Mark 1:9-13 Reflections Part 2

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"he saw ... the Spirit descending like a dove on him" (Mark 1:1)


… and was baptised by John

By his own admission (v. 7) John did not consider himself worthy to untie the sandals of he who was to come but now it is the Messiah who submits to John’s invitation and is baptised by him. In both persons we have prime examples of humility. Here we have the Son of God submitting to he who was preparing the crowds for his coming. The public appearance of the two last key figures in the plan of the Father for mankind in the Gospel of Mark is depicted against the backdrop of humility. The crowd witnesses humility in action. This scene, however, poses a problem. If Jesus was the Son of God he was not in need of repentance. Why then did he submit to John’s baptism? The answer lies in the act itself as is often the case in the Gospel of Mark, sometimes also called the Gospel of action. Jesus is here showing that self-denial is the way towards true grandeur. Actions speak loader than words. Here, in this action, we have the living out of what Paul wrote:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. (Philippesi 2:5-8)
The episode of Jesus’ baptism is precisely this. He who is equal to God, emptied himself of his glory and splendour to become man, humbled himself and, without comparing himself with others, became obedient, like the crowd, to John’s invitation. He identified with man, he identified with the crowd. He was obedient to the point of death and this is symbolised by going down into the water, a symbolic death and burial of one’s sins, repentance. He did not go down with his own sins for he was sinless. He went down under the weight of ours:
But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
This is a foreshadowing of his physical death on the cross and of our baptism into Christ. This action is therefore full of significance. Humility is the gateway to spiritual maturity as death is the gateway to the resurrection. Humility is the condition for glory and power in Christian living. It is indispensable for genuine discipleship. The cross and the crown go together. All this is implicit in the action of Jesus in accepting John’s baptism. The baptism of Christ and that of the believer who accepts Christ is a public proclamation that self-denial is essential for genuine discipleship:
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)
It is with this public emptying of self and identification with man that Jesus begins his ministry, his service to mankind. Self-denial is the point of departure of Christian ministry and the hallmark of the Christian life. The emptying of self is the necessary precondition for being full of the Spirit and power of God.

The Spirit descending like a dove on him

The human encounter between John and Jesus has its counterpart in the divine encounter between the Holy Spirit and Jesus as he emerges out of the water thus clearly indicating the dual nature of Christ, human and divine, Son of God and Son of man. The Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove underlines the anointing of Jesus confirming once again the opening verse (v. 1 ‘Christ’, anointed). The descent of the Spirit through the torn heavens proclaims the reconciliation of man and God through the person of Jesus thus foreshadowing the rending of the veil in the temple allowing man access to the holy of holies, the barrier between God and man has been removed in the person of Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Holy one of God in whom “dwells the fullness of the godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9).
Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:50, 51)
Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh) (Hebrews 10:19, 20)
Man can now regain access to God reversing the alienation caused by the fall in Genesis 3. Man, by reconciling himself with God, enjoys the peace of union in the Holy Spirit and enters into the Kingdom which is joy and peace in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). It is not difficult to imagine that Mark probably had in mind the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, especially as it was also mentioned by John himself (v. 8).

Yet another voice - the Father’s

The human voice of the Baptist in the wilderness and the divine voice from heaven combine to reveal the greatest event that ever took place on earth, the union of God and man in the person of Jesus the Christ foreshadowing that union with Christ and the believer that takes place in baptism. The treasure of baptism is the salvation it brings through the putting on of Christ which allows us to participate in the very nature of God himself.
Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38)
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Galatians 3:27)
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21)
The voice speaks directly to Jesus and there is no sign that this voice is heard by others. The words are addressed directly to him and him alone. He receives confirmation of his true identity and reassurance of his standing with God. As man he, too, had to grow in wisdom and self-awareness. With humility and self-denial comes spiritual discernment for guidance on our spiritual journey and confirmation of who we are in relation to God. Humility and self-denial open the way to true self-awareness and reassurance that we are on track and fulfilling God’s plan for us.

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