The Beginning of Jesus’ Public Ministry

February 21, 2021 / No. 4077

We return again today to the Gospel of Mark, and we will be looking at verses 9-13 of Mark, chapter 1.

And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: and there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.

There are two main events recorded in this opening scene in the ministry of Jesus Christ. They are His baptism and His temptation. Before we get to those, though, I want to say a couple of introductory words about these verses. First, in these verses we have the moment that Jesus, as it were, bursts unto the scene in His public ministry. “It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee.” Those days were the days when John was baptizing. Jesus was in Nazareth of Galilee in the north and John was baptizing all the way in the south, in Judah, by the Jordan River. And we can imagine that people were anticipating the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He is the Messiah; He is appointed to save. How will He do that? What will His ministry look like? And then suddenly, in these days, Jesus appears on the scene.

The second thing I want to notice is that, characteristic of the Gospel of Mark, as he begins, he does not tell the whole story of these events, but in very rapid pace he gives attention to little details here and there. The rapid pace is reflected in these words in verse 9: “It came to pass”; in verse 10: “And straightway”; and in verse 12: “immediately.” Mark wants us to see in these words not just that Jesus was busy, that His ministry was exhausting, but especially that He was dedicated to being busy with the work that God had given Him to do. That is what we want to see in this message, especially as we come to the baptism and the temptation of Jesus. He is taking on the work that the Father has given Him to do. “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.”

As we think about the baptism of Jesus, we want to look at this event from the point of view of the question: Why was Jesus baptized? And we ask that question because if we look at verse 4, we hear John preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Certainly, Jesus had no sins that needed to be washed away, nor was repentance necessary for Him. In fact, in the other gospel accounts we read that John was very reluctant to baptize Jesus. And Jesus does not argue with John, but He says to John, “Do it anyway.” And He explains it this way: “This must be to fulfill all righteousness.” And He means, not just that this is the right thing for Him to do in obedience to the Father, but that this baptism symbolizes how He would accomplish and obtain righteousness for us.

So, why was Jesus baptized? The first part of the answer to that question is this: to identify Himself with His people in their sin. That is one of the meanings or symbolisms of baptism. Romans 6 says, “We are baptized into Christ.” Elsewhere, Paul writes that the Israelites were baptized unto Moses in the Red Sea, and that we are baptized by one Spirit into one body. Now Jesus, at the beginning of His ministry, is baptized with sinners. The idea is that He is numbered with the transgressors, as Isaiah says it. And as One who is identified with our sin in His baptism, He would take that sin upon Himself and He would have to pay for that sin and die for that sin.

That is the righteous requirement of God’s law for sin: “The wages of sin is death.” And the baptism of Jesus Christ looks forward to the cross. In fact, He calls the suffering on the cross exactly that when He says, in Luke 12:50, “I have a baptism to be baptized with.” And He says to James and John, “Are you able to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” He is talking about His work in identity with sinners, and He is taking their sins upon Himself. So, at the very beginning of His ministry, we see the willingness of Jesus to take this sin on Himself, to be the sin-bearer, the sinless Lamb, submitting Himself to a baptism designed for sinners and a baptism that represents the wrath and the justice of God against sin.

But there is a second reason that Jesus was baptized. In the first reason we are really seeing that Jesus is speaking to the Father of His willingness: “I am willing to do this.” In the second reason, God really speaks to the Son. And He does that literally: “Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” but He does that also in the symbolism of baptism, because the baptism represents the anointing and the commissioning of Jesus to do His work. It is God saying to Him, “You are the One, you are My servant, you are the Messiah. Now, be about your work.”

As Jesus comes up out of the water, a dramatic scene unfolds. It is a trinitarian scene. It is both visible and audible. And it is best described as Jesus’ coronation and His commissioning. No other king ever received such a coronation. In verse 10: “Straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened,” and the word there is, literally, rent or torn, just as the veil of the temple was rent in two. It is reminiscent of Isaiah 64: “Oh, that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down.” This was an attention-grabbing, loud event. And as the people lifted their eyes to see, and Jesus Himself lifted His eyes to see the rending of the heavens, they saw a dove descending. This was the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. We have here a trinitarian scene, which was both visible and audible. Visibly the Son is anointed by the Holy Spirit, who descends in the form of a dove, and audibly the Father speaks from heaven and affirms to the Son that He has sent Him into the world.

