Baptism and Wilderness
Mark’s gospel is noticeably shorter than the other Gospels. It is 22% shorter than John, 38% shorter than Matthew, and 42% shorter than Luke. This is notable in the fast pace Mark jumps into the gospel, beginning with Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is baptized in verse 9 of Mark. However, Matthew is still in genealogy and only at Hezekiah. Luke is only beginning to tell of the announcement of the pregnancy of John the Baptist. And John is talking about light. The baptism of Jesus does not take place till Matthew 3:13, Luke 3:21, and John 1:32. Mark does not give details of John’s words to Jesus (Matt 3:14), just states a simple fact “[Jesus] was baptized by John.” We can spend a lot of time throughout this series of what is not mentioned in Mark’s Gospel, and we will make references to the other gospels. However, we should not look at what Mark does not say but spend time on what he does write. Often the most challenging part of writing or preaching is not finding things to say but finding the most important thing to say.
I. Baptized by John (9)
The passage turns from John’s explanation of the one who is coming (vs. 8) then swiftly changes to “In those days Jesus…” The reader has already been introduced to Jesus Christ as the Son of God (Mark 1:1). This, however, is the first time Jesus’ name is used in the narrative. We learn about the hometown of Jesus, Nazareth of Galilee. The town of Nazareth has located in the region Galilee. In this verse, we see a parallel between Mark 1:5, “And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to [John] and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” Here we see Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan. The first impression of Jesus is being baptized like sinners. However, this raises a very important question. John’s baptism is one of repentance, yet Christ is sinless (1 Pet 2:22, 2 Cor 5:21, Heb 4:15, 1 John 3:5). Why would Jesus, who is sinless, need to have a baptism of repentance? We see a significant role that Jesus fulfills as the Christ. He comes as the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of His people (John 1:29); they are not his sins, but they are the people’s sins. Christ comes as the meditator. Baptism is known as the beginning of his ministry (Acts 1:21-22), and right from the beginning of his ministry, he associates with sinners.
Many of us focus on the death of Jesus Christ as the central task he comes to earth to accomplish. However, he came not only to die the death which we deserve but also live the life of obedience that we should have lived. The Children’s catechism shows the importance of Jesus’ obedience and his suffering. “Christ obeyed the whole law for his people, and then suffered the punishment due for their sins.” Christ not only paid the price of sin, but he also lived the life without sin. One commentator explains Christ’s baptism well, “He associates himself with sinners and ranged himself in the ranks of the guilty, not to find salvation for himself, not on account of his own guilt in his fight from approaching wrath, but because he is at one with the Church and the bearer of divine mercy.” Christ, without sin, is baptized by the same person in the same river to associate himself with sinners. In this short passage, we see the beautiful reality of the incarnation of Christ, and he comes as (truly) man who serves as our mediator, but also as (truly) God with power and authority.
II. Declared by God (10-11)
Mark quickly moves from the baptism by John to the declaration by God. When Jesus came out of the water, three events occurred; 1) Heavens were torn open, 2) the Spirit descended, and 3) the voice came down from heaven. First, the tearing of the heavens. This word is only used one other time in Mark when the curtain is torn in the temple after Christ’s death (Mark 15:38). Mark uses an abrupt term for the opening of heaven. Matthew and Luke use the term ‘open’ (Matt 3:16, Luke 3:21). Mark uses the word ‘to tear apart, like the Red Sea being divided (Ex 14:21) or Moses splitting the rock (Is 48:21). We see the fulfillment of the prayer of Isaiah, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence” (Is 64:1). The two times in Mark, this word is used at the beginning and end of Christ’s ministry. The children’s catechism points out his obedience and suffering. The two bookends show that Christ came to act as the mediator between man and God. The heavens are violently opened up, connecting man to God through the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
After heaven is torn open, the Spirit descends on Him like a dove. We should be cautious about making a literal connection of the Spirit and a dove, for the text explains that he was ‘like a dove.’ Some commentators make a connection of the Spirit hovering over the water (Gen 1:2) and this passage. However, as we looked at in the introduction, we noted that Mark was recording the Gospel through Peter. Peter shows the connection between baptism and the waters of the flood of Noah (1 Pet 3:18-22). The waters refer to judgment. The dove refers to surviving the waters. The hope of life after judgment. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, the Spirit was coming down on him. John explains that the Spirit remained on him (John 1:32). This is also inferred in the Gospel of Mark, with the beginning of verse 12, “The Spirit immediately drove him out.”
