Small Group Leader Study Guide
Date: February 17, 2019
Series: Son of God, Servant of Man: Gospel of Mark
Bible Text: Mark 1:12-13

This Week’s Printables:


The wilderness is a familiar place to the student of the Bible. It is in the wilderness where God often drove His people to be with Him, away from distractions and from the confusion of the world. Israel was driven into the wilderness following her exodus from Egypt; Joshua led the people across the Jordan out of the wilderness into the promised land; David spent many years in the wilderness on the run from Saul; Ezekiel ran to the wilderness to hide from Jezebel; Jonah ran to the wilderness when he was angry with the Lord.

It should be of no surprise, then, that we find Jesus driven to the wilderness at the start of His earthly ministry. The Spirit had a purpose for taking him there: to test Him. The instrument of God’s testing? Satan, the Devil himself.

While in typical bullet-point fashion Mark keeps his description of Jesus’ time in the wilderness short and to the point, Matthew and Luke provide much more detail about the 40 days Jesus spent. He was hungry and he was alone, two factors that put human beings at their weakest. Yet, even in the midst of this wilderness experience, Jesus resisted the temptations of the Devil.

This week we will look at the Temptation of Jesus. Many of us find ourselves in wilderness experiences from time-to-time in our lives. These can be difficult times as we feel real pain and often isolate ourselves from others. Yet, as we have seen almost from the beginning of time, it is often in the wilderness that God performs His most exacting sanctifying work on our character. Most importantly, when we are in the wilderness, we are not alone. The Great Shepherd, our Lord Jesus, is with us. He has been in the wilderness and He knows the struggles we face. As the angel declared to Joseph in a dram, His name is Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14).

In our book study this week, we will look at the life of Peter and how he went from being a common fisherman to becoming a great leader…not just a leader, but a great leader. There is a difference.

Memory Verse for This Week

Psalm 23:4 (NKJV) Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Core Practice: Authenticity

Authenticity (John 13:33-34): I know and understand biblical truths and transfer these truths into everyday life. Who I am on the inside and outside is a pure reflection of Christ and His Word.

Take Home Truth

Temptation & trials are not the crushing blow; they are the testing of your faith as we are conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.


Have you ever spent time in the wilderness, either figuratively (i.e. a spiritual wilderness) or literally (i.e. a desolate place)? If so, what led you there? If not, what are some reasons you might avoid the wilderness?
Looking back at your notes from this week’s sermon, was there anything that particularly caught your attention, challenged or confused you?

Make sure you ask this question this week. It gives people the opportunity to discuss questions or issues that come up beyond the written questions. People’s responses can often lead to one of the questions in the “Digging Deeper” section. Also, some weeks this question will result in a lot of discussion, other weeks, not so much.

Read the Text

Read Mark 1:12-13

Mark 1:12–13 (ESV)

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.

Digging Deeper

In this section, feel free to develop your own questions to help guide your group’s discussion. Below are some suggestions. Remember, if you are hearing from everyone in your group, chances are you won’t have time to discuss every question. You may start with one that catches your attention so you don’t run out of time. For example, it’s not odd to start with Question #6, then go to Question #5 and if you have time come back to Question #4.

What is a possible connection between Jesus’ baptism and His temptation?

As we noted last week, Jesus’ baptism was a public declaration of His obedience to the Father and His identification with sinners. This declaration was to ultimately lead to His crucifixion some 36-months later.

In this, we see God’s sovereignty interwoven throughout God’s plans and man’s actions. Mark, in essence, begins his gospel with this simple, yet powerful identification of the Messiah:

  • John the Baptist prepared the way for the Messiah then proclaimed His emergence onto the scene.
  • Jesus’ baptism declared His obedience to the Father and His identification with sinners.
  • Jesus’ temptation shows the Spirit driving the Messiah into the wilderness (which has special significance for Jews) and Jesus drawing a line in the sand with Satan and ultimately defining Satan’s defeat.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: Not unlike Jesus who was driven to the wilderness following His baptism, we often find greater temptation and attack by the Devil following a spiritual victory. When a sinner surrenders his will and becomes a follower of Jesus, this is an open declaration of war to Satan. When we become disciples we become the enemy of Satan and the enemy of this world. Yet, Jesus does not leave us in this battle alone. In fact, He ensures us of victory!

