“Promise and Proclamation”
What I want us to see this morning is that God has a plan. We saw this quite frequently in our study of Revelation where God is sovereignly carrying out his plan to the very end of time. Often times it helps our faith if we can see his hand at work throughout history. God does not necessarily call us to blind faith. He has demonstrated time and again his faithfulness to his promises. Sometimes he increases our faith through the subjective. For instance, I recently requested prayer for some difficulties I was facing. And in the midst of the struggle, I suddenly experienced an unexplainable peace. And it is times like this that I can point specifically to the power of prayer in my life. Now, God does not ALWAYS do this. Sometimes he wants us to learn valuable lessons through the struggle even if we don’t experience the subjective peace, love, and joy that sometimes God graciously gives us. Sometimes he means to test our faith a bit more extensively. And so it is with our text this morning. What we will see is how completely and intentionally God carries out what He has promised throughout history.
We entered the book of Mark ever so briefly last week by examining some of the background of the Gospel as well as the first verse of the book. We saw that Mark introduces the book by indicating that this is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God in verse 1. And we began by taking a look at what the gospel is, the good news of Jesus.
We also looked at some of the distinctives of Mark’s gospel in relation to the others. We know that Matthew and Luke spend more time on the teaching component in the life of Jesus. John’s Gospel is less chronological and more theological in nature and looks to show predominantly the deity of Christ. And when we read through Mark’s account, we determined that it moves more like an action movie. He jumps abruptly from one event to the next without really filling in much of the detail – as do some of the others. We will even see that in our text for this morning. Let’s read verses 1-13 as we look into God’s Word. READ.
The first point is “Announcement.” Right from the outset, Mark includes the words “As it is written.” It is important for him to assert that what he writes about is fulfilled prophecy and affirms the trustworthiness and authority of God’s written word. What is interesting here is that he indicates that this comes from the prophet, Isaiah. In actuality, this is a compilation of three different Scriptures and comes from Exodus, Malachi 3.1, and Isaiah 40.3. Mark employs a common practice by citing it the most prominent prophet, Isaiah. This would have carried a lot of weight with his listeners and readers. But it does also provide a sampling of many prophecies fulfilled. It began in the times of Moses, and mentioned in both the major and minor prophets. The Old Testament Scriptures have repeatedly anticipated the arrival of the Messiah.
The Scripture cited here indicates that that there would be a future messenger who would prepare the way of the Lord. He would be one who declares this from in the wilderness. And then immediately, Mark indicates in the next verse that “John appeared.” Promise fulfilled. One commentator notes that “Mark makes it clear that the gospel is bound fast to the promise of God in the Old Testament and is a continuation of the story of God's saving activity. Long before the promise-filled preaching of John the Baptizer, there was the promise-filled preaching of Isaiah, which shows that God had planned things out long before John appeared on the scene and was the one who initiated the action.” And another writes, “The introductory tapestry of Old Testament quotations not only links the person and ministry of Jesus inseparably with the preceding revelation of God in the Old Testament, but it makes the person and ministry of Jesus non-understandable apart from it.” So this was not something new, but something that was predetermined a long time ago by our sovereign God. So the introduction of the Old Testament prophet leading into the gospel of Jesus Christ is seamless.
Malachi 3.1 reads, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” And Malachi 4.5, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” In many ways it appears as though Mark recognized him and John the Baptist saw himself as fulfilling these prophecies. He was the “Elijah” to come. For in verse 4, Mark indicates that John was baptizing in the wilderness. And later in Mark 9.11-13, it says, “And they asked him (Jesus), “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 12 And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”
Verse 6 also tells us that John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. For Mark’s original readers, they would have readily understood this as pertaining to a prophet. In 2 Kings 1.8, it says, “…He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.” So it is apparent that John saw his ministry fulfilling these words. And they are authenticated by the words of Scripture here.
