Spiritual Warfare in Four Relationships, Mark 1:9-20

“Spiritual Warfare in Four Relationships”

Mark 1:9-20

January 9, 2022

Faith Presbyterian Church – Morning Service

Pastor Nicoletti

This morning, we continue in the Gospel of Mark. Last week we looked at the baptism of Jesus and what it meant for his identity and ours. This week, we begin with Jesus’s baptism, and then continue on to the events that follow.

With that said, we turn now to Mark 1:9-20. Please do listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this morning.

1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

This is the word of the Lord.  (Thanks be to God.)

“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” [1 Peter 1:24-25]

Let’s pray …

Lord, we rejoice at your word,

like one who finds great spoil.

We hate falsehood,

but we love your commandments.

We know that those who love your law have peace,

and nothing can make them stumble.

And so help us now to keep your testimonies from the heart,

and to love them exceedingly.

Help us to pursue a life of faithfulness,

knowing that all our ways are before you.

Grant this, we ask, for Jesus’s sake. Amen.

[Based on Psalm 119:162-163, 165, 167-168]

Introduction

Our text this morning could be looked at from a number of angles. But this morning I’d like to look at it through the lens of spiritual warfare.

And specifically we will consider how our text frames the theme of spiritual warfare through the lens of four different relationships – two of which are hostile, and two of which are a means of support.

And as we consider each of these four relationships, we’ll see that each one points us to something that Jesus has done for us, and each one points us to something we are called to do.

And that two-fold structure is summed up in Jesus’s proclamation, summarized in verse fifteen. There we read that Jesus came “proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”

In that simple summary of Jesus’s preaching, there is good news we are called to believe, and then a call to act in repentance.

First, there is a gospel to be believed. We spoke about this back when we considered the opening lines of Mark’s gospel, but the word “gospel” in Greek, in its original context, meant good news about a historic event that would benefit others. It was used in the Roman Empire to describe the birth or the victory of a new king, which would presumably lead to blessing to his people. Such proclamations were called “gospel” – good news.

And the same is true of Jesus’s proclamation here – it is a call to believe in good news about what Jesus, himself, as God’s anointed king, has done for all who trust in him. [Keller, 16]

That’s the first layer of our text.

The second layer is that it also is a call for us to act. We are to live in a certain way, in light of what Jesus has done. We are to turn from our former way of life, and follow Jesus. “Repent” Jesus says in verse fifteen. That is a call to turn, 180 degrees.

It’s a call to turn away from one way of living, and towards another – towards a life of following Jesus, as we hear Jesus say in verse seventeen. It is a call to live in light of the good news about the kingdom of God, by following Jesus with all our lives.

And so, as we consider the theme of spiritual warfare in our text, put before us in four different relationships, in each one we see both the good news of what Jesus has done, and the call of what we are to do in light of that.

Relationship with God

With that in mind, we turn to the first relationship we see in our text: the relationship with God.

And we see that in verses nine through twelve.

There we read:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

Now, last week we focused more on Jesus’s relationship with the Father in his baptism. Today we will think a bit more about his relationship to the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit descends on Jesus. And we can miss the significance of this if we don’t read it with the Old Testament in mind.

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, when the Holy Spirit rushes upon someone, it is usually to equip them for battle, for prophetic obedience, and for ruling wisely. But the stress tends to especially fall on that first one: the Spirit of God falls upon someone to equip them for warfare.

So, in Judges 3 we read that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Othniel and he “went out to war, and Yahweh gave [the] king of Mesopotamia into his hand.”

In Judges 6 we read that “the Spirit of Yahweh clothed Gideon” and in the next chapters he defeats the Midianites in battle.

In Judges 11 we read that “the Spirit of Yahweh was upon Jephthah,” and then he goes out and subdues the Ammonites in battle.

And in Judges 14 we read that “the Spirit of Yahweh rushed upon” Samson, and then he strikes down his enemies in Ashkelon.

In 1 Samuel 11 we read about the Ammonites besieging a city of the people of God, and when Saul, Israel’s king, hears of it, we are told that “the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul” and then we watch him muster an army, and lead God’s people into battle, defeating the Ammonites.

In 1 Samuel 16, after David is anointed king by Samuel, we read that “the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward,” and in the next chapter we see David going into battle with Goliath.

Over and over, the Spirit falls on someone to prepare them for battle. And so, when we read in Mark 1 about the Spirit descending on Jesus, we should not be surprised that two verses later we are told that “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” where he then does battle with Satan.

