Nov 20, 2005

The Baptism and Temptation of Jesus

Mark 1:9–13

Why did Jesus need to be baptized and tempted in the wilderness? In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his exposition of Mark to examine the crucial significance of these events for our redemption.


I will be reading from Mark 1:9–13. Please stand for the reading of the Word of God:

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.

The Word of God for the people of God, thanks be to God. Please be seated. Let us pray.

Our Father, as we contemplate the extreme importance of these two events—the baptism of Jesus and His temptation in the wilderness—we pray that You would elevate our understanding of Christ in the magnificence of His victory over all that is evil. We pray that You will grant us understanding in our minds and affection in our hearts for our Redeemer. For we ask it in His name. Amen.

The Lamb Approaches

Last week, I asked you to use your imagination, pretending that you were huddled in the confines of the catacombs beneath the city of Rome, listening for the first time to the first edition of the gospel according to Saint Mark. I will not ask for that kind of imaginative exercise every Sunday, but I am going to do it again this morning.

I will ask that this time, instead of imagining yourself in the catacombs, imagine that you are outside of the city of Jerusalem, on the banks of the Jordan River. You are surrounded by a huge throng of people, pushing and shoving, all trying to get a glimpse of this one known as the Baptizer, of whom we are told that all of Jerusalem came out to be baptized by John. You have joined that throng, and you are awaiting your turn to be baptized.

You were observers there last week, and you had heard John give the charge to those gathered that they should make straight the pathway of the Lord. He mentioned that there was One coming after him who was before him and whose sandals he was not worthy to loose.

But today, as you await your turn to be baptized in the Jordan River, you see John divert his attention from whomever he is baptizing in the river. He looks out into the mass of people, and he sees one person approach whose very presence seems to fill the whole outdoors. When John sees Him, he begins to sing the Agnus Dei and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

Why Jesus Must Be Baptized

John fulfills his vocation by pointing the multitudes to their Messiah as He approaches. You turn and see this man that you have never seen before. His name is Jesus, and He comes forward to John and says, “I want you to baptize Me.”

John says: “I can’t do that. I told everybody that this is a baptism of repentance from sin, and I just announced You as the Lamb of God, the Lamb without blemish, who takes away the sin of the world. If I baptize You, I’d ruin everything. Let me help You with Your theology here for a second: You should be baptizing me. I shouldn’t be baptizing You.” That immediately raises the question, Why would Jesus, who is sinless, submit Himself to a rite instituted to cleanse sinners from their sin?

I think we get a hint of why this was taking place when, in one of the other gospel accounts, after John says, “You should be baptizing me, I should not be baptizing You,” Jesus speaks somewhat cryptically to John. He trumps John, as it were, and says: “I’m the theologian around here. You may not understand it. I’m not only the Lamb of God, but I’m also the Word of God incarnate, and I think I have a better understanding of My vocation than even you do, John.”

Jesus did not say all those things, at least that we know of. Rather, He cuts to the chase by saying to John: “Suffer it now, John. Let it be.” In effect, Jesus was saying: “I don’t have time for a theological lecture right now. You’re keeping this vast multitude of people waiting for their turn to be baptized, so just suffer it now. Trust Me on this, because it must needs be to fulfill all righteousness.”

Jesus Himself explains to John why it is necessary for Jesus to submit to this baptism. The simple point is that as the Messiah, Jesus’ work, in His life as well as His death, is vicarious. It is substitutionary. He represents what Paul will describe later as the new Adam or the second Adam.

Jesus Fulfills All Righteousness

Just as the first Adam represented the whole human race, and with his sin the whole of humanity was plunged into corruption and death, so the new Adam by His obedience redeems His people for eternity. For Jesus to qualify as our Redeemer, it is not enough for Him simply to go to the cross and be crucified.