So how exactly did John prepare the way for the Lord? Well, not only did Scripture announce the arrival of John, but John announces the coming of the Lord Jesus. His ministry consisted largely of baptizing and proclaiming repentance and confession for the forgiveness of sins. John had a very successful preaching ministry. The text reads that “all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan.” Obviously, this does not mean every single person was repenting and being baptized. This is a common figure of speech to communicate how great the impact of his ministry. This is important information. The mention of “Jerusalem” here is significant. This suggests that John’s ministry drew attention from some of the ruling elite from the temple in Jerusalem. And the mention of the country of Judea suggest that it was not merely impacting the city, but the countryside as well. This ministry really did draw people from all over. It was making a big impact. The fact that people had to leave the cities and country to travel to the wilderness communicates that true discipleship involves withdrawal from the world and sacrifice.
John came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This does not mean that baptism causes or effects the forgiveness of sin. Rather it is a baptism of repentance on the basis of the forgiveness of sins. So it is a baptism that communicates one’s repentance for the forgiveness of sins. When one repents, they are forgiven their sins. And then they are baptized as a response to communicate this act of God.
Now many may have different understandings of what repentance is – or perhaps no understanding. So, to be clear, we need to define it. “Repentance” refers to a change of mind and a turning away. This is understood as conversion. When a person understands the good news of Jesus and his work on the cross on our behalf, we are convinced of its truthfulness and our need to act on that truth. Note that this does not refer to a fuzzy feeling or emotional experience. Though these too can occur. It is a change of the mind which is acted upon. It is both a supernatural and rational occurrence. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and our need for salvation by pointing us to the truths of Scripture and opening our eyes to them. And when we understand our inability to save ourselves and the great love of our Saviour in his substitutionary death, this should, and often will, overwhelm us with emotion. Repentance involves a change in our thinking. This then leads to forgiveness of sins and makes us righteous in his sight.
I will refrain from preaching a sermon on baptism at this point because I don’t think it is what is emphasized in this text. I mentioned a couple minutes ago that the success of John’s ministry here is important. I believe that Mark has set up a “lesser to greater” argument here. Let me explain. He began by telling us that the messenger, the new Elijah would come in fulfillment of Scripture. Mark then tells us the extent of his ministry. It brought people from all over the land from different social backgrounds. People from their comfortable homes ventured out into the wilderness to repent, to confess their sins and be baptized. Add to that these words from Jesus in Matthew 11:11, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”
Now look at what John says in verses 7 and 8. “And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” This isn’t about John at all. This is all about Jesus! “Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” And he isn’t worthy to do the work of a slave in the presence of Jesus! He says, “I am merely getting things ready for the One who is coming – the Savior of the world who baptizes with the Holy Spirit of God!! I might be the fulfillment of prophecy, but I am merely a pawn who is here to direct your attention to the Son of God!” Jesus said in John 5.36 “But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.”
I find it interesting that John understands his place. He understands the significance of the One to come. He realizes that he is unworthy even to be a slave in his presence. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Scriptures tells us that he created and sustains the world. He is the firstborn of creation, the preeminent One. He is the good shepherd, the door, the way, the truth, the life. He is the light of the world, the resurrection and the life, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the One who rides a white horse who will judge and rule the earth with a rod of iron. He is the Alpha and the Omega, beginning and the end, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. He is the One to whom everyone in heaven and earth will one day bow the knee. And yet somehow, for some reason, he gave his life for you and for me. He gave up his life so that we could be children of God, and co-heirs with Christ. I think John understood – dimly. But I think he understood. And he hadn’t even seen him yet! If we understand, how is it that we can become filled with pride?? If we understand, why do we look at life in such a temporal and superficial manner?? If you are a Christian, if you have trusted in this same Lamb of God, you have been changed for eternity. And if changed for eternity, should our lives now reflect this?? I humbly admit that this thought does not impact me to the extent and to the depth that it should. Jonathan Edwards prayed, “Lord, stamp eternity on my eyes.” In other words, let the full weight of the great truth of my salvation impact the way I view my existence now. And may it keep us humble and dependent on him for everything.
