“The deep desire of His heart is to embrace those of us who need to repent. His baptism speaks of His choice of solidarity with us.”
“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.’
The Spirit immediately drove Him out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And He was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to Him.”
The journey from Nazareth to the Jordan River, where tradition says Jesus was baptized, would have taken ten days to two weeks on foot. As Jesus made His lonely way south along the shaded path that lay beside the river, He could at any moment have turned back from all that was awaiting Him and returned to the safety of home. He had had a lifetime to ponder His decisions, and for theses final solitary ten days it would have loomed large in His heart and mind.
All at once, with Markan abruptness, Jesus has arrived. There is no mention of John’s confusion at being asked to baptize his cousin (see Mt 3:13). In a flash it is done. Jesus has submitted to a baptism of repentance though He has nothing of which to repent. The deep desire of His heart is to embrace those of us who need to repent. His baptism speaks of His choice of solidarity with us.
We find Mark’s favorite word for the first time in Mark 1:10: “eutheos,” often translated “immediately.” He will use it eleven times in this chapter alone. It is the verbal razor blade he uses for the quick cuts of his fast-paced portrayal of Jesus’ life. “Immediately” Jesus comes out of the water and sees a vision. He has traveled far, both physically and emotionally, to come to this place. He is exhausted and needy. The vision and the voice will provide all that He needs and more.
Heaven opens and the Spirit John just referred to descends “like a dove” (Mk 1:10). Mark refers to the Spirit only five times in his Gospel, and three of those references are here (the remaining two are in chapters 12 and 13.) The baptism of Jesus is the only place in the Bible where the image of a dove describes the Holy Spirit. We must decide for ourselves what “like” means. Does it literally mean that a white bird landed on Jesus’ shoulder? Or does it mean that the Spirit somehow fluttered, as with wings, and came to rest on Him? (Acts 2 describes the Spirit as a flickering flame.) In Mark 1:11, the voice of God completes the appearance of the Trinity: the voice of the Father, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus, the Son.
The Father’s first words, “You are my Son,” are from Psalm 2:7. “I take delight in you” is a paraphrase from Isaiah 42:1, which begins a passage directed at the suffering servant of chapters 42 through 55. In Isaiah, these are ominous words, spoken to one who would suffer for our sin and God’s sake. But at the same time they are the words every son and daughter longs to hear from their father. Above all others, these are the words Jesus needs to hear from His Father at the outset of His ministry. (If you have never heard these words from your earthly father, hear them now, spoken by your heavenly Father.)
Baptism and wilderness – they are connected. One prepares us for the other. To be set apart by baptism means that a wilderness lies ahead of us. The Spirit that has descended now drives. In the original, Mark 1:12 opens with “And Immediately,” a double dose of Markan literary haste. Jesus is literally “thrown” or “cast” by the Spirit into the wilderness.
Without providing a single detail of the threefold temptation of Jesus, Mark characteristically abbreviates the story. Instead he adds a meaningful detail found in none of the other Gospels. Jesus, he says, would be waiting in their wilderness with them. With the persecution under Nero after the fire in Rome, the prospect of being thrown to the wild beasts in the arena became very real. Their baptism and experience of wilderness were as intertwined as was Jesus’ experience.
John cries out in the desert. He comes baptizing in the desert. Jesus is driven to and tempted in the desert. Again and again in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus will return to the desert. In Mark 1:35 He will retreat there to pray in solitude. In verse 45 He will be forced there by the crush of the crowds. In chapter 6 He will invite the disciples there to rest. And there, though He Himself will be exhausted from ministry, He will feed five thousand.
Michael Card is an award-winning musician. He has written and performed his own music for over 30 years and is the author of several books, including the Biblical Imagination Series that looks at all four Gospels.