If you ask a six-year-old child, “What did Jesus do for you?” that six-year-old child, if he has been to Sunday school, will answer, “Jesus died on the cross for my sins.” That is true, but it is only half of the matter. If all it takes to redeem us is to have a substitute bear the punishment that belongs to us, then Jesus did not have to be born to Mary. He could have come from heaven on a parachute as a man, gone straight to Golgotha, taken the curse on the cross, left again, and we would be all fixed.

No, it is not enough that our sins are paid for. All that would do is take us back to square one, where we would still have absolutely no positive righteousness to bring before God. Our Redeemer does not have to only die. He must live. He must live a life of perfect obedience, perfect righteousness that He manifests and transfers to all who put their trust in Him.

Just as my sin is transferred to Jesus on the cross when I put my trust in Him, His righteousness is transmitted and transferred to my account in the sight of God. When I stand before God on the judgment day, God will see Jesus’ righteousness, which will be my cover. That is what the gospel is.

John did not understand all of that, so Jesus said: “Just suffer it now, because I must do this. My task as Messiah is to submit Myself to every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, to fully obey every dimension of the law. Every requirement that God gives to His people, I must obey. So, even though I am not a sinner, I am identifying with you, John, and the rest of sinful humanity, to fulfill all righteousness.”

A Trinitarian Event

So, the Son of God goes down into the water, and John dutifully baptizes Him. The baptism of Jesus is a Trinitarian event. It is the Father who sends Him into the water. It is the Father who sends Him into the world. This is the Father’s Son who is being baptized, and it is the second person of the Trinity, who is united to the humanity of Jesus, that is now submitting to baptism.

Then comes the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, who descends upon Jesus at His baptism. Why is that? Does that mean that now Jesus finally gets His deity, that He was only humanity at birth, and it is only at age thirty that He becomes God incarnate because now the Holy Ghost comes? No. The Logos was the Logos at the incarnation. Jesus has the divine nature from the moment of His conception all the way through now and on to eternity.

What is the significance of the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus? It is the Holy Spirit anointing the human nature of Jesus. We tend to think that Jesus performed His miracles in His divine nature. But no, He performed them in His human nature through the power of the Holy Spirit that was given to Him at His baptism. Here is where God is empowering Jesus to fulfill His mission.

So, you have the Son, you have the Holy Ghost, and now you have the Father again. On only three occasions recorded in the New Testament does God the Father speak audibly. This is the first one, where we read in the text that a voice came from heaven: “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

If we look at the whole account of the baptism of Jesus, looking at all the Gospels and their record combined, we have John the Baptist’s testimony: “This is the One who comes after me who is before me. I must decrease. He must increase. He’s the One whose sandals I am unworthy to untie. He’s the Lamb of God.” Adding to the testimony of John, as you are watching this, you hear the testimony of God the Father. You see the heavens open. You see the Holy Spirit visibly descending. You watch the third person of the Trinity anoint Jesus, then you hear the first person of the Trinity speaking to Jesus, saying, “You are My Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

The Temptations of the First and Second Adam

It is crucial to understand what immediately follows Jesus’ baptism, because no sooner was Jesus anointed for His mission than the Holy Spirit who descended upon Him did something dramatic. In verse 12: “Immediately, straightway, the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.” Here is that wilderness motif that we talked about last week.

The Holy Ghost did not whisper in Jesus’ ear and say, “I want You to go over there to the Judean wilderness.” The force of this passage is that Christ was compelled by the Holy Spirit, driven urgently into this desolate, God-forsaken place filled with wild beasts.

Once baptized, Jesus’ ministry was inaugurated, but before it went public, He had to undergo the ordeal, the crucible of the test. The second Adam, just like the first Adam, was put in the place of testing, where He was exposed to the assault of Satan.

When we looked at this in John’s gospel, I reminded you of the great differences between the circumstances of the temptation of Adam and Eve and the temptation of Jesus. The circumstances for Adam and Eve’s temptation when the serpent came into Eden were that they were in a lush garden with every imaginable food at their disposal. Their bellies were filled.

