Mark 1:1-13.

Jesus' Authority to Call Disciples

         January 26, 2003                       2003, J.W. Carter              Scripture quotes from KJV

Mark 1:1.

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;

The first thirteen verses of the Gospel of Mark are its introduction. In it we are introduced to Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. We find Him, not as a child as in the Gospels of Matthew or Luke, but rather as an adult who is introduced to us as the Messiah. It is interesting that the Gospel starts with the statement of the beginning of the gospel that uses a word for "beginning" that refers to something that is new where its consummation is yet to come. It is a process that is beginning at a time when the people to whom he writes think that everything of spiritual import has come to an end.

Up to this point the city of Jerusalem has fallen, the church has been scattered, and the gospel is being spread by believers who are led by the apostles. Little has been written down. The churches are using some of the letters written by the apostles (including Paul), but no single reference to the gospel is in common use. Much error was propagated by unwitting (and willful) ignorance. It is at this time that the writers of the gospel of Mark, Matthew and Luke presented the church with their perspective of their faith in order to establish a foundation of truth for the church to learn. Mark's approach is unique, as Jesus is introduced the same way he is presented throughout the text up to its end: Jesus is the Son of God.

This introduction from verses 1 through 13 establishes for us who Jesus is, and why He has the authority to be who he is.

Mark 1:2-3.

As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. 3The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

Mark starts his introduction by quoting from two Old Testament prophets, the first in verse 2 is from Malachi 3:1, and the second in verse 3 is from Isaiah 40:3. This form of introduction is profound. These two prophets wrote over 400 years before the coming of Christ, and following their prophesies a period of spiritual darkness enshrouded the Jews. As Ezekiel prophesied, the glory of God that had been present with them since their exodus from Egypt had departed, the pillar of fire over the temple had vanished, and God no more spoke to his people through prophets.

The Gospel of Luke records the return of God's Glory in Chapter 2. This is how both Matthew and Luke introduce the gospel. Mark jumps directly to the introduction of the Messiah that the prophets spoke of. He starts with the introduction of John the Baptist as the one who would be the messenger to be the one to prepare the way.

The words translated "make straight paths" was an idiom that referred, not to bulldozing and creating straight roads, but rather for the people to cleanse themselves as appropriate to prepare for a coming king. Those Jewish scholars who had studied the scriptures should recognize the one who is coming to make the paths straight, and Mark’s pointing to John first is an appropriate apologetic to convince the Jews of Jesus’ proper place as the long-awaited messiah.

Mark 1:4-5.

John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 5And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.

What was the task appointed to John the Baptist? (To make the paths straight.) John was described by Luke as one who was filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. This spirit caused him to leap in his mother’s womb at the news of the conception of the Messiah. Baptism was not an uncommon event in their day. It was common for non-Jews who convert to Judaism to baptize themselves. It was uncommon, however, for any person to baptize another. That’s why John’s baptism of repentance was unique. Baptism itself was a testimony that one had acknowledged God’s authority and their sin that was exposed by it, they had confessed that sin, and were announcing the forgiveness they had received.

This latter testimony was profoundly controversial since the only way people could be forgiven under the Jewish law was through sacrifice, and even then forgiveness was provided only for sins of error. There was no form of forgiveness for willful sins.

Why, do you suppose, John’s ministry took place in the desert region around Jerusalem rather than in Jerusalem itself? His message was in perfect agreement with the Law and the Prophets, but was in conflict with the religious theology of the day. As long as he stayed away from Jerusalem he was safe from the danger of attack by the religious leaders who were long on talk, but lacked the commitment to take the trouble of going out into the wilderness to find John. Ultimately John did leave the wilderness, was arrested by Herod, and was martyred.

Mark 1:6-8.

And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; 7And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. 8I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.

Mark’s description of John describes the camel hair clothing of a desert nomad. However, the leather belt that is described is an allusion to Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). Also, locusts were listed among the clean foods (Lev. 11:20-23.) This identifies John as righteous under the law, as a Nazirite, and as a prophet.

