The Serpent-Conquering Son of God
Text: Mark 1:9-13
Main Idea: Jesus is the Spirit-empowered Messiah and Son of God who will defeat Satan and bring salvation to the people of God.
I. The Previous Pattern of Sonship: Failure
II. The Seminal Test (Mark 1:11–12)
III. The Path to Victory (Psalm 91)
In his book, Playing by the Rules: A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible, professor Robert Stein shares an all too common home Bible study experience from our text this morning (Mark 1:9–13). As the small group concluded its Scripture reading each of the participants began to share their personal thoughts about the passage:
“The first person said, ‘What this passage means to me is that everyone needs to be baptized, and that baptism must be by immersion.’ The second person responded, ‘I think it means that everyone needs to be baptized by the Holy Spirit.’ The third person reacted honestly, ‘I am not exactly sure what I should be doing.’ And the fourth person suggested that, ‘Christians should spend time in isolated wilderness locations in order to deepen their intimacy and communion with God.’”
Stein’s purpose in this illustration is to humorously expose how modern Christians are so quick to share their private interpretations and applications of Scripture while they completely ignore the author’s original purpose. Mark is not really talking about us. Mark is not telling us what we should do. He is telling his first-century and twenty-first-century readers who Jesus really is!
Main Idea: Jesus is the Spirit-empowered Messiah and Son of God who will defeat Satan and bring salvation to the people of God.
Jesus didn’t just come down from heaven to teach. He came down to wage a holy war. Not a war against Rome imperialism, barbaric “infidels,” or “wicked sinners;” but a war against the ruler of this world. A ruler who is a deceiver, a usurper, a God-hating self-serving narcissist that rebelled against God and plunged God’s beloved image-bearers into hopeless sin, rebellion, and ruin.
And if Jesus is going to win, he has to succeed where every other “son” failed before. See when Mark tells us that Jesus is the “Son of God” he is not simply telling us that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. He is telling us that Jesus is fulfilling an OT pattern— a pattern that began in the Garden of Eden.
The Previous Pattern of Sonship: Failure
In the very beginning God created Adam and appointed him to rule as vice-regent over the entire earth. To put it another way, God created Adam to govern the world in such a way that his governance perfectly reflected God’s nature and desires just like a king would appoint his son to rule over a territory.
And even though Genesis does not directly identify Adam as God’s son it depicts him as God’s son. Let me highlight three texts…
Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Genesis 5:3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.
And Luke picks up on this “sonship” in the NT genealogy of Jesus Christ that spans 15 verses and ends with:
Luke 3:38 the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.
But, here is the problem… Adam failed to walk in faithful obedience, he rebelled against God by giving into the Serpent’s temptation, and was cast out of God’s presence.
As God prepares to deliver Israel from Egypt, he calls the nation of Israel his “first-born son.”
Exodus 4:22–23 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’ ”
God establishes his covenant with Israel (as a corporate son) at Sinai and calls the fledgling nation to love him with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength; being careful to observe all of his commandments. And in this they will not only enjoy blessings from God but become a blessing to the entire world.
But, Israel fails its test to trust God just like Adam. Adam failed in a perfect paradise. Israel failed in a barren desert refusing to believe that God was powerful enough to give them his promise-land paradise. And as a result they spent 40 years in the wilderness of Sinai. 40 years gracious provision, 40 years of testing, and 40 years of failure. Failure that continued even after later generations secured the promised land.
The Davidic Kings
As Israel transitions to human kings, the theme of sonship transitions from Israel to her king under king David’s rule and God’s covenant with David.
2 Samuel 7:12–15 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.
We see this covenant and God’s promise of discipline unfold in David’s line from king Solomon all the way down to king Zedekiah. For the most part, these kings are unrighteous idol worshipers who refuse to rule in a manner that rightly reflected God’s commands. And as a result, God cast Israel and her Davidic king out of the Promised Land just like he cast Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden.
What I want you to see in this quick survey is that every “son” has failed to walk in faithful obedience to God. Adam fell to Satan’s temptation in a perfect paradise. Israel fell to unbelief in the wilderness. And the Davidic kings who ruled in the promised land, abandoned their covenant God for the gods of the nations.
Therefore, when God declares, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11); Mark’s audience is asking: “Will he succeed where every other son failed? Will Jesus remain faithful? Will he walk in faithful obedience? Will he be the one that finally breaks the pattern?” This is why the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to face a seminal test.
The Seminal Test (Mark 1:11–12)
An Isolated Arena
Notice, that Satan does not initiate this supernatural conflict the Holy Spirit does. The Greek verb behind the English word “drove” is a very strong term that is often used to describe an exorcism. Now, this does not indicate that the Spirit somehow acted against Jesus’ will. Rather, Mark is highlighting the urgency of Jesus’ divine mission and the imminent presence of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life.
So, far from inducing a warm and fuzzy feeling of inner tranquility, divinely shielding Jesus from danger, or delaying confrontation, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus—the ultimate Son of God—immediately to a wilderness battlefield to be tested by the Devil himself.
A Quiet Victory
The most interesting thing about Mark’s account of Jesus’ temptation is that he doesn’t give us a blow-by-blow account of the battle! No temptation to turn stones to bread. No temptation to jump off the temple. No temptation to escape the cross and assume kingship by worshiping Satan. Instead Mark simply tells us that Jesus is with wild animals and angels minister to him throughout his wilderness test…
This has led at least one commentator to suggest that Mark is merely concerned with the test itself and not the result. But, the problem with this proposal is that if Jesus fails he will be unworthy and unable to accomplish his mission.
