From the Jordan to the Desert

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Mark 1:9-13 (The Baptism and Temptation of Christ)

INTRODUCTION: Please take your Bibles and turn with me to the Gospel of Mark. Today is the second message in our series from Mark as we look at the life and ministry of Jesus together. Last week we saw how God prepared the people for Jesus’ coming through the sending of John the Baptist. This week we meet Jesus himself as he comes from Galilee to be baptized by John in the Jordan and then tempted by Satan in the wilderness. (Read Mark 1:1-8)

Life is full of its high points and low points. It seems one day you’re on top of the mountain, and the next day you’re back down in the valley. And it can be easy to lose sight of God in the midst of life’s changing circumstances. The danger when you are doing well is that you will forget God, and the danger when you are going through tough times is that you will reject God. Both are equally dangerous, and we need to recognize that God is in control of our lives both in the good times and the bad times and continue trusting him no matter what.

In our passage this morning, Jesus went from the high point of his baptism in the Jordan to the low point of his temptation in the desert. Yet we will see that God was equally involved with both experiences. And God is also there in the high points and low points of your life.

I. Jesus’ Baptism (verses 9-11)

Let’s begin with Jesus’ baptism. Look at verse 9: “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (Mark 1:9) In verses 7- 8 right before this we read John’s words, “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:7-8) So now the one who is greater than John, the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, comes from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.

And immediately, you have to ask some questions. If John didn’t feel that he was worthy even to untie Jesus’ sandals, then what in the world is he doing baptizing him? Also, we saw that John’s baptism was a baptism of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” If Jesus was sinless, then why did he get baptized? Those are great questions, and the answers all have to do with the meaning of Jesus’ baptism as it unfolds in these verses and later on in the gospel of Mark.

The baptism of Jesus has to do with Jesus’ identity and his mission. As far as his identity, his baptism reveals him as the Savior, as the Christ, and as the Son of God. And we see this three-fold identification in the three-fold testimony that takes place at Jesus’ baptism. There is the testimony of Jesus himself in receiving his baptism. And then there is the testimony of the Holy Spirit and God the Father immediately following his baptism. And so all three members of the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – are all actively involved at the baptism of Christ and all three give testimony to his identity as Savior, Christ, and Son of God.

    A. The testimony of Jesus – He is the Savior

First of all, there is the testimony of Jesus. You remember we asked the question, if John didn’t feel worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, then why would he baptize him? Mark doesn’t specifically answer that question for us, but we get a little more insight when we look at the gospel of Matthew. Matthew tells us that John did not feel comfortable baptizing Jesus and even told him so. Listen to this from Matthew 3:

But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. (Matthew 3:14-15)

So yes, John did feel that it was out of place for him to be baptizing Jesus, but Jesus assured him it was okay.

So why would Jesus be baptized by John, especially when John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins?” Jesus had no sin to confess, and therefore he did not need forgiveness. So why be baptized by John? Jesus was baptized for three specific reasons: 1) to identify with us, 2) to demonstrate his mission to us, and 3) as an example for us.

First of all, Jesus was baptized to identify with us. The book of Romans says that Jesus came “in the likeness of sinful man.” (Romans 8:3) That does not mean that he had any sin of his own, but he came in our likeness — with a true human body subject to temptation and weakness like anyone else. The book of 1 Peter says that he came to bear our sins in his own body. (1 Peter 2:24) 2 Corinthians 5 makes the identification even stronger: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) So even though Christ had no sin of his own to confess in the Jordan River, he was baptized as a testimony that he would identify with us so strongly that he would actually take our sins upon himself at the cross. In other words, Jesus wasn’t baptized for his sins; he was baptized because of your sins.

Which leads us to the second reason Jesus was baptized: to demonstrate his mission to us. Jesus did not come to earth to Lord it over us, but rather to identify with us and to give his life as a ransom for us. (Mark 10:45) Jesus would later refer to his death on the cross as his “baptism.” (Mark 10:38; Luke 12:50) And so through his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus was demonstrating his commitment to follow through on his mission – to die on the cross for our sins and to rise again from the dead.

