Text: Mark 1:11
Introduction to Mark
The best way I know to introduce this book is to compare it with the other three Gospels. Of course, it is one of the three synoptic Gospels, meaning that it is written with a chronological perspective, moving logically from one scene to the next. John, the non-synoptic Gospel, is not written in chronological order which makes it seem more difficult to many readers. It’s often helpful for students of the Bible to recognize that each of the four Gospels is written for a different audience. This aspect of differing audience has a unique result for each book that, when understood, makes the books easier to understand in relation to each other; the result being that they are in harmony with each other rather than in conflict. Each one tells the truth about the life of Jesus, and yet they don’t all tell exactly tell the same stories in exactly the same way, but when you understand that they are written for culturally diverse groups of people, each coming to understand Christ from their own points of view, we can not only comprehend them more easily, but we can also take an important lesson about sharing the message of Christ with diverse people in our own day.
Matthew was written for a Jewish audience, and this is why it is full of instances where its author points out what was done to fulfill prophecy. You don’t see much of that in Mark and Luke, since their audiences didn’t know the Jewish prophets all that well. Luke was written by a Greek so, go figure, he wrote it for a largely Greek audience. It is full of descriptions that are similar to those found in Greek literary and philosophical traditions, of actions followed by explanations of the actions with Jesus playing the role (so to speak) of the Master, and the rest of us being the disciple (student) who is being taught the lesson.
John is unique in that he wrote to the mass audience, but unlike things written for mass consumption today, it isn’t dumbed down to the least common denominator, it is kicked up to a heavenly point of view. I would suspect John’s approach would have been confusing to many gentiles in his day, but in our day it ties all of humanity together as one family.
Now we come to Mark. While the Jewish perspective was centered on law and prophecy, and the Greek mind tended towards philosophy and intellect, Mark appealed to the man of action, and in the first century there was a very large audience composed of people who came from a culture that had little time for speculations about ancient prophecies and philosophy, for they were busy running the world; the Romans. Interesting isn’t it, that if you look carefully, you’ll find these three paralleled today in Christianity.
Mark’s gospel is a busy book full of action. He flies right past the Sermon on the Mount, preferring to move on to the next miracle, and he describes miracles with a flourish not found in the other gospels. If you like action, you’ll love Mark!
How did that happen?
Unlike Matthew and John, Mark was not an eyewitness to most of the scenes he described, in fact there is only circumstantial evidence that he was present at any of them. He was not an apostle, and he isn’t associated as one of the “big” followers of Jesus, but he does appear in Scripture.
John Mark, our author, was the son of a well-known woman named Mary, who was a leading follower of Jesus at the time of the death of James. Her home in Jerusalem was an early gathering place for the disciples and is the place Peter returned to when he was released from prison in Acts 12:12 ff. where “John who is also called Mark” is mentioned. Mary was also the sister of Barnabas of the Jerusalem church. (Col. 4:10; Acts 4:5-6, 37; 9:26-27; 11:22-24) Thus, from the earliest days of the church, and maybe before that, John Mark would have frequently found himself in the company of the apostles who had been closely associated with Jesus during His earthly ministry. Can you imagine being a youth hanging out with the apostles day after day in your own home?
As the years went by, John Mark was closely associated as the assistant for Paul and Barnabas (Acts 12:25; 13:5; 15:37-39) and later with Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and again with Paul (Col. 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11). Certainly, then, Mark had every opportunity to have heard the eyewitness accounts of the apostles, and showed that he was far from a casual believer.
Some more recent scholars have suggested that Mark couldn’t have written an inspired account of the life of Jesus. I’m sure these scholars are much smarter than I am, because I can’t see the point of such speculations, unless Mark hasn’t reported something in a way that it fits nicely into a particular scholar’s theological conclusions, and if that is the reason, then it’s a bad reason. It also strikes me as odd that a “Christian” scholar can’t see that God can use anyone for His purposes, as though one must go to the “right” school to be taken seriously. Luke wasn’t an eyewitness either, but few, if any, question his gospel, since Luke was with Paul. John Mark was with all of the apostles and spent years with both Paul and Peter. In fact, many believe he wrote this account with Peter’s oversight.
