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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Christ the Champion
Text:Mark 1:9-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 124:1,2,3                                                                                      

Ps 141:2,3,7,8                                                                                                

Reading – Mark 1:1-28

Ps 91:1,4,5

Sermon – Mark 1:9-13

Hy 55:1,2,3

Hy 53:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we’ve probably all seen those moments when athletes achieve the glory of victory. The sprinter crosses the finish line ahead of everyone else, the basketball team hangs on to a narrow win, the gymnast gets an almost perfect score—great celebrations follow, as gold medals or trophies are handed out to the champions.

Now, what we see in those moments of triumph is just a small glimpse into an entire life that has been dedicated to sport—the culmination of years and years of preparation. Leading up to that event or that game, these athletes train endlessly. They regulate carefully whatever they eat and drink. They study form and technique, and they practice the same moves over and over again. Then, finally, the test comes. It all comes down to a single race, one game, a competition that’s very quickly over—and either you’ve won, or you haven’t.

Jesus our Saviour had his own moment of testing. In a sense his whole life was a test, but Mark tells us about one trial in particular. It was when Jesus was tempted by the devil. And even though the story is told right at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, this test too, comes at the end of much training and preparation. Jesus has been living on earth for thirty years, growing in body, growing in wisdom.

And our text shows that Jesus has been carefully equipped for this contest. Before He takes up his task of fighting the devil, He is given heavenly affirmation and heavenly power. Before his head-to-head confrontation with Satan, Christ is thoroughly prepared. Because failure here means death, while success means salvation, and the unfading crown of glory. There is much that is riding on the work of Christ—not just for him, but for us all. Let’s take a look at Mark 1:9-13 on this theme,

            Jesus is made ready and then tested in his redeeming work:

1)     baptized by John

2)     equipped with the Spirit

3)     affirmed by the Father

4)     tempted by Satan


1) baptized by John: The first part of Mark 1 is like the drum roll before the grand entrance, as John makes things ready for Jesus’ arrival. And now it comes! Mark puts it matter-of-factly, “It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee” (v 9). Here He is at last, our Saviour, the One mightier than John, the One who will baptize with the Spirit. Notice, though, that He comes from “Nazareth of Galilee.” He doesn’t just magically appear, but He’s a person, with a hometown.

In the space between verse 8 and verse 9, John the Baptist is already declining in importance. And when Jesus arrives, already John’s ministry is basically over—in just a few verses (in verse 14), we will learn that John is put into prison. But before that, it’s time for one last activity of preparation: John will baptize Jesus in the Jordan River (v 9). From the other Gospels, we know that John hesitates to do this. He’s the servant who is so unworthy that he shouldn’t even be taking off Jesus’ dirty sandals. But John will submit to his Master’s instruction, and he’ll baptize the Lord.

Maybe we can all picture that event in our mind’s eye—John and Jesus standing in the waters of the Jordan. But let’s stop and consider this for a moment. Why did this have to happen, that Jesus is baptized? We read that John’s baptism was a baptism “of repentance for the remission of sins” (v 4). Why does the Son of God need this, a ceremony of washing? He’s the sinless one, and the one who doesn’t need to change.

That’s true. But this is how Jesus can show what his whole life is going to be about. He’s going to stand with sinners! Christ identifies with us, and by his baptism He says that He is one of us. Who is this man in the water with John? Yes, He is God’s Son. But He’s also our brother. Jesus joins himself to us, so that the LORD can lay on him the iniquity of us all.

This moment of baptism is also a preparation, then. It’s preparation for more humbling. In his life Jesus had been humbled already—being conceived and born as a person. This is where it continues: humbled in his baptism. Washed with the same water that has washed a hundred sinners, water that has turned black with sin.

Later, Christ will be humbled by the persecution of his enemies. And then utterly humbled in his death on a cross. By this total humiliation, He stands with us, shoulder-to-shoulder with God’s people—suffering all along what we should have suffered. 

This is an amazing thing about his baptism, beloved, a deeply comforting truth. Christ stands with us. He is with us in our guilt. He’s with us in our sin. He’s with us in all the brokenness of being a human—with us, so that He can help us, so that He can heal us. Standing in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus shows what He’s willing to do: that He’ll be a Messiah for everyone, a Saviour for all who put their trust in Him.