John recognizes the importance of water baptism and yet points out the greater baptism – baptism with the Holy Spirit. This Spirit baptism has been misunderstood. Pentecostals will assert that this refers to some special and secondary blessing on some, not all, believers. This is due largely with an inconsistency with English translations. Spirit baptism takes place in the life of all believers. 1 Corinthians 12.13 reads, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” This is the same Greek construction and same Greek words. John is informing his audience that Jesus will come and fulfill his mission. And when that mission is completed and he returns to heaven, he will leave believers with the Holy Spirit who will indwell and empower them for ministry. This first took place at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down as tongues of fire. This initial act was to validate the transition in the life of the church from the old covenant age to the new covenant age where the ministry of the Holy Spirit would be permanent and more prominent. And this ministry would be more significant than the present ministry of John the Baptist.
So the Announcement is that John the Baptist came in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy to announce the coming of the Lord Jesus who offers good news to those who repent and confess their sins for forgiveness.
The next point is “Anointed and Acknowledged .” The text tells us in verse 9 that in those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Now wait a minute! Didn’t we just talk about how repentance and confession of sins preceded the baptism by John?? Are we suggesting that Jesus did the same? Well, we have to begin with what we know. And we know that Scriptures declare that Jesus committed no sin. And thus no confession of sin, or changing of mind is necessary. One commentator suggests that as repentance refers to changing one’s mind and direction from self to God, perhaps Jesus’ baptism was not a turning away, but a turning to God. It represents openness and obedience to God. I think that’s possible, but likely a bit speculative.
I believe that this is the launching point, or setting apart of Jesus for his ministry. In Acts 1, the narrative seems to reinforce this. In verse 21 “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” From the earliest days of the Christian movement the baptism was regarded as a defining moment in the ministry of Jesus. It seems to be his way of identifying no longer with the royal ranks of heaven, but the ranks of sinners. His baptism launches him on the servant road of obedience, which ultimately leads to death.
And he is here anointed with the Spirit to empower him on the earth. Jesus comes up out of the water and immediately the heavens are torn open. This is interesting because Matthew and Mark say that the heavens were “opened.” Mark prefers “torn open.” I believe that he is trying to get across more pointedly the eschatological event taking place. In other words, Mark is emphasizing the beginning of a new age where God will deal with his people like never before. In the same way that the curtain was “torn” in two in the temple at the death of Christ signifying a new relationship and access, so too here something significant happens with the baptism of Jesus. I believe there are probably allusions to Isaiah 64:1 here. “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence.” This is a defining moment in salvation history.
It is interesting here that the text says that “he” saw the heavens torn open and the Spirit descend (not “they”). We will note throughout the book that there are several instances where Jesus wants his identity to remain secret. He tells some of those he heals not to tell about it. This is referred to as the “secrecy motif.” We will get into that a bit more as we go into it. But it is noteworthy here that the crowd does not seem to be in on this portion in the baptism.
Jesus then receives the acknowledgement and approval of the Father. It is the Father’s voice that comes from heaven declaring that Jesus is the beloved Son in whom he is well-pleased. One commentator states, “ The Gospel opens with a statement that Jesus is the Son of God. At the baptism God himself affirmed that Jesus is his Son. The purpose of both passages—and especially the second—is to inspire the readers/ hearers to acknowledge Jesus as Son of God and to love and take pleasure in him.”
