In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
Mark 1:9-13 ESV
Although the Israelites cried out to God for deliverance from their slavery to the Egyptians, they were not prepared for how God’s deliverance would shape them. Despite their complaints, God did not immediately free them from Pharaoh’s grip; instead, He wondrously displayed His might to Egyptian and Israelite alike through ten frightening plagues. Then when they fled from Egypt, pursued by Pharaoh’s armies, the LORD led them to the sea, the impassible waters of the deep. Yet as a miniature replica of how He divided the waters at creation to form land, God split the sea, and by faith, they entered the only dry baptism in history, coming up from the waters on the other side a redeemed people with their oppressor’s head crushed. Even then, God did not yet bring His chosen nation into the rest of the Promised Land; instead, He led them first into the wilderness, where they would meet with God at the foot of a mountain and receive His very Word. Yet the wilderness became from them a place of idolatry and sin so that God kept them wandering for forty years until the rescued, yet unthankful generation died away.
Our temptation is to scoff at the unfaithfulness of those who witnessed firsthand such marvelous wonders; however, we would (and, in a way, have) done the same. We too grumble for deliverance, continue grumbling as we are being delivered, and go on grumbling whenever our God calls us into seclusion to meet with Him. Like Israel, we are all slaves to an enemy far more insidious than Pharaoh, and we need a great Redeemer (and a greater Exodus), one who meets the temptation to sin as we do yet stands firm.
Today, we meet Him.
THE BAPTISM OF JESUS // VERSES 9-11
With the ministry of John the Baptist, the forerunner to the Christ, summarized, Mark proceeds immediately into the beginning of Jesus’ own ministry, which fittingly began with the intersection between John and Jesus at Jesus’ own baptism. Again, Mark wastes no time getting to the matter at hand: In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
Before discussing Jesus’ baptism, we should take a moment to reflect upon the words leading up to it. First of all, the phrase in those days should helpfully remind us that we are not reading fiction but history. Even as Mark first wrote these words down, the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry had already passed by, yet they did not cease to impact the present. Yesterday, from whenever you are reading this, is gone forever in the steady stream of time; however, its effects have shaped, whether subtly or drastically, today. I, for instance, stayed up later than usual writing, and as a consequence, I am a bit more tired today than usual. Or, as an American, July 4, 1776 is day of perpetual significance to me, regardless of how often or little it comes to mind.
Mark, however, points us back to the days of circa 30 AD when Jesus left His home in Nazareth to inaugurate His ministry via baptism because they were days that have left a fundamental mark upon all of history. Even non-Christians cannot avoid the reality that Jesus and His followers throughout the ages have dramatically shifted ways of living, particularly in terms of presumed ethics. Yet for Christians, we do not merely view those days as the beginning of a heroic historical figure; instead, we see the Author of reality who came into the world that He made about thirty years before preparing to do the work for which He came.
And He began that work by being baptized. This should raise a question for us. Since John’s baptism was “of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1:4), why then did the sinless Jesus get baptized by John? Many are quick to answer that Jesus was identifying Himself with the ministry of John and ultimately as the Christ Whom John foretold, which is certainly true. J. Campbell Morgan, however, points to another purpose behind Jesus’ baptism, saying:
His also was a baptism of repentance. His also was a baptism of the confession of sins. In that hour He repented, He confessed sins. But the repentance was not for Himself, the sins were not His own. In that hour He identified Himself with the multitudes who had been thronging out to baptism, identified Himself with them in the consciousness of sin, in repentance for it, in confession of it. In that hour of baptism we see the most solemn and wonderful sight of the Servant of God, Who had come from the silence and seclusion of Nazareth, taking upon Himself the burden of human sin, counting it as if it were His own sin, doing that to which an apostolic writer ultimately referred by declaring, “He was made sin.”
