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Mark II: Baptized and Tempted - Mark 1:9-13

The first thirteen verses of Mark’s gospel give us the essential background, main characters, and plot of the story of Jesus. This is the story of Israel’s royal Son, and that the plot is about bringing God’s people out of the wilderness of sin, through the Jordan of forgiveness, into the Promised Land of the new kingdom.

In verses 9-13, we meet Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, the mighty one who will baptize with the Spirit. We are introduced to His great adversary Satan, who fights Jesus and His kingdom to the death, front and center here, and in the background throughout the rest of the story. Mark gives us the cosmic stage of this drama, setting a brief scene in the non-human world of devils, angels, and wild beasts before zooming in to focus on humanity. These characters only make a quick appearance at the beginning, but this moment highlights that what happens here concerns everything in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.

When Jesus appears on the scene, the first thing that happens is the opposite of what we would expect, which in itself is actually a big clue for the rest of the gospel. Mark is full of ironic surprises, and what surprises us here is that while John has declared that Jesus is the greater baptizer, still, when he appears, he comes in humility, and John is the one who baptizes Jesus.

When Jesus comes up out of the water, immediately, he sees the heavens being ripped open, and the Spirit descends on Him like a dove, reminiscent of another moment when a man passed through the water and a dove descended to inaugurate the re-inhabiting of the world after a cleansing flood-baptism. Not only do the waters part, signaling a transition from the wilderness to the promised land, but the heavens part, preparing the people for the ultimate removal of the barrier between heaven and earth, which happens like a bookend at the conclusion of Jesus’ life.

A voice from heaven singles Jesus out and declares, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” Although this passage is of critical importance for our understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity, that the One God exists in three persons, when the voice refers to Jesus as “Son”, He isn’t speaking the Trinitarian name for the second person; He’s identifying Jesus as a special representative of God on earth, like Adam, like the prophets, like the kings. Calling him a beloved Son also reminds Israelites of Abraham’s beloved son Isaac, called on to be a sacrifice. Sonship involves both royal representation and substitutionary sacrifice, and Jesus is embarking on the path of Sonship in a way that pleases God.

And so we need to see that it is God’s pleasure that sends Jesus deeper into the wilderness to battle Satan. Don’t be surprised by trouble and testing: God sends sons that please Him into battle. And just like the phrase “beloved Son” would trigger “Isaac” in every Jewish mind, so a one on one battle with Satan right after a declaration of God’s approval would trigger thoughts of Adam in the garden, and thoughts of God’s faithful servant Job. Similarly, the ministering angels echo Elijah, who spent forty days in the wilderness after his great victory over Baal, after God sent water to wash the world, and the angels ministered to him. Only Mark out of all the gospels mentions that Jesus was with the wild animals. He doesn’t tell us their intentions, probably trying to send our minds towards both the peaceful coexistence of man and beast in Paradise and the promised new creation, as well as the battles with wild beasts that David fought in preparation for becoming a warrior king. Remember also Daniel and the lions, Abraham’s ram in the thicket, Elijah’s ravens, and so on.

With all these details, Mark is introducing Jesus as the embodying and fulfilling all of Israel’s greatest stories. Everything that God had done for His people, He was preparing to do again through this Beloved Son. The best way to prepare yourself to understand Mark’s gospel is to hear the many echoes Mark’s gospel has with the great stories and heroes found in the history of God’s people. Mark is telling the story of Israel’s greatest hero, her Messiah.

And so as you learn lessons about angelic provision, creation care, fighting Satan, and the blessing of a parent voicing his approval and love for his child, realize that whatever you find to imitate in this passage, ultimately, it isn’t about you. How does this passage show you Jesus? God ripped heaven open and the Spirit descended on Jesus so that you would know that He is God’s beloved Son. So worship Jesus, who was baptized for you, who opened the heavens for you, who battled Satan for you, so that you too could be called sons and daughters of God.

Posted on Wednesday, January 31, 2018 by CJ Bowen