Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark
A devotional commentary by Michael Spencer
Compiled and Edited by: Michael Bell
Table of Contents
9 About that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 As soon as Jesus came out of the water, he saw the sky open and the Holy Spirit coming down to him like a dove. 11 A voice from heaven said, “You are my own dear Son, and I am pleased with you.”
Mark 1:9-11 – C.E.V.
When it comes to the story of Jesus’ baptism, most of my “memory” of the event is a combination and harmonization of all four gospel accounts. When we look at Mark’s account by itself, we are struck with its brevity, but also with its directness and the force of its conclusion. Though some well-known critical scholars question whether this event ever occurred, its very inclusion speaks highly of its historicity. To elaborate on what was discussed in a previous chapter, it would have been an embarrassment for the early Christians to explain why the Son of God was baptized by a Jewish prophet in a ceremony that indicated conversion or repentance from sin! Yet, all the Gospel writers make it a centerpiece of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
Time is a hard matter to trace in Mark’s Gospel. Mark hits the ground running and is more concerned with “what’s next” rather than with “when.” This contrasts with Luke, who carefully anchors many events into the historical and political figures of the day.22 As to when Jesus was baptized, it is simply “about that time” or as the NASB version states it: “And it came about in those days.” We can assume that this is during the ministry of John the Baptist. As I have mentioned earlier, it is easy to fit an extended time of contact between John and Jesus into what the Gospels tell us, though it is not certain. I find it unlikely that this was the first time John had met Jesus or vice-versa.
Baptism is not a secret ritual and Jesus certainly publicly presented himself to John. What was going through the mind of those two men has been a fascination for Christians ever since. Why was Jesus baptized? Those who see here a denial of the Christian doctrine of the sinlessness of Christ are being shallow. The message and ministry of John are incomplete without the one who would come after, the bridegroom for whom the friend is only the announcer. What other way was there for Jesus to be presented into the plan and ministry of John? There is also a picture here of the savior of sinners standing in the place of sinners, a preview of the cross that is to come. Most likely, this was simply the place where the Father directed Jesus to go, the place where he would receive the spiritual release for his ministry.
The later Gospels tell us that Jesus had to explain to John the importance of carrying through with this ritual, one that places Christ in a position of humility and service. One of the answers Jesus gives is that it is necessary to “fulfill all righteousness.”23 The heart of Jesus is to submit to the heavenly Father in all things. Those coming out of the waters were proclaiming their ultimate allegiance to the Kingdom and their abandonment of everything to prepare for it. Jesus comes to the waters abandoning family and reputation, completely surrendered to the will of God, while he does not need cleansing, obedience requires him to publicly lead the way that will be the way of his disciples.
Jesus has many admirers today who may imagine they are disciples. Baptism, and the public identification with the purposes of God, was the way chosen by Jesus for himself and his followers. How do we imagine ourselves followers of Jesus if we cannot go the way that Jesus himself followed? While many may say they are “followers” but not “joiners,” you cannot be a Kingdom person and a secret disciple.
The language of baptism would indicate immersion, which the word baptizo most closely resembles. The mode of baptism is relatively unimportant, but for those who want to follow Jesus there is significance in following his example by “coming up out of the water.”24
Water was frequently associated with end-time cleansing and renewal. Passages such as Isaiah 44:3, Ezekiel 36:25-38, and Joel 2:28-32 reminded the Jewish people that the Spirit of the Lord would cleanse and anoint at the time of his Kingdom’s arrival. Jesus’ baptism is the beginning of the fulfillment of these prophecies.
Mark immediately moves on to what happens next. Note his use in verse 10 of the phrase “as soon as”. In other Bible versions it is translated “immediately” or “just as”. This is a favorite Markan device used for tone and pace in the narrative. There is a rush, an immediacy to Mark that is not in the other Gospels. Mark has a movie director’s sense of pace and he pushes his characters at a ruthless pace!25 But there is something to be said for this; Mark wants his readers to be caught up in the action. He doesn’t linger often and wants his audience to follow Jesus literally, as Jesus moves immediately from event to event.
Then the unexpected happens, “the sky opens”, or more literally “the sky was torn open.” The language parallels that of Isaiah 64:1, “Rip the heavens apart! Come down, Lord; make the mountains tremble.” This was not a mere parting of the clouds that is described here, but a sign of God acting directly in the earthly sphere. It speaks of God removing a barrier between himself and his creation, similar to the tearing of the temple veil in Mark 15:38. It also marks the end of God’s silence and the beginning of his speaking through Jesus. When we read about the life of Jesus we should expect the unexpected. This first unexpected event is quickly followed by another, and Mark tells us of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice from heaven.
The comparison of the Holy Spirit to a dove never occurs in the Old Testament or in Rabbinic literature. Some say this image may be intended to draw us back to Noah and that the dove is a symbol for a new world. More likely this is purely descriptive and points to some visible aspect of the Spirit’s coming upon Jesus. Those who actually picture a bird landing on Jesus have missed the point! Isaiah 61:1 says that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon the Messiah to anoint him for ministry, and this is undoubtedly the experience Jesus has at his baptism.26 27
The words God uses to identify his son are found in two (or possibly three) Old Testament passages. Psalm 2:7 speaks of the royal Son, Isaiah 42:1 about the suffering servant who pleases God and Genesis 22:2 about the beloved Son who is offered. All these Old Testament motifs surround Jesus at this point. Mark is also identifying Jesus to his readers, but his identity is still a secret to all others. This is the beginning of Mark’s ironic use of secrecy. The reader will know Jesus’ identity, but it will be an unfolding secret to all others. God himself proclaims that this is his son. It is not a matter of human opinion. The scriptures have spoken of him long before he came into the world. Now Father, Son and Holy Spirit come together to inaugurate the Kingdom of God that comes in Jesus.
Jesus’ baptism is a beautiful picture to contemplate. It is a crucial experience in Jesus’ own life, a dividing line between what has gone before and his coming ministry. He will be directed by the Spirit from here to the cross. His baptism is also a model for all of us to follow. It is the public announcement of our heart’s intentions. It is a picture, in water, of a spiritual reality. In baptism, the Spirit comes to us as well, to cleanse and to anoint for ministry. The Father says to each of us that we are his beloved sons and daughters. And where to from here? To the desert of temptation and testing!
 Luke 3:1-2 “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.” – NIV
Tiberius Caesar started his rule in A.D. 14. which meant that John started his ministry about A.D. 29. This date fits with the dates that we know for the others mentioned in this passage.
 Matthew 3:15
 The Didache, best described as an early Christian instruction manual, recommended that Baptism be performed if possible in cold running water. However, as a Pastor friend noted, “I see very little spiritual benefit in being baptized in cold water!”
 The portrayal of Mark as a Movie Director can be found in the Introduction to Mark in the NIV Student Bible. Notes were written by Philip Yancey and Tim Stafford.
 Compare Isaiah 61:1 with Mark 1:14-15 and Luke 4:16-21.
 We cannot overlook the similarities between the experience of Jesus here, and the experience of the Apostles in Acts 2. Those who say Jesus had no crucial experiences of this type are going against the clear direction of this entire passage.
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