Here’s the point: spiritual victories are often followed by serious temptation to sin. That is the nature of the battle, and don’t believe for a single second we are not in a battle.

Why do you think the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted?

First, let’s get a good understanding of what the Bible means when it says “tempted by Satan” (v. 13). It is important to note that God did not tempt Jesus, Satan tempted Jesus. God does not tempt us to sin. James 1:13-14 says,

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

Second, the word translated “tempted” in our English Bible is the Greek word “peirazō.” Spiro Zodhiates gives us a good definition of this word:

3985. πειράζω peirázō; fut. peirásō, from peíra (3984), experience, trial. To try, to prove in either a good or bad sense, tempt, test by soliciting to sin. Similar to peiráō (3987), to assay.

(C) God is said to try men by adversity, to test their faith and confidence in Him (1 Cor. 10:13; Heb. 2:18; 11:17, 37; Rev. 3:10; Sept.: Gen. 22:1; Ex. 20:20; Deut. 8:2). Men are said to prove or tempt God by doubting, distrusting His power and aid (Acts 5:9; 15:10; 1 Cor. 10:9; Heb. 3:9 quoted from Ps. 95:9; Sept.: Ex. 17:2, 7; Is. 7:12). Peirázō is connected with peíra (3984), experience (Heb. 11:29, 36). To attempt (Acts 16:7; 24:6); to entangle a person in sin or to discover what good or evil, what weakness or strength, is in a person (Matt. 16:1; 19:3; 22:18); to know what a person’s weakness or strength is and to make it manifest to the one being tempted (2 Cor. 13:5, “examine”). Satan tempts to show someone unapproved (Matt. 4:1; Rev. 2:10). Satan is called ho peirázōn, the tempter (Matt. 4:3).

Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

So, the best understanding of this word is that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to “test Him by adversity, in this case, the loneliness of the wilderness, the physical weakness from hunger, the fear of wild animals, and the evil intentions of Satan himself.

What is the significance of “the wilderness” into which Jesus was sent?

When we hear wilderness through western ears, we might think of “the call of the wild” or a “little house on the prairie.” To Americans, the wilderness is that place along the Interstate with a sign pointing to the right that says, “Scenic Overlook.” We get out of our cars, take pictures, and then continue on our way. The wilderness to Americans doesn’t have any spiritual connotation.

This is not so with the Jews. Commentator David Garland helps us understand the wilderness from a Jewish perspective:

For Jews the wilderness/desert called forth a host of different images. It was more than just a place on the margins of civilization; it evoked a variety of powerful biblical memories and expectations. For one, it marked the place of beginnings. It was the region where God led the people out and from which they crossed over Jordan and seized the land promised to them. It was the place to which God allured the people to win them back (Hos. 2:14). It was also the place where one went to flee iniquity. According to 2 Maccabees 5:27, Judas Maccabeus fled with nine others to the wilderness and lived off what grew wild “so that they might not share in the defilement.” According to the Martyrdom of Isaiah 2:7–11, the prophets Isaiah, Micah, Ananias, Joel, Habbakuk, and Josab, his son, all abandoned the corruption of Judah for the mountainous wilderness, where they clothed themselves in sackcloth, lamented bitterly over straying Israel, and ate wild herbs.

The wilderness was also considered to be “the staging ground for Yahweh’s future victory over the power of evil.” It was the place where some thought that the final holy war would be fought and won. The Christ was thought to appear in the wilderness (Matt. 26:24), and it was the haunt of messianic diviners, such as the Egyptian false prophet (Acts 21:38). The wilderness was not only God’s staging grounds for the eschatological victory, it was also God’s proving grounds for testing the people. Consequently, it was remembered as the place of disobedience, judgment, and grace.

David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 52–53.

Book Study: Twelve Ordinary Men

This portion of our group lesson is based on Twelve Ordinary Men by John MacArthur. This week’s discussion is based on Chapter 2: Peter–The Apostle with the Foot-shaped Mouth.

As a group, provide a brief description of Simon Peter? How would you describe the man?

John MacArthur provides a vivid description of the man we know today as Simon Peter. This is because the New Testament tells us more about Simon Peter than any of the other twelve apostles who were with Jesus during His public ministry. (We know more about the Apostle Paul, but he was not with Jesus during his earthly ministry.)