I’d like to suggest, with along with NT scholars like Mark Straus, that Mark refers to the animals and the angels because he wants his audience to view Jesus’ victory over Satan through the lens of Psalm 91.
Mark wants his audience to see that, Jesus overcome Satan’s temptation because he did what Adam, Israel, and the Davidic kings failed to do—he anchored his trust in God alone. Let’s turn to Psalm 91 and look at the path to victory.
The Path to Victory (Psalm 91)
The Foundation (Psalm 91:1–2)
Psalm 91:1–2 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
So, how does a person enjoy God’s sheltering protection? He does it by abiding in the shadow of the almighty… Well, what does it mean to abide in God’s shadow? The psalmist tells us (v 2), it means that we maintain a continual posture of trust in God’s protection in any and every circumstance: snares, pestilence, terrors of night, arrows by day, and the destruction of thousands.
In other words, everything that can happen to you in this life that can make you feel like God does not have your best interest in mind or is unable to provide for your needs. This is where Adam, Israel, and the kings fell. They ultimately failed to trust in God.
Now let me show you how Psalm 91 connects to the temptation of Jesus Christ. We see it in the promise of verses 11–13.
The Promise (Psalm 91:11–13)
Psalm 91:11–13 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
Did you notice the promise for those who put their trust in God? He will send his angels to guard them AND as a result they will trample two of the most dangerous animals in the wilderness, the lion and the serpent. Mark is saying Jesus is the faithful “Son of God” because he succeeded where every other “son” has failed.
How did Jesus succeed? He anchored his trust in the Father’s provision and protection even though he is in the wilderness, surrounded by wild animals, and in a fight with the devil himself. And how do we know that this is the case? Because, God sent his angels to sustain and minister to Jesus throughout his 40 days of wilderness testing. And what is the result? Jesus tramples Satan, the very serpent, who plunged mankind into sin and ruin under his feet. And we are going to see this victory up close as Jesus casts out demon after demon after demon in the Gospel of Mark.
But, before we move on, let me give you the second reason I think that Mark is alluding to Psalm 91. The temptation accounts in both Matthew and Luke make it clear that Satan is trying to get Jesus to “prove” that he is the “Son of God.” And in one of the encounters, Satan tempts Jesus to jump off of the temple by quoting and misapplying Psalm 91:11–12.
Application: Why do these OT allusions really matter to this story?
First, this allusion to Psalm 91 helps us see that Jesus really “played by the rules” when he faced Satan in the wilderness. Jesus faced Satan in the full weakness of his humanity—just like you and me. But, he overcame Satan because he relied on the power of the Holy Spirit and refused to abandon his trust in God’s promises.
But I want you to see something even deeper. How did Jesus fuel the engine of trust and reliance upon God in the midst of Satan’s temptation? The answer is his love for God.
Psalm 91:14 Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name.
Adam and Eve failed to trust God when they trusted Satan’s lies instead of God’s unfailing love. Israel failed to trust in God’s unfailing love when they saw the people of the Promised Land. And the kings failed to trust in God’s loving-kindness when they abandoned the one true God for the worthless gods of the nations. Jesus succeeded where everyone else failed because his love for the Father eclipsed every other love in his life, including his own life.
How can you and I overcome temptation? Well, according to Psalm 91, the answer is not by dutifully following a list of rules to avoid sin. No. We overcome temptation by stoking our love and affections for God.
That is why we spend time in the Bible every day. That is why we pray. That is why we gather on Sundays to worship in song and in the Word. That is why we gather in small groups. We do all of this and more so that we can enjoy him more! We defeat temptations and sin when we pursue superior pleasure in God.
Second, this event helps us truly grasp how Jesus can fully “sympathize with our weakness!” He understands temptation, because “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Never once did he fail. Never once did he give in… even just a little.
And what does the author of Hebrews want us to see? Jesus’ sinlessness perfection is an encouragement not a indictment. He is not saying, hey you really blew it. If you really loved God you wouldn’t be such a failure. NO.
Hebrews 4:16 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.
He is telling us, run to Jesus in all of your frustration, hurt, temptations, and failures because he truly understands your every weakness.
And when you do you will find mercy and grace for your time of need and temptation. Just like Jesus did.
Adapted from, Robert H. Stein, Playing by the Rules: A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 11–12.
Mark L. Strauss, Mark, vol. 2 of Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 76.
Walter Bauer et al., A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (University of Chicago Press, 2000), 299. “Force to leave, drive out, expel or cause to go.”
Walter W. Wessel and Mark L. Strauss, “Mark,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark, Revised Edition., eds. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 708.
Edwards considers this curious inclusion a direct encouragement for Christians facing persecution in Rome; (James R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002], 41–2).
James A. Brooks, Mark, vol. 23 of The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1991), 42.
Strauss, Mark, 74. G. K. Beale defines an allusion as, “a brief expression consciously intended by an author to be dependent on an OT passage. In contrast to a quotation of the OT, which is a direct reference, allusions are indirect references (the OT wording is not reproduced directly as in a quotation)…The telltale key to discerning an allusion is that of recognizing an incomparable or unique parallel in wording, syntax, concept, or cluster of motifs in the same order or structure;” (G. K Beale, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation[Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012], 31).