The first relationship we see in this text is Jesus’s relationship with God, and what we see is that God equips Jesus for spiritual warfare by pouring out the Holy Spirit on him. That is where he starts.

And it is a good reminder that Jesus has shared that blessing with us. On the day of Pentecost, after Jesus had risen from the dead, and ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit rushed upon the Church.

And the Apostle Peter explained that by saying that Jesus, who had died on the cross and then risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven had “received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit,” and then he poured the Spirit out on his people. [Acts 2:32-33]

The Holy Spirit is poured out on people in order to equip them for battle. In his baptism, God the Father poured the Holy Spirit on Jesus. And after he ascended to heaven, Jesus Christ shared the Holy Spirit with his Church – pouring the Spirit out on all who placed their trust in him. Including you.

And so, when we think of spiritual warfare – when we think of the spiritual challenges we face in life: the trials and temptations, the struggles and the suffering –  the first relationship that matters to us in those moments must be our relationship to God. God the Father has equipped Jesus with the Holy Spirit. And Jesus has shared that blessing with us if we place our trust in him.

Which means that in Christ, you too are empowered by the same Spirit that Jesus took with him as his strength in the wilderness – the same Spirit that helped Gideon defeat the Midianites, and Samson tear and attacking lion in pieces, and helped David kill Goliath – that same Holy Spirit has been given to you by God.

That is the first relationship that matters in spiritual warfare: our relationship with God, and the empowering Spirit he gives.           

Relationship with Sin & Satan

The second relationship for us to consider is the relationship with sin and Satan.

As we heard in some of the examples I’ve already mentioned, the pattern we see repeated in the Hebrew Scriptures is that when the Holy Spirit rushes on someone to equip them for battle, the next thing they usually do is to go out to fight against the chief enemies of God’s people. That’s what we see with Othniel, and Gideon, and Jephthah, and Saul, and David. The Spirit of God rushes upon them, and they go to war with the most obvious threat to God’s people.

And in Jesus’s day, the Jewish people could have identified a lot of threats. They could have easily pointed to oppressors. There were the Romans who were literally an oppressive occupying force. There were also the Jewish leaders who were working with the Romans. You may hear a lot of talk about tyranny in our culture, but America right now would have looked like a wonderful relief to many first century Jews, when compared to the power the Romans had over them.

So then, when the Holy Spirit rushes on Jesus, where does he go to fight?

Well, he doesn’t march to Jerusalem to find Jews who had collaborated with Rome. He doesn’t take off for Rome to confront Caesar. The Spirit instead drives him into the wilderness, to do battle with sin and Satan.

We read in verses 12 and 13: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.”

Jesus knew that the biggest threat he faced – and with that, the biggest threat God’s people faced in his day – was not the powerful pagans who lorded it over them, it was not their political opponents, it was not collaborators or the unfaithful among the Jewish people. Jesus knew that the biggest threat to his people was sin and Satan. Sin and Satan were the chief oppressor of his people. And that is where Jesus goes to war when the Holy Spirit rushes upon him.

And when he does, just like Othniel, and Gideon, and David, Jesus fights and comes out victorious. He faces temptation in the wilderness, and he overcomes it. Mark doesn’t give us the same details that Matthew and Luke do. Instead, he simply tells us that Jesus went out to battle temptation, and then the next thing he did in verse 14 is proclaim the gospel of God – clear evidence that Jesus had not been conquered in his battle with sin and Satan.

That is, in fact, central to the gospel – the good news – that Jesus proclaimed: that God had sent a champion for his people – a King, his Son – and his Son had come to rescue his people from the dominion of sin and Satan, where we had sold ourselves as slaves through our rebellion against God. We had become slaves to our own selfishness and desires and short-sightedness. But God had sent Jesus to free us. And Jesus showed his power over sin and Satan by going out into the wilderness and being tempted, and coming back unscathed.

The good news here – the gospel – is that Jesus has defeated sin and Satan.

And then, with that good news there is also a call. And that call raises a few questions.

First, we must consider: Do we see our sin and Satan as the greatest threats to us and to our lives?

The Bible tells us that just as there is an all-good personal God, so there is a personal power of spiritual darkness – a fallen angel, referred to here as Satan. And contrary to many horror movies or to popular imagination, his power over us is not something that seizes us contrary to our will, but rather he gains his power over us by tempting our will away from God, and towards his own ways. He tempts us to serve ourselves, just as he – as Satan – does. He promises us freedom, but when we follow him, we find only slavery. [Keller, 12]

And that slavery to sin and Satan, we see here in our text, is the biggest threat in our lives.

