Friday, May 6, 2016

"Follow Me" Preparation for Ministry

Consider how many people get paid to speculate in today’s world. Maybe you are one of them. Really speculation is giving giving an opinion about what might be true in the present or even what might happen in the future. The “experts” are usually well-informed on a particular subject but that does not mean they know what will happen, or even exactly why something has happened. Consider some of the questions of this last week? What will the economy do next? Who will my favorite football team pick in the draft? How will the public react to Target’s new bathroom policy?

Of course, Christians share their thoughts, or beliefs, on certain theologically topics as well – and the interpretations are often quite different. For instance, a topic like the Second Coming of Jesus will draw a lot of attention. Hopefully, in such a conversation, the Bible is our source, but many opinions exist over when Jesus will come, whether Christians will be on the earth when He does, and what might happen in the meantime.

But imagine if the internet had existed back in the days of Jesus (Yeshua). Imagine the speculation about who this “guy” was. The questions about His identity would have been as rampant then as some questions are in our day. But if you were a Jew, you couldn’t afford to be wrong – your very religion and culture depended on it. Was this man the Messiah? Well, that was an important issue! But was this man God? That was heresy, or so they thought. But He was. And yet He needed to be properly prepared for His ministry. This post will explore that process as recorded by Mark in verses 2-13.

A Quick Synopsis

If you want to skip the details (but there are some good ones), here is a quick snapshot which could allow you to skip down to JOURNEY.
  • John prepared the way for God to step onto the stage in the person of Yeshua.
  • Baptism was the official anointing of Yeshua as Messiah (anointed one).
  • The Spirit led Jesus to be tested, in part to show Jesus He was strong enough to be victorious, in part to show the Father that He was worthy, and in part to better identify with the challenges we often face. 

John was preparing for the Way (Mk 1.2-8)

The passage begins with a combination of Old Testament verses which Mark linked together. The verses describe one coming to prepare the way for the arrival of someone. But the texts that Mark uses clearly depict the one coming to be God. And Mark is claiming that these verses support the coming of Jesus. Of course, Mark has just claimed that Jesus is the Son of God (verse 1), and as we shall soon see, God makes the same claim from the heavens.

Now John was no more a Baptist than Jesus was a Christian. But John did baptize, and thus was the baptizer. (And Jesus/Yeshua was the Christ, not a Christian). John began his ministry near the Dead Sea but went northward at times, which is where he likely baptized Jesus. Now the idea of cleansing was not new, nor was being immersed in the water, but the way John did it was different. Remember John is from a priestly family, so he was clearly accustomed to temple practices. His baptism would have been clearly seen as a new approach compared to the temple. (Victory of God, NT Wright, 160)

But John’s way of baptism was more than about a new way, it was about repentance. The word repentance (Greek – metanoia) means “to turn” or a “change of mind.” A part of the reason John was in the desert was to have people get away from their everyday lives and the influence of the temple. His baptism, with water, was a call to turn from sin, but the baptism to come (by the Holy Spirit) was to turn to God, or as we would say Jesus. This is remarkable, because it links the one coming to God – again connecting Jesus to God as Mark had in verses 2 and 3.

The prophetic words that Mark chose were a reminder to those living in the first century that God had not spoken through the prophets for four hundred years. But this one who would prepare the way, John the baptizer, came with a message from God. Effectively John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, but he was also the first of the New Testament preachers (Life of Christ, Anderson, 103). But not only is John preaching, he is also doing something NEW – baptizing.

One more item before we leave John. In verse 7, John makes the claim that the one who will come is so much greater than he is that he is unworthy to until the sandals of Jesus. That may be true, but let me tell you how far John dug with this statement. The concept he is using here was the custom of a Gentile slave to his master. The Jews thought that the Gentiles were no better than a dog and used that word to talk about them. So, John, who was thought of very highly by most of the common people, was saying that he was less important than the slave of one of the people called dogs. And yet, John baptizes Jesus!

God is pleased with the Way (Mk 1.9-11)

The baptism of Yeshua was a critical component in His life, and it helped define the church for the rest of the 1st Century. Some people will argue that they do not need to be baptized. That is true, for the thief on the cross was not baptized. But that is the exception. Baptism does not save us, but if baptism was unimportant, why did Jesus do it? In Romans 6, Paul writes our baptism symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua. But what did His do for us? Yeshua being baptized helps us to know that He identifies with us. But this moment was critical. Let me provide you two reasons: Jesus thinks it is important. Peter thinks it is important.
  • When religious leaders questioned Jesus’ authority, He counters by referring to John baptizing, including an inference that John baptized Jesus (Mk 11.27-33).
  • Peter suggested Judas’ replacement should come from those with Jesus since His baptism (Acts 1.22).