Here are some points to bring out:

  • His legal name was Simon Bar-Jonah, or Simon, son of Jonah.
  • Simon was perhaps one of the most common names at in Israel at the time of Jesus. There are no less than seven different men named Simon in the gospels and there were two Simons among the twelve: Simon Peter and Simon the Zealot.
  • He was from the small village of Bethsaida.
  • His brother was Andrew, another one of the twelve.
  • With his brother, they worked as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee.
  • His home was in Capernaum.
  • He was married, but the Bible never mentions any children.
  • He was first among the disciples, not just because his name is always listed first whenever the disciples are listed, but because he was the leader of the group.
  • When he became a follower of Jesus, the Lord gave him a new name–Petras, which in Greek means Rock; in Aramaic Petras was known as Cephas, which also means Rock. We know him by his English name, Peter.
  • Like many great leaders, Simon Peter was a complicated man with strengths that drove him to greatness yet at the same time possessing weaknesses and flaws that led him to the lowest of low points.
  • Words used to describe Simon Peter’s character include bold, strong, impetuous, impulsive, decisive, outgoing, devoted, driven.
What is the significance of Peter’s two names: Simon and Peter, and what do they tell us about his character?

As we noted above, Simon was Peter’s given name while Peter was a name assigned to him by the Lord. As MacArthur describes, this combination of names tells us much about the man:

When he is called Simon is seen whenever Peter was displaying the characteristics of his unregenerate self—when he was sinning in word, attitude, or action. Whenever he begins to act like his old self, Jesus and the Gospel writers revert to calling him Simon. In Luke 5:5, for example, Luke writes, “Simon answered and said to Him, ‘Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.’ ” That is young Simon the fisherman speaking. He is skeptical and reluctant. But as he obeys and his eyes are opened to who Jesus really is, Luke begins to refer to him by his new name. Verse 8 says, “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ ”

We see Jesus calling him Simon in reference to the key failures in his career. In Luke 22:31, foretelling Peter’s betrayal, Jesus said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.” Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Peter should have been watching and praying with Christ, he fell asleep. Mark writes, “[Jesus] came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’ ” (Mark 14:37–38). Thus usually when Peter needed rebuke or admonishment, Jesus referred to him as Simon. It must have reached the point where whenever the Lord said “Simon,” Peter cringed. He must have been thinking, Please call me Rock! And the Lord might have replied, “I’ll call you Rock when you act like a rock.” [John F. MacArthur Jr., Twelve Ordinary Men: How the Master Shaped His Disciples for Greatness, and What He Wants to Do with You (Nashville, TN: W Pub. Group, 2002), 35–36.]

So, Simon was the name the Lord used when he wanted to correct, rebuke, or admonish Peter. Yet, Jesus clearly saw something in this man that made him not only give him the name Rock but then spend considerable time transforming him from Simon the guy with his foot in his mouth to Peter, the man who would become the lead Apostle in the Jerusalem Church following Jesus’ resurrection. MacArthur applies this well:

After the resurrection, Jesus instructed His disciples to return to Galilee, where He planned to appear to them (Matthew 28:7). Impatient Simon apparently got tired of waiting, so he announced that he was going back to fishing (John 21:3). As usual, the other disciples dutifully followed their leader. They got into the boat, fished all night, and caught nothing.

But Jesus met them on the shore the following morning, where He had prepared breakfast for them. The main purpose of the breakfast meeting seemed to be the restoration of Peter (who, of course, had sinned egregiously by denying Christ with curses on the night the Lord was betrayed). Three times Jesus addressed him as Simon and asked, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” (John 21:15–17). Three times, Peter affirmed his love.

That was the last time Jesus ever had to call him Simon. A few weeks later, on Pentecost, Peter and the rest of the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit. It was Peter, the Rock, who stood up and preached that day.

Peter was exactly like most Christians—both carnal and spiritual. He succumbed to the habits of the flesh sometimes; he functioned in the Spirit other times. He was sinful sometimes, but other times he acted the way a righteous man ought to act. This vacillating man—sometimes Simon, sometimes Peter—was the leader of the Twelve. [MacArthur, 36-37]

What is the difference between a leader and a great leader?

