The First Sunday in Lent
February 18, 2018
Jesus’ Confrontation with Satan
At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Way back when I was young and naïve I used to watch professional wrestling. Men such as Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and Jesse Ventura were both imposing and impressive! Little did I know that professional wrestling is— staged! All the body slams, all the take downs, all the phenomenal come backs— they’re not real! It’s all an act! And yet, people tune in time after time, people purchase tickets again and again to watch as professional wrestlers confront each other in the ring and battle each other for a belt.
Our sermon text for today focuses our attention on a confrontation that took place almost 2,000 years ago. This confrontation, however, was not staged. This confrontation was not an act. This confrontation was indeed real— as real as it gets! This confrontation was an epic battle— not for a belt but for souls, your soul and mine! With that reality in mind let’s study our text under the theme: Jesus’ Confrontation with Satan. Our text automatically divides itself into two parts thereby giving us two truths to consider. First, let’s see that Jesus’ confrontation with Satan reveals His willingness to fight for us. Then let’s see that Jesus’ confrontation with Satan reveals His eagerness to save us.
Mark’s account of Jesus’ confrontation with Satan is significantly different from both Matthew and Luke’s account. The Holy Spirit led Matthew and Luke to give us far more details concerning three of the temptations that Satan brought against Jesus and how our Lord conquered those temptations by using the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Mark’s divinely inspired account is much more succinct. As I was mulling over in my mind why the Holy Spirit may have led Mark to record Jesus’ confrontation with Satan in just two short verses, something suddenly dawned on me. In the verses immediately preceding our text for today we find Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. In Mark 1:11 Mark states, “And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” Then in all but the very same breath Mark continues in verse 12 by saying, “At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”
Jesus’ hair was still dripping with the water of baptism as the “Spirit sent him out into the desert” to be tempted by Satan. Think about what that means, my friends. It means that when it came to Jesus’ public ministry here on this earth, when it came to the mission that Jesus came into this world to accomplish there was no “honeymoon period.” As soon as Jesus had been publicly anointed as “the Christ,” He willingly stepped into the ring (or to be more accurate, into the desert) to confront our greatest enemy— Satan. What does this reveal? It reveals Jesus’ willingness to fight— to fight for you and for me!
When we tie together the Father’s proclamation concerning Jesus in verse eleven with the opening words of verse twelve we cannot escape the fact that the One who went out into the desert to confront Satan, the One who went out into the desert to fight for us, is none other than the beloved Son of God Himself! And when we look at the details the Holy Spirit did have Mark include in our text it is beyond humbling to see the depth of Jesus’ willingness to fight for us.
Try to picture that confrontation in your minds, my friends. The majestic Son of God willingly went into the barren desert to fight for us. In His fight for us the holy and perfect Son of the Living God was ruthlessly “tempted” or “tested” by Satan— for forty days! As He was fighting for us, the Son of God, the One through whom “all things were made” (John 1:3), was “with wild animals” such as lions and snakes. I can’t speak for you, but when I look at even this brief account of Jesus’ confrontation with Satan I am truly humbled by the depth of our Lord’s willingness to fight for us!
Why, my friends? Why was the Son of God so willing to fight for poor, wretched, rebellious sinners like us? While there are a number of different ways to answer that question, I would like to focus on just two. First, let’s go back once again to Jesus’ baptism. Even though Jesus is holy and perfect, even though Jesus never had any sin that needed to be washed away by the waters of baptism, there in the Jordan River Jesus openly and willingly identified Himself with us. He is our true flesh and blood Brother! Now take that truth and combine it with Jesus’ confrontation with Satan. Here in the desert the Son of God confronts our greatest enemy— as our Substitute! God knew that if we were left to fight Satan on our own, we would most certainly lose! So in His amazing grace God sent His own Son to fight Satan for us!
