Photo by manuere on Morgue File.
In our last post, we looked at and discussed the ministry of John the Baptizer, the forerunner of the Messiah (or Christ). We have spent a couple of posts now looking at the opening verses of the gospel of Mark. If you missed those, feel free to scroll down the home page and take a look at them. Again, Mark is a fascinating gospel to me. He is decisive and precise. He moves quickly (though not in a haphazard or irresponsible way) from one event to the next. Reading Mark’s gospel is a lot like riding a roller coaster: before you start, be sure you are seated and the seat belts are tight and secure!
As we have walked through Mark, we have come to the next pericope, 1.9-11, this is the account of the baptism of Christ. Just FYI, the term Christ and the term Messiah are one and the same. The word Christ comes from the Greek, Christos and means anointed, or anointed one. The word Messiah comes from the Hebrew, Mashiach, and means the same thing Christ means. So then, these two words are interchangeable.
Here is the word of the Lord:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11 ESV)
In this pericope, we see the event of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptizer. This will mark the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Most hold that Jesus’ public ministry spanned about three to four years (most will argue for 3 to 3 1/2 years, based on synchronisms from the Gospel accounts). Again, as is Mark’s style, he gives us a terse account of the baptismal event. We are told in Matthew’s account Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River valley. He went there for the express purpose of being baptized by John.
In Matthew’s account we see John the Baptizer’s protest over baptizing Jesus. John in essence says, this should be the other way around! You have no need to be baptized by me, but I have need to be baptized by you! Jesus, however, insists and John baptizes him there in the Jordan.
One of the most fascinating aspects of this event is the Trinitarian witness. Jesus, the Son (the second person of the Trinity) is baptized, the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Trinity) descends as a dove and the Father (the first person of the Trinity) speaks his affirmation of his Son. Apart from the Trinitarian theology, this witness shows the importance of this event in the life and ministry of Christ.
This event will really be the catalyst for the public ministry of Christ. From here, he will go on to confront the devil in the wilderness, call disciples, heal many of sicknesses, cast out demons and begin his inevitable trek toward Jerusalem. For his part, John will largely diminish in importance from this time forward. In fact, John himself confesses the need for this when he stated, He must increase, but I must decrease (Jn. 3.30). It is something of a passing of the baton. John has fulfilled his purpose: that is, he was called to prepare the way of the Messiah, he served as the forerunner of the Christ. Now, with the advent of the Christ publicly, the purpose of John has been fulfilled.
In Mark’s account, Jesus has no time to bask in the glow of his Father’s affirming words and the anointing of the Holy Spirit; rather, he is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted and tested by the devil himself.
So far, in the three pericopes we have considered, Mark has shown us the authority of Christ. Mark will continue to do so, really throughout his gospel, but especially in these early chapters. He does it in a more inductive fashion; that is, he gives us examples demonstrating the authority of Christ, leading the horse to the proverbial water. Of course, Mark does make it plain that he holds Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God; but his approach, at least to me, is more inductive, at least in the beginning.
What are some things we learn from this brief pericope? I see at least 3 things we can glean from it:
1. The humility of John the Baptizer. We have to put this together with the other Gospel accounts, as well as the pericope in Mark immediately preceding this one, to get the full picture of this. Many people would have become enamored by the hoopla and attention that John was receiving. It got to the point that some began asking whether he was in fact the long-awaited Messiah. For many, this sort of popularity and approval would have been too much. They would have left their humility behind and set out to make themselves the self-anointed one. But, John did not do this. He remained faithful to God and his calling and purpose for his life.
2. The humility of Christ. Even more so, we see Christ’s humility, as he submits to baptism by John. There are many theories and ideas as to why Jesus was baptized; but, for our purpose here, it shows his humility. He, as he would do his entire life, obeyed the Father’s will and did it perfectly. In his baptism, he obeyed his Father and the Father affirmed Jesus by the words he spoke. Jesus identified with sinful humanity, though he had no sin to confess, he still willingly passed through the baptismal waters and identified with those to whom he had come to minister.
3. We see the Trinity active in the purpose and plan of salvation. Sometimes it almost seems as if God the Father is presented as a Cosmic Curmudgeon, who does not want to forgive. Someone who would rather hurl down lightning bolts and destroy humanity in a cataclysmic disaster. It is sometimes presented that Jesus stays the Father’s hand of execution and the Father begrudgingly allows Jesus to take the place of sinners. Of course, such a picture is far removed from the truth of the Scriptures. Jesus told Nicodemus that it was the love of the Father that sent his Son into the world (Jn. 3.16). So, in the baptism of Christ, we see the Godhead involved, active and interested in the souls of humankind. The Son, in identification and obedience being baptized by John, the Father affirming Jesus as his Son and the Holy Spirit anointing Jesus for his public ministry (a picture of the OT and anointing with oil).