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Jesus, You said that if we are thirsty, we can come to You and find living water that will satisfy our hearts and our souls forever. You’ve taught us that if we are weak, we can come to You and You are the One that will give us rest and strength, and that if we fear, we can come to You and You will be our refuge and our shield and our shelter. And then Jesus, You said that if we are lost, that You would come to us to come with life-giving water, to come with soul-satisfying strength, to come with life. And so we pray that You will meet us today in Your Word and then that You would meet us in the holy supper of our Lord, meet us, God, to give us strength, to give us life, to give us hope, to give us peace, and we pray all of this in the name of Jesus, our Savior. Amen.
Let’s turn this morning in Mark’s Gospel to Mark chapter 1. We’re going to be reading and looking together at verses 1 to 13, Mark chapter 1, verses 1 to 13.
Today, of course, is a day of beginnings. It’s the first Sunday of 2022. Yesterday was New Year’s Day, the very first day of the New Year, and I would imagine that yesterday, today, or maybe in the last half a week or so you may have been thinking about new beginnings for yourself.
So maybe some of you have begun a new health plan. So you’re going to eat a little
differently as this new year begins, maybe more exercise.
Or you jumped into some new resolutions over the last few days. Maybe you’re going to read more. You’re going to spend more time with your children. Take a weekly day off.
And then I imagine some of you, along with me, made some new focuses or some new plans, some new purposes, to read God’s Word for a new year, so maybe you began a new Bible reading plan, a plan that might take you through the whole Bible, a plan that might take you through the Old Testament, or maybe a couple of times through the New Testament.
I began one of those plans yesterday and in my Bible reading plan, it took me to Genesis 1 and Matthew 1, chapters that are about new beginnings. So Genesis 1, about creation. God creating the heavens and the earth. Matthew 1, about the birth of Christ.
Well, we are not turning to either one of those chapters this morning, but we are turning to a chapter that is a beginning chapter, Mark chapter 1. Mark begins his Gospel here not with the birth of Christ like Matthew and Luke do. Mark does not begin with the eternal pre-existent Christ as John’s Gospel begins. But Mark starts us off with the ministry of John the Baptist and the ministry of Christ, 30 years into the life of Christ at the dawn of His preaching, His teaching, His miracles, His ministry, at the dawn of Jesus’ proclamation of the Gospel, Mark’s gospel for us is good news about Christ.
It’s the earliest Gospel. The oldest Gospel. We believe that Matthew and Luke based their Gospel on Mark’s Gospel. Mark’s Gospel is based on the preaching of Peter, so imagine it. Peter is going around preaching about his experience, his eyewitness of Christ and all that Christ taught and all that Christ did, and Mark is listening to these sermons, one after another, jotting down what Peter was preaching and writes it into his Gospel.
It’s a Gospel that was written from Rome at the very end of Peter’s life, and written to believers who were suffering for the sake of Jesus, and it’s purpose is this: To establish the identify and mission of Christ, and so it paints a picture of Jesus as our Servant-King.
Here’s the reason why we’re turning to Mark 1 today – not just because this chapter is a place of beginnings, but we want to start today with the ministry of Christ thinking about that because it’s going to lead us into a series that we’re going to begin in just a couple of weeks, as we turn to Jesus’ most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. We’re going to turn to that in evenings throughout the spring.
Here we see the very start of the ministry of Christ, so as we read these words together, I want you to listen for something. I want you to listen for what this passage says about Christ, how Jesus is identified in this very first text of Mark’s Gospel, how is Jesus laid out and portrayed. So let’s listen to God’s Word together. This is the Word of God.
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight,’” John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And 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 John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes One who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
“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.”
There are four pictures, four portraits that I want to lay before you that I think we find in this text that show the identity of Jesus to us.
The first picture is this, that Jesus is the reigning Lord. He is the reigning Lord.
Mark’s Gospel begins this way, verse 1: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” In those few words, Mark makes three identifying statements about Christ right off the bat, that all feed into this picture of Jesus as the reigning Lord.
The first little picture is this, that this Gospel is Christ’s Gospel. You see it there. The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some translations put it like this: “This is the beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ.” But the ESV says, “This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Yes, this is a Gospel about Jesus, but it is more than that. It is the Gospel of Jesus. This is His Gospel to declare. Jesus defines the Gospel. The Gospel is simple the good news of salvation. He defines it by His life, by His death, by His resurrection, by His ascension. Jesus isn’t just the main character of Mark’s Gospel, but we could say this morning that Jesus is also the author of this Gospel. It is about him and it is of him.