2) equipped by the Spirit: If you look back to Mark 1:1, you see the title of this book, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (v 1). Not just Jesus, but Jesus Christ. This is an essential part of Mark’s story, that Jesus is the Christ. We’ve all learned in Catechism class that “Christ” means “anointed one.” It’s someone who has been set apart for a special task by God, and who has also been given the tools for doing that task. That this is true of Jesus is seen in what happens immediately after his baptism.

For Jesus “saw the heavens parting, and the Spirit descending upon him” (v 10). Just how do the heavens part? It’s not like Jesus sees a little door swinging open, miles up in the sky. Heaven is much closer than that—“heaven” in the Bible often means the hidden dimension of God’s power and presence, that heavenly reality which is standing just behind ordinary things all around us. As though an invisible curtain right in front of us is pulled back… Think of when Elisha opens the eyes of the young man of Dothan, and he sees the heavenly armies all around the city. That’s how close heaven is all the time, and that’s how real it is.

So heaven opens, and God anoints his Son Jesus with the power of the Holy Spirit. He descends on Jesus “like a dove” (v 10). People argue about the meaning of that little phrase “like a dove.” Does the Holy Spirit actually take on the form of a dove, with feathers and wings? Lots of Christians have a little dove on a necklace, as a symbol of the Spirit. Or does the text mean that the Holy Spirit simply descends like a dove? That is, does this mean that the people see Spirit gradually lower down onto Jesus, like a dove (or any other bird) gently coming down onto its nest, floating downwards?

We’re probably meant to picture an actual dove. A dove was a symbol of peace and gentleness. And more to the point, a dove was a symbol for the presence of God. In this way it was obvious to everyone who was watching there at the Jordan; they could recognize that from this moment on, Jesus really is the Christ, “the Anointed One” of God. He was set apart for service, marked as having the Spirit.

So did He really need the Spirit? Wasn’t He God, and therefore capable of all things? He was. But Jesus is also a man. Remember He comes “from Nazareth of Galilee.” As He begins his work on earth, He faces the limitations that we’re familiar with: limitations of energy, of stamina, of needing food and sleep. Jesus will also be tempted by all the temptations that we know: to rely on himself, to forget about God, to be cruel to those who get in his way. As a man without the gift of the Spirit, his mission would end in failure before it begins. Like a car without gas, or a sailboat without wind, is the person without the Holy Spirit—lifeless, and useless for God.

So He needs God’s Spirit. With this anointing, He’s made ready, an equipping for the contest that’s around the corner. For just notice what takes place right after Jesus’ baptism: “Immediately the Spirit drove him into the wilderness” (v 12), which is where He faces the devil. The same Spirit that empowers Him then sends Him for testing. And the Spirit is there to help Him. As we’ll see, the Spirit gives him a glorious victory.

Now recall what John the Baptist promised about Jesus; just two verses before, he said to the crowds, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (v 8). Anyone paying attention at Jesus’ baptism can draw just one conclusion then: the Spirit that anointed Jesus, will anoint us too! The Spirit that is enabling Jesus’ ministry on earth, is the same Spirit that enables us! “He will baptize you with this Holy Spirit.”

Beloved, ponder for a moment what we have: the same Holy Spirit who empowered Christ for doing the will of God; the same Spirit who helped Jesus reject the greatest temptations that the devil could think of; the same Spirit who prepared Jesus to love and to persevere and to pray. The same gift has been given to you, has been made available to you!

Sometimes we’re inclined to think too little of the Spirit’s power. I hear it when we give up on people, when there’s someone who doesn’t repent, or who’s been struggling for such a long time, we say: “He’ll never change! Can’t change.” But can’t the Spirit change him? Or we look at the church and thinks it’s hopeless—there’s just not enough enthusiasm, not enough love. But can’t the Spirit change that church?

In our own lives too, we don’t always give the Spirit his proper due. “Sure,” we’ll say, “I have the Spirit. He brings me comfort when I’m down. He eases my worries when I’m afraid.” We look at the Spirit as kind of like an energy drink: when you need a quick boost, you seek him out. For the rest though, the Spirit’s on the shelf and forgotten.

But Christ’s Spirit is greater than that, He deserves better than that. His Spirit descends like a dove, and makes his home in us—you’re his nest, you’re his temple. Not a temporary home, but permanent. And we need the Spirit, all the time. When a person has the Spirit, they are led to see the glory of Christ the Saviour, to trust in him, and to worship him. When a person has the Spirit, they are ready to do the Father’s will. When a person has the Spirit, he hates sin and chases after holiness. So we need Him.

