gospel of mark

The Baptism of Jesus


In looking at the baptism of Jesus, I want to explore the reason. I want to ask “Why was Jesus baptised?”

Jesus was baptised as further testimony to His identity as both Christ and Son of God.

In other words – the baptism shows us who Jesus IS.

Before we take a closer look at that – about the reason for Jesus’ baptism – let’s explore the details of what happened.

Let’s start with a story from the perspective of one of John the Baptist’s disciples.

They came by the thousand. A constant and steady stream of people.

I guess this is what it would have been like when people were leaving Jerusalem on their way home from feasts. But they would have left tired, having exerted themselves with ritual and celebration.

This time people were coming to Bethany with the same kind of anticipation they would have had when they were approaching Jerusalem – especially if it marked the end of a long and arduous journey – you know, like the last dash at the end of a marathon – when all you have left is, well… the energy comes from somewhere.

And those coming weren’t all that sure what they were coming to see. As Jesus once asked us “What did you go out to see?” What were people expecting? A tent meeting and a well-dressed and well-intended crusade evangelist?

Day after day they would come. Day after day John would preach and baptise. The same message, the same method, but always with sincerity and life-changing power. People came. People heard. People responded to what they heard. It really did seem as if people were genuinely convicted of their sin; moved to both confession, repentance, and baptism.

One day things changed. Things were different. The crowds came – from Jerusalem, from Judea, from the South East. John preached. John baptised.

But there was something unusual happened. You see, people usually came in groups, like hundreds at a time, never alone.

Not this one. He came alone. He came from the opposite direction. He came from the North East. I not sure when John saw Him, but John stopped. It was very unusual for John to be interrupted like this, even amidst the flood of emotional expression, John just kept on with the message and the method.

He stopped. He stopped talking. He just stood there. He seemed to be squinting at this lone traveller as if trying to figure out His facial features – unsure where he’d seen Him before.

The man from the North East approached the crowd and the crowd parted like the red sea, a wall of standing soldiers on either side. It was then that John knew.

John knew that this crowd parting traveller was the long-expected one, the one, the strap of whose sandals he was unworthy to bend down and untie. This was part of John’s message. Every day we’d hear about this coming Great One. And everyday there was a growing sense of anticipation as if to ask “Is today the day?” or as people came forward for baptism “Is this the one?”

The closer He got, the more shadows of doubt were evicted from our hearts and minds. This is the one. This was the Great One John had said would come.
We had no idea just how great!

From verse 4 we learn that John the Baptist was a wilderness preacher.

From verse 7 we learn that part of his message was that someone greater was coming.

From verse 5 we learn that all the country of Judea and Jerusalem were going out to John, and were being baptised by him in the Jordan.

All the country of Judea and all of Jerusalem – that’s a lot of people and I doubt they all went to be baptised at the same time – so there was perhaps a degree of repetition with John’s wilderness ministry of preaching and baptising.

I get the idea that day after day, week after week, people would come, John would preach essentially the same message, people would confess their sins, and John would baptise them.

Last time we looked at the essence of John’s message – someone mightier is coming.

I wonder if there was a growing sense of anticipation on the part of John’s disciples who heard the message day after day.

Did they wonder “Would this candidate for baptism, stepping forward now, would he be the one mightier than John?”? Did they wonder, “Will today be the day that the promised one would show up, baptising with the Holy Spirit?”?

In verse 9 we read “in those days” or “at that time” Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee.

The detail of where Jesus came from is significant because of the geography involved.

I have some maps.

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First map shows Bethany in relation to Jerusalem and Nazareth.

As I hope you can see, Jerusalem is much closer to Bethany than is Nazareth.

Next map shows the journey that those coming from Jerusalem and Judea may have taken to get to Bethany. It about two days walk, and as I mentioned earlier, they’d likely have travelled in groups from the South-East.

The third map shows the journey from Nazareth.

Nazareth is 124km north-east of Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan. And assuming that Jesus walked there… and that He walked an average of 25km/day, that’s 5 days travelling.

There is nothing in the text to suggest that Jesus had traveling companions, so Jesus walks for 5 days, alone, from the North-East.

Jesus comes to where John is preaching and baptising.

Does Jesus come on a day where there is a crowd, a congregation to whom John is preaching? Does Jesus come while people are being baptised in numbers?

What about the crowd? What were they doing as Jesus approached?

If we take into account John’s message – that a mighty one was coming…

If we take into account the prophetic word – that John was to prepare the way for
Israel’s King, Yahweh’s Messiah – then rolling out the red carpet would have been
totally appropriate.
But I’m not sure we get that impression. We don’t get the sense of a home-coming, war-winning, spoil-bringing king as Jesus gets closer to where John was baptising.

I wonder who noticed Jesus first?

Or when they first noticed Jesus?

