September 27, 2015
My wife, Tana, recently attended a women’s event here at Alliance where participants were given the opportunity to introduce themselves to each other. The first person she met told her she and her friend didn’t go to Alliance, they went to another church in town. She went on to say they had tried Alliance, but the pastor just spoke too fast – they couldn’t understand him. But, she said, we came recently and he was speaking more slowly, because we learned a lot about Paul and Timothy. But, we can’t come here – he talks way too fast. She then asked, what’s the Pastor’s name, anyway? – Tana said, Pastor Scott – and the lady asked, do you know him? And Tana, yes, he’s my husband. The lady was kind of embarrassed and apologized – Tana told her, don’t be sorry, I’ve been telling him that for years.
That reminds me of the truth that you only get one chance to make a first impression. You see, in our study of the Gospel According to Mark, we are introduced to the main character of the story – and what an introduction. We are supposed to be amazed, astounded by this first impression. Mark started his gospel with a title, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Then he spent the next seven verses talking about the John the Baptist. We saw John was, in fulfillment of prophecy, the Elijah to come that Malachi talked about, the forerunner that Isaiah talked about. All four gospels tell the story of John the Baptist, followed by Jesus’ baptism. We read about it in our text today, Mark 1:9-11 – read that with me.
Mark has an intentional purpose in his rather brief account of Jesus’ baptism. Matthew’s account is much longer – almost twice as long. But Mark simply wants to introduce us to Jesus – actually, God makes the introduction. And that’s the point – from the beginning of this gospel, to the end, we are supposed to see that Jesus is none other than the very Son of God. I told you a couple of weeks ago in our introduction to this book that Mark’s gospel is fast moving. We learn more about Jesus in what He does than in what He says. But, before we can learn about what Jesus does – which crescendos in His death, burial and resurrection, we have to know who Jesus is. Theologians refer to this as the person and work of Jesus Christ. And both are immensely important.
Now, it’s true His works were impressive. There could be no denying them – there were lots of witnesses. He healed people of every disease imaginable, He raised people from the dead, He exorcised demons, He calmed storms, He walked on water, He fed thousands with a boy’s lunch. He Himself was crucified and buried for three days – there could be no doubting He was dead. Nor could there be any doubting He was raised from the dead – just like He said. There’s too much evidence – too many witnesses.
So, people saw His work, those amazing miracles. Even the Pharisees, who vehemently opposed Him, saw what He did and couldn’t deny His works. So, they attacked His person – what you do you do by the power of Satan. Can’t deny the miracles – dead are alive, lame are walking, blind are seeing, deaf are hearing, possessed are freed. So, they said, what you do you do by the power of Satan. If that was true, if Jesus was in league with Satan, then of course His death for sinners was meaningless. But more than that, if was just a man and not the Son of God, again, His death was meaningless. Hebrews 2 says it this way, “Therefore, He [Jesus] had to be made like His brothers in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, [notice] to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” The Son of God had to be made the Son of Man so that He could be the appropriate sacrifice for the sins of people. Meaning, who Jesus is, is foundational to what Jesus did. The person and work of Jesus. So Mark introduces us to the main character – this Jesus, with a stunning introduction – an amazing first impression. Let me give you the brief, simple outline of these three verses:
- The Baptism of Jesus (9)
- The Introduction of Jesus (10-11)
In review, as we began the book, we saw the forerunner was John the Baptist. You see, at this time in history, if a king or an important person were to pay a visit to a city, a herald would be sent ahead to announce his coming. Great efforts would be made to prepare for the visit – potholes would be filled, rocks removed, ruts smoothed out, trash collected and burned or hidden. Great care and attention would be given to prepare for the regal visit.
John the Baptist announced the coming of the Christ, just like Isaiah said he would. And like the heralds of old, he cried out, prepare the way of the Lord. But their preparation was not to be in cleaning up the outside, but the inside – they were to repent – to turn from their sin. They were to be spiritually prepared. You see, the King and His kingdom were at hand.
As a sign of repentance, people by the hordes came from Jerusalem and Judea to be baptized by John. Matthew tells us some came wanting to bypass the necessary requirement of repentance – in other words, they wanted to just clean up the exterior – to fill a few potholes, smooth out a few ruts. John railed against them, saying they needed to be cleaned up on the inside – they needed to repent, and produce fruit in keeping with repentance. In essence, John was saying, you’re not worthy of baptism without repentance.
Which brings us to our story. One day Jesus showed up to be baptized by John. We’re not sure exactly how long John had been preaching and baptizing by this time, but most suppose it had been less than a year. Now, you might wonder, did Jesus and John know each other? Remember, Jesus had grown up as a carpenter in Nazareth, which is in Galilee to the north, while John grew up in the south, in a town in the hill country of Judea before he moving to the wilderness of Judea.
