Friday, January 13, 2012

Mark 1:9–15

Mark 1:9–15 (ESV): The Baptism of Jesus, The Temptation of Jesus, and Jesus Begins His Ministry


Mark’s gospel is a very fast-paced one; things are always happening “immediately.” There is a chance that my own writing will take on a Mark-like characteristic and I’ll be tossing off blog posts quickly; we’ll have to see how things go. Here we’ll look at three events that Mark reports on in quick succession.

First, in verses 9–11 (ESV), is Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. As opposed to, say, the account in Matthew, Mark gives us only the bare details: Jesus comes from Nazareth to where John the Baptist is baptizing people in the Jordan River, and is baptized. As he is coming out of the water he sees the Spirit descending on him like a dove, and hears a voice from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (verse 11 (ESV)).

After his baptism the Spirit “immediately” drives him into the wilderness where he stays for forty days, being tempted by Satan and being ministered to by angels.

After the forty days—and after John the Baptist is arrested—Jesus goes into Galilee and starts proclaiming “the gospel of God” (verse 14 (ESV)), and saying that the time is fulfilled, and now it is time to repent and start believing in that gospel.


Baptism is a symbol of something that has happened to us: when we are baptised it is a symbol that we have died to our old natures (going under the water being a symbol of dying), and raised anew to new life (coming up out of the water). Not that I’m looking to have an argument about full-submission baptism vs. sprinkling; that’s not my point. The water used in baptism is also a symbol of God cleansing us from our sins. None of this, however, applies to Jesus, who had no sins to be cleansed of, who had no sinful nature to die to, and who had no need to raise again to a new life since his life was holy in the first place. However, the ESV Study Bible (credit where credit is due) points out that Jesus underwent baptism as a way of identifying with the sins of his people.

In this passage Mark indicates that Jesus is tempted for forty days by Satan; this means that the accounts given to us in Matthew and Luke are only a summary of the interaction between Jesus and the devil, not a full account. We are being given only what we need to know, not a full blow-by-blow of the minutiae of Jesus’ life. In fact Mark decides to tell us nothing about the temptations at all; the fact that Satan tempted Jesus for forty days is all that’s important, the actual words used by Satan aren’t (for Mark).

Notice the wording in verses 14–15, when Mark talks about Jesus preaching the gospel:

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.” (verses 14–15 (ESV), emphasis added)
That “and saying” is important, because it means that what Jesus says next isn’t the gospel, it’s something additional. He proclaimed the gospel and he told people that the kingdom of God is at hand and instructed them to repent and believe. I only mention this because the day before I wrote this post I’d heard a sermon where a preacher was mentioning that many people don’t know what the gospel is, and a casual reader might gloss over the “and” in this passage and think that telling people the kingdom is at hand and people need to repent is the gospel. The gospel is more than that; this is another case (even more obvious this time) where we are not given everything that Jesus said, we are only given the tail end of it.

Which means that now I probably have to say what the gospel is, don’t I? A very high level summary might go something like this: God created the universe and everything in it, and therefore has the right to do whatever He wishes with all of it. His “crowning achievement” in creation was us, humans, who bear His image. When He created us He laid down a standard of living for us, which, although these words are not recorded as being given to Adam and Eve, could probably be summed up with the phrase “be holy as I am holy.” God, being a righteous and holy God, will not stand sin to be in His presence, so this standard of living is actually vitally important to having a relationship with Him. However, humans did not live up to the standard and sin entered the world, breaking the relationship between God and His people. In fact the nature of humanity was fundamentally changed to the point that humans are now intrinsically sinful; we are not sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners. This introduced a problem because God is a loving God and wants a relationship with His people, but is also a Holy God and therefore can’t allow sin to come into His presence, but is also a just God and so can’t just let the sin go unpunished—it has to be paid for somehow. He solved this problem, and still adhered to all three of these aspects of His character, by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to earth as a human; the only human who ever lived a sinless life, and who therefore didn’t deserve to be punished. Jesus, however, allowed himself to be punished anyway, taking upon Himself the punishment for sins that others had committed, making those people “clean” and solving the problem: the sins they committed were removed from them, allowing them into a relationship with God; God’s love for them is no longer hindered by this “sin problem;” and because the sins were punished, God is not being unjust and simply letting the sin go. (This last part is probably the hardest to understand in our modern ears; the idea of sin being important is completely foreign to us. Our inclination would be to say to God that He should simply ignore the sin and forget about it. Even a casual reading of the Bible should indicate to us that this isn’t possible, that sin is remarkably important, but we don’t read our Bibles as we should—even the Christians.)

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