Jesus’ ministry is established, and the Spirit is an essential part of his ministry. Peter explains in his sermon in Acts 10, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38). Jesus was not only baptized with water but also the Spirit (Mark 1:8). Just as those under John’s baptism lived a life of repentance, now Christ lives a life filled with the Spirit. Just as David has the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him after being anointed as King, Christ is the anointed one. As the prophet, Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 61:1, and Luke explains in Luke 4:16-21, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Is 61:1). The Spirit descends on Christ, anointing him to carry out his earthly ministry.
Lastly, a voice speaks from heaven. There are limited times in the scriptures an audible voice comes from heaven (Gen 21, 22, Ex 20, Dan 4:31, and more). This is a significant moment in the course of history. The voice from heaven shows us the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person of the Trinity is present through the work of redemption. The gospel is not only about the Son living and dying but the Father sending and speaking, the Son obeying and suffering, and the Spirit working and applying. The question Mark wants everybody to answer is who do you say that Christ is? God the Father says he is his beloved Son, who he is well pleased. We also will see this happen again at the transfiguration. (Mark 9:2-13).
III. Tempted by Satan (12-13)
Right after Christ’s baptism and the Father’s declaration Mark says that “The Spirit immediately drove Christ into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). The Spirit descended upon Christ and now leads him into the wilderness. The wilderness shows the chaos and untamed from civilization. The wild animal’s reference is used 39 times in the book of Revelation and speaks of the chaos in the world. Some commentators have suggested that Mark is written to Christians in Rome who would have been thrown into the colosseum as faced wild lions and animals. Their comfort is that so did their Lord.
We also see two major Old Testament events that help us understand this passage—first, the garden of Eden, the location where Satan tempted Adam and Eve. However, Adam and Eve were in the lavish garden full of glorious fruit that was pleasant to the sight and good for food (Gen 2:9). They had ample food and water and glorious conditions; however, they still fell. They were tempted and fell into that temptation. However, Christ was not in paradise, but he was in the wilderness. Second, Israel’s wilderness wanderings after they crossed the Red Sea, where God tested them (Heb 3:8). We see this connection with the 40 days Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Both Adam, Moses, and Israel did not listen to the voice of God and failed. They did not find rest. But Christ did not fall into temptation. Just as Christ came as the mediator of his people, and here we see where all have failed, Christ is victorious over Satan.
Christ is the Messiah spoken of in Genesis 3:15, “I [God] will put enmity between you [serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Christ is the snake crusher how is victorious over Satan. He is the one who came in power and authority. We will see this in his ministry as he drives out unclean spirits. The crowd exclaims, “A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (Mark 1:27). Christ is our mediator. He was tempted as we are, yet without sin. It is because of this that we have the confidence to be able to draw near to the throne of grace. We have a great high priest who is able to sympathize with our weakness (Heb 4:15-16).
Martin Luther explained how he overcomes the devil, “Well, when he comes knocking upon the door of my heart and asks ‘Who lives here?’ the dear Lord Jesus goes to the door and says, ‘Martin Luther used to live here, but he has moved out. Now I live here.'” Christ is the one who has been tempted and succeed. Mark does not give us the detail of the three temptations in Matthew (Matt 4:1-11). He merely the Spirit’s work at the beginning of Christ’s ministry is his testing and proving.
Christ comes in humiliation; his ministry is one as a mediator. In these opening verses, we see the Christ’s ministry is one of humiliation, not in the sense that we might use it (embarrassing) but in humility. He comes and steps into the Jordan river with other sinners, washed by the same water baptized by the same person. He comes humbly like every other man, yet without sin. He also comes and is tempted like other men, like Adam in the garden or Moses in the wilderness. However, he does not sin. He does not fall into temptation. He comes like others, yet; he is not like others. He is the Son of God, the Christ. The snake crusher, the beloved Son whom God the Father is well pleased. This glorious truth is that Christ came down for us to live for us the life that we are unable to live.