But, remember also, their mothers, Mary and Elizabeth, were cousins. Mary visited Elizabeth while they were both pregnant and stayed with her for three months. Each of them knew about the miraculous circumstances surrounding the birth of the other’s child. No doubt, each knew what the angelic messengers had said about the future roles of their boys. And no doubt, they shared those stories with their sons as they grew up. Whether or not they spent time together during the first 30 years of their lives, we don’t know. But it’s safe to say they at least knew who the other one was.
So, Mark tells us Jesus arrived from Nazareth. We’re quite familiar with Nazareth because of Christmas and all that – but Nazareth was really a nothing town. It’s not mentioned in the Old Testament, the Talmud, which is the Jewish commentary on the OT, and it’s not mentioned by Josephus. Most estimates place it at a few hundred people – a small, nothing village. In John’s gospel, when Philip went to tell Nathanael, we’ve found the Christ – Jesus of Nazareth – Nathanael responded, can anything good come out of Nazareth?
Now, Mark had said, John the Baptist was preaching, and saying, “After me One is coming who is mightier – stronger – greater than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie his sandals. I baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Next verse, “in those days, Jesus came.” Clearly, Jesus is the One of whom John spoke. And don’t miss the subtle shift – we’re supposed to notice – Mark has been writing about John, and so you expect him to say, and John baptized Jesus. But John is no longer the subject – he fades into the background. He’s at the end of the sentence – the subject is now, Jesus. (Pope)
But we would never expect Jesus to come from Galilee – certainly not Nazareth. You’d expect the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, to come from Jerusalem. From the palace or the Temple – from a political leader or at least a religious leader. Not from a carpenter’s home in Nazareth – a town no one knows, or less, even cares about. But that’s the way Jesus came. His was an inauspicious beginning. Mark tells us nothing about His miraculous birth – or His childhood. Luke tells us He’s about thirty years old now. And He bursts on the scene.
He shows up at the Jordan, and asks John to baptize Him. While Luke makes it clear others were present, i.e., who were being baptized, Jesus appears to be alone. There doesn’t appear to be any family members present, and He hasn’t called His disciples yet. I want you to notice that: the King of the universe is about to be crowned, the Savior of the World, the Son of God is about to be introduced, and no one except John even knows who He is – no servants, no bands annoyingly playing pomp and circumstance or hail to the chief, no dignitaries, no military salute, no parades, no celebration – just Jesus. It’s the way He came.
He arrived and asks John to baptize Him. In Matthew’s gospel, at first, John says, no, I can’t baptize you, for two reasons:
- First, he said, it needs to be the other way around – I need to be baptized by you. It could be that John is saying, I need your Spirit baptism – you certainly don’t need my water baptism.
- Which leads to the second of John’s concerns. His was a baptism of repentance. People were turning from their sin to God. As an outward sign of their repentance, being baptized.
And so John was asking, of what sins do you need to repent, Jesus? He was the spotless Lamb of God come to take away the sin of the world. He had no sin. When He was growing up, He never lied to His mother. He never disobeyed His father. He never cheated on a test. He never had feelings of unjustified anger. He never had an impure thought or spoke an unkind word or performed an unrighteous action. The author of Hebrews tells us that He was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” He was the perfect Son of God and Son of Man. So, why would He be baptized with a baptism of repentance? Well, Jesus gave the answer in Matthew 3:15, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” What does that mean? I’ll tell you there have been dozens of interpretations of this verse. Without going through all of them, I think there might be two or three important ideas here:
- First, it is true John’s was a baptism of repentance. But it was also a baptism signaling readiness for the kingdom of God which was at hand. I think Jesus, by this act, was signaling His own readiness to do the work of the Messiah – it becomes the occasion for His commissioning as the One John had been preparing the way. This was, if you will, His introduction, His acknowledgement that the King and His kingdom, were indeed at hand, and He was prepared to fulfill the duties of the office.
- Second, I believe His was an example to us. At this time, God was calling on people who would be His followers to submit to a baptism of repentance. While Jesus didn’t have to be baptized, He was acknowledging that John’s preaching was a valid standard to be followed. So later, when Jesus commands His followers be baptized, we could remember His.
- Third, and this is most important, I believe Jesus was humbly identifying with humanity. John didn’t expect the Messiah to be baptized. But Jesus was the suffering Servant – He was the One to bear the sins of the world. Jesus is saying, I’m ready to be identified with sinful humanity – while I have no sins of which to repent, I’m ready to bear their sins. Isaiah 53 says it like this, “… He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.”
Jesus’ baptism represented the willing identification of the sinless Son of God with the sinful people He came to save. He who had no sin took His place among those who had no righteousness. Later, the Apostle Paul would say of Jesus, “He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” We see the two acts of justification here – He took our sin, we received His righteousness. We see the humble servant role Jesus readily accepted, for you and for me. And so Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John.
