I have decided to work through the book of Mark. I’m not certain why but looking afresh at this the smallest of all the gospels, there is an intrigue about the book, its reflection of Peter’s teachings and how they may have impacted John Mark.
My first stop is at the temptation of Christ – Mark 1:12-13. Compared to Matthew and Luke, Mark is rather thin in his account. Simply put, Jesus was driven by the Spirit to the wilderness for forty days being tempted by Satan. That is it. There is no hint of the type of temptations that Matthew and Luke outline. There is no drama being played out. It all is rather matter-of-fact.
Does this mean that Mark assumes his readers know of the other accounts? Could it be that his account is so barren that the other writers felt a need to expand the account? Unless Jesus told his disciples of this experience, how did anyone know what transpired in the wilderness save for the angels who were ministering to Christ?
I suspect if you’ve spent any time at all in the gospels, you’ve heard sermons and teachings on the temptation scenario. So I will not rehash that here. However, there is one commentary on the event that peaked my interest as soon as I read it. It made me think, “If I heard this in a sermon on Sunday morning, would it ring true?”
The comments are from Gregory the Great, pope from AD 540 til his death some 14 years later. Here are his comments on the temptation of Christ in Mark.
Temptation is brought to fulfillment by three states: suggestion, delight, consent. And we in temptation generally fall through delight, and then through consent; for being begotten of the sin and the flesh we bear within us that through which we suffer conflict. But God, incarnate in the womb of a virgin, came into the world without sin, and so suffers no conflict within himself. He could therefore be tempted by suggestion, but the delight of sin could never touch his mind. So all these temptations of the devil were from without, not from within Him. (Quoted from The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Inter-Varsity Press, 1998, Downers Grove, IL 16)
What struck me about that comment was the rather sterile approach to the temptations of Christ. If Christ could be tempted only at the level of suggestion and the temptation not involve his mind (remember he is a man as well as God) then how can I, as a man, identify with that isolation of temptation? In short, I can’t. None of us could I suppose. If Christ suffered “not conflict within himself,” how can I identify with that, for every temptation and suffering seems to come from within. It is true, sin finds it seed in suggestion, but if it cannot be processed through the mind – if it cannot cause conflict within ones self, then it is no real temptation. Desire is of the mind, suggestion rests outside the mind. As James says, “…Each person is tempted when he is is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire, when it has conceived gives birth to sin…(James 1:14-15 ESV)” If Christ was not tempted at the level of “delight” then how does that translate into being “tempted in all points as we are… (Heb. 4:15)?”
If all the temptations experienced by Christ were from “without not from within Him” than I am of all men desolate in my sin. I am hamstrung by temptation. I have not a savior who can identify with my struggle. He might be able to sympathize with my torment, but empathy is far from him.
Now I have no idea what type of temptations Christ might have really gone through in the wilderness. If Mark knew, he is not telling. Nor am I convinced that Matthew and Luke got it right. But I suspect, if the agony of the Garden is any indication, something was indeed touching the Master’s heart. It was not just without – it was within. His mind may have told his feet to take flight, but his heart was honed in on the finale and his fingernails were dug deeply into the rocks that provided the backdrop of that moment in time. A decision had to be made – get out or give in and give all.
He resisted the temptation – gave in and gave all. To God be the glory!