1The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— ? 3“a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ “4And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
12At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, 13and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
It’s funny when you meet someone for the first time. It’s human nature to size them up – look at what they’re wearing, how their hair is styled, and how they talk. From this information, we very quickly decide what sort of person this is we’ve met, and whether we’re going to get on with them. First impressions are incredibly powerful. We’re always told, “you only get one chance to make a first impression,” and so often this piece of advice is absolutely right. If the first time you meet someone, you accidentally spill your soup over them, they’re going to think you’re clumsy, and there’s very little you can subsequently do to alter this perception!
Mark, in his gospel, is determined to demonstrate that Jesus is the Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah. This is the person that the Jewish people had been waiting for for generations, and who they were convinced was going to save them. Mark is clear that Jesus is not just a respectable moral leader, an inspirational teacher, or a good man. This is clear from the very first verse of his gospel – this is the gospel, he says, “about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” He couldn’t be any less ambiguous if he tried! Here he is, setting out his stall right from the very beginning. He leaves his reader in no doubt at all what his views are of the subject of his work.
Before we meet Jesus in this gospel, we come across John the Baptist. Mark straight away links John the Baptist to a prophecy in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, in which a messenger is sent ahead, to prepare the way for the Messiah. Mark clearly believes that John the Baptist is precisely that messenger, and so, if we were in any doubt at all about Mark’s understanding of who Jesus is, he once again makes it explicit for us that Jesus is the Messiah.
Mark next turns to the message of John the Baptist. John was clearly quite a character, as he had managed to attract quite a crowd! We’re told in verse five that, “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.” Not just a few, not a couple of dozen, but everyone! They weren’t just pointing and laughing at the man with camel hair clothes who ate locusts and honey, though. Oh no, they were confessing their sins to him, telling him of their darkest misdeeds, and putting themselves forward for baptism. There was clearly something magnetic, something remarkable, about John for all of these people to come forward!
Imagine how all these people would have felt, though, when John told them about who was coming next. Here was an incredible man who had drawn everyone for miles around to him, and who was getting people to confess their sins – quite a special guy, really. But he then tells them that after him will come someone even more powerful! Talk about building him up! This next person, John says, will not just baptize with water, but with the Holy Spirit. I don’t know how many people would have understood this at the time, but it certainly sounds pretty special!
I somehow doubt that people would have been disappointed when Jesus appeared. He himself was baptised by John the Baptist – but amazing things happened when he was, things that had not happened when John had baptised anyone else. As Jesus came up out of the water, the skies were ripped open, and the Holy Spirit, shaped like a dove appeared, and went to Jesus. Not a normal, everyday baptism, then! Here it was, the Holy Spirit, of which John had spoken, appearing from heaven; one of the three parts of the Trinity appeared, and went to Jesus, a second part of the Trinity.
That was not all, though! From heaven, a loud voice was heard, saying, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” God the Father, the other part of the Trinity, spoke, and declared his love for his son, Jesus! How could anyone present not now think that Jesus was the Son of God!
What is the first impression we get of this guy, Jesus, from the opening verses of Mark’s gospel, then? Well, firstly, Mark leaves us in no doubt at all that Jesus is the Son of God – he tells us that in his very first sentence. Secondly, he introduces the most famous man around, who tells us that the next guy, Jesus, is going to be even more powerful than he is. Then, when we actually meet Jesus, the Holy Spirit flew out of heaven to be with him. Finally, God the Father speaks from heaven and tells us that this is his son, whom he loves, and with whom he is well pleased! That’s certainly some first impression!
I’m sure that what happens next would also have been a surprise. If I’d been in the crowd watching all of this, I would have expected Jesus to march into Jerusalem and claim his throne as King of the Jews. What did he do, though? He was driven into the desert, where he spent forty days with the wild animals, being tempted by Satan. As the Son of God, he could have done anything, but he chose to hide away from the crowds and live as a human, suffering temptations as we might do. In this way, right at the start of his ministry, he demonstrated that perhaps people’s expectations of him were wrong, and chose to experience life as an ordinary man.
Mark has tried to make it absolutely clear to us in just thirteen sentences that Jesus is the Son of God. He shows us that Jesus is going to challenge everyone’s expectations of what the Messiah is. And he certainly challenges us. If Jesus really is the Son of God, how should we respond? This will become clear as we get further into Jesus’ teachings.