The One who comes after the messenger. Mark 1:7-13

We’re back in Mark 1 this morning, looking at his introduction. We saw last time how by quoting Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 Mark helps us to understand the big picture of what’s going on with the coming of John the Baptist and then Jesus.

God had promised Israel that they would return from exile in Babylon to the land of Israel; a kind of second exodus. And he promised that he would come to them and reign in glory in a splendid temple; and Israel would be established and at peace.

Well, the people returned, but otherwise the promises didn’t fully come to pass. This is where Malachi comes in. He tells them that this is due to their sin and tells how God will send a messenger to call the people to repentance so that when God comes, they can receive salvation and not judgment.

We also looked at how Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 predict a sequential relationship between the two coming ones – the messenger, who is John the Baptist, and the Lord, who is Jesus. They tell us that the messenger comes before the Lord. This week John the Baptist reiterates these prophecies with his own prophesy saying that the “Lord” will come after him. And as we will see, Mark presents Jesus as the fulfillment of all of these prophecies.

Alright, let’s get to our passage, and John’s prophecy.

The prophecy

 7And he (John) preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

A key part of John’s ministry was calling people to be ready for the coming one (Matthew 11:3, Acts 13:25). He describes him as the mighty one.

There’s a Jewish saying that a disciple is to act as a slave to their teacher, except for taking off their sandals (b. Ketub. 96a). But here John is saying he is not fit even to do this slave work for the mighty one.

John also speaks of the coming one as the Spirit baptizer. The one who will inundate people with the Spirit, like he does with water.

This has reference to several promises God makes to his people in the Old Testament:

  • Joel 2:28-29 – “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.”
  • Ezekiel 36:27 – “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
  • Isaiah 44:3 – “I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.”

John’s water baptism was preparatory. The coming One’s Spirit baptism brings the reality of the promises.

This brings us to –

The fulfillment

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

We always ask, ’Why was Jesus baptized?’ After all, he didn’t need to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Well, just as the Lord God didn’t need to be baptized, but led his people through the waters of the Red Sea (Psalm 106:9),  so Jesus also goes through the waters with his people, the remnant John has prepared. Just as the Lord didn’t need to be baptized when Israel entered the promised land through the waters of the Jordan (the ark, Joshua 3), so Jesus also goes through the waters with his people.

And as the prophet Isaiah spoke of a second exodus to bring the people back to the land, he said in 43:2, “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” (Along these lines, Jesus may have seen this as a part of “the way of the Lord” that John prepared, and so saw it as fulfillment of the prophecies in Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1.)

The Lord, who is pure and holy, always goes through the waters with his people and leads them to salvation.

But two other things are also going on here. 1) His water baptism, as we will see, is the occasion of his anointing by the Spirit. This is where his title “the anointed one” comes from. He received the Spirit without measure (John  3:34 NLT). He was empowered to fulfill his mission as the Savior. And Spirit baptism, of which this is the most amazing example, and water baptism are connected in both the Old and New Testaments. (Spirit baptism)

And 2) his water baptism becomes the occasion where he publicly commits to his mission, which includes the cross. We saw in previous teaching, that baptism pictures a death and a resurrection (The cruciform shape of baptism. And as well, his water baptism pictures his coming death and resurrection – his true baptism, which he submits to here (Mark 10:38-39). And it is this baptism of blood, that will bring about the reality of salvation that water baptism points to.

10And 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.

The phrase “came up out of the water” refers to when he comes out of the Jordan river where he was baptized, that is onto the shore (See Acts 8:38-39).

He then has a visionary experience. Such experiences are connected to the idea of an open heaven (John 1:51). It says the heavens were “torn open.” This likely echoes Isaiah 64:1, a prayer to God – “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down . . .” to bring salvation. (See Mark 15:38)

And then the Spirit comes upon him. As I said, this is his anointing, where his title, the anointed one (Messiah or Christ) comes from. That the Messiah would be anointed with the Spirit is spoken of in several passages, for instance Isaiah 42:1 says, “I will put my Spirit upon him.” (Also 11:2; 61:1)

The phrase “like” a dove could mean gently like a dove lands. But more likely it means Jesus saw the Holy Spirit descend upon him in the form of a dove (See Luke 3:22). What does the dove symbolize? Remember Noah’s water crossing (Genesis 8:8-12), which is a type of baptism (1 Peter 3:21) and the dove there (Passing through the waters, Baptism as a pledge to God)? It’s a sign of the end of judgment and the beginning of new life. The Spirit will bring new life through Jesus to all who seek him.

