Battling Temptation

Mark 1:12–15 12The Spirit immediately sent Jesus out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels were serving him. 14After John was put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. 15“The time is fulfilled,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near! Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (EHV)

Mark gives the temptation of Jesus only a few short sentences in his Gospel: “The Spirit immediately sent Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels were serving him.” It goes by so quickly in Mark, you almost miss it.

Still dripping wet from His baptism in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit casts Jesus out into the wilderness. Later in Jesus’ ministry, we will hear how Jesus did battle with the devil’s demons by casting them out. Before He can do that, though, the Holy Spirit casts Jesus out to do battle with the demon’s general, Satan, himself.

The pages of the Bible are filled with times of testing and tempting. These times are counted in periods of forty. Forty days of pounding rain during the flood. Forty days of Israelite spies infiltrating and inventorying the Land of Canaan. Forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Forty days that Goliath provoked the cowardly army of Israel. A forty-day life-or-death warning of repentance that Jonah gave the Ninevites.

In the Bible, forty-day periods indicate a spiritual battle, a war between the powers of heaven and the powers of hell, a time of testing, tempting, and trial. So, Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan.

This was no cushy situation. Forty days without eating. This was Jesus’ personal Lent. This was so desolate and barren, that He was surrounded by wild animals. But, Jesus would not put the Lord to the test by commanding the angels to take care of Him during the battle (Matthew 4:6,7). Only after the battle was over, then the angels could come and minister to Him.

It was a wilderness battleground. No amenities. No necessities. Nothing, but the Light of the world pitted against the Prince of Darkness.

WELS artist, Jonathan Mayer from Scapegoat Studio (, portrays this contrast between Jesus and Satan in the wilderness. Jesus is gaunt, disheveled, and dressed in tatters. It appears as if all the divine power is gone from Jesus’ eyes. His eyes are downcast. He hasn’t eaten for forty days. He can’t even stand on His feet. But, Jesus won’t turn any of the stones around Him into bread to eat (Matthew 4:4).

Usually we see Satan portrayed in demonic form, with horns, tail, and hooded cloak. Mayer portrays the devil in a more lifelike manner – the most powerful figure on the earth at that time – a Roman emperor. Satan’s breastplate and sword suggest his brute force and military might. His scepter is a symbol of his political power. Lions and dragons embossed on his armor remind us of the devil’s true nature. He is a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8) and a red dragon (Revelation 12:3).

Satan is healthy and muscled. There is a lusty power in Satan’s eyes. He gestures emphatically to the kingdoms of the world. The pyramids are visible in the background – symbolic of the great kingdoms of humanity. So many tyrants, Caesars included, considered themselves as gods to be worshiped. Satan is no different. He demands that Jesus worship Him (Matthew 4:8-10). All the kingdoms of the world could belong to Jesus once again, if He would just worship the devil. No suffering. No bloodshed. No wrath of God. The prince of this world would hand humanity back to the King of kings, if Jesus just would not go to the cross.

But, Jesus doesn’t even look up. Even now, His eyes are fixed on that cross.

Jesus was at war. Even in His physically weakened state, He was stepping down on the devil’s neck (Genesis 3:15). He was driving a stake into the heart of the dragon. He was silencing the roaring lion. He was winning the war. He was doing battle in our place.

At the end of World War II, the night before the Allies hit the beaches at Normandy, U.S. paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines to cut off Hitler’s reinforcements. Moving through the dead of night, alone or in small groups, the paratroopers had orders to fight an enemy they couldn’t see or predict.

The commanders, though, were unhappy with some of their troopers. Too many had hunkered down in hedgerows to await the dawn; a few had even gone to sleep. Pvt. Francis Palys of the 506th saw what was perhaps the worst dereliction of duty. Hearing “all kinds of noise and singing from a distance,” he and his men sneaked up on a farmhouse. In it was a mixed group from both American divisions. The paratroopers had found the Calvados barrel in the cellar and “they were drunker than a bunch of hillbillies on a Saturday night wingding” (D-Day Illustrated Edition: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II; p. 245, 246).

These men knew they were at war – but they refused to act like it.