Leadership is a position that is granted because of position. You may or may not have earned that position of leadership, but for whatever reason, you have it. People follow a leader because he/she has authority over them and, let’s be honest, can usually make the lives of those under their sphere of influence miserable.

A great leader is someone whom people follow because of the character they exhibit. A great leader does not earn that title because he/she was given a position, but because they have earned the devotion, respect, and trust of those within their sphere of influence. As we will see in the next question, the character qualities of a great leader are easily discernable in Peter.

What role does character play in leadership, and what can we learn from the example of Peter?

MacArthur states,

Character is what makes leadership possible. People simply cannot respect or trust those who lack character. And if they do not respect a man, they will not follow him. Time and truth go hand in hand. Leaders without character eventually disappoint their followers and lose their confidence. The only reason such people are often popular is that they make other people who have no character feel better about themselves. But they aren’t real leaders.

Lasting leadership is grounded in character. Character produces respect. Respect produces trust. And trust motivates followers. [MacArthur, 46-47]

Peter possessed six character qualities that ultimately made him the man he was and a great leader:

  1. Peter learned submissiveness. This may seem like an odd character quality to describe a great leader, but true leaders do not demand submission from their followers, they model submission as they submit first to God and His word, and then to the legitimate authorities over them. This is a character quality Peter learned from Jesus as he watched our Lord willfully submit himself to the Father.
  2. Peter learned restraint. This word would not describe Peter as a young man, but the Peter we witness towards the end of his life as he writes his two epistles exhibits a man who learned self-control and restraint. This was not an easy process. Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus openly correcting Peter and teaching him restraint and self-control, but learn it he did. Nothing is more discouraging to be in the presence of a strong leader who cannot control himself or herself. Good leaders show restraint.
  3. Peter learned humility. Great leaders often struggle with pride. In fact, MacArthur describes pride as the “besetting sin” of a leader. Sometimes the signs are openly obvious to everyone, but many times they are hidden away in secret places that only the leader and the Lord know about, yet pride influences their character and their decisions. Many leaders never become great leaders because they have never had a deep, humiliating hurt in their life. Peter experienced this kind of deep, humiliating hurt when he cursed and denied Jesus. Peter’s deep hurt was magnified because he had so boastfully declared that if everyone deserted Jesus, HE would stand strong by his side (Luke 22:33, Matthew 26:33).
  4. Peter learned to love people. Often leaders see other people as tools, things to help them accomplish their dreams, goals, and vision. For too many leaders, the focus of their love is themselves. Great leaders, on the other hand, learn to love people for who they are and who they can become. Again, later in life, Peter would write, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” 1 Peter 4:8. The kind of love Peter is speaking of (by using the word “fervent”) is unconditional love, the kind of love that “covers a multitude of sins.” This is the kind of love covers and compensates for the failures and weaknesses of others. Where do you think Peter learned this kind of love? Yes, from the example Jesus set before him.
  5. Peter learned compassion. Compassion is an ability to empathize with others when they are struggling with their own sinful nature and weaknesses. Again, this is an uncommon characteristic of leaders. Make a mistake, and they are finished with you. Get out of my presence. They have no tolerance for weakness; they lack compassion. Unfortunately, these same leaders are often blinded to their own weaknesses and failures. It was Peter’s Great Failure in life that ultimately led him to not only understand human weakness but become very compassionate of others as they struggle in this life. He would later write, “8Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. 10 After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Peter 5:8-10).
  6. Peter learned courage. This, too, may seem like a contradiction from the Peter we know in the gospels. After all, isn’t Peter the one who drew his sword when a company of soldiers approached to arrest Jesus and cut off the ear of the assistant to the high priest? Many of the examples of Peter’s courage depicted in the gospels were rooted in his impulsiveness and eagerness to please. The Peter we see in the Book of Acts is a different man. His courage was rooted in conviction and a deep determination to preach the gospel. Ultimately, Peter’s courage led him to persevere in spite of increasing opposition and persecution until he was finally tortured and martyred. To this day, Peter stands as a rock, a model of great leadership under fire.