11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

God’s speech here echoes Psalm 2:7 (LXX). This is a Psalm that speaks of the coronation of an Israelite king. God says to the king in part – “You are my son.” (This Psalm echoes 2 Samuel 7:14, which speaks of David’s son and a son of God.)

And the phrase, “I am well pleased” hearkens back to Isaiah 42:1, which we just looked at. It says, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom by soul delights.” (There is also a possible echo of Genesis 22:2 LXX, and Jeremiah 38:20 LXX). Jesus is God’s Son; his pleasing servant and Messianic king.

But not only this, he is God’s “beloved” or “dear” Son. This word can also mean only. He is God’s Son in a unique and special way that no one else can claim (Mark 9:7; 12:6).

So Jesus’ baptism connects back to the titles from v. 1. Jesus truly is the anointed one and the Son of God.

Now, although Mark’s presentation makes it sound like all this was private, Matthew’s account makes it sound public – and in John’s Gospel we know that John the Baptist saw the Spirit come upon Jesus (John 1:31-34).

Notice in this baptismal event that God the Father speaks, the Spirit anoints and the Son is baptized.

And then the scene shifts –

12The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13And 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.

That Jesus is tested after his water experience/anointing fits the biblical pattern. Israel went through the waters, had a Spirit experience (Exodus 15) and then went into the desert to be tested and ended up staying for 40 years. So also David was anointed king, but then was forced into the wilderness for a time of testing before his rule.

Jesus is actually already in the wilderness (vs. 4, 9) so he is led out further, away from all people.

The word “drove out” can also be translated “cast out.” It kind of sounds like the Spirit is eager to move things forward. There’s not a lot of detail. Satan is the agent of the testing. And Mark speaks of “wild animals” and “the angels.” There seems to be two sides here, Satan and the wild animals, which are hostile – and the Spirit and the angels who support Jesus.

This episode unveils the spiritual reality of what’s going on in Jesus’ mission.  There is a fight between two powerful spiritual forces. It points back to Psalm 91:9-13. This passage mentions angels supporting the righteous one, and him treading upon “the lion, the adder; the young lion and the serpent.” In this light, this short vignette pictures Jesus victorious – with the help of the Spirit and angels, over wild animals and the serpent – a reference to Satan via Genesis 3:15, when God said to Eve her offspring would “bruise the serpent’s head.”

Some highlights

 . . . to encourage and challenge us.

 As I said last week, when we see how God’s plans are from of old, are orderly and have come to pass in the coming of John and Jesus, we should take confidence in God’s plans that are still unfolding. He will come through! Jesus will come again!

John calls Jesus the Spirit baptizer. And Jesus himself was full of the Spirit. This was a key part of the promises of God, that Jesus brings to fulfillment. And so I ask, has Jesus baptized you in the Spirit? And if you have received this, are you continuing to remain full of the Spirit?

As we see in the testing of Jesus, there is a spiritual battle going on. We sometimes lose track of this. In Western culture we are not comfortable with supernatural categories. But not only is God working in this world by his Spirit and angels, there is Satan who opposes him. And we are caught up in this. And if we want to be victorious like Jesus, it will be through our faith in Jesus and the empowerment of the Spirit.

Are you alert to the fight? Or are you sleepwalking through life? Unaware. Never really knowing what’s gong on around you. We need to wake up!

The one who comes before the Lord. Mark 1:1-8

We’re beginning a new series today on the Gospel of Mark. A few things about Mark to begin with. It was most likely the first gospel written. And it likely contains the stories and teachings of Jesus that the apostle Peter passed down (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) and John Mark later wrote out. These thing are likely,  I think, but they’re not from Scripture.

With regard to the Gospel itself, a few observations:

  • It’s fast paced. “Immediately” seems to be one of Mark’s favorite words.
  • Its stories are usually longer with more vivid details than Matthew or Luke.
  • And yet it’s the shortest Gospel, because it has less teaching material in it than either Matthew or Luke.

We begin with Mark’s introduction 1:1-15. Notice that it is bracketed by the phrase “good news” (or Gospel) in v. 1 and vs. 14-15 (2x).

It doesn’t get nearly as much attention as the other Gospel beginnings, like Matthew and Luke’s telling of the birth of Jesus or John’s exalted presentation of the pre-existent Word made flesh in Jesus. But it has its own point of view and points to make.

It turns on two prophetic words, one from a set of passages in the Old Testament in vs. 2-3, and the other from John the Baptist in vs. 7-8. In the first, which we will focus on today, the messenger is to come “before” the Lord; and in the second, the mighty Spirit-giver is to come “after” the messenger. This is how the passage is put together.

