Introduction: Mark looks at this opening narrative as the “Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
- How is this the case? It is not the beginning absolutely, for it existed in the counsel of God within his own eternity in the eternal covenant of redemption (Titus 1:1,2; 2 Timothy 1:9). Nor is he referring to its beginning in time, for that occurred with the impregnation of Mary by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). He refers to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in which he gradually would unfold who he was , and for what purpose he had come. While the gospel is indeed a message (and Jesus preached it even before he had accomplished it-Mark 1:15), it is also the accumulation of a necessary number of historical events by which sinners may be saved. The gospel consists of these historical events for without them there would be no salvation (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:2-4). Though many other things happened in preparation for this, Mark starts his narrative with the public events that led with unbroken connections and ever-increasing speed to the crucifixion.
- He gives the name and the canonical title. He is Jesus, the child born of Mary, who lived in Nazareth. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one who would bring to perfect fulfillment all the prophecies about an eternal king, a final prophet, a perfect priest and sacrifice, and the ultimate Deliverer.
- He calls him the Son of God. This title constitutes the first confession given after the death of Jesus (Mark 15:39). One of the aspects so prominent in Mark’s narrative is the power Jesus had over all things—nature, sickness, demons, and the entire moral sphere. His power as well as his authority truly was divine. In the final words to his disciples Jesus said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).
I. The Forerunner
A. Prophecy about the prophet. Mark cites Malachi 3:1 (quoted by Jesus in Luke 7:27) as an introductory phrase and completes the prophetic citation with from Isaiah 40:3. This shows that the Old Testament prophets concurred in their prediction about a forerunner, a preparer of the way. By divine revelation, they established an expectation that the Messiah’s appearance would be anticipated by one who would preach with power and conviction a preparatory message. He would not dwell among the rich or the soft but would raise his voice in “the wilderness.” Jesus pointed to John as a “burning and shining light” and one of the four witnesses that converged to make his own messianic status certain (John 5: 31-47). He served as a constant witness, even after his execution by Herod, throughout the ministry of Jesus for “everything that John spoke about this Man [Jesus] were true” (John 10:41). See Luke 20:1-8.
B. The Prophet’s proclamation. Mark pointed out that John appeared in “the wilderness” in direct fulfillment of prophecy.
- John was preaching “a baptism.” This indicates that God had given him a public mark of physical identification with his message. This mark would then be perpetuated by Jesus in his earthly ministry and would be continued as a sign throughout this present age (Matthew 28:19) as a sign of publication identification with Jesus in his work of redemption accomplished by death, burial, and resurrection.
- The baptism was not in itself efficacious for salvation but indicated the state of the heart. Baptism was given to those who knew that their sins held them under condemnation and they needed forgiveness. They repented, therefore, in order to receive forgiveness of sins and then received baptism at the hands of John in confirmation of his message. His father Zechariah had prophesied about him at his birth, “You child will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God” (Luke 1:76-78). Jesus referred to this reality in Mathew 21:30-32 when he pointed out that “tax-collectors and harlots” came to John upon hearing his message about “the way of righteousness” and would enter “the kingdom of God” before all who sought to find their righteousness in themselves. (verses 4, 5).
- John’s rugged appearance, simple clothes, and natural diet showed that he did not court the high opinion of any sector of society but focused only on his task of proclamation. The only attraction found in him was his message. Jesus pointed to John’s ascetic simplicity (Matthew 11:18) as a reason that the proud took offense at him. Jesus indicated that if people had understood the prophets they would have known to expect no “reed shaken by the wind” nor a man “clothed in soft garments.” This prophet must stand against the hypocrisy of his age and give himself no hope of comfort. (Luke 7:24-27).
- He knew clearly that he came only to set the stage for another who was mightier and more worthy than he. Also, the one to whom John pointed would have the power and prerogative not only to call for repentance but to grant the work of the Spirit by which transformation of soul would take place. (verses 7, 8) As the narrative unfolds we see more of the magnitude of each of these statements. Jesus not only is mightier, but, as God, is omnipotent; not only is worthier, but is the Holy One worthy of all worship; not only baptizes with the Spirit, but is of one essence with the Spirit and sends Him from the Father (John 15:26).
II. The Prophesied Messiah
A. Baptized by John. Why was Jesus baptized with a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins?” He was not sinful, either in disposition or commission, and needed no repentance. This submission to John’s baptism showed that Jesus was in full harmony with the message of John and was indeed its perfect fulfillment. The promise of forgiveness on the event of repentance is possible only through the work of Christ. In this act he identified with his people’s need for repentance and forgiveness; in his death on the cross he identified with them as their perfect substitute, dying the just for the unjust. As one who had no personal obligation to suffer for sins, nevertheless, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement that gave us peace fell upon him. As one who needs no repentance, he embraced and identified his entire being with the veracity of John’s message.
B. Baptized by the Spirit. When the Spirit descended on him, this was a testimony to three things.
- First, this marked Jesus out as the anointed one, the Messiah. Every work for which spiritual blessing and power was needed (the symbol invested in anointing with oil) would be accomplished by Jesus.
- Second, it showed that God had given Jesus the sustaining power of the Spirit up to this point and would now bless him with unstinted operations of the Spirit. As John the Baptist testified, “He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure” (John 3:34). In the mystery of the incarnation, the Son of God was sent. Already co-eternal and of the same divine essence as the Spirit, and having the Spirit proceed from Him in an eternal reciprocity of love with the Father, now as Jesus of Nazareth the Son of man, he is given the Spirit in an unmeasured way that in his humanity he might still speak the words of God and do the works of God, not only in his intrinsic authority (cf. 2:10) but as energized by the Holy Spirit (3:27-30; Matthew 12:28).