This death and resurrection is beautifully represented in the very act of baptism. When a person goes under the water, it is a picture of death and burial; when the person comes out of the water it is a picture of resurrection and new life. The book of Romans picks up on this picture of death and resurrection when it says: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)

Which leads us to the third reason Jesus was baptized: as an example for us. Just as Jesus identified with us in his baptism, so he calls us to identify with him in our baptism. When we are baptized in Jesus’ name, we are giving testimony to our faith in Jesus Christ, that we have died to our old selves and have been given new life through Christ. We have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection, and we demonstrate that through our public baptism.
Just as our baptism is our public testimony of faith, so Jesus’ baptism was his public testimony that he identified with our sins and would die on the cross for our sins. In effect, Jesus’ baptism was his testimony that he had come as the Savior, which is what his name “Jesus” actually means: “Savior, or salvation.” As the angel told Joseph concerning the birth of Jesus, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

    B. The testimony of the Spirit – Jesus is the Christ

So we have the testimony of Jesus at his baptism that he is the Savior. We also have the testimony of the Spirit that he is the Christ. Look at verse 10: “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” (Mark 1:10) The act of Jesus’ baptism was so significant that it had a corresponding action in heaven itself. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he saw heaven torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. This was the Spirit’s testimony that Jesus was the Christ or the Messiah.

The word “Messiah’ or “Christ” literally means “the anointed one.” There were only three types of people anointed in the Old Testament: prophets, priests and kings. They were anointed with oil which was a symbol for the Holy Spirit. As Old Testament prophecy progressed, it became clearer and clearer that the Messiah would come as prophet, priest and king, and that he would be anointed for his task by the Holy Spirit.

So here at Christ’s baptism we find his anointing as Messiah by the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven in the form of a dove. We are not sure why the Holy Spirit took the form of a dove. The dove is a common symbol of the Holy Spirit today, but that is only because of this passage and the others like it in the gospels. We do not find the Holy Spirit described as a dove anywhere else in Scripture. Some see echoes of Genesis 1:2 here where “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” at creation. Here we have the Spirit of God hovering over the waters of baptism in the form of a dove. But at any rate, the important thing here is the Holy Spirit also bore witness to Jesus at his baptism – identifying him as the Christ and anointing him for his mission.

    C. The testimony of the Father – Jesus is the Son of God

The tearing of the heavens also opened the way for the Father’s testimony. Look at verse 11: “And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:11) Whereas the Spirit’s testimony was visual in the bodily form of a dove, the testimony of the Father was spoken. We are not told if anyone else heard this voice, although some of Jesus’ disciples would hear a similar voice from heaven later on at the Mount of Transfiguration. (Mark 9:7)

The Father’s testimony about Jesus is brief, and yet full of echoes from the Old Testament. It contains echoes of Psalm 2, a Psalm which prophetically points forward to the Messiah, especially in verse 7 where God proclaims, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” (Psalm 2:7) It connects Jesus with the Servant passages of Isaiah, especially Isaiah 42 in light of the Spirit descending on Christ and the similar language employed: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:1)

There are also echoes of Abraham whom God tested when he told him, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:2) And in the midst of all these echoes is the clear testimony from God the Father that Jesus stands in a unique relationship with him as the one and only, beloved Son of God.

Not only that, but the Father testifies that he is pleased with the Son. Why? Because by submitting to John’s baptism in the present, Jesus was committing himself to the cross in the future. Jesus knew what the baptism represented, his own death on the cross, and he accepted it without reservations. God sent his only Son into the world to die on the cross for our sins; the Son obeyed the Father and willingly came. Jesus was baptized out of obedience to the Father; at Jesus’ baptism the Father expresses his pleasure in his Son.

And so all three members of the Godhead bear testimony to Jesus as the Savior, as the Christ and as the Son of God. Mark began his gospel in verse 1 by writing: “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1) Remembering that the name Jesus means “Savior,” we can see that all three of these designations for Christ are affirmed by the Godhead at Jesus’ baptism. He is indeed the Savior, “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

II. The Temptation in the Wilderness (verses 12-13)

Now this has got to be what we call a mountaintop experience for Jesus. A baptism is always an exciting event, but what can compare to the baptism of Christ? Not only that, when we get baptized, the heavens don’t open, the Holy Spirit does not assume bodily form, and God does not speak audibly from heaven. At least that didn’t happen when I got baptized! Here Jesus is anointed for ministry by the Spirit and affirmed as God’s one and only Son. This is definitely a high point.

What happens next? Look at verses 12-13: “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.” (Mark 12:13) Talk about going from the mountaintop to the valley! Jesus goes straight from the Jordan to the desert, from the high point of his baptism to the low point of the temptation in the wilderness. I want you to notice three things in particular that Mark tells us about this time of temptation: 1) He was sent by the Spirit, 2) he was tempted by Satan, and 3) he was attended by angels.