MacArthur beautifully summarizes Peter’s life:

As Peter learned all these lessons and his character was transformed—as he became the man Christ wanted him to be—he gradually changed from Simon into Rock. He learned submission, restraint, humility, love, compassion, and courage from the Lord’s example. And because of the Holy Spirit’s work in his heart, he did become a great leader.How did Peter’s life end? We know that Jesus told Peter he would die as a martyr (John 21:18–19). But Scripture doesn’t record the death of Peter. All the records of early church history indicate that Peter was crucified. Eusebius cites the testimony of Clement, who says that before Peter was crucified he was forced to watch the crucifixion of his own wife. As he watched her being led to her death, Clement says, Peter called to her by name, saying, “Remember the Lord.” When it was Peter’s turn to die, he pleaded to be crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy to die as his Lord had died. And thus he was nailed to a cross head-downward.

Peter’s life could be summed up in the final words of his second epistle: “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). That is exactly what Simon Peter did, and that is why he became Rock—the great leader of the early church. [MacArthur, 59-60]

Becoming A House of Prayer

“Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices; Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” – Isaiah 56:7.

Next Steps

Questions to consider as you continue to reflect on what you learned this week:

  • Take Action: Understanding the “why” in life can help us process what is happening. When the Spirit drives us into the wilderness, He has His purposes. If you are experiencing trials, pray and ask Him why He has driven you into a wilderness? Watch and listen for His response.
  • Take Courage: By its very description, being in a wilderness is a lonely place. Yet, as disciples of Jesus, we are not alone; He is with us! When you feel alone, spend time in the Psalms and see how often the psalmist (many times David) rejoice at the Lord’s presence in the midst of wilderness experiences.

Work to memorize this week’s memory verse: Psalm 23:4 (NKJV) Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

This week’s Core Practice: Authenticity (John 13:33-34): I know and understand biblical truths and transfer these truths into everyday life. Who I am on the inside and outside is a pure reflection of Christ and His Word.

Take Home Truth is “Temptation & trials are not the crushing blow; they are the testing of your faith as we are conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.”

Remember to use the Daily Bible Reading plan as part of your walk with Christ, taking the time to reflect on each passage and what it means for your lives.

Study Notes

The Temptation of the Servant

12] The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 

The Wilderness. No ministry begins without some time in the wilderness, often among wild animals. Perhaps you have gone through terrific difficulties. Maybe you desire to minister and your motives are pure and your heart is right, but you can’t seem to get on track. Well, my friend, you’re in the wilderness. If it happened to Jesus, I can assure you that it’ll happen to people like you and me. God starts His servants on our faces in dependence on Him. You cannot escape that. So when it happens, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re outside of God’s will. You may be right where He wants you to be. The Swindoll Study Bible NLT (Kindle Locations 117756-117761). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

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.

“…forty days”: [The details are in Matthew 4:1-11 & Luke 4:1-13.]
Forty days is viewed by some as suggestive of the 40 years in the wilderness of Israel. Having triumphed over the enemy, Jesus (“Joshua”) could now go forth and call a new people who would enter into their spiritual inheritance.

…was with the wild beasts; The mention of the wild beasts with Jesus in the desert could convey a couple of ideas. It might conjure up the image of Adam, who started with the beasts when the Lord formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air and brought them to the man to see what he would call them (Gen. 2:19). Soon, however, Adam is forced out of Paradise and must toil in land that has been cursed. The testing in the desert with the beasts at peace with Jesus may point to the restoration of Paradise (Isa. 11:6–9). The desert, however, remains a barren place and is not transformed into a garden.24 Thus it is better to interpret the reference to the wild beasts as conveying the idea of desolation and danger (see Lev. 26:21–23; Ps. 22:12–21; Isa. 13:21–22; Ezek. 34:5, 8; Dan. 7:1–8). The beasts are malevolent and are the natural confederates of evil powers (Ps. 91:11–13). The desert represents the uncultivated place of the curse, Paradise lost, and the realm of Satan. Now Satan must contend with a new Adam, who has the power of heaven at his side and angels as his cornermen. Mark does not report the outcome of this harrowing ordeal but does say that angels served him. [David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 50–51.]

The Temptation

The other parallel is that of the “last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45) succeeding where the first Adam failed. Adam lost his dominion over Creation because of his sin (Gen 1:28; Ps 8), but in Christ that dominion has been restored for all who trust Him (Heb 2:6-8).