Adam and Eve were enjoying intimate companionship, a woman and a man together without sin in any way marring or disfiguring their interpersonal relationship and the fellowship that they had. It was into that context that Satan came and tempted the first Adam and Eve.

The second Adam came, and His test took place not in a paradise garden but in a desolate wilderness. He is solitary, alone, with no human companionship or fellowship. Not only that, but His test took place in the middle of a fast, where He went for forty days without anything to eat. He has a human nature, and that human nature was ravaged by hunger. It is only after He was in this supremely weakened, lonely condition that the prince of hell came to Him.

Here is where the dissimilarity between Jesus and Adam ends and the similarity begins because, beloved, the point of the test was exactly the same. When Satan came to Adam and Eve, he came with a question: “Hath God said that if you eat of this tree, you will surely die? Well, I’m telling you that you won’t die, but your eyes will be opened, and you’ll be like God, knowing good and evil.” That was the temptation. Eve went for it, and Adam with her. The issue in the garden of Eden presented before God’s first humans was, “Are you going to believe and obey My word?”

Jesus Resists Satan for Us

Fast forward to the Judean wilderness where Satan came to Jesus in His weakness and loneliness. He did not come to Him and say: “I want to see how much power You have. Turn these stones into bread.” What did he say? “If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread. This is no place for the Son of God. I can’t understand how the Son of God could suffer such humiliation, deprivation, hunger, and loneliness. If You’re the Son of God, you should be in a palace. If You’re really the Son of God, Jesus, turn these stones into bread.”

I ask you, what were the last words according to Scripture that rang in Jesus’ ears before He came to the wilderness? They were the words that came from the audible voice of God, where God said, “You are My beloved Son.” That is what God said. God’s Word said to Jesus, “You’re My Son.” Satan says: “Are You? Well, if You are, turn the stones into bread.”

Jesus said: “I’m sorry, Satan, I’m afraid you don’t understand the Word of God. The Bible says, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ Satan, I know that there’s no sin in having breakfast when you’re hungry, but right now, I’m committed to this fast, and I can’t break it until My Father says so.”

Then the temptation continued. Satan said, “If You’re really the Son of God, jump off the temple, because the Bible says He will give His angels charge over You lest You dash Your foot against a stone.” Jesus responded: “That’s correct, the Bible says that, but the Bible also says, ‘Thou shalt not tempt the Lord your God.’ Don’t put God to the test. I don’t need to jump off the temple to know that God will take care of Me.”

“What a wasted life You have, Jesus. Why can’t we be partners? I’ll tell You what, I’m the prince of this world and the power of the air. All You have to do is bow down to me here in private when nobody’s watching. You’re completely anonymous. You don’t have to grovel in the dirt, just one slight little genuflection, and I will give You all the kingdoms of this world.”

Jesus responds: “There is a problem with that offer, Satan. God says that we’re not to have any other gods before Him, and Him only may we serve. You see, if I bow down to you, that would be an act of idolatry, and I would lose My Father’s house. Satan, you don’t understand something. What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? As hungry, lonely, and humiliated as I am, none of those things are worth My soul.”

I do not think we understand a fraction of the stress that hell imposed on Jesus in this situation. He withstood everything Satan had to throw at Him. In his frustration, Satan left Him, and we must note two things about that. First, we are told that he departed from Jesus for a season. It would not be the last time in Jesus’ life or ministry that Satan would throw everything he had against the Son of God. Second, no sooner had Satan left than the angels showed up and ministered unto Him. As the text says, the angels came to Him while He was with the wild beasts.

Remember that the people who were hearing this in the catacombs would maybe tomorrow have to be with the wild beasts in the Colosseum for the sake of the gospel. When they were led in chains to the floor of the arena, they had these words: “My Savior has been here and done this, and He said He will never leave me or forsake me, because He’s my champion who has resisted all things and who has stayed the course.” And He is present with us.

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.