Was it John that first noticed Jesus? Did the Holy Spirit do something in John that made him leap like he had prenatally when the pregnant Mary visited the pregnant Elizabeth?

When did John notice Jesus and shout “Behold the Lamb of God?”

Simply put, the text doesn’t tell us.

What verse 9 tells us is that Jesus was baptised by John in the Jordan.

Notice something different though between verse 9, and verse 5.

Verse 5 “All the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to John… were being baptised by John in the river Jordan, confessing their sins”

In verse 9, it says Jesus was baptised. No mention of the confession of sin.

Similarly, look at verse 4 – here we’re told that John was proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

But Jesus did need to repent for the forgiveness of sin.

Jesus needed no repentance. He has always had His whole heart, mind, and strength in perfect orientation towards the Father. Jesus could only repent if He had looked at sin the same way He had looked at His Father, and being very God of very God, being the very Son of God, He could not look away from the Father. He could not, He would not.

Jesus had no sins to confess. He knew no sin. He committed no sin and no deceit was found in His mouth. He had never transgressed the Law of God. Rather, His obedience to the Law of God was unwaveringly flawless, unceasingly faultless. Jesus had no sins of omission – He had never failed to do what the Law commands. He had no sins of commission – never having done what the Law forbids. Jesus had no error in His thoughts or the way He spoke to His mother, or the way He looked at stuff, or women, or even Himself.

Verse 10 – this is where the action reaches its zenith.

“Immediately…” this is a word Mark uses repeatedly throughout his writings. It’s characterisitic of the face paced nature of his gospel account.

Jesus comes up out of the water and immediately everyone is aware that this was a different baptism. Perhaps the current crowd had been there all day, and had seen dozens of people being baptised, coming up out of the water and simply retaking their place in the crowd.

But not this time.

We read “He saw the heavens being torn open”

In works of art, we get images of light streaming through the clouds. The kinds of scenes children see and ask whether that’s God.

But all of these art works seem rather pedestrian.

The heavens were split, severed, torn asunder. I’ve never seen that happen but it’s not passive. It’s aggressive. It’s loud. It’s almost violent. It’s a statement no one could ignore.

And yet it’s somewhat unclear as to whether this was just something Jesus saw, or whether John saw it, or whether it’s something that everyone saw.

Whatever the case, if we think back to the way the Old Testament closes with Malachi, and how it was followed by 400 years of prophetic silence, we could say that the heavens were as bronze, heavens gates were closed – but here they were being opened, but not like a garage door that opens gently in response to our pressing a button on the remote – but torn, split, severed. The bronze cracked.

Heaven is open. God is about to speak.

It’s like one of the scenes that followed Prince Williams – where the crowds were gathered before the palace balcony, waiting for a royal appearance – or perhaps more historically, waiting for the reigning monarch to speak.

But before the sound, comes another part of the picture.

The Spirit descends on Him like a dove.

The heavens are opened. The Spirit has descended and now rests on Jesus.

Verse 11 – and a voice came from heaven. God speaks. God breaks His silence. And the first thing He says in 400 years concerns His Son.

But not just any son, but a beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. The voice of the Father from heaven identifies Jesus as the beloved Son, the beloved Son in whom He is well pleased.

This is what happens as Jesus comes up out of the water. A very different baptism, for a very different candidate for baptism.

We come back to the question we began with. Why was Jesus baptised?

All four gospel accounts feature the baptism and give an answer to the question.

But we are concerned with what Mark’s gospel teaches us.

I’ll remind you of the answer I gave at the beginning.

Jesus was baptised as a further testimony to Him being both Christ and Son of God.

Be mindful that we really are still in Mark’s introduction as he presents Jesus to his readers in light of who Jesus is.

Part of Mark’s introduction is to show his readers, and to show us, that Jesus is the Christ and that Jesus is the Son of God.

So far, there have been two witnesses to this reality. The first is verse one where Mark identifies Jesus as Christ, Son of God.

Secondly we have the testimony of the prophets that Jesus is the Messiah, and is very God of very God.

The third testimony comes from the descent of the Spirit in verse 10.

To help us appreciate the descent and how this bears witness to the reality that Jesus is the Christ, which means “Anointed one” – let’s look at some passages in Isaiah.

First – Isaiah 11:1-4

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Jesus is the Rod from the Stem of Jesse. Jesus is the One upon whom the Spirit of the LORD would rest. Jesus is anointed with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. Jesus delighted in the fear of the LORD. Jesus will judge in righteousness and equity. Jesus will strike the earth and slay the wicked.

He is this, He does this – because he is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One.

Next, Isaiah 61:1-3

Prophetically speaking, Isaiah says of Messiah –

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.

In prophetic fulfilment –

The Spirit of the Lord GOD descends upon Jesus.

Jesus is the LORD’s anointed. His title “Christ/Messiah” is by definition “the LORD’s anointed.”