Which brings us to our second point – the introduction. Three significant things happened when Jesus was coming up out of the water. By the way, notice Jesus was coming up out of the water – the word for baptism means to dip or immerse, and the practice in the NT was that of immersion – Jesus was immersed – so we do that here. There are all kinds of references to Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the suffering servant and the Messiah. I’ll note several of those.
The first thing we read is He, that is Jesus, saw the heavens opening. That’s not really a good translation – the ESV has it right when it says He saw the heavens being torn open. The word is schizo, from which we get our word schism. The heavens were torn apart. It’s reminiscent Isaiah 64:1, where we read, “Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down…” And He did, in the person of His Son. We’ll come back to that in a minute.
The second thing we see is the Holy Spirit like a dove descending upon Him. Now, the text doesn’t say a bird came and landed on Him – it says the Holy Spirit was seen descending like a dove – in the form of a dove. What that means, I don’t know – there’s one book that lists 16 possible interpretations of the meaning of this being dove – like the Spirit of God hovering over the waters at creation. What is clear is that all the gospel writers viewed this descending form as the Holy Spirit, as did John the Baptist, who actually saw the event. John 1:32 says, “John testified saying, ‘I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained on Him.” The point is, John saw the Spirit descend on Jesus – which the gospel of John also tells us was the sign confirming to John that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Again, back to Isaiah, chapter 11:
1 Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
Then of course there is Isaiah 61, which Jesus read one day in a synagogue, and said that prophecy was fulfilled in their hearing in Him:
1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners;
Now, why did the Holy Spirit come to Jesus? Wasn’t Jesus fully God? Did He need the Holy Spirit? My favorite answer, yes, and no. When He became a man, Jesus did not lose His divinity – He was still God in every way. He veiled His glory so as not to blind us with excess of light. But in His deity, He needed nothing. However, in His humble humanity, He was being anointed for service and granted strength for ministry. The Holy Spirit was His divine introduction and empowering.
The third thing that happened was the voice which came from heaven. Look at it again, “and a voice came out of the heavens: ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” Notice, God is speaking to His Son, and places His seal of approval on Jesus of Nazareth. Again, this anointing by the Spirit and affirmation by the Father was foreseen in Isaiah 42:1, “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.”
Jesus was and is the divine Son of God. I used to work for a Christian Credit Union. To join the credit union, you had to be a professing evangelical Christian, and hold to orthodox Christian doctrine. Since I had a degree in theology, they would often come to me saying, such and such a group wants to join – are they orthodox? I loved that part of my job. Turning down someone for a loan – that wasn’t too fun. Turning down people because they were heretics, that was fun. Once, while I was in southern California for some meetings, the president called to ask about a particular group that on the surface seemed okay. I did some research, because I didn’t know for sure. And I found out they weren’t orthodox, they were modalists. You say, what’s that?
In the early part of church history, there was a group of heretics running around espousing the teaching of one Sabellius. Sabellius was a modalist – that is, he denied the Trinity. He said to believe in a Trinity was to have three gods. He said, we don’t have three gods, rather, we have one God who has manifested Himself in three modes throughout time. In the Old Testament, He was God the Father. In the New Testament, He was God the Son. And now, He is God the Holy Spirit – not one God eternally existing in three persons, but one God existing in three different manifestations throughout time, but not at one time.
That is unorthodox. While it’s true the Bible never uses the word Trinity, it is a word used to describe what the Bible teaches. The Bible very clearly teaches there is one God. But it also teaches the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And here, we have all three persons present at one time. How do we explain that? As best we can in the Trinity – there is one God, eternally existing in three persons who are co-equal. They make up one God, and yet it is not that each of them are one-third God – they each possess all the attributes necessary to deity – each one is fully God. And yet, the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father, and yet, we do not have three gods, but one God. If you want me to explain it any further than that, then join the multitudes of Christians throughout church history.
Oh, and by the way, we didn’t let that group join the credit union.
Which brings us to our conclusion this morning. We have seen the introduction of the Son of God. We have seen how Jesus confirmed by His baptism that He was the Messiah, willing to accept His messianic duties. We’ve seen Him empowered by the Holy Spirit. And we’ve seen the Father give His approval, revealing Jesus was the divine Son of God.
Now, remember I said to hold onto the heavens being schizoed – torn apart? It’s interesting to note Mark only uses that term one other time – at the end of the book – in Mark 15, when Jesus was crucified. Actually, when He died. Look at it with me:
37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last.
38 And the veil of the temple was torn (schizo) in two from top to bottom.
39 When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
Do you see that. Many think this is what is called an inclusio – intentional bookends to the book. When Jesus was introduced, the heavens were torn apart, and the voice of God was heard, You are my beloved Son. Let me introduce you to Jesus. When Jesus died, the veil of the Temple was torn in two – granting us access to the Father – let me introduce you to the Father – made possible because of the person and work of Jesus, the Son of God.