These two statements, by Jesus and by Peter, do not need interpretation to see that John baptizing, and Jesus being baptized had a level of significance to the people of that day, and should for us as well. But let’s dig into some theology for just a second, which does mean we need to interpret this passage.

a) The Trinity is clearly present. In last week’s first post, I mentioned that Mark used the Greek word arche in verse 1 for “beginning.” This is the same word that is used in Genesis 1.1 in the Greek version of the Old Testament. Thus, we can see that the Trinity was present at Creation (based upon Genesis 1, Colossians 1, and Hebrews 1) as well as at Jesus baptism. Moreover, in the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Targums, which is what most Jews would have read in Jesus’ time), Genesis 1.2 says the Spirit fluttered like a dove over the face of the water, which is the same thing that happens here in Mark 1.10.

b) The heavens were torn open. Again, Rick mentioned this, but this is not the only time Mark uses this word (Gk – schizo). He only uses it one other time – when Jesus died and the curtain was torn in two (Mark 15.38). So, the heavens were torn open to show God’s glory upon His Son, and the curtain was torn in two in order to show God was now accessible to all man.

c) God speaks from the entire Old Testament when blessing His Son. The Jews refer to the Old Testament Scriptures as the Tanakh. The Tanakh has three parts: the Torah (books of Moses), the Writings (history, wisdom books), and the Prophets (all prophetic books). The Jews believed that anything that was found in all parts was especially important. But God not only uses all three parts, He interweaves them into one congruent statement, showing the His Son, Yeshua, fulfills all of the previous writings.

Artwork from the church at the
home of John the baptizer
erroneously showing
Jesus being sprinkled

d) The truth about baptism. The word baptism is a transliteration of the Greek. The verb root is baptizo which means to “dip fully, plunge, or immerse.” The Hebrew word is tabal which also means to fully immerse. Unfortunately, many depictions of Jesus’ baptism show a sprinkling or pouring (both of which have Greek words, but were not used). The mode of baptism may be secondary to the act of baptism, but if Jesus was immersed, I do not understand why some teach otherwise?

Additionally, Scripture says that Jesus came up out of the water, which some say is like climbing out of the pool, but there is much more to this. However, let me just show you how Mark juxtaposed two ideas here. First, I must explain that the word translated “on” in most translations can be translated “in” or “into” as well. The Greek word is “eis” and here is translated as “the Spirit descended on Him.”  But I think “into” fits better here. If we use into, we see that Jesus came out of the water and the Spirit came “into” Him (cf. John 3), leading Jesus “into” the wilderness.

Moving away from the theology, let me just say that: The baptism is a very significant moment in the life and ministry of Jesus. The empowerment by the Spirit to be God’s Servant, and the declaration from heaven, “‘You are my Son,’” enable Jesus not only to speak and act for God but as God. And with that we move to the next point.

Yeshua proved He is the Way (Mk 1.12-13)

Moving to the next set of verses (verses 11 and 12) most readers are distracted by the headings included in many bibles. No such separation was intended by Mark who reveals what the the Spirit does next – He drove Jesus into the wilderness. The word “drove” is the same word for when Jesus drives demons out of people. The Spirit that empowers the Son for ministry now tests him to determine whether he will use his divine Son-ship for his own advantage or submit himself in obedience to God.

Jesus undergoes three temptations (“tested” would be a better understanding) – one each based on 1 John 2.15-17. But it wasn’t just Jesus that was tempted in this way, we all are. And it began with Adam. It is interesting to note that immediately after the Triune God completes the work at Creation and calls it very good, a temptation ensues (Genesis 3. And then, immediately following the Triune God being reveals at the baptism, temptation ensures (Matthew 4; Mark 1; Luke 4;  John 1).

The challenges for Jesus were physical (e.g. the wild animals) and spiritual (the wilderness was often considered a place of demons, and Satan is present). As I mentioned last week, Mark was written to the Romans, so it is likely that the idea of the wild animals is an allusion to the challenges Christians in Mark’s day faced when being fed to the animals for sport, especially under the reign of Nero.

Ultimately, Jesus had to be tested (James 1 says God tempts no one) to know who He was before He could call others to do the work. Likewise, in a few verses, which we will review next week, we will see the disciples being called, and they had to learn who Jesus was before they were willing to do the work.


And that is why our JOURNEY letter for this week is: N - Nurture.

As we nurture one another – in both faith and service, we are blessed with partners in ministry, others are blessed by being involved in ministering, and God is blessed because His church is fulfilling its purpose in making disciples.


Opportunity: Seize the opportunity that God has given you. That little excuse you hear is Satan tempting you (usually successfully) to not get involved, not follow through on your God-given call.

So, what about our next steps?

LEARN God’s truths. Matthew’s account provides details about the time of testing showing Jesus defeated Satan by knowing the Word of God. Take some time to learn from Scripture this week because Satan will try to disrupt you from living out God’s plan for your life.

LIVE obediently. Again, Matthew provides a detail about Jesus’ baptism that Mark omits (different purpose in writing). Matt 3.15 says His baptism fulfills all righteousness. Obedience cannot take short-cuts. Jesus did not really need to be baptized, but He was because God wanted Him to be. We, too, must live obediently to God and His Word.

LOVE your role. John had become prominent in position. He had the ear of the people, but he realized that He was not the Messiah. He was the one to help the people be prepared for His coming. When the time came, he graciously did his part without complaint.

LEAD expectantly. John did not know when Yeshua would come, but His message was that He would come, and the people need to 1) be ready and 2) know something greater await.

(LEAVE) room for Jesus. The apostle John writes in John 3.30 about the words of John the baptizer, who said, “He must increase; I must decrease.”  John had an important role. But ultimately Jesus had to be the key person, so John had to step aside (leave, he was actually arrested) in order for that to happen.

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