After 400 years of silence, the people would highly venerate the presence of a prophet. However, rather than accept this acclaim, John was a true prophet and was called not to point to himself, but rather to point to the coming Messiah of whom all had been awaiting for so long. He describes his worth as compared with the Messiah’s in a subtle way. The tying of the thongs of a master’s sandals was a task considered so menial that even slaves were not expected to do it. John was making a powerful statement about who the one who is coming would be. Only one individual could be so much greater than a prophet. That individual is the Messiah.

The people also had an understanding about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is described throughout the Old Testament as the power through which God does His mighty works. They were familiar with the Spirit’s being bestowed upon prophets and individuals, and as often as not, the Spirit was taken away after the individual rejected His prompting. To be baptized with the Holy Spirit is a unique and powerful blessing. To be baptized means to be immersed, and John was telling people that, just as they were being immersed in this water, the one who is coming would immerse them in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Mark 1:9-11.

And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. 10And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: 11And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Why did John baptize Jesus? John’s baptism was a testimony of repentance from sin, and Jesus had never sinned. When Jesus approached John, John declared to the people that Jesus was the Messiah and when Jesus approached him requesting baptism, John was very confused. At first John rebelled, (Matt. 3:13) not understanding what Jesus was doing, but when he relented and allowed Jesus to submit to John’s baptism, something quite unexpected happened. What was it? At this point Jesus was empowered to enter the ministry as the Messiah. Jesus saw heaven open and the Holy Spirit as a person of God descend upon him. The scriptures describe the descent similar to that of a dove, a soft, silent, and pure descent. It is uncertain as to whether anyone else saw the event, since the gospel writers only identify Jesus as having the vision. Had the people and John seen the event, that miraculous sight would have created an immediate following.

Up to this point, Jesus’ coming as the Messiah had been prophesied, and even John had submitted himself to Jesus. Now, with the event of the baptism, God Himself pointed to Jesus as the Messiah. Ever since that event people have tried to describe Jesus as a great teacher and prophet. Few people reject the fact that Jesus existed. However, two events, the baptism and the transfiguration, were unique in that they were points when God, the creator, pointed to Jesus as the Messiah. These singular events lift Jesus from the position of any man before or after. Jesus was God’s Anointed One, the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Lords, the One who’s Kingdom would have no end.

Even John the Baptist would never fully realize this truth. Even he had doubts immediately before his death as to whether his prophesy was correct. It was God who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. The baptism validated John’s ministry and established Jesus as the Messiah.

This is why Mark starts his gospel at this point. He is presenting the Messiah to the people. He is presenting the One who is to become, through faith, the highest authority in their lives.

Mark 1:12-13.

And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness. 13And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.

Mark closes his introduction with a short account of Jesus’ preparation for his position of Messiah during his forty-day fast in the wilderness. We might think of a forty day getaway in the wilderness as a time of rest and leisure. This is not the case for the Palestinian region of 2000 years ago. The desert was dry, desolate, and dangerous. It often protected prophets from the persecution of the people. However, it contained dangers itself that would necessitate great faith in God. The other Gospel writers filled in many of the details of Jesus’ temptation there. Mark, as with many of the events of Jesus’ ministry, presents an important summary that makes its purpose plain. Jesus, though the Messiah, was still human. For the forty days he experienced great temptation. The power that Jesus had could lift him from the very difficult ministry that awaited Him. Consequently the temptation was not trivial. By overcoming the temptation, Jesus submitted himself to the ministry that would be evident in his overwhelming love for us, and would culminate in his tortuous death on the cross, perpetrated by the one’s He came to save.

Certainly, we can look at Jesus, even in this short introduction in Mark’s Gospel, and see the One who is worthy of all honor and glory. We can see the one who we can trust; the one who deserves to be the Lord of our lives.