Through the Spirit, Jesus is the Christ. And through the Spirit, we can follow Christ. So ask God for this gift of the Spirit. Ask for Him, just as often as you ask for your daily bread. By Him, you will live!


3) affirmed by the Father: Let’s go back to the Jordan. For as Jesus receives the Spirit, a voice is heard from heaven. God looks down at Jesus, and declares, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (v 11). For all the people there, for John the Baptist, for the men who will soon be called as disciples—even for Jesus himself—this was a powerful endorsement. He isn’t a free agent. He’s not an independent. Jesus is on earth as the Son, commissioned and approved and sent down by God the Father.

As the Father speaks to his beloved Son, we hear Old Testament echoes. Back in Psalm 2, God speaks to his newly appointed king in David’s line, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” (v 7). Or in Isaiah 42, God says about the coming Christ, “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, my Elect One in whom my soul delights! I have put my Spirit upon him” (v 1). In the same way, the Father is confirming his mission here in Mark 1: Jesus is the one who will open up the way for sinners. This is the grand send-off for Jesus’ mission.

Because with his Son, the Father is “well-pleased” (v 11). God places his stamp of approval on Christ. So what had Jesus done to earn this high praise? His ministry was just beginning! Remember though, that Jesus was already thirty years old. That’s a lot of life. All the way up to this time, He had walked the hard path of obedience. As a child, as a teenager, as a young man, Jesus had tried in all things to honour his Father.

And that’ll stay his focus, right to his dying day. Jesus will be a proper Son, and He will live as a faithful child. Jesus in his ministry always returns to what his Father wants. He will even pray during his agony in the Garden, “Father, if it is your will, take this cup away from me; nevertheless not my will but yours be done.” With this Son, the Father is well-pleased.

But then what do we see, right at the very end? We see that despite Jesus’ faithfulness, despite his obedience, the Father rejects the Son. Hanging on the cross, we see Jesus left in the darkness. “Well-pleased” becomes “forsaken,” and the Father turns away his face. Instead of praising his Son, He punishes Him. Instead of commending Him, God curses Him.

That’s not unfair or unjust. It’s the heart of our redemption! For this is what the Son did willingly for us. The Son gave what we cannot give—obedience. Then He carried what we cannot carry—condemnation. Only on the merits of Christ does the Father grant grace to us sinners. Only for the sake of his Son does the Father adopt us as his own.

This is what it means. Because God is “well pleased” with Christ, He is now “well pleased” with us. He approves of us; He honours us; He blesses us. The Father looks at us, and He sees us not as we are in ourselves. In ourselves, we’re dirty, covered in shame. Weak and unworthy. But that’s not how God looks at us. He looks at us in Christ! In Christ we are made whole. Perfected, in Christ. We are made legitimate sons and daughters, through Jesus. This is how you can pray to the Father for whatever He has promised in his Word. This is how you can depend on the Son for strength and comfort, and this is how you can ask boldly for his Spirit. What a privilege you and I have!

And then think of the example we have in Christ. Parents will do this sometimes, and they will expect the older kids to set a good example for the younger ones. Then they say it too: “You should be more like your brother…” In the best possible way, that’s what we have in our brother Christ. The eternal Son teaches us adopted sons and daughters how it’s done. We have to ask: How did Jesus live? How did He worship? How did He speak with the Father? Such is the life that you and I are called to live, as we are conformed to the image of Christ. We are called to a life of which God will say, “With you, I am well-pleased.”


4) tempted by Satan: Now for the test. Jesus has been prepared for this: baptized by John, anointed with the Holy Spirit, affirmed as the well-beloved Son—now to step onto the field of battle. “Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness” (v 12). This shows how these temptations were actually part of God’s good plan for his Son, not some unexpected, blind-side assault. No, the Spirit compels Jesus to go out.

We learn from this that trials are guaranteed. Sometimes we act as if our greatest priority in life is to be safe—eliminate danger, preserve comfort. But God says that trials are unavoidable. It’s only through them that we grow in strength. A Christian without trials and testing is kind of like the athlete on the sidelines of the game who goes on and on about his ability: he can score so many goals, or he can quickly knock down any opponent. But he needs to be tested. He needs to step onto the field. A test will show what he’s made of—it’ll show what we’re made of.

