Submitting to God's will and receiving His power
The Gospel of Mark is one of the four gospels in the New Testament. It was written by Mark (also known as John Mark), who was a companion of the apostle Peter. The Gospel of Mark is believed to be the earliest of the four gospels and may have been written about 20 or 30 years after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. It’s one of the earliest accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
The apostle Peter was the primary source Mark relied upon as he wrote this book. Mark’s goal was to preserve an accurate record of the words Jesus said and the work He accomplished during His earthly ministry.
When you read through the book, you’ll notice a lot of detail regarding Peter’s response to Christ’s ministry. In fact, much of what you’ll read about Peter isn’t very flattering which is interesting to note since Peter was the main source for this book. The other gospels speak of Peter more positively than Peter apparently was willing to speak of himself when he gave his account to Mark.
When we contemplate Christ’s teaching in this gospel, we can’t help but see His emphasis on discipleship. Jesus invites us to have a deep and personal relationship with Him that goes beyond knowing Him from a distance. We’re called to walk with Him, obey His teaching, see life and people through His eyes, and trust Him completely in all circumstances.
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)
Mark begins this book by telling us that this is the gospel, or good news of Jesus Christ, “the Son of God.” That’s certainly an interesting way to begin a book. Right at the outset, he makes it clear that the book is going to contain good news. We might even say it contains the very best news, because in the coming pages, Mark is going to reveal who Jesus is and how eternal life can be obtained through Him. In a world filled with conflict, suffering, and the fear of condemnation, this truly is great news.
Mark also makes a point to explain that Jesus is more than just a teacher or a prophet. He is the Son of God, the long-promised Messiah. Christ’s nature is divine. He is one with the Father and the Spirit. He took on flesh and lived among us for a season, but He has no beginning or end of days. Jesus is God the Son, a member of the divine Trinity.
Because it is the will of God that as many as possible receive life in Jesus, preparation and announcements of His arrival were made ahead of time. When reading the Old Testament, we come across many references to the day when Jesus, the Messiah would come to earth. Early in the book of Genesis, His future arrival and ministry was announced (Gen. 3:15). His life and ministry were symbolized and foreshadowed through the ceremonies, feasts, patriarchs, and prophets of the Old Testament. For thousands of years, His arrival was anticipated and prophetically announced.
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,’” (Mark 1:2-3)
Mark made a point to quote the prophet Isaiah who spoke of a messenger who would prepare the way for the Messiah when the time had come for Christ’s earthly ministry to begin. Isaiah lived and wrote his prophetic book about 700 years before Jesus came to earth. The messenger he spoke of in Isaiah 40 was the man we typically refer to as John the Baptist.
John was a relative of Jesus on his mother’s side of the family. John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were advanced in age when he was born, but they were made aware that the Lord’s hand was upon their child and he would be set apart by the Lord to speak to the hearts of the people of Israel, turn them back to walking with God, and prepare them for the ministry of Jesus.
But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:13-17)
Just as Isaiah prophesied, and just as the angel Gabriel told Zechariah and Elizabeth that their son John would do, John fulfilled the ministry he was ordained by God to complete. He invited people to prepare their hearts for Jesus by confessing and repenting of their sins. To publicly demonstrate that they identified with the message John was preaching, they were baptized by him in the Jordan river.
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 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. (Mark 1:4-5)
There was a humility to John’s ministry. Even though the Lord had raised him up to speak to the people of Israel and prepare them for the ministry of Christ, John understood that the multitudes that were coming to hear him preach weren’t really there for him. His job was to point them to Jesus. John wanted to see Jesus elevated, not himself. John wanted the people to know that Jesus would offer them greater things than baptism with water. In fact, John revealed that Jesus would baptize them with the Holy Spirit, and that’s precisely what Jesus does for all who trust in Him for eternal life.
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 he 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.” (Mark 1:6-8)
Reading about John’s attitude toward Jesus ministers to me. In this world, we’re often encouraged to make a name for ourselves. We want to be thought of as a big deal. Many people think it’s the highest honor to have their name on something public or visible like a building, a stadium, a hospital, or the cover of a book. And those who might be too young to earn that kind of accolade often take the short cut through painting graffiti on the side of a building, stadium, hospital, or a book. But John’s goal was never to make his own name great. His goal was to use his brief life to point as many people to Jesus as he possibly could. That’s the kind of goal we should all adopt.
Count Nikolaus Von Zinzendorf was a bishop of the Moravian Church and is reported to have regularly offered this instruction to his missionaries. “Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.”
I don’t know that we necessarily need to make it our goal to be “forgotten,” but I do appreciate Zinzendorf’s sentiment. Our mission in life isn’t to be praised and esteemed. Our mission is to glorify Jesus, the source of our life and salvation.
As John continued his evangelistic ministry and encouraged the children of Israel to prepare their hearts for Jesus, Jesus Himself came to John for baptism as well. Why would Jesus do that? John was offering a baptism of repentance, but Jesus is without sin and had no need to repent of anything, so why did He ask John to do this for Him?
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. (Matthew 3:13-15)
There are several theories as to why Jesus did this. Some believe Jesus was initiating His role as a priest at the age of 30 as was done by the Levitical priests in Numbers 4. Others say this was for Him to be publicly acknowledged by His messenger or forerunner. Some believe this was a way for Jesus to identify with the sinners He came to save. Others think this was the public inauguration of Christ’s prophetic ministry. There may be significance and value in each of those possibilities.
One thing I know for certain, however, is that the occasion of Christ’s baptism provided a powerful example of the existence of the Trinity. One God who exists in three persons, Father, Son, and 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.” (Mark 1:9-11)
When Jesus came to this earth, He did so in accordance with the Father’s will. When Jesus ministered on this earth, He did so as one who was empowered by the Holy Spirit. I don’t know why the trinitarian nature of God isn’t emphasized as much as it should be in our present day, but there’s an example for us in this passage that I hope we’ll take to heart.
During our brief sojourn in this world, we’re called to live like Jesus. We’re called to minister to others in His name and carry ourselves among others like He did with grace, compassion, mercy, love, and honesty. And if we really want to get serious about living as Christ lived, we need to be mindful to submit our will to the Father’s will and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit as we fulfill our life’s mission.
Relying on our will and our power leads to vanity, conceit, and legalistic pride. Submitting our will to the Father, depending on the Holy Spirit to empower us, and seeking to give all glory to Jesus, fosters a spirit of humility and positions our lives to become useful tools in the hands of God.
© John Stange, 2023