Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Work of Christ in the Wilderness

(This message was preached 10/21/15 at Heritage Baptist Church )

THESIS: To see how the temptation of Christ helps the believer in this enticing world.

This evening we’ll be considering just two verses in Mark Chapter 1.  Please turn there, vs 12-13,

And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him. (Mark 1:12-13)

As you may recall I ask questions of the text.  The 1st question to put before the text is again a reference to the other gospels which contain this account.  Why doesn’t Mark address the actual temptations as Matthew & Luke do?  I believe this gets to the point I am making each time as we have met together to discuss this book. 

Let me remind you of the theme of Mark which is found in the key verse of the book, Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  Mark is NOT presenting Christ the King as Matthew does.  Nor is he presenting Jesus as the Son of Man as Luke does.  Mark is unveiling Christ the Servant, and we must therefore defer to his intent.  Consider that though Mark doesn’t reference the individual temptations, he does reference the account itself.  Christ was tempted for 40 days.  This is instructive all by itself.  In Marks’ gospel we will not be lost in what each of the temptations were all about, but rather what temptation is all about.

Let’s notice the environment of the temptation.  In the wilderness with the wild beasts.  J. Dwight Pentecost quotes John Shepard in a very profound statement to this subject which will be the major theme of this message.  Shepard states, “The place of the temptation was the wilderness.  The first Adam met his temptation in the garden of beauty and plenty; The last Adam in the barren flowerless waste, with poverty, hunger, and the wild beasts.” [1] Not only is that powerful imagery, it gets at a significant fallacy in Humanism which says men just need a better environment.  Yet the truth of the matter is Adam, before sin entered, was in the perfect place of rest, ease and beauty, and he fell.  Whereas Christ, the second Adam, came to a cursed world, and went to the harsh wilderness and He withstood the temptations of the devil.  Adam had no excuse, and he fell, whereas Christ had every excuse and stood-fast for our sakes.

In the consideration of Christ’s temptation we encounter a doctrine we might not have expected to see, that is the Incarnation of Christ.  If I were to preach topically and had decided to preach on the incarnation, I might have went to the great narratives of the birth of our Savior, or perhaps the profundities of Philippians 2:5-11.  Do you think that I would I have consulted Mark 1:12-13?!  Yet here my friend, here amidst such a sparse text we have plenty to warm our soul about Christs’ identification with us! Come and see! 

Let’s consider the language of temptation – to provoke, to entice, to snare, to test, to tempt.  Essentially it is to prove a matter or a man, of what quality he is.  And we have numerous examples we could consider with in the pages of Scripture.  Here are just a couple:

·       Cain tempted in the matter of a sacrifice not accepted (Gen. 4:6-8)

·       Joseph tempted by Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39:7-12)

·       David incited by Satan to number Israel (1 Chro. 21:1)

In James we are instructed on the progressive nature of temptation. Please turn to James 1:13-15, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

God is not the author of sin, nor does he tempt any, though he does allow it for man’s sake.  Remember that the purpose is to prove a man.  The very lust of a man drives him to sin when he gives in to the temptation.  By this we can see what sort of person we are.  Now someone may be in a bit of trouble at this point – for in our text we read that the Spirit drove Christ into the wilderness to be tempted, and doesn’t James speak to the matter of God NOT tempting a man? This is easily dealt with, in the very next word which I left out.  Christ was to be tempted of the devil.  Let us never think that the Lords directing us to temptations way is to harm us – He is for us.  The intent of the Lord is to do us good, showing us who we are.  However the Devil desires to persuade us to evil.

John speaks to the matter of our temptations in 1 John 2:15-17, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

Let’s parse verse 16, For all that is in the world,

·       the lust of the flesh, and

·       the lust of the eyes, and

·       the pride of life,

…is not of the Father.

The world holds nothing but that which is characterized by the 3 phrases the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life and these are not of the Father.  This is why we are told not to love the world or the things in the world.

But we live in the world, and we do from time to time, really daily, find ourselves tempted to hold to the world and its toys, more than to Christ.  How will we fare?  How does Christ’s temptation in the wilderness inform us as we walk in this enticing world?

In considering the temptation of Christ, I suspect there are more books written than I might be able to read in a month!  Terms such as peccability and impeccability are presented. So in order to grasp the seed of what this debate is we must define them.

Peccability is the point of view that says that Christ could have sinned.  Now, let me assure you, any orthodox view does by necessity hold that He did not sin.  Peccability says he could have, not that He did.  Impeccability speaks to the impossibility to sin. 

Adam was certainly peccable, as are we. But – and this gets to the debate & controversy, Could an impeccable Christ (which says that He could not have sinned) have been properly tempted?  Scripture plainly states he was tempted in all points, like as we are, yet without sin. 

Now we are interested in this not for discussion or debates sake, but to know rightly the teaching, that it may do our souls’ good.  To recognize Christ was our substitute is helpful, but I want this to touch the heart!  He can indeed sympathize with our weaknesses!

From James we see our temptations are driven by lust – a strong desire which draws a man away.  Christ, like Adam before the fall, had no sin nature – therefore any temptation would have to come from outside the man. 

It is easy to become confused at this point.  When we read in James 1:14, “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” We tend to read between the lines and think that the lust itself is sin – and that it therefore sources from our inward wicked heart and sin nature. 

But though that is true of us at times, it is not always the case that temptations arise from within.  James never states that temptation is itself from within – but that strong desire, whether due to an inward sin nature, or an outside temptation, overtakes a man. 

We do not find that all our enemies are from within only, it is the world, the flesh, and the devil we must watch out for! And while Christ’s temptation was to all 3 of these – none issued from within Him. 

