The Gospel of Mark: Writing the New Story

Sermon by David Strain on May 6, 2018

Mark 1:9-13

Well please take your copies of God’s Word in your hands and turn with me to the gospel according to Mark, chapter 1; page 836 in the church Bibles. We are looking at the five verses of verses 9 through 13. If you were with us last Lord’s Day Morning, you will remember we listened to Mark’s record of the ministry and testimony of John the Baptist who bore witness to the significance of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.


This morning, we turn to another part of the beginnings of Mark’s gospel as he sets the stage for the work that Jesus will perform. We’ll be thinking about His baptism and His temptation. These five verses are characteristic of the way Mark likes to write. They’re very terse and direct in the way they retell the story. If you look at Matthew’s account or Luke’s account you’ll see a great deal more detail, but we ought not to conclude from that that Mark doesn’t care about the matters that he is presenting. They are brief and direct and to the point. There is an admiral brevity here you may well wish that I had learned from him. Sadly, I hope you won’t be too disappointed, but don’t hold your breath! But, don’t conclude just because he’s being brief and to the point that he doesn’t have a lot to teach us here. In fact, there’s so many layers of symbolism and teaching in these five verses, we could spend weeks and weeks on them. Imagine an archeological dig. You know, with each new layer, as they dig down, they find evidence of events that took place on that same square meter of dirt. Well, there are layers and layers of teaching, and as we examine each in these five verses, there's more to discover about the significance of the person and the work of the Lord Jesus.


And so, to try and help bring some structure to our reflections on these verses, I want to consider them under four headings. Four ways to think about the work and the ministry of the Lord Jesus. First, there is the theme of identification. That is, Jesus, in His baptism by John in the Jordan River, is identified with us with sinners like me and you. He’s identified with us. Identification. Then secondly, there’s consecration. As He’s coming up out of the waters, the Spirit descends upon Him in form like a dove and He is set apart and empowered for the work upon which He now embarks. Identification. Consecration.


Then there’s a word of affirmation. He hears a voice saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The Father affirming His Son as He steps forward on the course of obedience and sacrifice that will characterize His earthly ministry. And then finally, there’s a word of probation. So identification, consecration, affirmation, and then probation. Jesus is driven out, we are told, by the Spirit into the wilderness, where He is tempted. He undergoes a probationary test. Actually, it’s the beginning of the testing and tempting of Jesus that will last throughout the whole course of His life. And in that, He mirrors and echoes the probation of our first father, Adam. But whereas Adam failed, Jesus, the second and better Adam, obeyed.


Okay, so those are the headings under which we’ll consider Mark’s teaching – identification, consecration, affirmation, and probation. Before we look at them and read the passage, let me ask you first to bow your heads with me as we pray.


O Lord, would You rend the heavens and come down. Pour out upon this assembly the same Spirit that descended and rested upon our Savior, that the promise of Jesus to the Church might be fulfilled. That He might take of what is Christ’s and make it known to us, from this portion of Your holy Word, for Jesus’ sake, amen.


Mark chapter 1 at the ninth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:


“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.”


Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy Word.


Jesus’ baptism by John here in the Jordan River, in Mark 1:9-13, is the moment when Jesus steps forth at the commencement of His public ministry. And as He launches out upon this great work that has been committed to Him, there are a number of symbols, we’ve read them together, that attend the commencement of that public ministry. They are, if you like, badges of office designed to teach Him, or to remind Him and to teach us, about why He has come.


When I first began my ministry here as the senior pastor, my predecessor Dr. Duncan, left me a wooden gavel. We have sixty-nine ruling elders, and so the moderator of the session meeting sometimes has a hard time calling that rowdy bunch to order. And so I have a gavel. It was made for Dr. Duncan by one of our beloved senior ruling elders, Orrin Swayze. And I received it sort of like the passing of the baton. And today, it sits on my desk or in my office there, and I view it not just as a sort of badge of office but I’m grateful for it because I love the man that gave it to me and the man that made it. And it symbolizes for me their years of devoted service and their love for you all, and it reminds me that I stand on the shoulders of others and I’m called to carry on their work. And it reminds me of the calling that I have received and the task that’s been entrusted to me.