You are free to think what you will of course, but as for me, Mark is as valid an account as Matthew, Luke or John, and is well worth our careful attention and study.
As you can see, Mark doesn’t get into the birth of Christ, or the genealogies or anything else, he jumps in right where the action begins with John the Baptist preparing the way. Ironically for him, he does so with his only extended quote from an Old Testament prophet, in this case Isaiah. Notice how Mark quotes the prophet and immediately follows with “and so…” It’s almost as if God spoke through Isaiah, and bam, there was John preaching. As you will come to recognize, this is Mark’s style: action and facts, then more action and more facts.
Notice that John is preaching a baptism of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (1:4) As you know, this revolutionary development will get the attention of the Jewish authorities, who are not only well aware of the prophecy in question, but they are also well aware of the fact that in the Law of Moses, there was no such thing as “baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”
In verse 5, we encounter Mark’s first use of hyperbole when he writes that the “whole Judean countryside” and “all the people of Jerusalem” went out and confessed their sins and were baptized by John. Sounds like a big claim to me, and frankly I can’t quite imagine the Pharisees and the High Priest hopping in the Jordan with John. I think Mark was saying that many did so. You’ll see a lot of this as we go on.
In the remainder of this passage, Mark describes the eccentric costume of John and then gets to the important fact that John was only the messenger sent to prepare the way for the One who was to be sent. This is a very important detail because everybody knew that the Messiah was coming. Not only the gospels tell us this, but also the historical sources from that time, for Daniel’s prophecies were well-known. Unlike many scholars of our own time, they could do the math in relation to Daniel’s seventy sevens in Daniel chapter 9; they knew Messiah was just about to appear and were on the lookout.
Jesus Appears on the Scene
Mark continues the action, after having described briefly the ministry of John the Baptist, here comes Jesus down from Nazareth to be baptized by John. Since John was operating near Jerusalem, Jesus would have traveled about 80 miles on foot through some pretty rough terrain to join John at the Jordan. Mark doesn’t record the exchange between the two that Matthew describes, probably because it wouldn’t mean much to a Roman, but he does record the most important and significant aspects of this scene.
Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
First, you no doubt noted the words as Jesus “was coming up out of the water”. I point this out because it indicates that Jesus and John had been down in the water in the first place. As if the meaning of baptize (Greek baptiso “to immerse”) weren’t enough to indicate what is going on here, Mark describes a scene in which immersion has taken place in the river, and thus Jesus had to come up out of the water.
Next, Mark shows us an amazing scene. Jesus has just been baptized, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him like a dove. You have seen other passages in the Bible where the Holy Spirit is described as being like fire, but here the Spirit is like a dove; gentle, harmless and peaceful. This makes perfect sense since Jesus’ ministry was not about condemnation or judgment, but rather it was a ministry of reconciliation, peace and love. I also like to point out that the Holy Spirit descended after He was baptized, just as the Holy Spirit is gifted to the Christian after baptism (Acts 2:38). Then, another amazing thing: The voice of the Father from heaven, announcing that Jesus is the Son for the first time.
Three times in the New Testament, the divine voice of the Father is heard. Here, at the transfiguration, and in Jesus’ last week in John 12:28. In this case, the Father not only announces that Jesus is His Son, but indicates that the Father is well-pleased with Jesus… why now?
Jesus has been baptized to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15) and it strikes me that this would imply an obedient act on Jesus’ part. The Father is pleased now when Jesus has been obedient. This is not to say that Jesus wasn’t pleasing in God’s sight before, but remember that Jesus has come to the earth do His Father’s will, and this act of obedience is an example to us of doing His will.
We should also note here, that in this scene are all three Persons of the Godhead: Father (voice from heaven), Son (Jesus coming up out of the water) and Holy Spirit (descending like a dove). You just don’t see a scene like this very often!
After this, Jesus goes out to the Wilderness to be tempted by Satan.