How is this so? Well, it is so because He is, as John puts it, or Mark puts it in that first verse, He is the Christ. Jesus is the Anointed One. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the One who was promised from the Old Testament, century after century, promise after promise about a coming King, Jesus, Mark says, is that King. He is the Christ.
Then Mark tells us that He is also the Son of God. And of course that takes things further. He is not just the Christ who is promised all throughout the Old Testament from Genesis to Malachi, but He is the eternal Son of God. He is God Himself. Mark, you see, wastes no time in establishing the identity of Jesus. He doesn’t just make a statement about this, but he backs it up with proof from the Scriptures. You see Mark quoting Isaiah in verses 2 and 3: As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, he says.
These are actually two prophecies, verses 2 and 3, a prophecy from Malachi and then a prophecy from Isaiah. Mark simply identifies Isaiah here in verse 2, not because Mark was confused, but rather Isaiah is representative of all the prophets. God’s Word had been speaking about this One who was to come, this Christ, this Son of God.
So you have in verse 2 Malachi’s prophecy: I will send My messenger before your face who will prepare your way. That messenger, as we read here in chapter 1, is John the Baptist.
Then you have Isaiah’s prophecy, verse 3: He is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make His paths straight.” Or as Isaiah literally says it, “Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
Friends, the image here is how representatives would be sent ahead of a visit to the king in ancient times. So a king was going to come to a city, going to come to your town, and representatives would come a day or two or a half a week before the king and they would make preparations for the king’s visit.
It’s very similar to what happens today, right? The President, let’s say he’s going to come to Charlotte. He doesn’t just show up unannounced. In fact, there’s announcement a number of days ahead of time. If you’re in uptown and that’s where he’s coming, you’re going to see a lot of activity a day or two or three or four days before the President comes. Making preparations, getting ready for the king or for the President to arrive.
They would make straight paths, make things secure for the President’s coming, and in ancient times that is exactly what would happen when a king was about to come. Roads would be smoothed, paths would be leveled, for the arrival of the king.
And that’s exactly what John the Baptist did for Christ. Make straight a highway for whom? For our God. For the Christ. John the Baptist preaching and teaching, “Get ready, because Jesus is coming.” Leveling the path, making the straight the highway. Because the King was about to arrive.
You see, Jesus is a fulfillment of all that Israel had been hoping for, all these promises in the Old Testament of a Son of David who would come and sit upon the throne and they’d be asking year after year, “Is He coming? Is He coming? Could this be the year?” Imagine that they’re living in 2022, it’s New Year’s Day yesterday, and they’re all thinking, “Maybe this is the year the King will come. Maybe this is it. Maybe our waiting will be over.” And John the Baptist says, “He’s coming.” The reigning King, the Lord Jesus Christ, is here. Picture number one.
Picture number two – Jesus is also the greater prophet.
John the Baptist was a messenger, but John the Baptist was also a prophet, spoke the word of the Lord. We see that here in a number of ways.
First of all, he had a prophetic call. You see in verse 4 – John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness, and here was his call, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
What John did is he called people to turn from their sins and to turn to Christ. He preached repentance, “Turn, turn from the way that you’ve been walking, turn to the Savior who is here. Repent.” And he baptized those who repented, and those who confessed their sins.
John’s message was really the same kind of message that came from the Old Testament prophets. That’s why we’re able to say John falls into a prophetic line with a prophetic call. His message was like the message of Hosea, or Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, or Micah. All these prophets who spoke to God’s people and they said, “Return to God and God will return to you. Circumcise your hearts. Cut away the sin from your lives. Repent and turn to God.” And John the Baptist preached the same thing. He had a prophetic call.
He also had a prophet’s character. He dressed and lived the part of a prophet. Verse 6 – He was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. He must have been something to see. John comes strutting along, you say, “Who is this guy anyways?” The kind of clothes that he’s wearing, the kind of foot that he’s eating, the place where he lives.
People of God, we have to ask ourself the question when you read something like this in the Bible – Why do we need to know that? Why are we told what he wore? Why are we told what he was eating? Why are these facts important?
Well, of course, all these things made him stand out. You couldn’t miss John. He was different. You might see him passing by and say, “Well, that’s an odd guy.” But you know there’s more than that. This is how the prophets dressed and lived. He was dressed just like Elijah, 2 Kings 1:8, the epitome, Elijah, the epitome of the Old Testament prophets, John is dressed just like him.