Well here at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, at His baptism, there are a number of signs that serve a similar sort of function. They are badges of office, signs of His role, reminders of His mission. And the first of them you'll see if you look with me at verse 9. "In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan." The baptism of Jesus by


John in the Jordan is the first of those symbols, those badges of office, that marks the commencement of Jesus' public work. And it's here to teach us about identification. Jesus is being identified with us. John's baptism, you will remember, was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And that immediately ought to raise a question for us. After all, Jesus was holy, harmless and undefiled and separate from sinners. Jesus had no sin and knew no sin. So why is Jesus undergoing a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin when He has no sin of His own? The answer is, as He steps forward at the beginning of His public work, He is announcing His complete identification with sinners like me and like you. He's come to stand where the guilty ought to stand, where the unclean ought to be, to receive what we ought to receive and endure what we deserve to endure. This is, in an enacted, dramatic form, the same message that the apostle Paul proclaims so memorably in 2 Corinthians 5:21. "For our sake, God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." He came to be identified with sinners, though He had no sin of His own.


Sinclair Ferguson helpfully explains. He says, “Here already, Jesus indicates how He will become our Savior – by standing in the river in whose waters penitent Jews had symbolically washed away their sins, and allowing that water, polluted by those sins, to be poured over His perfect being.” That’s the picture. He’s identified with sinners. He’s taking on the guilt and condemnation of our sin. Jesus, undergoing a baptism that is teaching us that He was willing to endure what we deserve, that we might receive true cleansing. The baptism we need, He received, because the curse we deserve He endured. Because of Him, we will be made clean. Because of Him, you can be made clean.


We said Jesus was holy, harmless, and undefiled and it raises that question, “Why is He being baptized? What does it mean? After all, ‘guilty, vile and helpless we, spotless Lamb of God was He.’ What does it mean?” Well you remember the rest of that stanza of the hymn, don’t you? “Guilty, vile and helpless we, spotless Lamb of God was He. Full atonement, can it be? Hallelujah! What a Savior!” Jesus steps forth to publicly declare His commitment to securing our cleansing by His blood. He’s identified with us. Identification.



Then, secondly, look in verse 10, please. "As Jesus came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove." Here's the second symbol, the second badge of office that speaks to us of the meaning of Jesus' coming. If the baptism itself is about identification, the descent of the Spirit is about consecration. He's being consecrated and set apart, anointed for sacred office. You may know that in the Old Testament scriptures, generally, only some people were ever anointed with the Holy Spirit as they began their work – prophets, priests, and kings. But here is Jesus – Prophet, Priest, and King – anointed and endowed with the Spirit of holiness to equip Him to fulfill the task entrusted to Him.


A Dove

And there are two features of Mark’s account in particular that help us understand a little bit more about the work to which He is here being set apart and for which He is here being empowered. The first is the form in the likeness of which the Spirit is said to descend. Do you see that in the text? “The Spirit descends in form, like a dove.” And the commentators suggest a number of reasons for that symbolism. We really aren’t sure exactly all that it means. Some commentators point out, for example, that the dove was the only bird allowed to be used by the priests in temple sacrifice. And so they say, here is the Holy Spirit in form like a dove, testifying to the significance of the work Jesus will perform by the sacrifice of Himself to secure our pardon.


Others turn to Genesis chapter 1 verse 2, where, you remember, “the earth was without form and void, and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters,” poised to begin the great work of creation at the Father’s decree. And the rabbis, in Jewish tradition, there is a targum that says that that word, “hovered” – “the Spirit hovered over the waters” – is better translated, “fluttered like a dove.” And so you see the picture. The Spirit fluttering like a dove over the waters of the primordial creation, here descends anew as the waters of baptism are applied to Jesus Christ to signal to us why He came, what it is His work will accomplish. For what is He set apart? He’s set apart to bring a new world, a new creation, to undo the curse and make all things new. Here in Jesus is a new beginning at last. Identification and then consecration.


Heavens Torn Open

And notice the second theme or the second aspect of that theme of consecration that Mark highlights for us; the way he describes the descent of the Spirit in form like a dove. He says, “Jesus saw the heavens being torn open.” That’s an unusual verb. Matthew and Luke don’t use that language. In fact, Mark himself doesn’t use that verb again until the other end of the gospel, until the very end of the story, Mark uses that verb “torn open” a second time. It’s as though he rather skillfully here is using language that leaves us scratching our head. It seems like a clunky way to say that “heaven was opened and the Spirit came down,” that it was “torn open” – why use that word?