In connection with Isaiah 61, we might consider why the Holy Spirit descended like a dove.

Isaiah 61 highlights Jesus’ concern for the poor, lowly, and oppressed.

As part of the Jewish sacrificial system, provision was made for the poor in that perhaps unable to afford a lamb for sacrifice, they could bring a dove.

In Genesis 8:11 – we’re told a dove returned to the Ark with an olive branch as a sign that the flood waters of judgment were abating.

In a sense, the coming of Messiah was a sign that judgement was coming to an end, that the covenant relationship between God and His people would occur in a greater, closer, and more profound way than ever before, and perhaps the dove symbolises that.

A dove is often seen as a symbol of grace, gentleness, and peace.

While the adage “Jesus, meek and mild” is perhaps unhelpful in light of the totality of His person and work, Jesus definitely possess dove-like grace, gentleness and He is the Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 42:1-4

Yahweh is speaking of His Servant, His Elect One, the one in whom His soul delights.

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

This is who Jesus is as the Servant, the Elect One, the one in whom Yahweh delights. Jesus is the one upon whom is the Spirit. He came bringing justice – not by crying out or raising His voice, or causing His voice to be heard in the streets; nor by breaking a bruised reed or quenching a smouldering flax.

Rather, Jesus would not and did not fail; Jesus was not discouraged; Jesus establishes justice in the earth.

So we have one element of Jesus’ baptism and the Spirit’s descent – that it has to do with the testimony that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one characterised by grace, gentleness, peace, and justice.

Coming back to Mark 1:11 – this is the part of the testimony that centres on Jesus being Son of God.

Here God Himself says that the one who came up out of the water, the one upon whom the Spirit descended is the Son of God.

But not just a son, but a beloved Son.

Not just a beloved Son, but a beloved Son in whom was all delight.

If you think about Isaiah 42:1 – God speaking through Isaiah says “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon Him…” isn’t that what happens here?

The Father identifies Jesus as the one in whom He delights and as we have already seen the Spirit descend upon Jesus – we know that Jesus is the one about whom Isaiah prophesied. Chapter after chapter Isaiah points us to Jesus – and Mark is doing the exact same thing.

But it’s like God is interpreting His own words in explicit terms.

When you stop and think about what’s happening here, we’re getting to listen in on a conversation between members of the Trinity.

This Jesus is the one in whom the Trinity delights. This Jesus is the one in whom the Trinity is well pleased. I don’t know if I can say anything more about that.

I do want us to notice something – while Mark is very keen to tell us about what Jesus does as He exercises authority over darkness, death, and demons, and as He fulfils His mission through death and resurrection – at this point of the gospel account, Jesus hasn’t actually DONE anything – and yet the Father declares His delight in His Beloved Son.

The Father is delighted in His Son because His Son is His Son.

Jesus is the Beloved Son because He is the Beloved Son.

Jesus Loved and delighted in on account of who He is.

This is important for us because we are often concerned with whether God is pleased with us, whether He delights in us. And we try to answer our concerns by looking at what we are doing, we look at our disciplines, and wonder whether they’re right, or enough? We wonder whether God is pleased with our prayer, our reading and studying of the Bible, our giving, our serving. Am I DOING these things? Am I doing them right? Am I doing them enough? Have my disciplines caught His attention and gained His approval.

The Father’s love for and delight in Jesus is on the basis of who Jesus is as His only begotten Son.

If we are in Christ, if we are united to the Son of God by faith in the Son of God, then the Father sees that, and in that we are loved by the Father, and in that the Father takes great pleasure in us. Can you believe that? That the God of all Creation, whose ways and thoughts are as high above ours as the heavens are above the earth – His soul delights in us. He loves us as He loves His Son. We are His beloved. I would go so far as to suggest that God likes us, and loves to brag about us – not because of anything we’ve done – but because we are in union with His Son in whom is all delight.

May our pursuit of God through the disciplines of grace be built upon the foundation of who we are in union with Jesus Christ, and on the basis that in Him we are loved and delighted in.

So far, in the opening chapter of Mark’s gospel account, Mark has helpfully given us a series of unified testimony’s increase in intensity and authority. Mark himself testifies. The prophets testify. God the Holy Spirit testifies. God the Father testifies.

And this is the testimony – that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God.

This is who Jesus is. This is important foundations for us to lay down at the beginning of a very action packed gospel account. We do well to appreciate who Jesus is before we consider what Jesus does. We also do well to keep this reality at the fore as we explore the action packed account of Jesus mastery over darkness, demons, disease, and even death.

As we move forward to explore His works, we’ll frequently encounter the crowds asking “Who is this man?”

By spending four sermons essentially asking this question, we’ll have the advantage of knowing that this man, this Jesus is Christ the Son of God – the beloved Son of and from the Father, in whom is all delight.