    A. Sent by the Spirit.

First of all, he was sent by the Spirit. We have a tendency to accept the high points in our life as ordained by God but the trials as some kind of mistake. But that is not what the Bible says. God is in control of all aspects of your life – the good, the bad and the ugly. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” That means God can take even the mistakes that we make and turn them for good.

Job in the Old Testament understood this. All was going well in his life, and then he suddenly lost everything in a single day. Did he think that God had somehow lost control of his life? No, we read in Job chapter one:

He fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:20-22)

Thomas Watson comments on this verse by saying: “As Augustine observes, (Job) does not say, ‘The Lord gave, and the devil took away,’ but, ‘The Lord hath taken away.’ Whoever brings an affliction to us, it is God that sends it.” (Thomas Watson, All Things for Good, p. 25) The Spirit sent Jesus from the Jordan to the desert. Jesus was about to enter a time of great trial, but it was just as much God’s plan for him as the glory of his baptism.

    B. Tempted by Satan.

Secondly, notice that Jesus was tempted by Satan. The Spirit sent him into the desert, but it was Satan who tempted him. Jesus was in the desert, but God was not against him. It was Satan who tried to entice him with sin. It was Satan who wanted to see him fall.

The same is true for us today. God may test us when he sends certain trials our way, but he never tempts us to sin. The book of James says, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” (James 1:13) God is on your side. He doesn’t want you to fall but to stand. He allows trials into your life to help you grow, not to knock you down. God is for you; Satan is against you. When the Spirit sends you into the desert for a season, never forget that God is with you, he is for you, and he is on your side.

Notice the reference to forty days in the desert. The other gospels tell us that Jesus fasted for these forty days and was hungry when Satan came to tempt him. The forty days remind us of other periods of forty in the Bible – especially the forty days of fasting Moses spent on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28) and the forty days Elijah spent without food traveling to the same mountain (1 Kings 19:8). There may also be an allusion to the forty years Israel spent in the wilderness, during which God fed them with manna from heaven. But the main point here is that although the Spirit sent Jesus into the desert, it was Satan who tempted him. God does not tempt anyone to sin.

    C. Attended by angels.

And then thirdly, notice that Jesus was attended by angels. Verse 13 says, “He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” (Mark 1:13) Mark is the only gospel writer who mentions that Jesus was with the wild animals in the desert. Some people think Mark was implying that Jesus lived in peace with the wild animals, similar to Adam and Eve before the fall. But I think he was emphasizing the danger and the isolation of the wilderness for Jesus. Yet even in the midst of danger and trial, God did not abandon him. Angles attended him, protecting him from danger and providing him with physical food after the forty days of fasting were completed.

God may send you into the desert for a season, but he will also give you what you need to survive. He will strengthen you for the trial and help you to stand up against temptation. 1 Corinthians 10 says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) Jesus was sent into the desert by the Spirit; he was tempted by Satan; he was attended by angels.

CONCLUSION: What can we learn from Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism and temptation? Let me highlight four things for you. The first two relate specifically to Jesus.

First of all, Jesus’ identity: this is the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1) All three members of the Godhead gave testimony to Jesus’ identity at his baptism. Jesus is the Savior; he is the Christ, the promised Messiah; he is the Son of God.

And secondly Jesus’ mission: God sent his Son into the world to die on the cross for our sins. Jesus accepted that mission at his baptism, and God the Father verbally expressed his pleasure in Christ’s obedience.

The second two relate specifically to you. First of all, baptism. When Jesus was baptized, he identified with you and your sin, because he was going to die on the cross for your sin. After Jesus rose from the dead, he gave the command that all those who believe in him should now identify with him through baptism.

Have you identified with Christ through baptism? I am not talking about when you were an infant. That was something your parents did for you as a way of dedicating you to the Lord. But have you publicly professed your own faith in Jesus Christ through baptism? If not, then you need to be. Everyone who believes in Christ for salvation should be baptized as a public sign of their faith.

We will be offering baptism right here on this platform later on in the spring. If you are a Christian and you have never been baptized as an adult believer, you need to be baptized. Talk to me about it, and we will get you set up for baptism this spring. Jesus identified with you in his baptism. Will you identify with him in yours?

And then the last thing has to do with trials and temptation. When God takes you from good times to hard times, don’t stop believing. God is still there. He still hears your prayers. He will bring you through this trial. As we said before, the danger in the good times is that we might forget God. The danger in the bad times is that we might reject God. But God is in control of all aspects of your life. He will be with you from the Jordan to the desert. You can trust him at all times.

© Ray Fowler

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