Temptation is to prove or test a man revealing to him his true character.  So the temptation of Christ does inform us in our Christian walk, since many of our temptations are from without.   

But does it matter to know whether He is peccable or impeccable?  Can I tell you this – while it was interesting it was also complicated.  I really do not think it is helpful to do a philosophical lecture on the matter.  Let me simply say this, in His human nature alone, He clearly is a peccable Christ – He could have sinned, however the human nature is not all there is of our Lord!  He is the God-man, and this is where the Incarnation informs us.  God in the flesh was able not to sin due to the presence of the divine nature – and therefore Christ is both peccable and impeccable!

So let’s address that one final question previously asked, which is to say, can an impeccable Christ be properly tempted?  I believe we can answer that in the affirmative.  Yes, His temptation was valid and significant to the point that He can indeed sympathize with our weaknesses! 

One of the illustrations I read about as I studied this matter was of a vast unconquerable army.  Could such an army be attacked?  Of course!  Though perhaps foolish of the attacker, the army could indeed be attacked by a mad man who somehow doubts the strength of it. Christ has the divine nature of God and thereby has all the power necessary to withstand any attack, even if his human nature might have succumbed.  It could not fail for the omnipotent power of the Almighty was his strength!

J. Dwight Pentecost says of Christ and the temptation, “He forced Satan to put him to the test so that His true character might be revealed.[2] 

At this point I’d like to consider a comment by Andrew Murray regarding these things.  Though now baptized himself, He cannot yet baptize others.  He must first, in the power of his baptism, meet temptation and overcome it, must learn obedience and suffer; yea through the eternal Spirit offer himself a sacrifice to God and his will.”[3] I liked the way he stated it.  Christ was busy about the Fathers’ will and needed to learn obedience.  Such things are particularly touching the human nature of our Lord, and they have a direct connection with how He helps us in our temptations.

Let me suggest to you two helps which I see in the manner which Christ’s impeccability helps us overcome temptation.  There may be more, but these are the two significant ways I present to you.

First, just as Christ, the God-man, in His omnipotent deity is able not to sin, so we, as we have the Spirit and walk in Him, are able to call upon the resource of the Holy Spirit when tempted.  Quench not the Spirit! (1 Thes. 5:19) Never have we a more important application of that verse than right here!

The more we live Holy lives and walk by the Spirit we will not be tempted by the world.  We withstand -by the Spirit- the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil. 

A bit of clarification is necessary here.  Do not think that I am saying that we are, AS CHRIST, able to withstand all temptation. – Sometimes we are to flee youthful lusts!  In addition, I am not saying any power to stand is automatic, but it derives from our relationship to the Lord.

Consider Joseph in the temptation with Potipher’s wife.  Did he stand his ground like Christ and quote Scripture?!  He did indeed say, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” But this was not his sole defense.  After daily temptations we read in Gen 39:12 that “he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out”! 

When Joseph said, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” it reveals to us something of the man. It was his close relationship with the Lord that made the daily temptations odious to him.  He knew immediately that this would put a wedge between him and the Lord, and he loved the Lord more! 

The puritan Richard Sibbes, while perhaps guessing at the fruit, says, “Satan gives Adam an apple and takes away Paradise. Therefore in all temptations let us consider not what he offers, but what we shall lose.[4]

This is why when I tell you to quench not the Spirit, and to walk by the Spirit, I said that here is where you will find the power to stand the temptations of this world; You will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).  It is the power of a sanctified life – a life which is made better by the Spirit which gave Joseph, and you as well, the wherewithal to stand, and when necessary to flee!

Secondly, note that we do fail in our temptations from time to time.  We are weak in the flesh, and the sin nature does for now torment us.  Where is our hope then?  It is found in the active work of Christ in resisting Satan while in the barest and harshest places – that his life is imputed to ours and we are thereby helped. 

Let me reiterate what I have just said.  As we rely upon the Spirit, we are made more able not to sin – similar to our Lord’s impeccability as he had the divine nature empowering the human nature to stand.  Secondly, when we fail – we have the great High Priest prevailing upon the Father on our behalf, for he stood in the wilderness, for our sakes, as a servant, which is what he came to do.

I have referenced several passages and I’d like to close with them.  In Hebrews 2:16-18 we read, “For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.”  This gets at all which I have been speaking about tonight!  We are helped by the temptation of our Lord, because we know that He knows our sufferings even better than we ourselves do! And furthermore the reconciliation is our ultimate help!

In 1 Cor. 10:13 we read, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

All face temptation, but we have the inside knowledge that it is our faithful loving God who is interested in our good.  He will provide us an escape – sometimes we do have to flee, other times we stay close to the Spirit.  In all this we are helped.

Finally in Hebrews 4:14-16 we read, “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.  For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

Brothers and sisters – we do have a caring loving God who will help us in time of need.  He knows intimately what we need, and how we feel during the fight.  And as we read here – This ought to help us to stand fast our profession and embolden us in our prayers.  The God who spared not his only Son for us, will he not give us all our need?! 

[1] Pentecost, J. Dwight, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ: A study of the Life of Christ. P 96. Zondervan Publishing House. 1981

[2] Pentecost, J. Dwight, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ: A study of the Life of Christ. P 97. Zondervan Publishing House. 1981

[3] Strong, Augustus. Systematic Theology. P 675. Quoting Andrew Murray. Spirit of Christ. 26-7. The Judson Press. 1912

[4] Sibbes, Richard. A Puritan Golden Treasury. Banner of Truth. 1977

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