Last week we finished the book of Judges with the words “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” And this week, in many ways, we pick up exactly where Judges left us. The end of Judges left us without a King—this week Mark introduces us to the King. This is a new beginning. In the Garden of Eden there was a beginning which resulted in sin and death. But now we have a second beginning. This one results in sins being forgiven and everlasting life.
Mark’s not like the other gospels. It’s the shortest. It only has 16 chapters compared with 28 in Matthew, 24 in Luke, and 21 in John and it moves at a faster pace.
It doesn’t begin like the other gospels either. It leaves out the genealogies and gets right to the heart of the gospel.
But even though Mark moves along at a fast pace, and in some places he sounds like a reporter, his purpose is more than just the relating facts.
Mark, through the whole book, wants us to know who God is.
At the end, in Mark 15:39, the centurion cries out “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
In the middle, in Mark 8:29, Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
And in the beginning it’s what he wants us to know, too.
1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,
Mark doesn't begin with a genealogy; he begins with telling us the gospel is about the person Jesus.
The church I was a part of as a kid made a big deal that the gospel was not about the person of Jesus but about his message. They were wrong. Yes, his message is important but if you don’t know the messenger, his message isn’t going to make much sense.
If I came up and told you your car’s going to fall apart soon, you might give it some thought but you probably wouldn’t pay much attention to me. But if your mechanic, who knows all about your car, tells you it’s about to die you had better listen.
Jesus is the Son of God. He’s the King. He’s the Messiah. He’s the One who created everything, and knows everything about you. The gospel is good news only because of who Jesus is.
So at the core this book is about who Jesus is and we’re told who he is in the very first verse of the introduction. He’s the Son of God.
The structure of this introduction, the first 15 verses, is divided into 2 parts. The first, in verses 1-8, is about John who prepared the way for Jesus. The second, in verses 9-15, is about Jesus, himself. Each of these two sections is further divided into three parallel parts.
First, there’s the word from the Lord. Second, there’s the purpose and function of each person, and third there’s the message they gave.
John’s Word from the Lord
2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” — 3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
This is God’s Word about John. Mark wants to make it clear, before he makes it clear who Jesus is, that John is a prophet who speaks with God’s authority.
So he summarizes three different verses in the OT. “I will send my messenger ahead of you” comes from Exodus 23:20. “Who will prepare your way” comes from Malachi 3:1. And the third, and longest quote, comes from Isaiah 40:3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him”.
What all three of these verses have in common is they all speak of John coming to do the final preparation before Jesus begins his ministry. Mark’s saying John’s the one the prophets spoke of to bridge the gap between the Old and New Testaments.
That’s why Mark mentions his clothes in verse 6. “John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.”
That’s how Elijah dressed (2 Kings 1:8). John was a prophet in the spirit of Elijah.
So John’s was introduced with a Word from the Lord. He comes with the authority as a prophet from God. In fact, Matthew calls him the greatest prophet (Matt. 11:9-11).
But what was John’s purpose and function in regards to this final preparation God’s Word spoke of?
John's Purpose and Function
4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
John the Baptist’s purpose was to preach a baptism of repentance.
This is similar to what Peter told the early church in Acts 2:38 “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”
But John’s baptism isn’t exactly the same as Christian baptism. Those John baptized looked forward to the coming of a person who would save them while Christians look back knowing who that person is. That’s a big difference. Having Jesus in the present is immeasurably better than just looking forward to having him.
Christian Baptism is something we receive as a sign of God’s promise to forgive our sins, change our hearts, and make us one with Christ.
John’s baptism was similar to Christian baptism but not quite the same because they didn’t yet have Jesus. They were preparing for him but he hadn’t started his ministry yet.
That’s why we read in Acts 19:3 “So Paul asked, Then what baptism did you receive? John’s baptism, they replied. Paul said, John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus. On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
So John’s baptism wasn’t the same as Christian baptism. Both included repentance and forgiveness but the big difference is Jesus.