He lived in the wilderness, like the prophets, as a testimony that he had separated himself from the sinful culture and he called people to come out and do the same, to leave it behind themselves. You see, he had a prophet’s character about him.
So prophet’s call, a prophet’s character, and he has a prophet’s charge. He pointed ahead to Christ. So he said, “I baptize you with water,” this is verse 8, “I baptize you with water but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
John’s baptism was primarily external. It reflected repentance from the one that was baptized, that they had repented of their sins and now ought to receive baptism. But he says, “The One who is coming after me, He will baptize you differently. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. He will reach and change hearts, cleanse souls. His baptism isn’t just something that comes after repentance. In fact, the baptism of Christ will create repentance in the hearts of people.
You see, John was a great prophet, but John understood something – he understood that Jesus was a greater prophet. He says that here, doesn’t he? He says, “After me comes One who is mightier than I, He’s greater than me, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”
To untie someone’s sandals was slave’s work and John says, “I’m not even worthy to stoop down and untie the sandal of the Christ. That is how low I am, but even more than that is how great Jesus is. Greater than I.”
You might remember how John says this in the gospel of John. He says, “Jesus is the bridegroom, I’m just the attendant. My job is to wait on Him.” Mightier, greater, He must become greater, I must become less. Who is Jesus? He is the greater and the greatest prophet.
What do prophets do? Prophets reveal the will of God. Prophets hear the will of God, they hear a word from God and they bring it to the people. That’s what Jesus does. If we want to know God, the way to get to know God is through Christ, the One who reveals God to us. Get to know God through Christ, through His preaching, through His teaching, through His miracles, through His Gospel, and through His Word.
His Word is a testimony of Christ through the prophets, through the Apostles. Jesus’ prophetic ministry to us today through His Word. That’s who we hear from Christ. We hear Him in the Scriptures, hear Him in the Bible. Just as the Father said about Christ, “Listen to Him.” The greater prophet, so the reigning king, the greater prophet.
Third – a sacrificial Son.
We have the account of Jesus’ baptism verses 9 through 11, abbreviated fashion here in Mark’s Gospel. We don’t have many details about it. John’s baptism was a baptism that accompanied repentance for the forgiveness of sins, so John comes here to baptize Christ.
Have you ever asked yourself this question? Why did Jesus need to be baptized? John’s baptism, a baptism for repentance, for the forgiveness of sins. He comes to baptize Christ. Why is Christ baptized? Christ doesn’t need to repent. Christ doesn’t need forgiveness.
By the way, this was a Christian that was asked of one our candidates about two months ago at a Presbyterian meeting. He was getting examined to be ordained and this question was laid before him – Why was Christ baptized? Did He need to be baptized?
You ever ask yourself that question? Well, Jesus didn’t need to be washed, He didn’t need to be baptized, because of repentance, His need to repent. He had no need of cleansing from sin that baptism is a picture of. He didn’t need a baptism due to His sin, but He was baptized due to our sin. His baptism was His identification with us in our sin. He identifies with us in our guilt, taking our place, substituting for us, just as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “He who knew no sin was made sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
And you see, the baptism of Christ then really pointed ahead to what Christ was about to do or going to do at the end of His life, to take our place as a sacrificial substitute on the cross. Through His baptism we get this emerging picture of Christ as a sacrificial Son, and there’s the Spirit’s anointing upon Christ and the Father’s word about Christ, all three persons of the Trinity present here at the baptism of Jesus.
No doubt you’ve heard it before that you can’t find the word “trinity” in the Bible. That’s true. But it doesn’t mean that you don’t find the truth of the trinity in the Bible. In fact, right here, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes down like a dove.
In Judaism it’s said that there’s only once place where the spirit is likened to a dove and that is at creation. Remember at creation, everything is formless and void but the Spirit of God hovering over the waters. In the Targum, the Aramaic translation of the Old Testament, it says that the Spirit hovered over the waters like a dove. Here the Spirit comes down like a dove, first at creation, here at the baptism of Christ. The creation event, here a re-creation event, as Jesus is anointed by the Spirit to minister the re-creative act of salvation.
Jesus’ Gospel, new life, through Christ for those who are dead in their sins, and then commended by the Father. Verse 11: “You are My Son, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.” Jesus, you see, is the acceptable sacrifice of God.
Who is Christ? He is the reigning Lord. He is a greater prophet leading us to God. He is the sacrificial Son whose payment covers our sins.