And so at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus goes to the wilderness for forty days. Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark doesn’t tell us what kind of temptations Jesus faced. But we can be sure that each of them appealed to his human heart, to that natural urge to be #1. At the outset, Jesus has to decide how He’s going to do his work. Will He go the way of God, or his own way? Jesus has a great task, and great powers—so will He conquer by force and bloodshed, just obliterate his enemies? Or will He conquer by love and sacrifice, by laying down his life?

In every battle, there’s something hanging in the balance. So also for the devil’s assault on Christ. Just consider the timing. Why did Satan do it now? Christ was just beginning his task. He had no companions to lean on for support, He was still a “rookie” in ministry. Now is the time to derail Him.

It’s actually a pattern that we should recognize: it’s the devil’s strategy to wait for the opportune time. He doesn’t know everything, but he does watch carefully. So he watches for when we’re vulnerable to temptation. When are you vulnerable? Maybe you’re tired, or angry, or frustrated, or when you’re lonely or bored. And then he offers exactly what we want. His temptations are made to fit us well. He knew what to say to Christ, and he knows what to say to us. We might have a soft spot for this or that sin; or there’s a path we’ve started down, and we just need a little nudge to go further.

And it’s always easier to give in. But let’s understand what sin is, that it’s a matter of life and death. Probably the greatest deceit, the worst lie told often by the devil, is that your sin is harmless, and in the end it doesn’t really matter.

It’s a lie that especially people in the church are willing to listen to. “I’m a Christian, and that’s not going to change because I sin, so what’s the big deal? I learned in Catechism class that I can’t lose my salvation, so the way I act when no one’s looking, or the way I behave at parties, can’t really matter. Once saved, always saved.” But don’t be fooled. Satan is always looking for those who will do his will. He’s still looking—even in the church—for those who will sell their soul for a passing bit of pleasure, for a bit of power, a bit of glory. Sin can kill you.

So is that what Jesus would do? Getting back to verse 13, the devil understands what’s at stake here. Who is Christ? He is the promised seed of the woman. He knows that if Jesus will be faithful and carry out his mission, then it’s all over. Just see what the demon says a bit later in this chapter. As Jesus prepares to cast out this servant of Satan, it yells at him, “Let us alone! What have we to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth! Did you come to destroy us?” (v 24). Yes, that’s exactly why Christ came: to destroy the works of the devil.

Satan knew it well, so he’d throw everything at Christ. If he could just get the Son to ignore his Father, to disobey his Word, even just once… then that’d be the failure of his mission. No more a well-pleasing Son. And what would happen to us? Condemned forever, with no Saviour to be found. In this single verse, salvation hangs in the balance.

But Christ comes out of the wilderness, and He’s a champion. This is just the first round in the ring, but this is an early sign of what He can do. Did you notice Mark doesn’t even think it’s necessary to say who won, to say that Jesus defeated the devil? For him it’s obvious. Of course He won!

There’s a hint though, at the end of verse 13, “and [He] was with the wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.” There’s a lot we could say about this, but we need to be brief. First, those wild beasts. In the deserts around Israel, there used to be many wild animals: leopards, bears, jackals, and lions. It’s a threatening environment for Jesus to be in, but they don’t attack. Christ is among them, unharmed. Already here in the desert, He is showing his dominion, showing that He’s Lord. This was God’s promise to his people back in Psalm 91, “You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.” Jesus has power in this realm, just as He has power over the realm of the demons. Out in the wilderness we see that He’s beginning to reverse the curse, to restore creation to how it was meant to be—when even the wild animals do no harm.

And secondly, the angels. They aren’t there to keep Jesus from being tempted, just as they won’t keep him from going to the cross. But they assure Christ that the Father is watching over him. These are divine reinforcements in the hour of trial, ready to provide for his needs. The same angels, Psalm 91 says, protect us in all our ways.

So Jesus passes the test. He begins his ministry with a victory—and that’s how He’ll continue, right to the end. Beloved, that’s the Saviour we have, a champion! That’s the power and protection that’s available to us, through his Spirit and through his angels. So as you do battle with sin every day, be ready for it through Christ. For your daily contest with the devil, be equipped in Christ. Stand with the One who stood with you! Then you too, will receive a crown of glory that does not fade!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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