“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. As soon as He came up out of the water, He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending to Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: You are My beloved Son; I take delight in You! Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness 40 days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and the angels began to serve Him.” (Mark 1:9-13 HCSB)
Have you ever faced a situation or circumstance in which you didn’t know which way to go? Left or right? This choice or that choice? You do a search for the best route to some location and Google returns several choices with similar ETAs or mileage to the destination – but which one do you choose? I generally choose the route with the fewest number of turns or the route I’m most familiar with. Sometimes the choices aren’t as simple and seem to be equally bad or equally good and it is simply hard to decide between them. What happens when the morally good or right choice is very obvious but your desire is to choose the other because it might benefit you, in some way? You might think this only happens in politics, but that’s not true.
We are often faced with choices in which one choice is God-honoring and the other is self-benefiting. Facing situations where one choice is morally right and the other is expedient is not new. It is as old as mankind and as ancient as time itself. We all face them and we must all decide. Right or wrong? Me or them? God or self?
I think one of the hardest things for a pastor to do is to admit he doesn’t know the answer to a question he’s asked or that he doesn’t understand a passage he is studying. One of the reasons that I have chosen, in recent years, to study through entire books of the Bible is due to the rigor it requires and questions it poses and the answers it elicits. This process forces me into passages and questions that I might otherwise avoid. One of those, for me, is in the passage we face today. Why was it necessary that Jesus submit himself to John for baptism? Well, stick with me and let’s see if we can dig down and find an answer…
As you’ll recall from last week, John tells the crowd that someone is coming after him who is greater than he is and whose sandal he’s unworthy to tie/untie. He’s simply come to prepare “the way” because “I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark immediately follows that statement with “In those days Jesus came…” This phrase, “in those days”, is found throughout the Old Testament and is used as a means of introducing a time when God was about to intervene and change Israel’s direction and future. This is certainly one of those times. John said someone more powerful would come and baptize with the Holy Spirit, then Mark tells us, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John.”
Don’t forget, this was all occurring in the wilderness and John had come in the image of the Old Testament prophet – Elijah – wearing camel’s hair, a leather belt and eating locust and wild honey. It is in the wilderness that Israel comes to grips with who God is, what He demands and where He is leading His people: into the “way” of repentance of sin, obedience and relationship with Him. So, this is where my personal struggle with Jesus’ baptism had consistently surfaced, in the past. John’s baptism is a baptism of repentance and, yet, Jesus insists that He must be baptized by John (as recorded by Matthew 3:14-15). I tend to be very simplistic in my understanding and I just couldn’t understand why Jesus would need to be baptized by John unto repentance. But Mark’s reference to the “wilderness” finally sank in as I studied and read corresponding passages in the Old Testament.
The wilderness reference is obviously a reference to the Exodus, as I pointed out last week, but catch this: “Then you will say to Pharaoh: This is what Yahweh says: Israel is My firstborn son. I told you: Let My son go so that he may worship Me…” (Exodus 4:22-23a HCSB) In the Exodus, God was leading His “son” into the wilderness for a time of testing, cleansing, repentance, faith, worship and fellowship in preparation for the journey into God’s promised presence, peace, rest and blessings. Israel failed to find God’s peace, rest and blessings due to his failure to repent of his sin and submit to obedience. None of this was surprising to God and His eternal plan of redemption was already in place and in motion. Now, skip forward to John’s appearance on the scene calling Israel to repentance before God and Jesus goes out to be baptized – God’s firstborn, unique and only Son.
Anyone who is somewhat familiar with Christian doctrine knows that the basic premise is that Jesus is representative of the human race, the second Adam, and takes upon Himself mankind’s sin on the cross. Let this thought and understanding sink in, that didn’t happen at the moment of the cross and Jesus’ death. No, this was set in motion and happened before time began – in eternity past. God wasn’t sitting back watching the Egyptian Exodus unfold and thinking to Himself, “Well, that didn’t go as I planned. I guess I’ll have to come up with a different way to do this. Hey, Jesus! Come over here. Have I got a job for you.” Nope, Jesus WAS the plan before He even spoke the universe and time into existence.