Another commentator sums this up by saying, “The baptism is the keystone in the life and ministry of Jesus. The empowerment by the Spirit to be God’s Servant, and the declaration from heaven, ‘You are my Son,’” enable Jesus not only to speak and act for God but as God. This is demonstrated by his forgiveness of sins (2:5), acceptance of sinners (2:15), calling of tax collectors into discipleship (2:13), healing of the sick (1:40ff.) and casting out demons (1:24), recovery of the true intent of the Sabbath (2:28), and challenge to the Jewish religious establishment as represented in the oral tradition (7:1ff.), the temple (11:12ff.), and the Sanhedrin (14:61ff.). It is not coincidental that when Jesus is later confronted by the Sanhedrin asking, “‘By what authority do you do these things?’ ” he drives his questioners back to his baptism (11:27–33). What Jesus does as God’s servant ultimately has meaning only because of who he is as God’s Son.”
Lastly, Jesus is “Approved.” Mark again abruptly moves the story forward by very briefly speaking about the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Whereas Matthew and Luke spend eleven and thirteen verses respectively in detailing the events of the temptation, Mark can do it in two. And he seems to speak with a bit more force as well. In the same way that Mark intensified the events of the heavens being torn open, he speaks of the Spirit “driving” Jesus out into the wilderness. In Matthew and Luke, they speak of the Spirit leading Jesus. I am beginning to see a theological intensity in Mark’s writing. This account does not suggest that Jesus was unwilling to go, but rather emphasizes the necessity of it. Mark likes to give us these rapid and brief snapshots of the things that happened to emphasize the carrying out of God’s plan. It comes across as it was necessary for John to come because it was prophesied. And it was necessary that Jesus be baptized by John so that he could be set apart for his ministry. Next, he was sent out to the wilderness to be tempted by Satan so that he could pass the test and be approved.
This was part of the divine plan of God and so the Spirit drove him into the wilderness. The wilderness, you see, was viewed negatively as the evil abode of Satan and the desolate place of wild animals. Jesus was essentially the visiting team on the rival’s turf, so to speak. He didn’t have home field advantage. He was there for forty days being tempted by Satan. We barely last a few minutes, don’t we? It was here that Jesus needed to face temptation. For Jesus to be like us, he needed to be faced with temptation and the Adversary. J. R. Edwards helps us with the necessity of this temptation when he writes, “The temptation establishes the free, sovereign agency of Jesus, who, like all human agents, must choose to make God’s will his own. The significance of that choice can be realized only in the context of an alternative and opposite choice posed by God’s adversary. Hence Jesus must be “tempted by Satan.” In order for Jesus to be our sympathetic High Priest, he needed to face temptation.
This text begins with John who came preaching in the wilderness. We began by briefly looking at these announcements. Notice that John did not come to merely live a good life. He came with a message. The Gospel barely opens and it bleeds with message. The “gospel” means good news in verse 1. It is meant to be communicated. John came to declare it. He was the voice of one crying out in the wilderness in verse 3. He proclaimed a baptism of repentance in verse 4. And he preached of the One who was mightier than him.
How are we declaring the good news of Jesus? It doesn’t mean we have to dress funny and eat wacky things. But do we care a little too much what people think about us and the message that we declare? There has to come a point in our lives where we realize that people may not like us if we keep talking of trusting in Jesus alone for salvation. Are we ok with that? I’m sure John’s ministry cost him some friends and family, as did Jesus. Sometimes we cling a little too tightly to these relationships. Not that they are unimportant – just second to our relationship to Christ. To be anointed is to be set apart. Are you set apart for Jesus only?
Satan has not discontinued his temptation business. As we have seen in the book of Revelation, he continues to oppose the plan of God up until the time when Jesus returns. He tempts believers and unbelievers alike in order to rob God of his glory. Now it’s not detailed in our text, but we know that Jesus fought against the temptations of Satan by his use of Scripture. This is why we have our new community project. In the midst of our temptations, we need to recall the great promises of God’s word so that we can discern and oppose our enemy. We can’t expect to win the battle against temptation until we are aware and armed with God’s Word.
At first glance, we may have thought this text was about John. We learn rather quickly that he was a small part of pointing to Jesus. I pray that we, too, do the same. Let’s pray.