Brian D. Vos
This ariticle originally appeared in KERUX
The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary
December 2003, Vol. 18, No. 3
Used by permission
"With the Wild Beasts." That is the title I have given this sermon. Perhaps when you first read it, you thought you would be hearing a Christmas sermon on the scene at the manger--that scene so beautifully captured for us in the well-known Christmas hymn: "Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head; the stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay. The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes..." The hymn paints a most idyllic scene: Jesus surrounded by the beasts of burden--the animals of the manger--those beasts included in nearly every nativity scene. Perhaps when you first read the title of the sermon, you thought you would be hearing a Christmas sermon on the scene at the manger, complete with cattle lowing.
I hope I do not disappoint you, but that is not the scene I have in mind. I turn your attention not to the manger, but to the wilderness--not to the beasts of burden, but to the wild beasts.
In recording the temptation of Jesus, Mark is the only gospel writer who makes specific mention of the wild beasts. Matthew makes no mention of the wild beasts. Luke makes no mention of the wild beasts. John makes no mention of the wild beasts. (In fact, John does not even make mention of the temptation--his purpose is different). Mark is the only gospel writer who makes specific mention of the wild beasts: "Jesus . . . was with the wild beasts."
Now perhaps you think we are making too much of that statement. Is it not a rather trivial piece of information? Is it not a rather irrelevant detail? Would we not do better to simply read the statement and move on? Why "waste" an entire sermon (and that a "Christmas sermon" no less) on this rather inconsequential statement?
To ask the question is to answer it. No portion of Scripture is inconsequential. No portion of Scripture is irrelevant. No portion of Scripture is trivial. This is the Word of God--this is his revelation. God does not waste time with trivial matters--God does not waste time with irrelevant matters--God does not waste time with inconsequential matters.
Mark's statement, "[He] was with the wild beasts," has bearing upon the history of redemption; it has to do with your salvation. In fact, Mark's statement, "[He] was with the wild beasts," is a statement of great consequence, of great relevance, and of great importance. To that statement we turn our attention.
I. In His Suffering
The scene begins in verse 12, where we read, "Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness." That same Spirit who descended upon Jesus like a dove at his baptism (v. 10), now drives him into the wilderness.
Here we find Jesus reliving the history of Israel. As Israel was baptized in the waters of the Red Sea, so Jesus is baptized in the waters of the Jordan. As God said of Israel, "My son," so the Father says of Jesus, "My Son." As Israel was led through the wilderness by God's glorious Spirit--presence, so Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Spirit. As Israel was tried and tempted in the wilderness for forty years, so Jesus is tried and tempted in the wilderness for forty days. Jesus relives the history of Israel.
That is necessary for Jesus. He has been baptized. In his baptism he has consecrated himself--he will be obedient in life: he will keep the covenant (his active obedience)--he will be obedient in death: he will die at the cross undergoing the curse of the covenant (his passive obedience). His humiliation and suffering began with his holy conception, continued in his virgin birth, continues now even further in his temptation in the wilderness. Jesus suffers in the wilderness.
That suffering is set before us in those words, "The Spirit drove Him into the wilderness." The Greek word is ekballei, which literally means "to cast out." The Spirit cast him out. The Spirit cast Jesus out. The Spirit cast the Second Adam out. Yes, it is the same word used in Genesis 3.24 (LXX), where we read, "So He drove out the man. .
As Jesus is cast out into the wilderness, Mark points us back to the Garden; Mark points us back to Adam. Adam was tempted in the garden--Adam was placed on probation in the garden--Adam failed in the garden--Adam was cast out of the garden. Jesus is now cast out into the wilderness--Jesus must not fail in the wilderness--Jesus is placed on probation in the wilderness--Jesus is tempted in the wilderness. Jesus is cast out into the wilderness--that place where there is no food to eat, no trees, no fruit. Jesus is cast out into the wilderness--that place where there is no water to assuage one's thirst, no rivers flowing with pure water to drink. Jesus is cast out into the wilderness--that place that has not been subdued by man, that place over which man exercises no dominion. Jesus is cast out into the wilderness--that cursed unsubdued place--that cursed waterless place--that cursed foodless place. Jesus is cast out into the wilderness--that cursed place--that cursed garden! What, after all, is the wilderness, but a cursed garden?
Mark points us back to the garden--that garden from which Adam was cast out. We would almost expect to see the cherubim--we would almost expect to see them with flaming swords flashing back and forth--yes, we would almost expect to see the angels. Jesus is cast out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. That is suffering for Jesus. That is humiliation for Jesus. He subjects himself to the temptations of Satan--and that not in a garden, but in the wilderness, a cursed garden.