And finally we see this picture – He is a faithful Savior.
Verse 12 tells us what happened right after the baptism of Jesus. It says the Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness, into the desert, and He was there 40 days, tempted by Satan. Here at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. His ministry is about to dawn. It’s about to start. At the very start of things, Jesus goes through what Adam and Eve and Israel went through. He goes through a time of temptation, a time of testing.
For Adam and Eve, it happened of course immediately after creation. Tested by the serpent in the garden. For Israel, it was not 40 days of testing in the wilderness, but 40 years of testing in the wilderness. And of course both Adam and Eve and Israel failed. They failed the test.
But not Jesus. Mark is so brief here. All it says here is that the angels were ministering to Him. They came to His aid, came down and ministered to Christ as He triumphed over Satan, over temptation.
Sinclair Ferguson says it like this: “He came to undo what Adam had done by his sin and fall, but if he was to reverse what Adam had done he needed to enter the world not as Adam found it, but as he left it. So when tempted He was not in a garden, He was not surrounded by animals over which He exercised dominion, but He was in a desert surrounded by wild beasts in a broken, sinful, disintegrating world, in order to win for His people a way back to the tree of life.”
Christ prevailing here in the wilderness where Adam and Eve had failed, where Israel had failed. Friends, how encouraging this must have been to Mark’s readers and how encouraging it needs to be for us.
Verse 13, another one of those little statements you say, “Why is that there?”
Verse 13: “He was with the wild animals.”
Something unique to Mark. Not just a reference to the chaos of creation, but I mentioned it earlier in the introduction of the message. Those who heard this Gospel, read this Gospel, were Christians who were living in Rome who were being persecuted for their faith, who were fleeing to the catacombs, who were dying, torn apart by lions, torn about by wild beasts, but here’s a faithful Savior who Himself was also with the wild animals as they were taking their last breath, as they were making their last testimony, as they were being ripped apart, limb by limb, I wonder if they said, “Jesus was there. Jesus was in that same place that we are, and He withstood it,” so that they and us, whatever we are faced with, can withstand it and be faithful to our Christ who was the faithful Savior who stands beside us.”
Friends, who is this Christ that Mark opens with? He is our reigning King, He is the greater prophet, He is our sacrificial Son, and He is a faithful Savior to us. All of that we read here in this Gospel.
Tim Keller gives his testimony about becoming a Christian and the power of God’s Word upon him. He says, “I was raised in a Christian church and it was only in college that [Keller] found vital, life-changing faith in Christ.” He grew up reading, grew up memorizing the Bible, but during college, after his conversion, he says the Bible came alive. He put it like this, he said “the best way I can put it is that before the change I pored over the Bible, questioning and analyzing it. But after the change it was if the Bible, or maybe someone through the Bible, began pouring over me, questioning and analyzing me. Though as a youth I had believed that the Bible was the Word of the Lord, I had not personally met the Lord of the Word, and as I read the Gospels, He became real to me.”
Friends, that’s the intent of this passage of Scripture. It’s not that we would simply analyze Christ, who is He, what has He done, kind of look at Him through a microscope, but rather it’s that He would analyze us, that we would meet Him and know the Lord of the Word, the One who feeds us with His Word and the One who will feed us here at the this supper this morning.
As we prepare to come to the Lord’s table, let’s make a prayer of confession to our God, hear these words from Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord. O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my plea for mercy.”
Father in heaven, as we prepare to come to this table to meet Jesus, we do pray that You would forgive us our hidden faults, those habitual sins that we commit, sometimes without even thinking, they’re just wrapped into the fabric of our life. We pray that You would forgive us the patterned sins that we find in our thought life, in our language, our affections, our living, what we do with our feet, what we do with our hands, where we look with our eyes, what we listen to with our ears. We also pray that You would wash us clean of our willful sins, those sins that we have committed with intentionality and wilful disregard of Your Word and of Your law. Those times, Father, when our conscience pricks us and says, “Don’t go that way, don’t so this thing. You know that it is a sin against God.” And we suppress our conscience and put it down and do those things anyway. We pray, Lord, that You would forgive us. O God, we thank You for the assurance of Your grace, Your Word of forgiveness to those who repent and confess and turn from their sins. Psalm 130 again, O Lord, if You should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness, therefore You may be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word I hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Lord, we long for You like we long for the morning to come. O Israel, hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is steadfast love and with Him is plentiful redemption and He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.