Mark brings home to us here in his brief description of it the importance of this great event. When a president is sworn into office, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is there to administer the vow of office. Here, God Himself manifests that this Triune is there to commission and to appoint and to send His Son to be the Messiah. You remember in the Creation account in Genesis 1, “God said, Let there be…God said, Let there be….” But then, when He came to the creation of man—His crowning work—He stops and He consults within Himself as triune God and says, “Let us make man in our image and after our likeness,” to bring home the uniqueness and the significance of the creation of man. Something like that is here in the anointing and the baptism of Jesus.

So, the Holy Spirit comes in the form of a dove. The significance of the dove is not clear. But what is important here is that the Holy Spirit comes in a visible representation. The Spirit, of course, is invisible. But occasionally He is represented in a visible form, as later at Pentecost, when He comes in tongues of fire, or in the Old Testament when He was represented in the oil of anointing. Now He comes in the form of a dove. And that is to prove, as it were, that Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the Messiah, the Anointed. Hosea 11:12: “The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him.” Isaiah 42:1: “Behold, my servant whom I uphold: mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him.” Or Isaiah 61:1, the great Messianic prophecy that Jesus will read in the synagogue in Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings.” So, God here anoints the Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth is singled out for this great work.

And this is not just an identifying of Him as the One who will do this work, but it is also an empowering of Him, equipping Him for this work. John, in his gospel account, says of the Spirit not just that He descended, but that He abode on Him. And the point is that, from here on, Jesus would not only be willing but also be able to do the work that God had sent Him to do. The Spirit would go with Him, equipping Him and strengthening Him for the work.

So, here, at last, we have the long-awaited Messiah at the beginning of His earthly ministry.

And that leads us into the next great event that Mark records here: His temptation. Notice how Mark begins in verse 12: “And immediately.” We get the idea that Jesus, as it were, hits the ground running. He begins immediately. But it is rather surprising how He begins. We would expect Him to get on with His public ministry, His teaching and His miracles. Instead, we read that the Spirit driveth Him into the wilderness. What Mark wants to call attention to at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus is the conflict between Satan and the Messiah. The Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. This does not mean that Jesus is unwilling here. But this is an emphatic way of showing us that God willed for Jesus’ ministry to begin with this conflict with Satan, the great enemy. He must learn obedience through suffering; He must learn to submit to the Father’s way for Him, hard as it may become. He will be prepared and tested for the cross and the suffering of the cross through a life of suffering and temptation.

The word here, in verse 13 calls attention to that when the one who comes to Him is described not as the Devil or the Tempter, but as Satan, which means Adversary. That takes us all the way back to the beginning when, after God had made Adam and Eve, Satan came into the perfect, sinless creation as the enemy of God and the enemy of man. And that is explained after the fall of Adam and Eve into sin in the great promise of Genesis 3:15 spoken to the Devil: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed.” This, of course, is the promise of Christ, but it also speaks of the history-long struggle between Satan and Christ. And the whole Old Testament is really the outworking of that. There is an antagonism in every generation in the Old Testament to the coming and the fulfillment of the promise of Christ.

That is true even today, after Christ has ascended into heaven. There is resistance to Christ and the gospel. And Mark means to tell us at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry that this will be the nature of His ministry, that behind every scene and every event of His life from here on, there is a spiritual and a supernatural warfare and conflict. And that is connected directly to His baptism, which is His anointing. In His baptism, He is given His work, and when He begins His work and He shows His obedience, Satan wants immediately to shake Him from that calling and that task, to break Him from His resolve to do this work. Certainly we can see that in the specifics of the three temptations: to turn stones to bread to feed His hungry belly; to throw Himself from the pinnacle of the temple in order to call attention to the fact that God was His support; or to bow down to Satan, as a much easier way to have dominion over the nations of the earth than the way of the cross. Satan wanted Jesus to settle on some other way, some easier way than the way of the cross—to abandon His humiliation, to exercise His divinity in some self-serving way. Instead, Jesus goes the way of obedience to the Father, which, for Him, is the way of the cross and the way of suffering.

At the beginning of His ministry here, Mark sets the scene for the entire gospel account. We are going to see this conflict. We are going to see attacks on Jesus. They are going to come, not only from Satan, but from the unbelieving Jews, from Jesus’ own family, who would not understand the purpose of His ministry, and from His closest disciples. And we are going to see the conflict of His own soul in the Garden of Gethsemane in the hour of His suffering.

But, in His temptation here, as Mark records it, we also see a foreshadowing and a token of Jesus’ final victory as the Messiah and the Christ. And we see that especially in the setting and the circumstances—the wilderness and the wild beasts. Those are very interesting references here. We already said that, when John preached, he preached in the wilderness. And the wilderness symbolized a place of separation. John separated himself from the apostate nation of Israel. But it was also a place of judgment. God had caused Israel for forty years to wander in the wilderness. Here, Jesus is forty days in the wilderness, fasting. It is a picture of God’s judgment upon Him. And the symbolism is that Jesus would take upon Himself the judgment and the isolation that our sins deserved and would also be confronted in that by many adversaries and would show Himself the obedient servant of the Lord. And He would triumph. He would bear the judgment of our sins. He would, as it were, starve and take our punishment so that we might receive bread from heaven in the wilderness.

That brings us to the third thing that I want us to recognize in these verses. First, we saw the baptism of Jesus, then we saw the temptation of Jesus, and now we have the encouragement of Jesus. In these two verses, we see two ways that God encourages Jesus. First, in connection with His baptism at the beginning of His ministry. In verse 11 we read, “There came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” We should recognize that the Father here addresses these words directly to the Son: “Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Now, of course, these words were intended for others to hear as well. But they were directed at Jesus. God is saying to the Son, “I have chosen you. I have anointed you. I am sending you. I love you. I am pleased with you in your taking this work on yourself.”

Those will be such important words for Jesus, and important gospel words for us as well. Later on, Jesus will go to the cross and will cry out in the hour of His suffering: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” But He will do that with these words in His ears: “Thou art my Son. I am well pleased with thee.” And those are words spoken not just for Him, but also for us. God is pleased with His Son. Isaiah speaks of this pleasure in Isaiah 53 this way, and he is thinking of the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross, that God, when Christ is suffering, shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied. This is the pleasure of God in the work of His Son. It is a satisfaction in God that His Son is paying the price for our sins. That is what this means. God is pleased with His Son, and, at the very beginning of His ministry, as in His baptism, He takes our sin on Himself. The Father says, “I am well pleased with Thee.” What an encouragement.

But there is also encouragement for Christ here as He comes out of His temptation. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan, and was with the wild beasts. And verse 13 concludes by saying, “And the angels ministered unto him.” God sends His angels to minister to Him as He comes out of His temptation. Now that does mean that they brought Him food, but it also means that they came to encourage Him.

There is something more than we can really grasp that is going on here. In I Peter 1:12 we are told that the angels looked diligently into the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning our salvation, that is, they know the Old Testament Scriptures, but, as creatures, they do not know how all of this will unfold, and there is, among the perfect angels when Christ comes into the world, an anticipation of His coming. We see that in the angels coming from heaven and singing to the shepherds. And here we see this in the beginning of Mark’s gospel as well. They were interested in the work of Jesus. They come to encourage Him. They are, we might say, His greatest cheering squad. We read about the angels here, at the beginning of his gospel, and then not again until after His resurrection. But we do read about other angels, and those are fallen angels, the demons and devils. Jesus will confront them over and over again throughout His ministry. But here, at the beginning, the perfect angels of God come to minister to Him and to encourage Him.

So Jesus is encouraged here at the beginning of His work. This teaches us two important things. First of all, it teaches us the greatness of the task that lay before Him. He needed to be encouraged for the struggles He would face and for the sufferings He would endure. He needed the encouragement of God to Him as He took these on Himself. Sometimes in our lives, we need encouragement, too. But the struggles that we face are nothing in comparison to what Jesus would face as He would be the sin-bearer.

But this encouraging of Jesus also says something to us about the character of God and the kindness of God towards us. Psalm 103 says of God that He knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust. And we could say of God in this account here in Mark that even when God is displeased with us, still He is faithful to us and shows His kindness to us. That was true for Christ. In His humiliation, Jesus Christ carried our sins and was constantly exposed to the wrath of God for our sins. And yet God sees His obedience in that. God encourages Him in that.

And that is important for us as we think about difficulties and sufferings and sometimes the chastening hand of God in our lives, which comes sometimes even as a result of our sins. Then we can know, in our suffering, that God will come in kindness to encourage us and to minister to us. He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. Whom the Lord loves, He chastens.

So, we should see our suffering not as punishment from God but as chastening, because Christ (we see that here in His baptism) has taken the wrath of God from our trials and removed the curse of sin from us. That does not mean we do not have to suffer sometimes, but it means that God loves us in our suffering. He who knew no sin was made sin for us, and He took our suffering on Himself so that we might be the friends of God.

Let us pray.

Father, we are thankful for this word, for the willingness and the obedience of Jesus Christ; for what He did as our Savior in taking on the enemy of sin and Satan; and for the victory that He had in the end over all these so that we might be redeemed and know Thy love for us. Sanctify us by this word we pray, and cause our faith to look forward to the day of Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.