- The Explore the Bible lesson for March 3 focuses on Mark 1:9-20.
As readers of Mark’s Gospel, we are invited into the late 20s A.D. to consider and respond to the story of Jesus the Christ. Essentially, Mark’s entire Gospel is a call—a call to follow Jesus.
Characteristic of Mark’s action-oriented narrative, John “appeared” in the wilderness (1:4). Mark provides a description of his clothing to bring to mind Elijah (2 Kings 1:8), the ideal prophet of old who had called people to the Lord in his time. The appearance of this new Elijah indicated a resumption of the prophetic office, signifying that God was at work again. He invited the people to respond through baptism. This baptism—not unto nor reflecting salvation (see Acts 19:1-10)—acted as a demonstration of repentance. This symbolic gesture, carried out in the Jordan River, symbolized a cleansing of sin that made one prepared for the coming, powerful agent of God of whom John spoke. This coming one would bring not a symbol of change but real transformation through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Affirmed (Mark 1:9-11)
“At that time” (1:9) Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee came to be baptized. Why might he, the one who knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), be baptized by John? This is the first clue for Mark’s readers that this Messiah would not be like the one who was expected to come. This Messiah certainly would prove himself powerful as John had prophesied (1:7). In humility, however, Jesus entered the water and was baptized. This expression of humility was recognized in the heavens. God tore open the heavens to announce his affirmation: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (1:11). Looking ahead, in the climactic scene of the Gospel, God once again will “tear open” something (15:38), and the humility of the crucified man in front of him will compel a Roman soldier to affirm God’s assessment of Jesus at his baptism, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (15:39).
How does the humility of Jesus challenge us?
Tested (Mark 1:12-13)
Jesus would not immediately begin his work of baptizing with the Holy Spirit. First, that Spirit would lead him out into the Judean desert. More startling than the delay of his work was the reason for the Spirit leading him into the wilderness: to be tempted by Satan. Why would the Spirit lead the beloved Son to be tempted by Satan? Why might the Spirit seek out efforts to have the establishment of the kingdom undermined? At the outset of Jesus’ ministry, a battle must be waged. In the isolation of the desert, the forces of Satan waged their battle against the Son. Mark’s mention of the “wild animals” (1:13) bids the reader to grasp the fear, darkness and danger of the desert. This was Satan’s home turf. Jesus was not without aid, for Mark informs us that God’s forces were engaged in the battle as well: “angels attended him” (1:13). The battle of “forty days” reminds the reader of other significant events traversing a span of 40 periods: the grooming of Moses in the desert of Midian (Acts 7:29-30), the wandering of the rebellious Israelites (Numbers 14:34), and Elijah’s journey to Horeb (1 Kings 19:8). Each of those episodes involved a time of preparation. For Jesus that preparation meant beating the enemy in his own realm and demonstrating faithfulness where others had failed. Jesus passed the test.
Have you experienced what you think was your own time of preparation to be used by God?
Mark rather matter-of-factly notes John’s imprisonment—Mark will take up the story of John later—and follows Jesus to Galilee where his public ministry begins. That ministry involved the proclamation of the “good news,” the euangelion. This was a word of announcement, typically a proclamation of a Roman victory or the birth of an emperor, signaling a change in the world for good had taken place. The good news Jesus proclaimed was that the kingdom of God—that is, the rule of God—had come to the earth. The opening of Mark’s Gospel made clear that this good news of the kingdom centered on Jesus (see 1:1). According to Jesus, the proper response to the arrival of God’s rule was repentance and belief. Where there is no repentance, rebellion against God’s rule remains. Where there is no belief, there is no acceptance of God’s rule. Both are necessary to participate in the kingdom of God.
How do repentance and belief coincide? Can there be one without the other?
If there was any question what the proper response to Jesus and his message should have been, Mark provides four examples of the proper response. Jesus’ invitation not only to participate in God’s rule but also to participate in gathering people into the kingdom was extended to an unlikely group of men: fishermen. It was not that fishermen were especially despised or exceptional. They were instead just … normal. Jesus called these four normal men to a new life. This call was not to a belief but to a person: Jesus himself. Mark provides minimal details of their deliberations or response. Instead he provides a brief statement that epitomizes the proper response to Jesus’ invitation: “At once they left their nets and followed him” (1:18).
What have you been unwilling to leave behind to follow Jesus’ call on your life? Is it really worth it?
Jeremy Greer is assistant professor of religion at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall.