Baptized with Water and Spirit: Mark 1:1-13

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As we dive into Mark’s gospel, we discover that Mark does not start slowly. Within the first 13 verses, we discover how this gospel points to several big events at the start of Jesus’ ministry, gives us a picture of John the Baptist, and points to a fulfilled prophecy. In Mark’s introduction, we get a quick, but brief look at how the stage was set for Jesus’ ministry to begin.

Let’s read how Mark opens his gospel and discover what we can learn from this introduction. Our passage is found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 1, and we will read from the New American Standard Bible translation. Starting in verse 1, Mark tells us that:

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: 
     “Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, 
          Who will prepare Your way; 
     3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, 
          ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, 
        Make His paths straight.’” 

4 John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 6 John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey. 7 And he was preaching, and saying, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. 8 I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; 11 and a voice came out of the heavens: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”

12 Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. 13 And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.

In these 13 verses, Mark opens his gospel sharing about how the prophet Isaiah prophesied the appearing of John the Baptist. Isaiah describes the messenger God would send ahead of Jesus as a voice of one crying in the wilderness, and the first description Mark uses to describe John the Baptist is that he appeared in the wilderness preaching about repentance and baptism being important pieces for ultimately receiving forgiveness from sins.

Mark’s gospel frames John’s ministry as a successful one, because the verse describing John’s ministry said, “And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.” Regardless of how strange John the Baptist was, a ministry that taught repentance and baptism would be called successful when people were being baptized and confessing their sins.

While some people might think repentance is simply confessing sins, repentance is actually something much more significant. Repentance is more internal, more long-term, and more like a direction change in one’s life and focus. Repentance is harder to measure in a single event. Confessing sins is the first step to turning away from them because confessing sins acknowledges the sin and it identifies it as being what God doesn’t want for our lives. In order to repent and turn away from sin, we must first be able to identify what is sin and what God doesn’t want in our lives.

Mark tells us that John’s message also pointed people forward to Someone coming after him, and how everything in John’s ministry foreshadowed Jesus. Without skipping a beat or writing any unnecessary words, in eight short verses, we have a clear overview of John the Baptist’s ministry pointing people towards Jesus.

Talking about John’s message about baptism and about One coming after him leads into the transition Mark uses to describe Jesus. Jesus first steps into the public spotlight by coming to John to be baptized. While other gospel writers include more details about this event, Mark doesn’t get bogged down describing details. Mark simply tells us exactly what we need to know: Jesus was baptized by John, and in that moment, John’s baptism of water and God the Father’s baptism of the Spirit launched Jesus’ ministry. Mark focuses on the big truth that in Jesus’ baptism, God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, and God the Son are present together at the start of the Son’s ministry on earth.

Mark then describes the first event Jesus does following being baptized and beginning His ministry as being called out into the wilderness to be tempted for forty days. Again, while Matthew and Luke give more details about Jesus’ temptation, Mark wants us to be aware of the big picture of what happened, because all this is setting the stage for Jesus’ ministry teaching, preaching, healing, and helping people.

In Mark’s summary-introduction to Jesus’ ministry, we discover something about Jesus and about how Mark will likely be writing this gospel. While Mark might not include all the details we might see in Matthew or Luke, Mark’s gospel gives us a no-nonsense picture of Jesus that keeps moving forward. If Mark decides to slow down and give more details of an event, then these details are significant in Jesus’ ministry and they are significant in our lives as well.

Within this quick, summary introduction, we see a big truth and a big theme about receiving the Holy Spirit. When Mark describes Jesus’ baptism, in the context immediately before this Mark has just predicted that the One who comes after Him would baptize with the Holy Spirit. When Mark then describes Jesus’ baptism, we see an amazing picture that this baptism wasn’t just with water like John’s previous baptisms. Instead, Jesus’ baptism was with both water and with the Holy Spirit at the start of His ministry, and when Jesus received the Holy Spirit at the beginning of His ministry, this sets the stage for Jesus to be able to baptize others with the Spirit.

The other big challenge I see in Mark’s introduction to Jesus’ ministry is that after Jesus received the Holy Spirit at His baptism, Jesus lets the Holy Spirit take the lead and direct Him where to go from that point forward. While the next stop for Jesus was temptations in the wilderness, Mark describes for us how this was a Holy Spirit directed stop. This means that when we are letting God’s Holy Spirit lead us, we may be led to places that are not comfortable, and when we are in the places God’s Spirit leads us, we can expect to be tempted. It was this way with Jesus and it is foolish to believe that it won’t be this way for Jesus’ followers.

However, like Jesus, we are called to let the Holy Spirit lead in our lives and to resist temptation like Jesus resisted it. While Mark doesn’t describe Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness like Matthew or Luke, Mark draws our attention onto the big truth that even while Jesus was being tempted, God was still with Him and God had not forgotten Him. When we are tempted, God isn’t ignoring us. Instead, when we are tempted, God is paying attention to us and standing by ready to help us stand firm resisting the temptation.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I consistently challenge you to do, remember to seek God first in your life and to let God’s Holy Spirit lead and guide you moving through life. Remember that when we are tempted, God is standing by ready and willing to help us resist the temptation, and being tempted is not a sign of God’s neglect. Instead, being tempted may give us a hint that we are right where God Holy Spirit wants us!

Also, continue to pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn and grow closer to God in your life. Don’t let someone else step between you and God. While devotionals are nice things to have, they only can take your faith so far. Resolve today and for this year that you will actually open your Bible and study it with God and not through the lens of another author, speaker, or writer.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or be tempted into leaving where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Mark – Episode 1: In the introduction to the gospel of Mark, we discover in 13 short verses some amazing things about John the Baptist and about how his life and ministry leads into Jesus and His ministry.

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