His sufferings are made all the more acute as we learn that he was with the wild beasts. Again, think back to Adam; think back to his creation. What does God say to him? "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth" (Genesis 1.28). You might remember also the words of Psalm 8: "You have made him a little a lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen -- even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas" (vv. 5-8).
Man was created to have dominion over the works of God's hands, even the beasts of the field. They were to be subject to man. In the garden, then, there were no wild beasts. Every beast was tame. Every beast was subject to man. Every beast was under the dominion of man. Jesus submits himself, however, not to a garden, but to the wilderness, a cursed garden. Jesus submits himself to the wilderness, where the beasts are indeed wild--they are not subject to man--they are not under the dominion of man. Jesus subjects himself to the realm of the curse: he was with the wild beasts. This was suffering for Jesus.
That it was suffering for Jesus is evident also from the presence of the angels--those angels who ministered to him (v. 13). I have in mind here the words of Hebrews 1:14, where the angels are described as "ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation." Here Jesus Christ, the King of the angels, subjects himself to the ministry of angels--those angels who minister to the inheritors of salvation! Do you see the point? Jesus so identifies with sinners that he subjects himself to the ministry of angels! Indeed, here in Mark 1:12-13, we find that Jesus is already now "being made a little lower than the angels, and that for the suffering of death," Hebrews 2:9. Jesus subjects himself to the realm of the curse: the angels of heaven must minister to him. This was suffering for Jesus.
Furthermore, that suffering is seen through the silence of the Father. It is not the Father who ministers here, but the angels. Only a few verses earlier as Jesus came up out of the waters, the heavens were torn open, and the Father spoke, declaring his verdict upon the Son, "You are My beloved Son, in whom
I am well pleased." Now it is not the Father who ministers to him, but the messengers of the Father. The Father is silent, and that is suffering for Jesus.
The wilderness, then, is a place of temptation. It is a place of suffering.
II. In His Victory
The wilderness is also a place of victory. Here too, in the wilderness, we begin to see the pattern of redemption: from suffering to glory--from the cross to the crown--a bruised heel will crush the head of the serpent.
How do we see the victory of Jesus here in the wilderness? We see it in the wild beasts. To be sure, we see the suffering of Jesus in those wild beasts, but we see his victory as well. These wild beasts do not attack Jesus; they do not harm him; they are wild but they do not attack him. The bulls do not surround him. The strong bulls of Bashan do not encircle him. The lions do not rage at him. The lions do not roar at him. The lions do not gape at him with their mouths. The dogs do not surround him. The mouth of the lions is not opened against him. The horns of the wild oxen are not brought against him. The wild beasts do not harm him. The wild beasts do not attack him. He subdues them. They are subject to the second Adam. The second Adam exercises dominion over them. That speaks to us of his victory.
That it was victory for Jesus is evident also from the presence of the ministering angels. To be sure, those ministering angels speak to us of his suffering, but they speak to us of his victory as well. There would be no angels to minister to Jesus had he not won the victory. It tells us that he is still in contact with heaven. That speaks to us of his victory.
That victory is seen further still in the silence of Satan. You notice there is no dialogue in Mark's account of the temptation. Read Matthew's account of the temptation; he records the dialogue. Read Luke's account of the temptation; he records the dialogue. But here in Mark's account, you read no dialogue. Mark records no dialogue, and that, at least in part, to underscore the victory of Jesus. He has silenced Satan.
So while the wilderness is the place of suffering, it is also the place of victory. But that victory in Mark's gospel is open-ended. You read Matthew's account of the temptation, and there is no question about it: Jesus has won the victory! Jesus' fmal words to Satan in Matthew's account: "Away with you Satan!" Satan departs. You read Luke's account of the temptation, and there is no question about it: Jesus has won the victory! Satan departs. But in Mark, you do not have the same sense. There is no mention of Satan departing. You do not have the same sense of victory. Why not? Because in Mark's gospel, the battle continues. The battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan continues. The battle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent continues. The battle between Jesus and Satan continues--continues all the way to the cross.
III. Bringing Us to the Cross
Ever so subtly, then, Mark is pointing you in verses 12 and 13 to the cross. He does it by mentioning the wild beasts and the ministering angels.
Did you ever consider the cross of Jesus Christ in light of the wild beasts? The psalmist directs you to do so.