Alright, let’s jump in.

Mark 1:1-8

The opening line

1The beginning of the good news of Jesus, the anointed one, the Son of God –

When Mark says, “the beginning,” this has to do with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, following John the Baptist’s work of preparation (see Acts 10:37). But it can also refer to the whole Gospel. Mark is saying, this is how the Christian movement began.

We learn several things here about who Jesus is. 1) He is the “Christ.” This is the Greek version of the Hebrew word which means “Messiah” or more literally “the anointed one,” which is what I’m going with. This refers back to the Old Testament practice of anointing someone with oil when they are commissioned by God to do something. It was especially connected to the expected son of David who would come as the anointed one, to save God’s people.

2) Jesus is the “son of God.” This phrase is most often associated with the kings of Israel (2 Samuel 7:13-14; Psalm 2:7; Psalm 89:26-27), and sometimes Israel itself (Exodus 4:22-23; Hosea 11:1; Jeremiah 31:9, 20). It can also refer to divine beings or angels (e.g. the sons of God in Job). Basically it means one who rules, although we will see that Jesus is God’s son in unique and special way (Mark 14:61-62).

3) Finally the phrase “good news” tells us something about Jesus. In Isaiah it refers to the coming of God to save Israel and to establish his rule or kingdom (Isaiah 40:9; 52:7; 61:1). In the Roman world it was used to announce the success of an Emperor or the birth of a new Emperor. In both contexts it is a royal announcement. And so this tells us that Jesus is a king.

The prophecy

2as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

Although Mark says, “as it is written in Isaiah,” he is actually quoting two or more passages. This is just how they sometimes did things back in the day, combining passages like this and just using one name.

Let’s look at the two key quotes here in reverse order. Isaiah 40:3 says in part, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God.’(LXX). In context this refers to the announcement of the end of exile in Babylon and God’s promise to bring Israel back to its land. This is framed by Isaiah as a second Exodus from Babylon to the land of Israel. (The path here is God’s, but like with the original Exodus, it is God and his people who journey together to the land. The Isaiah Targum speaks of the way of God and the congregation of our God.) (Mark’s quote here can also be translated to match the parallelism of the Hebrew version – “A voice cries ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”  Witheringon) 

And then we have Malachi 3:1 which says in part, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” (Mark’s version is a little different. See note below). This person is further identified in Malachi 4:5-6 as Elijah, who is commissioned to bring about repentance in Israel before God comes to visit them.

(Some include here Exodus 23:20. The language is close and has in it Mark’s phrase, “before your face.” In some Jewish interpretation Malachi 1:3 and Exodus 23:20 are connected (Exodus Raba 32:9; Deuteronomy Raba 11:9.) (And some see Malachi 3:1 as a reflection on Exodus 23:20 (Beth Glazier-McDonald.) But it doesn’t line up with what Mark is saying. God sent an angel/messenger before Israel in Exodus 23. If anything the messenger is greater than Israel, the “you” here. Whereas the opposite is the case in Mark. Mark seems to be only interested in the Malachi context.)

The background of these prophecies. Now, by quoting these passages we get Mark’s insight into what’s going on with the coming of John the Baptist and then Jesus. As I said, Isaiah speaks of a second Exodus out of exile back to the land. And several prophets spoke of how things would radically change; how God would reign in glory in a splendid temple and Israel would be established in the land and at peace. Well, the people came back, but they struggled, still under Gentile rule, the Persians, and still with no sense that anything had really changed. So there was disillusionment.

Well, the book of Malachi picks up in this context. He tells the people that the holdup on the fulfillment of the promises is due to their sin. And so he predicts that God will send a messenger, Elijah to prepare Israel for his coming in power to reign. And he is to prepare them by calling them to repentance so that when God comes, it won’t end in further judgment. (I am indebted to Rikk Watts for this construal of Malachi’s role.)

So Mark is saying – this is what’s going on with the coming of John and then Jesus. God is working to bring about his kingdom; to fulfill his promises to his people of salvation and blessing.

Now, before we get to how John the Baptist fulfills his role as the prophesied messenger, let’s take a moment to look at the incredible claims that Mark is making about who Jesus is in these verses.

In Malachi the messenger prepares for the coming of God. In Mark Jesus is the one who comes. So he is closely identifying God and Jesus, but still they are different. Jesus is the Son of God.