Do you believe that? Do you act like that is true?

Or do you spend far more time thinking, and worrying, and talking, and resisting other perceived threats than you do the threat of sin and temptation? Are you more concerned about threats to your career or your finances or your reputation than you are to threats to your soul?

Jesus here reminds us that sin is the biggest threat to us – to his people. Our sin – not someone else’s.

And from there we learn three things about that battle.

First, that Jesus has conquered our sin and freed us from slavery to it. We see a picture of that in our text – a picture more fully laid out in Jesus’s death and resurrection, where he paid the price for our sin, and thus freed us from its dominion.

Second, though we are no longer slaves, sin continues to have a foothold in each of our hearts. And so, the battle continues. We are able to resist now in ways we could not have before, but we still must fight. Which raises the question: Are you fighting your sin? Are you battling with temptation? Or have you made more of a truce – letting Jesus have some aspects of your heart and life, and letting sin and Satan hold on to other parts of it? The Spirit drives Jesus out to do battle with sin. And it should drive us to the same: to resist and fight the temptations we are faced with.

Third, we are to know that Jesus is with us in that battle, and we are to rely on him as we resist temptation, and battle our sin.

And Mark brings that out in an interesting way here. We see it in verse thirteen. There is this odd reference to “the wild beasts” that Jesus was with. What’s going on there?

Well, more than one commentator points out that Mark was likely writing during the reign of Emperor Nero – a Nero known for savagery towards Christians, including throwing them to wild beasts to tear them apart. [Edwards, 41; Keller, 12]

As Mark wrote, one of the powerful temptations to abandon Jesus was the threat that if you didn’t, you would be in with “the wild beasts” to be brutally killed.

And so, one commentator notes: “Given the ravaging of Christians by ferocious animals during Nero’s reign, it is not difficult to imagine Mark including the unusual phrase ‘with the wild beasts’ in order to remind his Roman readers that Christ, too, was thrown to wild beasts, and as the angels ministered to him, so, too, will they minister to Roman readers facing martyrdom.” [Edwards, 41]

And it’s important to see that Mark is not just giving them an example in Jesus. He is preaching good news. He is reminding them that Jesus overcame those temptations so that he could empower them to do the same. They could resist the temptation not because they were so strong in themselves, but because they had Jesus with them, and he had already triumphed over the temptation to reject God in the face of the wild beasts.

And we too have Jesus with us, no matter what temptations we face. And with Jesus, we have all the resources described here: We have the Holy Spirit to empower us for battle. We have the angels ministering to us in the midst of temptation. But most of all, we have Jesus Christ, who has conquered sin and Satan.

That is the second relationship in our spiritual warfare: the battle with our chief enemy: our sin, and the devil who tempts us to give in to them.

Relationship with the World

That then brings us to the third relationship we see in our text: the relationship with the world.

And we see that in verses 14 and 15. There we read:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

And the relationship described here is one of invasion. In Jesus, God is invading a hostile world.

And that’s important. Because when faced with a hostile world, our tendency is often to retreat. John the Baptist, we read in verse fourteen, has been arrested. The world has made its hostility to God’s work clear. If Jesus wants to protect himself, the obvious response at this point is to retreat. Maybe Jesus should start a cloistered community with like-minded individuals, far from the powers of the hostile culture around him, and they can pursue their spiritual lives together and wait for a more opportune time to bring their message to the world – a time when the world might be more receptive, rather than a time when they are literally arresting and killing God’s messengers.

But that’s not what Jesus does. That’s not what God does. Instead, in plain sight of the hostility of the world, God invades through Jesus Christ.

And that is good news because all of us who have come to know the Lord are beneficiaries of that invasion. For we were citizens of this world, in rebellion against our Maker, until he captured us. And under his care, he has freed us from the spell of this world, and drawn us to himself, to love him as our true and rightful king.

And now he has enlisted us, as his people, as his Church, to be part of his invasion. We see that clearly in the verses that follow, as he calls Simon and Andrew and James and John to join him in God’s campaign to invade this hostile world.

It is not an invasion that uses the weapons of this world, but its weapons are spiritual in nature. It comes in the proclamation of the gospel, and the presentation of God’s word. It comes not with the sword, but with the call to others to repent and believe.

