamed; that I have no more enjoyed their society; that I have been no more affected with their presence. What, though I see them not? I believe them. I were no Christian if my faith were not as sure as my sense.
()It would require the tongue of angels themselves to recite all that we owe to these benign and vigilant guardians. They watch by the cradle of the newborn babe, and spread their celestial wings round the tottering steps of infancy. If the path of life be difficult and thorny, and evil spirits work us shame and woe, they sustain us; they bear the voice of our complaining, our supplication, our repentance, up to the foot of God's throne, and bring us back in return a pitying benediction to strengthen and to cheer. When passion and temptation arrive for the mastery, they encourage us to resist: when we conquer, they crown us; when we falter and fail, they compassionate and grieve over us; when we are obstinate in polluting our own souls, and perverted not only in act but in will, they leave us; and woe to them that are so left! But the good angel does not quit his charge until his protection is despised, rejected, and utterly repudiated. Wonderful one fervour of their love, wonderful their meekness and patience, who endure from day to day the spectacle of the unveiled human heart with all its miserable weaknesses and vanities, its inordinate desires and selfish purposes! Constant to us in death, they contend against the powers of darkness for the emancipated spirit.
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