(And in the form that Mark uses, God says to a third part – applied to Jesus here, that the messenger will prepare “your way.” So where does the phrase “before your face” come from? The Hebrew and Greek versions of Malachi both literally say, “before my face.” Early Jewish Christians read “face” as an extension of God – much like the son of man is in Daniel 7:13-14 or the second lord in the phrase “the Lord said to my Lord . . .” Mark 12:36. This is a human embodiment of Yahweh, or to put it another way, the pre-existent Son of God come in human form. (I am indebted to Richard Bauckham – Markan Christology). (This also means that Malachi himself is referring to a conversation between the Lord and his face, also identified as the “Lord” spoken of in the third person in this verse. In other words this speaks to the preexistence of the Son of God – Matthew Bates.)

In Isaiah the voice that cries out prepares for the coming of the Lord. In Mark Jesus is the one who comes. So again he is closely identifying God and Jesus, but the word “Lord” in this Gospel applies to Jesus and to God. (We will see this same kind of pattern in other places in Mark’s Gospel.) They are the same in some way, but still different. One is the Father, one is the Son.

(Mark changes the Isaiah quote at the end from “the paths of our God” to “his paths.” This allows the Lord in the verse to refer to Jesus. In early Christian practice, “Lord” in the Old Testament was sometimes taken as a reference to Jesus, but not usually “God.”)

The fulfillment 

After the prediction of the messenger who will first prepare the way, John shows up doing just this.

4John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Now, not everyone came of course, but Mark is emphasizing his success.

The connection between the messenger and John is clear. The messenger is to prepare the way,  which includes calling for repentance on the part of Israel (Malachi 4:15-16). John calls the people to repentance.

Also, the messenger is associated with the wilderness as is Elijah.  Well, John is in the wilderness and he is telling people to prepare the way.

And then we have v. 6.

6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.

The messenger is identified as Elijah in some sense and John looks just like Elijah. In 2 Kings 1:8 someone describes Elijah in this way: “He wore a garment of hair with a belt of leather around his waist.” As Jesus says later in Mark 9:13, “Elijah has come” and he is referring to John the Baptist. (See also Luke 1:17).

Notice how what John is doing fits with Isaiah and Malachi’s vision of the need to prepare the people for the coming of God. In the first exodus, Israel crossed through the Red Sea. And then with Joshua the Jordan river. John is symbolically having Israelites go through the waters again (here the Jordan river.) So John is calling Israel to be reconstituted as a new people, ready for the coming of God. And since the leaders in Jerusalem rejected him, he is calling out a remnant to make them ready for the Lord. All of this points to the fulfillment of the promise of the prophets about Israel’s salvation. It all fits together.

The final way that John prepared the way is his witness to the coming one, the Lord.

7And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

We will look at this in more detail next time, but notice his deference. The coming one is mightier; I am not worthy to even be his slave. I baptize with water, but his baptism is the real thing, the giving of the Spirit. He’s saying, I’m just the messenger, the Savior is still  to come.

In all this he reiterates what the previous prophets taught: the messenger come first, before the Lord; and as the messenger he says, after me comes the promised one.

What do we learn?

Jesus is exalted. He is the anointed one; the Messiah. He is the Son of God. And, he is the coming of God himself in human form, in fulfillment of the promises.

We are privileged to know this before the story begins, while the people in the story struggle to understand who Jesus is, to the end.

This teaches us about God’s plans. They are from of old. This was all pointed to by the prophets, Isaiah and Malachi and repeated by John. God’s plans are orderly. The messenger come first to prepare and after this comes the Lord to bring salvation. God’s plans are sure and true. It came to pass just as it was supposed to, which is the story Mark is telling us about. This should lead us to trust in God’s full outworking of his plan to bring it all to completion, as we wait our Lord’s second coming.

And speaking of his coming, we need to continue to be prepared for God’s coming to us. Are we single mindedly focused on God and serving him? Or are we off following the world, waiting time, focused on this life and not finishing the mission he gave us to expand his kingdom? Are you prepared? He could come at any time.

Jesus is our hope!