And we are each to have some part in that work. In some areas of our lives, God has given us a place in hostile spiritual territory. Where is that for you?

Your call there – our call there – is to proclaim the gospel of Christ in word and deed. That means loving people with the love that Jesus showed to those who were hostile to him. It means preaching by our deeds. And then, when the time is right, or when we are asked, it means explaining to others the reason for the hope that is in us. It may mean explaining to them a basic outline of the gospel. It may mean introducing them to other Christians. It may mean inviting them here to church, to learn more.

And to be clear, that doesn’t mean that our relationships are to be manipulative – that we are to treat people as mere projects in a church program. Not at all. Because Jesus did not treat us as mere projects. He treated us as people. He loved us. He cared for us. And if you love someone, and you know they are in danger – you know they are spiritually enslaved – then you want to see them rescued, you want to see them freed … not to score a point for your spiritual team, but to bless them, and so that they too can know their heavenly Father, and the love of God available to them in Christ.

And so, we are called to join Christ’s invading force, entering a hostile world, and waging spiritual warfare by showing love to others, and speaking the truth in love, that they too may be captured by the love of God in Christ, and may come to know their true King, and become loyal members of his Kingdom.

That is the third relationship we see here under the theme of spiritual warfare: the relationship to a hostile world.

Relationship with Other Believers

Fourth and finally, we see the relationship to other believers. And we see that in verses sixteen through twenty.

Hear those verses again:

16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, [Jesus] saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

Jesus here begins to form a community around himself for the work that is ahead. Jesus here begins to gather fellow laborers in the field … but he’s also doing more than that. Jesus is gathering spiritual friends.

And that’s interesting. Because Jesus himself didn’t seem to need their help. He was Jesus. He was the sinless one, the Son of God. If anyone could walk the road that God had called him to on his own, it was Jesus.

And yet, Jesus here calls others to be in relationship with him, and to walk with him, as he lives the life of spiritual warfare that God has called him to.

There are at least two things we should take from this.

The first is that part of Jesus’s intention in his coming was to form the Church – and not just the Church as an abstract institution (though, that is important as well) – but the Church as a network of real relationships – of deep and meaningful relationships between those who have trusted in him.

And that’s actually the first real action of Jesus’s ministry that Mark records.

As one commentator points out, the details of this gathering reveal a few things. First, the prominence of Jesus’s work of gathering this group shows us just how important such relationships are in Jesus’s work.

Second, the fact that Mark describes not a nameless group, but the coming together of four specific men – Simon, Andrew, James, and John – is a reminder that Jesus is not forming a vague grouping of people, but he is connecting specific individuals to one another.

Third, the fact that Mark spends more time describing the coming together of these four men than he does Jesus’s temptation in the desert presents Jesus to us as especially focused on forming this life-giving community. [Edwards, 51]

Mark wants us to see this – he wants to be clear that Jesus is building a community. It’s not just a loose association of like-minded people, or people with similar spiritual interests, but a concrete set of relationships in which people will live their lives before God together. The experiences that God has planned for Simon and Andrew and James and John, as they seek to follow Jesus together, will knit their lives together in ways that they probably would never have imagined.

And the importance of that community is seen in verse twenty, when John and James walked away from their father, in order to join Andrew and Simon in following Jesus.

That would have been shocking in the ancient world. In traditional cultures, family is often the most important set of relationships in your life. [Keller, 20] Yet Jesus calls James and John here to acknowledge that their relationship to him – their relationship to Jesus –outranks their relationship to their father.

But it doesn’t stop there. Because by implication, Jesus also calls James and John to value the community he is forming with Simon and with Andrew – with other followers of Jesus – as more valuable even than the community of their family.

That was a radical calling in James and John’s setting.

It doesn’t sound as radical in our day, because leaving one’s family of origin is something that for many of us is not shocking, but is expected.

But we often replace that primary allegiance to families with other communities. For us it might be the community of our career. Or it might be a political community or the community of some other subculture that we are a part of.

But whatever it might be, the point made here remains: Not only does Jesus’s claim on us outrank the claims others may place on us, but our relationships with the fellow followers of Christ, whom God has connected us to within a particular church context – those relationships are to be the primary ones that shape our lives.

James and John would never be the same after they answered Jesus’s call – not only because they followed Jesus … but because they followed Jesus beside Simon and Andrew.

Is the same true for you?

If you are a Christian, have you responded to Jesus’ call not only to follow him, but to follow him by walking alongside brothers and sisters whom you will share your life with in real ways – just as James and John did with Andrew and Simon?