Indeed, with the cross standing at the center of why Jesus became a human like us, it is fitting that He would begin His ministry with one of its two ordained symbols for the ongoing church. He would then inaugurate the other (the Lord’s Supper) at the end of His ministry and right before His actual crucifixion. Thus, as we observe the two ordinances of baptism and communion, we visibly remind ourselves that we are ransomed from our sin by His substitutional death and given life everlasting through the power of His resurrection. Just as He testified to His identification with us through His baptism, so too do we testify to our identification with Him through our baptism. As Paul said in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Next, in verses 10-11, we see the immediate and divine confirmation of Jesus as He is raised out of the water. Three marvelous events occur here: 1) the heavens are torn open, 2) the Holy Spirit descends upon Him as a dove, and 3) the Father speaks from heaven that Jesus is His beloved Son.
Two verses of Isaiah are fulfilled by these verses. First, it is the answer to Isaiah’s prayer in 64:1: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence.” Isaiah had himself quaked at the presence of the LORD Almighty, and he longed for the earth and its inhabitants to have the same encountered with the Holy One. As Isaiah prayed, the heavens ripped apart at this moment of that Christ begins His ministry, yet His first coming did not leave the mountains flattened into dust. Instead, the King had first come as a servant.
Which brings us to Isaiah 42:1, “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” This scene at Jesus’ baptism explicitly identifies Him as the Servant of Isaiah, the one who in chapter 53 would be crushed for the sins of His people.
Without a doubt, the most amazing point to note here is the revealed presence of each Person of the Trinity together. Even though God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4), He is also three Persons, which we call God’s triune (or three-in-one) nature. It has been said that the doctrine of the Trinity can be easily expressed in seven statements:
- God is one.
- The Father is God.
- Jesus the Son is God.
- The Holy Spirit is God.
- The Father is not the Son.
- The Son is not the Spirit.
- The Spirit is not the Father.
Of course, easily expressed does not at all mean easily comprehended. In fact, we rightly call it a mystery because it is ultimately beyond our comprehension, which (by the way) is exactly what we would expect from the Creator Who is infinitely greater than us. Nevertheless, the Scriptures emphasize to us the great importance of the triunity of our God. For this triune God created all things, the Father speaking the cosmos into existence through Jesus the Word by the power of the Spirit, and here again they together mark the beginning of the new creation, of redemption for the fallen world. The Father again speaks, the Son again accomplishes, and the Spirit again anoints and empowers. Indeed, Spirit’s descent like a dove is potentially invoking how the Spirit hovered (or fluttered) over the primordial waters of the newly made earth in Genesis 1:2.
Indeed, the Trinity is necessary for the work of salvation. As we studied last year in Ephesians, our redemption is trinitarian. The Father chose and adopted us, Jesus purchased our redemption by His own blood, and the Spirit seals us from the final day of glorification, and the presence of the Trinity at Jesus’ baptism is pointing us toward that great purpose that the Godhead was preparing to accomplish. Since we already know this final result of Jesus’ earthly ministry, we can now view His baptism through an even more wondrous lens, for we are presently in Christ. Again, we are adopted by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and sealed by the Spirit, which means that these visible evidences of Jesus’ Sonship are now spiritually transferred onto us. The testimony of the Father upon every follower of Christ are the same words that He gave to His only begotten Son: “You are my beloved son/daughter; with you I am well pleased.” He is not pleased with us because of our own righteousness, by no means! Rather, He is pleased with Christ, and we are in Christ. We can joyfully be assured of the Father’s pleasure in us only because He does not look at our own attempted goodness but upon the spotless goodness of Jesus.
And if that were not enough, we too have been anointed with the Spirit, baptized with the Spirit, who testifies within us that we are children of God and intercedes for us before the throne of God. This is the reason by Luke began his history of the early church by referring to his Gospel account as dealing “with all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). The inference there being that Jesus’ earthly ministry continued onward through His Spirit-indwelt disciples. The same is still true today. The ministry of Jesus has not ceased. As we testify by our own baptisms, we are each members of Christ’s body, and our King continues His work of redemption through us.
