Mark's Gospel

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The Baptism of Jesus

(Mark 1:9-11)

Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark has no stories of Jesus' birth. This is the first time that Jesus appears to start his public ministry.

Three things take place which need to be noted and explained:

  • Jesus sees the heaven open
  • Jesus sees the Spirit descending on him like a dove
  • Jesus hears a voice from heaven addressed to him
Heaven's opening - At the time of Jesus the Jews believed that the long prophetic tradition where by God addressed his people had stopped with the last of the great prophets. The prophet Isaiah had written, "Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down…" (Isaiah 64:1). With this imagery we are left in no doubt that a new work is about to begin. The Kingdom of God was about to be made known.

The Spirit coming down - The Jews believed that the Spirit of God spoke to the prophets. Since the last of the prophets the Spirit had been silent. Many believed that the Spirit would return with the Messiah. The Spirit, therefore, is proof that Jesus is the Messiah.

God's words - These are very similar to the words of the psalm used for the coronation in the past of Israel's kings, "You are my son: today I have become your father" (Psalm 2:7). They are also similar to the words used to address Isaiah's Suffering Servant, "Here is my servant, whom I strengthen - the one I have chosen, with whom I am pleased" (Isaiah 42:1). Apart from the short introduction to Mark's Gospel the term "son of God" only appears three times - Jesus' Baptism, Transfiguration (9:7) and Crucifixion (15:39). In the New Testament God only speaks twice, at Jesus' Baptism and at his Transfiguration. The message is basically the same, "This is my own dear son - Listen to him" (Mark 9:7).

In Mark's Gospel Jesus' baptism is a very personal affair. In Matthew's account the words from heaven are addressed to the crowd and Luke's account it could be interpreted that the openings of the heavens, the descent of the dove and the voice were all witnessed by others.

Normally when we think of baptism we associate it with the washing away of sin. However, Christians believe that Jesus was without sin. This presents us with a problem. Why then was Jesus baptized? One possible answer might be found in Matthew's Gospel. Matthew records that John tried to dissuade Jesus from being baptized. But Jesus insisted. It would appear that since John had called upon the whole of Israel to repent, Jesus would not exclude himself. He chose rather to identify with them as later he was to be 'numbered among the transgressors'.

The Baptism marks the end of a long period of spiritual formation. Jesus' mental and physical growth were those normal to any boy, and while we cannot say when he first realized his high calling, it was at the Baptism that he fully realized that God was his father in a unique sense, 'You are my Son, my Beloved.'

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