Many bulls have surrounded Me; strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me. They gape at Me with their mouths, like a raging and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots. But You, O Lord, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me! Deliver Me from the sword, My precious life from the power of the dog. Save Me from the lion's mouth and from the horns of the wild oxen! (Psalm 22:12-21)
Jesus' suffering at the cross is described to you in terms of wild beasts! Psalm 22 is the cry of Jesus from the cross. But for Jesus there will be no deliverance. He will undergo the sword. His life will not be saved. He will not be rescued. The wild beasts will consume him.
Did you ever consider the cross in terms of the ministering angels? Mark directs you there as well. The scene at the cross directs you there. Angels are present at many points in the life of Jesus. They announce his birth. They minister to him in the wilderness. They strengthen him in Gethsemane. They are present at the opening of the tomb. But at the cross, no angels! No cherubim flanking him on either side--no cherubim on the right, no cherubim on the left. In fact, the cherubim have been replaced by thieves, one on his right, one on his left, and Jesus in the midst.
It is at the cross, then, that Jesus undergoes the sword of the cherubim. It is there that he undergoes the sword of the cherubim to bring man back into the Presence of God--back into the Paradise of God--back into the rest of God. Is that not where Mark points you?! You read in the 15th chapter, he "breathed His last. Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom"--that veil that stood before the Holy of Holies--that veil woven with cherubim. Jesus has undergone the sword of the cherubim to bring his people into the true Holy of Holies.
The point, beloved congregation of Jesus Christ, is this: Jesus has done what Israel could not do. Jesus has done what Adam failed to do. For it was there at the cross that Jesus raised his bruised heel and crushed the head of the serpent. It was there at the cross that Jesus, in raising his bruised heel to crush the head of the serpent, passed the probation. He passed the test. He bound the Strongrnsn. It is his obedience, then--his obedience in life, his obedience in death--that has earned for us the right to enter the eternal rest of God!
Jesus Christ has secured for us a position beyond probation. By his death our sins have been removed, and his perfect righteousness is imputed to us. It is the active and passive obedience of Christ that settles our standing before the throne--you cannot lose the righteousness of Your Savior?! No, it is impossible that you should lose it!
You know, of course, that that is the way it must be. Does not Israel in the wilderness teach you the impossibility--the utter impossibility--of you settling your standing before the throne? Does not Adam in the garden teach you the impossibility--the utter impossibility--of you settling your standing before the throne? Does not Adam in the garden/Israel in the wilderness teach you that with man salvation is impossible?!
If our standing before God depends in any way upon our obedience, if it depends in any way upon our ability to withstand temptation, then before God we have no hope. You know how it goes. You give in to temptation--you fall again into familiar sins--and you say that from now on it is going to be different: you are not going to give in to that temptation again; you are going to live a more righteous life, you are going to live more piously. But then you fall again.
And what is your confidence? What, dear child of God, is your confidence if your standing before the throne depends upon your ability to withstand temptation, upon your ability to live a righteous life, upon your ability to live piously? If your standing depends upon these things, you have no confidence!
But our confidence rests in Jesus Christ--the One who was obedient in life, the One who was obedient in death--the One who has lived our life, the One who has died our death--he is all our confidence before the throne of God! He is the One who brings us through the sword of the cherubim into Paradise, even the Presence of God.
Consider the way in which Isaiah describes the inheritance earned for you by Christ.
Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The beast of the field will honor Me, the jackals and the ostriches, because I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My people, My chosen. This people I have formed for Myself; they shall declare My praise (Isaiah 43:19-21).
A highway shall be there, and a road, and it shall be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean shall not pass over it, but it shall be for others. Whoever walks the road, although a fool, shall not go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast go up on it; it shall not be found there. But the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away (Isaiah 35:8-10).
"With the wild beasts." That is the title I have given this sermon. Perhaps when you first read it, you thought you would be hearing a Christmas sermon on the scene at the manger, with the beasts surrounding Jesus. These are not the beasts of which Mark writes. No, Mark writes of the wild beasts in the wilderness.
"He was with the wild beasts." A trivial piece of information? An irrelevant detail? An inconsequential statement? Not at all. It is a statement that sweeps you into the history of redemption; I trust it does not disappoint you!
Mark has set the wild beasts before you to tell you that here in the wilderness Jesus began to wage war for your soul and mine. Here he began the battle that would bring him to the cross. Here as we read of his obedience, we read of that work that will secure for us the Paradise of God--that Paradise described for us in the words of Isaiah:
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious (Isaiah 11:6-11).
Beloved child of God, because of the obedience of Christ in life and in death, that resting place is yours! And in that place, where there are no wild beasts, the angels will join you in worshiping the King who has dominion over all!
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