THE TEMPTATION OF JESUS // VERSES 12-13
In many ways, it would be wonderful to end our study with the visible and audible expressions of favor upon Christ that we now share in Him; however, Mark quickly moves on because, as we read, Jesus Himself was quickly moved on. The Spirit did not give Jesus time to rest in His public outing as the Son of God dwelling among the humans that He made. Instead, the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
Mark’s details of Jesus’ temptation here are obviously significantly more concise than the accounts of Matthew and Luke, which both give three specific examples of Satan’s attempts to tempt Jesus into sin. And the temptation for us is to pad Mark’s account with those other two. However, we have Mark’s succinct account for a reason, so let us engage with it on its own two feet.
Many commentators take Mark’s mention of the wild animals as a sign of Jesus’ physical danger during the forty days. They argue that since Mark was likely writing to Gentiles (probably in Rome) his audience likely knew fellow believers who were thrown to the animals in the colosseum for entertainment. Thus, Mark here is showing that Jesus experienced a similar danger. I, however, think that Morgan is correct in viewing verse 13 as the completion of the forty-day battle:
Morally victorious, He was Master of the creation beneath Him, and angels ran upon His errands, for such is the real suggestiveness of this word. Thus, He is seen as God’s Man, perfect in spite of temptation!
Interestingly, the word drove is the same word in Greek that Mark will use in verses 34 and 39 for Jesus’ casting out demons. It is a word of authority and of necessity. The Spirit compelled Jesus to flee into the wilderness immediately after His baptism; for before He would face the scrutiny of the public, He would face the Accuser.
Why then would the Spirit drive Jesus into a confrontation with Satan?
First, let us address the question from a more general vantage point. Why does God make a pattern of sending His people into the wilderness and into the place of temptation? First, we should keep James 1:13-14 in mind:
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
In our present text, the Spirit did not tempt Jesus; Satan did. The Spirit simply drove Jesus into the place of temptation. Likewise, God tempts no one into sin, yet He does often bring His people through trials, which are meant to refine us as through fire. Sometimes we fail these tests by following our hearts into sin. This was true with the Israelites in the wilderness. God did not lure them into idolatry; their desires shaped the golden calf on their own. Yet the wilderness was certainly a place of testing, and they failed. Other times we conquer the temptation to sin. For example, Job’s sufferings were another kind of wilderness, and similar to Christ, he faithfully endured the fiery darts of the evil one. Regardless of the trials that we face, and make no mistake, we will face the wilderness, we can certainly rest in the comfort that God brings us through trials for our own good, however painful that may be. Indeed, as seen during the Israelite’s sojourning at Sinai, God’s use of the wilderness is often to know Him more. It is as if the wilderness is a place to be still and know that God is God (Psalm 46:10). Hosea 2:14-15 has one of the most beautiful displays of this, where God is speaking to Israel as though she is His unfaithful wife. Nevertheless, He speaks these words:
Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.
As the psalmist declared, “I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me” (Psalm 119:75). Like all discipline, times in the wilderness are rarely pleasant, but they are good. In the end, the bones that the LORD breaks rejoice (Psalm 51:8).
The answer, however, to the specific question is that Jesus needed to be tempted as we are (and even more than we are!) so that He could be our faithful High Priest. As Hebrews 4:14-16 says,
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Walking as a man upon the very earth that He created, Jesus came face-to-face with the daily allure of sin, yet He never once failed to reject it. Even during forty days with the Tempter himself, Jesus still refused to bend. All of this means that He was well acquainted with the brokenness of this fallen world, but unlike us, He remained unbroken. Thus, this time of temptation powerfully shows Jesus as the second and better Adam. While Adam yielded to a single instance of temptation (while being surrounded by goodness and beauty of the LORD, no less!), Jesus faced a forty-day showdown with Satan in a place that must have resembled the very opposite of Eden. Yet Adam fell, while Jesus emerged triumphant. 1 Corinthians 15:22 stands upon the reality of these two parallel yet opposite events: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
Both in His baptism and His temptation, Jesus attached Himself onto our sinfulness, so that even when we lose our fight against temptation, we are attached to His sinlessness rather than our sinfulness. By His wounds, we are healed. By His death, we live. By His blood, we are delivered from our captivity to sin. Let us, therefore, worship and obey our great High Priest who is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:11).
 J. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Mark, 21.
 Morgan, 27.