Until you get to the end of his gospel and suddenly it becomes clear. As Jesus, Mark 15:38, “breathes His last,” and the temple curtain, that heavy curtain that separated the Most Holy Place where God’s presence was symbolically said to dwell, it separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple so that no one could come near. It was a symbol of exclusion from fellowship with God. And as Jesus breathed His last, the temple curtain was “torn in two.” You see the message, don’t you? It’s the same message at the end as it was at the beginning. What has Jesus come to accomplish? He’s come to tear heaven open; to open a way of access for sinners like me and like you that we might go through Jesus to the Father without fear and with confidence and hope at last. The way is open and you may go in through Jesus Christ our Savior.


Identification and consecration. He was set apart like a Lamb set apart by the priests for the altar. He was set apart, the Lamb of God, for the cross. And He was excluded, remember, from fellowship with God. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He was shut out as though He were guilty and condemned so that we who really are guilty might be embraced and brought near. He who cried in anguish, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” enables us, as we trust in Him, to cry in wonder and amazement, “My God, My God, why have You accepted me?” Accepted me. You have accepted me because You judged Him and condemned Him in my place. Identification. Consecration.


Word of Affirmation

Then thirdly, notice, affirmation. Along with a visible sign, there's an audible word that's spoken. Do you see that in verse 11? Look at verse 11 with me, please. "A voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'" That's likely reflecting various texts of Old Testament scripture. All of them are feeding into this moment. You hear echoes of it, for example, in Isaiah 42:1 that speaks about the suffering servant of the Lord who would come; in whom God delights and upon whom He would place His Spirit. Jesus is the suffering servant, despised and rejected of men, upon whom the Lord would lay the iniquity of us all. It also echoes Psalm 2 verse 7 where the king is declared to be the Son of God in His role as David's heir. Jesus is the true King of whose government there will be no end.


Echo from Abraham’s Life

And then there’s Genesis 22. You remember the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah. Don’t you? Abraham was told – and here’s the echo. Genesis 22:2 – the echo of Mark 1 verse 11. He was told, “Take your son, your only son, the son whom you love,” and he was to offer him in sacrifice to the Lord. And as they’re walking along the way, Isaac sees the wood and the fire and the knife, and he asks, “But where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” And Abraham says, “My son, the Lord will provide the lamb.” And that extraordinary moment comes as the knife is raised, ready to plunge into Isaac’s breast and the Lord stays Abraham’s hand at the last moment and he turns and sees there, caught by its horns, not a lamb, but a ram, a goat, caught by its horns in the thicket. And here we are being told, here, at last, is the Lamb. Where Abraham's son was spared, the Son of God was not spared. He was offered up as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. "In our place condemned He stood and sealed our pardon with His blood."


Delight of the Father

And so as the Father says to Jesus, “My beloved Son, I am so pleased with You,” He is signaling His delight in Christ as He steps forward in a resolve to fulfill in perfect obedience to the Father all that His mission would entail – the cost of it, the sacrifice of it, the suffering of it. And the Father is delighted with Him and declares His approval and His love. Like a father who swells in pride over the success of his son, “My boy! My son! I am so pleased with you!” he says. There is a great mystery. When you think about the significance of that moment and all that it really entails, what it points to – it points to the cross, it points to sacrifice. So the Father, at the cross, is pouring out His wrath; the full fury of divine judgment due our sin is poured out upon His Son at Calvary. And the darkness of the wrath of God engulfs Him, and yet there, never more than there, the Father could say the same that He says at the beginning of His Son’s ministry – “I am well pleased.” As Jesus gives it all, the Father is honored and He is delighted with the Son’s sacrifice and service.


Love of the Father

And as you ponder that, don’t miss the beautiful agreement of each of the persons of the blessed Trinity in the work that Jesus now begins. There is, of course, the work of Christ the Son, who steps forward here in obedience, to accomplish by the sacrifice of Himself, our salvation. But then as we’ve seen already, there’s the testimony of the Holy Spirit descending on Him in form like a dove to empower and equip Him for that work. And then there’s the testimony and witness of the Father who preaches, “This is My Son, and I am so pleased with Him.” And as you think about that, let’s put to rest once and for all any suggestion that Jesus came to make God love you or persuade God to save you, as though the Father were in some way reluctant to rescue and redeem you; but Jesus came and did all that He did, and so now the Father is compelled, albeit grudgingly, to redeem you.


No, no! The Father sent the Son and the Son came in glad-hearted obedience to the Father and the Father was delighted in the Son’s obedience and poured out His Spirit upon Him. And the Spirit sustained and equipped and enabled Him. All that God is, in the fullness of the fellowship of the three persons, are engaged together in pursuit of your deliverance. God has not been slow to love you. He has loved you from eternity and sent His Son on a mission to fulfill and to bring to full realization all that His love demands, even your rescue, so that the verdict you hear, spoken by the Father over you, is the same as the words spoken by the Father over Christ at His baptism. We have a hard time believing that about ourselves. We look ourselves in the mirror and we say something quite different about ourselves. We have a hard time believing that God really thinks this way about us. But this is the truth in the Gospel if you trust in Jesus. This is how God thinks of you. “You are My beloved child, and I am so pleased with you. I am so pleased with you because you trust in My Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.”


Word of Probation

Identification, consecration, affirmation, and then quickly look with me at verses 12 and 13. The word of probation; a note of probation that sounds here. “Immediately,” Mark says, “the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan with the wild animals and the angels ministering to him.” Interesting language again. The Spirit did not simply lead Him; the Spirit drove Him. There is compulsion, necessity, urgency. This is part of His ministry now, you see. In having been endowed with the Spirit, the Spirit commands Him and directs Him. He fulfills the work of securing our redemption under the governance of the Spirit of God.


The Last Adam

And what is it that the Spirit directs Him out into the desert to accomplish? Why is He there? He’s there to do what Adam did not. In the wilderness of a fallen creation, Jesus, the second and last Adam, has come to accomplish what the first, in the pristine beauty of the garden of Eden failed to accomplish. He’s there to obey, to pass the probation. Satan will tempt Him in every way as we are, yet He will be without sin. He will triumph where our first father failed. He came to write a new story, you see; to overwrite the history of Adam’s failure, to overwrite your history of sin and failure with a new story – a story of perfect obedience; the righteousness of Christ counted as yours.


And Mark gives a couple of little clues there that only he tells us about as Jesus is tempted. We are told that He was with the wild animals and angels ministered to Him. Those are little clues about the significance. What is it that His obedience will achieve? Well you remember before Adam fell, the glimpses we were given in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis of the perfect harmony in which Adam existed not only with the God who made him but with the environment into which he was placed, as all of the living creatures were brought before him and he named them, each one. But since then, the wilderness and wild beasts sound for us an ominous note. It’s a place of danger and not safety. But here is Jesus, the obedient second Adam, and He is with the wild animals. Here is a little glimpse of Eden restored, of the curse undone.

Eden Restored

And the same can be said for the angels that minister to Him. You remember when Adam fell and God excluded our first parents from the garden, the place of fellowship and communion with God, and they were shut out because of their sin. And God posted angels, cherubim, to guard the way back to Eden, to exclude them from fellowship with God. That’s what sin has done. But here is Jesus, the second Adam, and the angels are not hostile to Him. They do not bar Him from fellowship with God. But as He obeys, as He faces down satanic temptation and walks in obedience, they come to a door and to welcome and to serve and to minister to Him. It is Eden restored. It is the way at last opened.


What is the message? It is no more, “Let sins and sorrows flow, nor thorns infest the ground.” “He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found.” He’s come to unravel the knot of Adam’s curse and make all things new one day. So that, because of Jesus, because of His obedience and blood, the day will surely dawn when there will be no more curse, when God will dwell with us again in a renewed garden of fellowship and communion, and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. And death shall be no more, nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things shall have passed away. That’s why He came. He came to be identified with us in our sin, though He had no sin, that in our nature He might secure our deliverance that you might be clean at last. He came and was consecrated, like a lamb for the altar, set apart to secure our salvation, to tear open heaven that you may be reconciled to God. He came and was affirmed by the Father with words that, because of His obedience and blood, now are spoken of you, “My beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.” And He came to face the probationary test, throughout the whole course of His life He faced down satanic temptation, and where Adam failed and where I fail and you fail, He triumphed. And by His obedience, we are redeemed. Praise God for Jesus Christ. Hallelujah! What a Savior!


Do you trust Him? Has He made you clean? Has He opened the way and have you gone through into fellowship and communion with God at last? May the Lord make it so. Let’s pray together.


Father, we thank You for Jesus, an all-sufficient Savior. Thank You that there is no aspect of the work that He left undone; no need in us that He cannot and has not made full provision to supply. Thank You that He is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God by Him. And so we come to You by Him now, together, asking that for His sake You might have mercy on us and wash us and cleanse us and restore us to fellowship with Yourself at last. For we ask it in His name, amen.

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