Jesus’ confrontation with Satan now guarantees to us that Jesus knows what we go through as His brothers and sisters living in the spiritual desert of this sinful world. Jesus knows how easily we can find ourselves surrounded by scores of Satan’s “wild beasts”— the “beasts” of sex and drugs, greed and discontent, false teachings and false teachers, the lie that it doesn’t make any difference what you believe as long as you believe in something, the deception that everyone is worshiping the same “god” they just call him by different names. Jesus knows that every single day we too are being “tempted by Satan.” In fact, there is nothing that you and I could possibly encounter in our lives today that our Brother Jesus has not only confronted but also conquered! Hebrews 4:15 states, “For 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.”
Whatever temptation Satan brings against you, my friends, Jesus’ confrontation with Satan assures you that you can turn to Jesus, trust that He understands what you are going through, ask Him to help you and be confident that just as Jesus was willing to fight for you in the desert so also He is willing to fight for you now. At the same time, if you come to realize that you have given into one of Satan’s temptations, if you feel like you are out in the desert alone and vulnerable, tired and weak, if you find yourself in a situation where one of Satan’s “wild beasts” has gotten a hold of you and won’t let go, Jesus’ confrontation with Satan assures you that you can reach out to your Brother, humbly ask Him for both forgiveness and for help and He trust that He will graciously grant you both! Yes, my friends, Jesus was willing to fight for you in the desert so that He could now be your constant Source of both strength and forgiveness.
The second answer to the question of why— why was Jesus willing to fight for you— leads us to the second part of our sermon. Jesus’ confrontation with Satan reveals His eagerness to save us! Look at the second half of our text for today. Mark writes, “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.’” What is the “good news” that Jesus was proclaiming? What is the “good news” that Jesus wants us to believe in? The Good News is that the Son of God Himself was willing to fight for you! The Good News is that the Son of God Himself willingly confronted your greatest enemy Satan— and won! The Good News is that you now have Someone who can strengthen you when you are “tempted by Satan.” The Good News is that you now have Someone who can protect you and rescue you when you are surrounded by the “wild beasts” that Satan sends into your life. The Good News is that your Brother Jesus not only understands exactly what you are going through in your life, but He also has the compassion to forgive you when you stumble and fall. The Good News is that your Brother Jesus is so eager to save you that He not only confronted Satan in the desert, but He also confronted Satan on the cross— and won! The Good News is that your God loves you so very much that He has eagerly done everything that was necessary for your salvation so that through faith in Him (Pointing to the cross) you can spend a glorious eternity living in the “kingdom of God”! Now that’s Good news!
I would like to share with you a quotation that I ran across as I was researching our sermon for today. The quote is from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. He writes, “Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is…A man who gives into temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it; and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means— the only complete realist.” (Pages 124-125)
I think this quotation reminds us of two important points. First, if we simply “give in” to the temptations that Satan brings against us we will miss out on what it is like to live a victorious life as a child of God here on this earth. One temptation will lead to another and before we even know what happened, we will be burdened by an awful heavy load of guilt. The second point ties back into our text quite nicely. Jesus knows the “strength” of the temptations that Satan brings against us because He personally experienced those temptations as He confronted Satan as our Substitute! The simple fact that Jesus was willing to fight for us, the undeniable fact that Jesus won all His battles with Satan, the glorious fact that Jesus is eager to save us not only motivates us to fight against the temptations that Satan brings against us, but it also empowers us to overcome those temptations so that by God’s grace and with God’s help we can live the kind of sanctified Christian life that our God wants us to live.
To be honest with you, I’ve known for a long time that professional wrestling was indeed “staged.” It is just too contrived to be real. My prayer this morning, is that when we read the Scriptural accounts of Jesus’ confrontation with Satan we will indeed take to heart just how real this battle was. While Satan has been defeated— the cross is the ultimate proof of Satan’s defeat— that does not mean that Satan has given up. Since Satan could not defeat Jesus, his goal now is to try to defeat us— one by one by one. So stay close to your victorious Brother, my friends. Stay close to Jesus so that when you are tempted you can take refuge in His willingness to fight for you. Stay close to Jesus so that if you stumble and fall you can lift up your eyes to His cross and humbly rejoice in His eagerness to save you.
To God be the glory!