They got to know each other pretty well in the years that followed. They didn’t just see each other when they were dressed up nice for synagogue … they saw each other also when they did not have it all together – when they were not composed and put together.

They saw one another in their sin. They saw one another in their brokenness. They lived life together in the presence of Jesus … as Jesus challenged them, and cared for them, and exposed their hearts. They saw the good and the bad and the ugly of one another. And yet, with the exception of Judas, they stayed. Even after they had seen the shame of the others. Even after the others had seen their shame. Because they knew first of the depth of their connection in Christ, and because second, they knew they needed each other in the spiritual battles they would face.

They needed brothers and sisters in Christ who knew them, who could challenge them, who could help and support them.

When we face the spiritual battles of this life, we need the support of other Christians. We need their presence not just on Sunday mornings, but in the trenches of the spiritual conflicts of our lives.

Sometimes we need them to comfort us and help bear our burdens. We see that in the lives of the apostles: we see it in the life of the Apostle Paul, when he writes in 2 Corinthians 7[:5-6] of how he was battered by affliction, but he found relief, because, he says “God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.”

Other times we need others to build us up, and even to confront us. We see that in the lives of the Apostles as well, such as when Paul confronted Peter and Barnabas in Galatians 2[:11-14].

The apostles of Jesus didn’t try to follow Jesus alone. They knew that in light of the trials and temptations – in light of the spiritual warfare they would face in this life – they would need fellow believers … not just at the periphery of their lives, but deeply embedded in their lives … not just to see them at their best, but especially to see them at their worst.

How could we possibly think we need any less than that ourselves?

More than that, consider Jesus himself. For Jesus was fully human. And even before the fall of humanity it was true that it is not good for man to be alone. And so Jesus gathered friends.

In fact, what we see here is that one of the foundational things Jesus did as he prepared to enter the spiritual warfare of his life was to gather a core group of friends around him at the outset. [Keller, 19; Edwards, 48] These were friends he looked to for support. We cannot read the account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and not get the sense that, in his darkest hour, he really did hope for comfort and support from his closest friends.

If even Jesus let other believers into his darkest moment of spiritual battle, who are we to think we don’t need that kind of deep support?

And yet, we often lack, or even resist such relationships. We keep people at arm’s length. We only let them see us when we’ve got it all together, and can put on the face we want them to see. We try to project an image of being good, and we hide our sin and struggles from others, rather than seeking their support. We avoid being known by the brothers and sisters in Christ whom God has placed around us.

And when we do that, we miss not only the blessings of such friendships in the Lord, but we miss the support they offer … and we allow ourselves to be vulnerable not only to the sudden onslaught of spiritual battle, but also the longer, slower, quieter, spiritual wars of attrition that Satan wages in our hearts, where we can drift from the Lord into self-indulgence or bitterness, with no one to confront us and no one to comfort us.

As St. John of the Cross has put it: “The soul that is alone is like a burning coal that is alone. It will grow colder rather than hotter.”     

Conclusion

Spiritual warfare is real. Sometimes it is dramatic. More often it is subtle. But in either case, sin and Satan tempt us into selfishness and slavery.

God instead calls us to engage in spiritual warfare through four relationships. We are to resist sin and Satan. We are to be an invading force for Christ’s kingdom in a hostile world. And we are to look for deep and meaningful support from the Spirit of God and the people of God.

By his Word and Spirit and people God has given us what we need to fight the good fight.

We won’t become elite spiritual warriors overnight. The word “become,” which Jesus uses in verse fifteen is very important. He says to Andrew and Simon not that he will make them instantly into fishers of men, but instead that he will make them “become fishers of men.” Becoming is a process, as the Greek grammar indicates. [Edwards, 50] And such growth will be a process for us as well.

But we pursue that “becoming” by taking hold of the support that Christ has given us. We obey his word, which beckons us to follow him. We receive his Spirit, which strengthens us for the battle. And we draw close to his people, who will build us up and bear our burdens.

Those are the gifts of God, which he has given for the people of God. Let us lay hold of them as we face the spiritual battles that lay before us.

Amen.

This sermon draws on material from:

Bayer, Hans. Introduction and notes to Mark in The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.

Edwards, James R. The Gospel According to Mark. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Horne, Mark. The Victory According to Mark: An Exposition of the Second Gospel. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003.

Keller, Timothy. Jesus the King. New York, NY: Penguin, 2011.

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