- Though in his person, Jesus was impeccable as Son of God immutably holy, yet in his humanity he must persevere in obedience in the power of the Spirit. (1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 9:14). He would present himself as a blameless sacrifice, unwaveringly righteous, who “knew no sin” and this would be accomplished
C. Sonship assured. The Father spoke from heaven addressing Jesus, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” He makes the statement again in the midst of a display of heavenly glory (9:7). This Sonship is a consistent theme through Mark. The demons knew it (1:34; 3:11; 5:7). Jesus confessed it before his death (14:62). In the first confession after his death, the Centurion recognized it (15:39).
III. The Wilderness Work. Amazingly, the Spirit who just had descended on Jesus as an anointing for his messianic work compelled him into the wilderness to confront his ancient foe whose single goal was to cause the failure of the mission of the Son of God. This was necessary, for Jesus must be tempted in all points even as we are, yet, even with their extremity, without sin.
A. In the fallen natural world subjected to vanity. Into this desolate place the Spirit drove him. Jesus submitted himself to a place in which the vanity of the natural world as an expression of the curse of the Fall of Adam would be at its most distressing.
B. With the chief of the fallen angels. The Devil who hadrebelled in heaven (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6), and had corrupted the purity of the Edenic paradise by his deceit (Genesis 3:4, 5; 2 Corinthians 11:3), now comes also to the wilderness to take on the Son of God (Matthew 4:3, 6) in order to render God’s eternal covenant an absolute failure. The devil would come to Jesus at other seasons also even to the end, trying different schemes to bring this mission of redemption to failure (Mark 8:32, 33; John 13:26, 27)
C. With wild animals who also manifest the reality of the fall. Jesus was with his own creatures who had lost their highest perfection, that is, “loving obedience to man” [John Wesley]. Only a few domestic animals maintain thattemperament, and then only in part. Others live in “savage fierceness [and] unrelenting cruelty.” Many creatures on land, in the sea, and in the air “tear the flesh, suck the blood, and crush the bones of their helpless fellow creatures.” Even the “innocent songsters of the groves” devour “innumerable tribes of poor insects” including the “painted butterfly.” There is hardly any form of life in the sea that does maintain its own life at the expense of another. Only after the flood was animal life made a fair source of food for humans.
D. Granted the ministry of angels, he was given sustaining aid by those to whom he was intrinsically superior (Hebrews 1:13, 14). Now as a man under temptation Jess must be ministered to by those who in heaven constantly proclaimed his holiness, his infinite glory, and his sovereign prerogative over all things.
E. Among all these other beings, Jesus was the only man given the task of reversing the fall and bringing in justice in the context of mercy. By this tempted one, subjected to the full force of the fallenness of this world, would a new heaven and new earth emerge and a place wherein dwelleth righteousness be inhabited by all the redeemed of all the ages. (2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21:22 – 22:5).
IV. Jesus Preaching
A. The initial witness removed –John the Baptist arrested and killed. Details of this are told in other places (Matthew 4:12; 11:2; Mark 6:14-25; Luke 9:7-9). When Jesus heard of this action, he moved to a place far north of Jerusalem, away from Herod and the religious leaders of the Jews. He went there to preach. From those who heard him, he would begin the process of calling his disciples.
B. The Message Jesus preached
- The gospel of God—This means that God has begun the fulfillment of his promise to pardon iniquity and provide a perfectly fit payment for transgressions (Isaiah 40:1, 2). Though we are weak and subject to destruction at any moment, the word of the Lord to grant redemption will not fail (Isaiah 40:6-8).
- The time is fulfilled–Paul wrote that “In the fulness of time, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoptions as sons” (Galatians 4:4, 5). However God determined the “fullness of time,” it had arrived in the appearance of Jesus as the son of a virgin, but now in particular in the inauguration of his public ministry and in the proclamation from his own lips that God is fulfilling his gospel.
- The kingdom of God is at hand—The book of Hebrews begins with the announcement that Jesus’ coming inaugurated the “last days” culminating in the subjection of all things to him in the company of a redeemed community. (Hebrews 1:2-4, 13, 14). Jesus’ affirmed that it is so.
- Repent. Just as John the Baptist had announced, this appearing of the Messiah would not involve the immediate subjection of all things to him, but must be preceded by a work of redemption and spiritual transformation. Without repentance, there would be no kingdom. True evangelical repentance includes a turning to Christ as well as a turn from sin. This is why Peter can speak of God’s determined patience in terms of wanting “all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:10). The early church rejoiced when they heard of the response of the Gentiles saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18) Note that Peter’s message concluded with the words, “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). A saving response may be referred to as repentance or faith when we are assured that the one includes the other.
- Believe the gospel. If one repents, therefore, in a way that sees sin in its true dimensions, he will yearn for the gospel of forgiveness through Christ. A true call to salvation involves both of these, for it is “a work of God’s Spirit, whereby a sinner, out of true sense of his sin and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God with full purpose of and endeavor after new obedience.”
V. Jesus Calls Disciples. Jesus had been preaching in Galilee about the kingdom, repentance, and the gospel. Now he isolates several men who obviously had been hearing him preach and calls them to be his followers and learn from him. They realize, because of the prophetic fulfillment and eternal relevance of his message, that this call supersedes in importance any earthly vocation they could pursue. So, four fishermen, two sets of brothers, were selected to follow him throughout his ministry. Immediately they begin to see the eschatological importance and unrivaled knowledge and power of this one who has called them.
VI. The Kingdom of God Among us
A. He taught with authority as if he had first hand knowledge of all the Scriptures (21, 22).
B. He demonstrated power over demons. (23-27)
C. He healed all manner of diseases. (29-34; 40-41).