Is it a sin not to be baptized? Yes, because we are commanded to be baptized (Acts 2:38). But neither does baptism save us. We are saved by grace through faith with repentance being the evidence we have faith (Eph 2). There’s a lot more that could be said on this subject and if you would like to know more please talk with me.
So John’s purpose was to prepare people for the Lord by encouraging them to repent and be baptized. More specifically, what was his message?
7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
John's message pointed people to Jesus, not to himself. He didn’t want them to get hung up on his baptism. It was Jesus’ baptism that mattered.
And they should listen to Jesus because of who he is. Jesus wore sandals because he’s human but he’s also the son of God and we aren’t worthy to untie them.
John could baptize with water but Jesus could baptize with the Holy Spirit (see Isa. 32:15; 44:3; Ezek. 11:18–19; Joel 2:28). That’s why we should listen to him.
So that’s the message John preached. It was a message that pointed and prepared for Jesus, the Son of God. It’s good to prepare for his arrival but it’s even better to actually have him. So logically, we would expect to be introduced to Jesus next. And we are.
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.
With these words Jesus fulfills Isaiah 64:1 “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!”
Heaven’s been opened and the entire Trinity is present. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As Jesus came out of the water God the Spirit sent his approval by descending upon him like a dove.
Just like in Noah’s day judgment upon the world came to an end with the Dove’s appearance and we were assured of a new beginning. There’s hope once again for the world!
Now, why was Jesus baptized by John? Jesus hadn’t sinned. He didn’t need forgiveness.
“To fulfill all righteousness” is what Matthew tells us in his gospel (3:15).
What Matthew means is that by submitting himself to baptism Jesus indicated how he was going to save. Not with military might, not with the sword, but by standing in water that's been polluted with our sins and by allowing that same water to wash over him. He was going to save by sacrificing himself so we could be counted as righteous.
Jesus fulfilled all righteousness by being baptized.
Romans 8:3 He “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Jesus came to bear the sins of men, to have God’s wrath poured upon Him, so we could receive forgiveness and salvation. So we could be declared righteous.
Mark makes this even clearer in chapter 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
So we are introduced to Jesus with his baptism. It served as a public display of who he is and what he came to do. He came to stand where sinners stand and receive what they deserve. And the Godhead approves with a word from the Lord.
Jesus’ Word from the Lord
11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
This word from the Lord is a summary of three OT verses.
Gen. 22:2 Then God said to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
Psa. 2:7 I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.
Isa. 42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.
God’s Word had spoken and said he approves of the plan. He’s pleased with Jesus’ baptism and the plan to offer himself as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin.
This lead’s us to…
Jesus' Purpose and Function
12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
The battle had begun. Jesus was sent into a world of temptation and evil to overcome them. Mark is the only one of the gospel writers to mention "wild animals." Adam, in the garden had tame animals. Jesus though, as the second Adam, was sent into a wilderness with wild animals.
The world Jesus came into wasn’t as he created it. It was fallen. It was broken. It was a world of temptation and evil. But he came to conquer it all and make things right. This was his purpose. Everyday he fulfilled his purpose right up to the Cross. And in doing so he establishes his kingdom.
This, the kingdom, is what Jesus’ message was about.
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
When Jesus preached “The kingdom of God has come near” he primarily spoke of an activity not so much of a place. And that activity is primarily God's personal rule over his people.
So with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry life can't just continue on as before. People must respond to what’s occurred. And that response, Jesus says first of all, is to repent! Now that the King is present change the way you're living.
Someone who knows all about you has just walked into the room. Now is the time to fess up before it’s too late.
But that's not enough. Jesus also says to believe. These two things always go together. A person can't genuinely believe if he doesn't repent. And a person can't genuinely repent if he doesn't have faith.
And how does this happen? The King rules over us. He establishes his kingdom in our hearts. He changes our hearts and enables us to repent and believe. This indeed is good news.