Our title today is Jesus is our hope! The theme is hope because the message of Easter is a message of hope and because Jesus is all about bringing hope to people. This is clear from when Jesus walked the earth. Here are some examples from the gospels:

  • Jesus gave hope to the sick. Mark 1:40-42 tells the story of a man with leprosy. He came to Jesus and asked for healing. He said, “If you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus was moved with compassion – and healed the man immediately. He was set free from a condition that had ruined his life. And now he was able to move forward and live again.
  • Jesus gave hope to those who had sinned. In Luke 7:36-50 a woman, most likely a prostitute, came to Jesus in tears and anointed his feet as an expression of devotion and as a response to his message of repentance. Jesus said to her “your sins are forgiven.” Her repentance was accepted. She was forgiven and she was given a chance for a new life; a fresh start.
  • Jesus gave hope to those who were enslaved by evil powers. Mark 1:23-26 tells of how a demonized man was set free by Jesus. He simply said, “Come out of him” and the demon had to leave. This man was miserable and enslaved, but Jesus set him free and now he had new life.
  • Jesus gave hope to those who were excluded. Luke 5:27-32 tells how Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. Those not acceptable to the rest of society. Instead of being outcasts, now they were befriended by Jesus and given another chance.
  • Jesus gave hope to those who were confused. Mark 6:34 says, “Jesus saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. Those who were lost and needed guidance learned from the good Shepherd himself, the paths of righteousness and peace.
  • Jesus gave hope to those who needed new purpose in their lives. Matthew 9:9 recounts how Jesus called Matthew out of a dead-end situation in life, a tax collector for the very empire that was oppressing his people. Jesus said to him “follow me.” that is, come and work with me. And he did. Matthew found a new life focus that was full of meaning and true significance.
  • Jesus gave hope to those who needed God to be near. God worked through Jesus by the power of the Spirit. God’s presence was real to people when Jesus was around. In Luke 7:16, after Jesus raised a young man from the dead, the crowds said, “God has visited his people!” Those who felt far away, even abandoned by God, were brought close, as the Spirit worked through Jesus.

So in all of these examples we see people who were suffering, miserable, confused, disillusioned; who were despairing. And Jesus gave these very ones hope.

But the world we live in doesn’t like the hope Jesus gives. It tells us to chase after false hopes that are empty and useless. And if we do hope in Jesus, it seeks to crush this.

In Jesus’ own day, the guardians of the way things are – the authorities and the powers of evil caught up to Jesus. And they killed him. As the two men on the road to Emmaus said, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Jesus gave them hope, but now their hopes were dashed.

But guess what? Jesus didn’t stay dead! Amen? The “powers that be” thought they had extinguished our hope; they thought they had extinguished Jesus. But they failed! And oh how they failed. As the angel said to those who looked for Jesus’ dead body, “He has risen; he is not here” (Mark 16:6).

Jesus lives! And so our hope lives. For since Jesus is still alive, he is ever with us, to continue to help us. And so I ask . . .

  • Do you suffer sickness? Are you in need of healing? The same Jesus who healed a leper and so many others, still lives to heal us and help us in our suffering. And when the Father says it’s time, Jesus will give us a new resurrection body that will live forever without pain or suffering. We too have hope for healing and the redemption of our bodies.  Jesus is our hope!
  • Do you feel guilt and shame for sin you have committed? The same Jesus who forgave sins and who laid down his life on the cross for the forgiveness of sins,  still lives to forgive us when we turn to him in repentance. We too have the hope of forgiveness. Our guilt and shame can be taken away. We can have a new, clean, fresh start. Jesus is our hope!
  • Are you enslaved by powerful evil forces; unable to break free from sinful habits? The same Jesus who cast out demons with a word, still lives to deliver us from the evil one. We too have hope of freedom and new life from the powers of evil that seek to enslave and destroy us. Jesus is our hope!
  • Do you feel excluded, alienated, left out? The same Jesus who welcomed any and all who would follow him, still lives to befriend us. We too have hope of connection with Jesus; of acceptance by him; of relationship with him – and his people. Jesus is our hope!
  • Do you need guidance in your life? Are you confused about God’s will? The same Jesus who taught the crowds of old, still lives and makes known to us his teaching. We too have hope that we can know God’s way and that we can learn, from the good shepherd himself, the paths of peace. Jesus is our hope!
  • Do you feel adrift in your life; without a purposeThe same Jesus who gave Matthew new direction, still lives to call us from our dead ends and our wrong turns – to come and follow him and to finish what he began. We too have hope for a meaningful and significant life doing what God has called us to do and what God has gifted us to do. Jesus is our hope!
  • Do you feel separated from God; that God is far awayThe same Jesus who made God present to the people of old by the Spirit, still lives and he pours out this same Holy Spirit into our hearts and lives so that God lives in us. We too have hope of knowing and being near to God; to have a relationship with God; to have God come and live within us by the Spirit. Jesus is our hope!

Indeed, no matter what problem or circumstance we find ourselves in, because he lives Jesus gives us hope. A hope that cannot be crushed, but that sustains through all of life.