So, Jesus’ baptism is where His “sonship” becomes apparent and this earthly, historical process of taking our sin upon Himself and leading us into obedience, into the wilderness testing, and into submission before God and faith in Him becomes humanly visible. There’s much more going on here than just Jesus aligning Himself with John’s teaching and preaching. Not convinced? Notice the next verse:
“As soon as He came up out of the water, He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending [in]to Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: You are My beloved Son; I take delight in You!” (Mark 1:10-11 HCSB)
Mark stresses the immediacy of the following events, “as soon as He came up out of the water…” What happens next? The heavens ripped open and the Spirit descending into Jesus is in response to His submission to John’s baptism of repentance. Mark’s words are not just intended to draw attention to the timing and relationship but also to EMPHASIZE their result – the heavens were split/torn open and the Spirit descended into Him. Mark bookends his story with two distinct times the heavens are ripped open, here and when the veil of the Temple is ripped open in Mark 15:37-39 and both identified Him as the Son of God. [Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that the temple veil was inscribed or embroidered with “all the heavenly spectacle, except the Zodiac.”]
“But Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed His last. Then the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom. When the centurion, who was standing opposite Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, “This man really was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:37-39 HCSB)
*Note: there’s one more time when the heavens will be torn open to reveal the Son of God – at His second coming. This will be the final and consummate act of revealing Jesus’ identity as God’s Son!
Next, notice that the Spirit descended into Him like a dove and God responded. While those present were unable to see these things, Jesus saw the Spirit descending into Him. While the specific symbolism to a dove is unclear, there’s no doubt as to the Spirit’s intent – God’s power and Spirit not just temporarily coming upon Him but eternally indwelling Jesus and confirmed by a voice from heaven: “You are My beloved Son; I take delight in You!”
First, the power and presence of God indwelling Jesus results in actions later in the Mark’s story that set Him apart from anyone else. He doesn’t reason and act like other men, He’s unique and very different. So different, His actions are even attributed to Beelzebub and his family believes He’s gone insane (see Mark 3). However, Mark gives us (his readers) insight into His identity and the source of His actions, He’s the Son of God who is inhabited by and driven by God’s Spirit even as He has taken on the “identity” of God’s true sons/people. Next, God expresses His pleasure in Jesus’ actions and obedience. Repentance and obedience to God always results in God’s pleasure and Him taking delight in you. To believe and surrender to this truth is to receive the remission of our sins by grace through faith and to be given the ability to truly become sons of God and enjoy His pleasure (see John 1:9-18).
“This is My Servant; I strengthen Him, this is My Chosen One; I delight in Him. I have put My Spirit on Him; He will bring justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:1 HCSB)
Finally, the Spirit immediately “drove” or compelled or, quite literally, threw Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days of testing and temptation. While Mark doesn’t give us specifics regarding Jesus’ time in the wilderness, He doesn’t need to. His point has already been made, Jesus is fully submissive to God’s will, fully obedient to God’s commands and fully inhabited by God’s Spirit and the wilderness experience will only bear out those truths. Some think the reference to the “wild animals” is a reference to the new earth when the wild beast will lie down with the lamb, but that doesn’t seem to fit this context. It seems to better fit the danger and temptations He faced in the wilderness but overcame through obedience to God and His Word and His submission to God’s Spirit.
This is one of those areas of Christian discipleship where we balk and often stumble. If fact, it is in this idea of being “thrown” into the wilderness that so much non-Christian teaching gets introduced into the church. There’s a branch of “religious” belief and teaching (I intentionally avoid calling it Christian teaching for specific reasons) that preaches against a wilderness experience for the people of God. In other words, God wants you to experience perfect health, an abundance of wealth, and for all of your deepest desires to be fulfilled. Let me state very clearly and emphatically, this is not the truth of God but a lie of Satan. If Satan can get us focused on our own desires, the accumulation of personal wealth and the pursuit of physical health then he can distract us from our true purpose: service to God and His will. I simply can’t say it better than Jesus did:
“This is why I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add a single cubit to his height by worrying? And why do you worry about clothes? Learn how the wildflowers of the field grow: they don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these! If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t He do much more for you — you of little faith? So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat? ’ or ‘What will we drink? ’ or ‘What will we wear? ’ For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-34 HCSB)
In conclusion, did you catch what I said about how people responded to Jesus being led by God’s Spirit? Some thought He was acting on behalf of the prince of demons and his family thought He had gone crazy. If we begin to act in the same way and are compelled by God’s Spirit into full obedience, some folks are going to respond in similar way. That’s crazy! What are you doing? That’s not God, that’s evil, that’s demonic, that’s plain heresy. However, we often act in a way that is intended to elicit the response we desire. We do what they want so that we gain and retain their support. We say what people want to hear because we seek their approval and praise.
Instead, step down into the water and be completely overwhelmed by it. Cry out in repentance before Him and let Him wash you clean with His redemption and forgiveness. Let the presence and power of God’s Spirit overpower you, indwell you and throw you into the wilderness in absolute obedience as God tests you, and Satan tempts you and your faith is refined and strengthened. Why? Because God wants to do something new in you…
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 HCSB)