Do you always realize that you are at war? Do you always act like it? The Bible sounds the warning in Revelation describing the origin and present reality of this war: “There was also a war in heaven. … The great dragon was thrown down—the ancient serpent, the one called the Devil and Satan, the one who leads the whole inhabited earth astray—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.  … Woe to the earth and the sea, for the Devil has gone down to you. He is full of rage, because he knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:7-10, 12).

C.S. Lewis was correct when he wrote: “Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).

We are in a war against the prince of this world (John 12:31). And, how do we act? Have we hunkered down, afraid of sticking our head out of the sand? Staying out of the way. Not getting involved. Calling ourselves Christians, but not worshiping, not praying, not evangelizing – so we are no threat to the devil at all.

Have we gone to sleep? We are in the midst of spiritual warfare, but we keep hitting the snooze button on the alarm to get up, take arms, and fight. We don’t read our Bibles. We don’t meditate on the Scriptures. We don’t catechize our children. We don’t protect our families against the hourly onslaught by the devil and his spiritual minions.

Are we so drunk on the pleasures of this world that we can’t recognize the danger that lurks all around us? We have become numb to the reality that the roaring lion is tearing our families apart. We have become indifferent that spiritual sludge is pumped into our children’s ears and the devil’s lies are paraded before their eyes. We have become callous that we could become the next casualty.

While we were still dripping wet from our own baptism, the Holy Spirit cast us out to go against the old evil foe, who now means deadly woe. We have been sent to war. Not to wander about or walk away, but to fight.

Trials, temptations, and testing will come your way. That’s certain. You can expect them. You are baptized, after all. Look at all the trouble Jesus’ baptism caused Him. At your baptism, you were ripped out of the claws of Satan and placed into the hands of the heavenly Father. The mark of the beast was washed off your forehead and replaced with the name of the Father written there (Revelation 13:16; 14:1). The cross has been placed on you from your head to your heart, marking you as a redeemed child of God. The devil hates all this! So does the unbelieving world! Together, the devil and his minions will come at you with everything they have.

Remember, a servant is not greater than his master (John 15:20). The devil tempted Jesus in the desert. The demons poured into people to torment the Son of God. Close friends from Nazareth tried to throw their childhood friend off a cliff. If that happened to the Savior, it is going to happen to you, too! Expect it. Meet it head-on.

The life of a baptized believer is not easy. Christians are not granted any kind of special immunities from disease; no exemptions from suffering; no special passes that allow us to go around the wilderness. You can’t go around it. You can only go through it. We are living in it. 

Here’s the difference, though. Jesus was driven into the wilderness to do battle alone. We are driven into the wilderness, but Jesus is already there. He battles the devil and our temptations with us and for us, because He’s already won the war.

How did Jesus win the war? “They conquered [the dragon] because of the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11). The blood of the Lamb conquered the dragon. The word of the Christ defeated the lies of Satan. The power of the Son of God was no match for a mere angel, no matter how demonic he may be.

For all the times we have hidden from the war, Jesus didn’t hide. Jesus didn’t let the devil’s lies attract Him or his threats distract Him. Jesus wouldn’t allow Satan’s accusations to intimidate Him. Jesus fought the good fight. He is the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected.

For all the times we have become apathetic in this spiritual war, Jesus marched solemnly forward. The bruised descendant of Eve crushed the Ancient Serpent’s head as He stepped ever closer to Golgotha’s hill.

For all the times we have welcomed sin into our lives and given in to temptation, Jesus resolutely went to the cross. There, upon that old rugged cross, He paid for your sins. He bled for your temptations. He felt God’s wrath for your weaknesses.

Now, distanced from the desert, come down from the cross, and gone from the grave, Jesus grants you the victory over Satan. One little word can fell him. Satan can no longer condemn you. Christ Jesus has condemned Satan (Romans 8:33,34). The accuser now stands accused. 

St. Paul assures us that we are not alone in this wilderness battle. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:28)? There is literally nothing in this world that can drive a wedge between you and God. Nothing. Not trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, school shootings, cancer, clogged arteries, or dementia. Not angels, demons, the present, the future, powers, nothing in the heights or the depths. Not even the worst of your sins, the weaknesses of your temptations, or the guilt from your past, can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).

So, go into battle against Satan. Rebuke his lies. Say no to his temptations. Stand up against his accusations. Jesus has already battled in the wilderness for you. His victory is yours. Amen.