Sermon: "Why Jesus Had to Be Baptized" | Mark 1:9–11



Notes (PDF):

Why Jesus Had to Be Baptized | Mark 1:9–11
Shaun Marksbury | Morning Service | 15 January, 2017
Heavenly Father,
·        We thank You for sending Your Son and revealing Him to us. 
·        As we study this passage, may we grow in understanding how Jesus’s baptism is part of the good news of Your kingdom.

I.               Introduction

As we noted last week, John the Baptist could have followed his father into temple service.  That wasn’t what the Lord had for him, however.  According to Luke 1:80, John the Baptist had grown up in the desert, living the life of a Nazarite, until it was time for his ministry to begin.

Jesus, on the other hand, had lived a few different places.  Remember that He was born in Bethlehem Ephratah (Mt 2:1; Lk 2:4), fulfilling scriptural prophecy (Micah 5:2).  After being visited by the wise men perhaps some two years later (cf. Mt 2:16), His family flees to Egypt from King Herod (Mt 2:13–15).  At some point, Joseph and Mary move back to Nazareth with Jesus (vv. 22–23). 

So, Jesus is around thirty years of age when He and John meet here (Lk 3:23).  There’s no evidence that they’d ever met before (or after) this moment.  In John 1:33, John said that he needed God to identify who the Messiah would be.  Being a prophet, though, somehow John knew when he finally saw Jesus at the Jordan River Who He was (John 1:29).
So, we know who, but we don’t know why, and Mark leaves unanswered the reason Jesus was baptized.  People were coming to John to be forgiven, so does that mean that Jesus also had sins needing remission?  No, John proclaims Jesus to be the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29).  That’s why, in Mt 3:14, John resists the notion of baptizing Christ—“I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  John knew the Pharisees and everyone else, including himself, needed baptism, but Jesus’s baptism is puzzling. 
A hint comes from Mt 3:14–15; John “would have prevented him,” but “Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ ”  What does that mean, and what is the significance of Jesus's baptism?  First, Jesus is identifying with believers (vv. 9-10a).  Second, Jesus is identified by believers (v. 10).  Third, Jesus is identified for believers (v. 11).

II.            First, Jesus is identifying with believers (vv. 9-10a)

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water,

Well, if you’ll forgive the pun, let’s plunge into a bit of controversy here.  John was certainly a model for Baptists, for He immerses Jesus.  No pouring or sprinkling would do! 

The word “baptize” is a transliteration from the Greek word baptizo.  BDAG, a prominent Greek dictionary, defines baptizo in this verse as “plunge, dip, wash.”[1]  James Montgomery Boice, referencing the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, looks to outside Greek literature and cites the pickling process—“baptizing” a vegetable in brine so as to permanently change and identify it with the brine. [2]   As if that were not enough, we could translate this verse “Jesus came… and was baptized by John into the Jordan” rather than simply “in the Jordan” (though it’s difficult to translate prepositions with such precision). 

Now, I go through that because I know some of you listen to and communicate with fine brothers from Presbyterian and other backgrounds.  I was reading this week a couple of authors saying this verse does not necessarily mean that Jesus went under water.  Perhaps Jesus simply stood “in the Jordan” (maybe knee-deep), John poured water on top of Jesus or sprinkled Jesus, and then Jesus is now walking back out of the water. 

The passive state of the verb does indicate that baptism was performed by John; Jesus did not baptize Himself.  However, the phrase “he came up” means “to be in motion upward, go up, ascend… of movement in a direction without special focus on making an ascent.”[3]  So, it doesn’t mean that Jesus was floating upward above the water, and it doesn’t mean that He was walking away from the water.  The latter is especially true if you combine that with the phrase “out of the water,” not “from the water.”  

In summary, Jesus was dipped by John and lifted back into an upright position.  Some of you, looking at your Bibles, are thinking, “That’s what I always thought it said,” and you’d be right.  Every person coming to John believing the Word of the Lord were baptized by him in like manner as our Lord. 

This is also important for us because it models our baptism ceremonies.  Case in point: It seems that the majority of baptisms in early church history were, in fact, by immersion.  The Didache or “The Teaching” is an early church manual dating perhaps to the first century.  In section 7, the instruction on baptism is that it was to be done in streams of water, or in other water if living water is not available.  Cold water was to be preferred to warm, so, I suppose when we build a baptismal if we get a new church building, we don’t need to add a water heater.  Here’s what’s interesting: only if there is not enough water available would pouring be permitted—immersion was the preferred mode of baptism.

What does all this mean?  Through His baptism, Jesus identifies with those who were repenting and truly seeking the Lord.  Those who were coming to John to be baptized were responding to the call of repentance.  Jesus, though Himself not requiring repentance, puts Himself with sinners in the body of water. 

As we said last time, the true baptism is of the Holy Spirit.  So, I’m not saying that you have to be baptized precisely in this manner to be identified with Jesus—you don’t even have to be water-baptized to be baptized in the Spirit.  But it is an outward symbol of identification with our Lord into which believers should be immersed.

III.         Second, Jesus is identified by believers (v. 10)

immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.

Note the assistance the writer gives to Gentile readers in v. 9.  Nazareth, a small town, wasn’t known outside of Israel.  As such, Mark notes that it’s in Galilee, an area the Romans reading this would recognize.

There’s another bit of assistance for us, as well.  While Nazareth is never mentioned in OT Scripture, the OT did predict that the Messiah would grow up in Galilee (Is 9:1–2).  By reciting OT Scripture about the forerunner, Mark identifies John as its fulfillment, and by moving onto Jesus, he identifies the forerunner’s Messiah for us.  As such, the mention of Galilee isn’t an incidental geographical point, but further evidence that Jesus is the Christ.  But that’s not the only identification in this text. 

This verse says that Jesus was coming up out of the water.  Lk 3:21 notes that He was praying at this moment, and the word “immediately” here indicates that there’s no delay between Jesus’s baptism and the heavens being rent asunder.  Considering the consensus of the Gospels, it seems that Jesus is lifting His head out of the water and praying, and immediately a cleft in the heavens appears.  (I won’t theorize on this celestial crevice other than the fact that Stephen saw a similar opening with Jesus at the right hand of God, Acts 7:55–56).

Out of the tear comes the Holy Spirit in bodily form.  We talked about this on Wednesday night when studying the Holy Spirit.  The text doesn’t say the Spirit is a dove, but that He came down like a dove and alighted upon Jesus.   Why a dove?

There are a few examples of doves in Scripture and in rabbinical tradition, but they all seems to fail as explanations.  They’re common birds in Israel and picture peace and gentleness.  However, we may be missing the point. 

One good image is perhaps the Spirit’s brooding activity at creation, Gn. 1:2.  One commentator notes that “the Spirit comes fluttering down on Jesus “like a dove” (not “as a dove”).  It is a dovelike descent, not a dovelike Spirit.  The descent of power from heaven that inaugurates God’s reign does not swoop down like an eagle or a falcon but comes quietly and gently like a hovering dove.”[4]  So, the point seems to be how the Spirit comes, that He’s “descending on him.”

It’s interesting to think of the different ways in which the Spirit could have come.  He could have descended upon our Lord like fire.  But that would not be in line with our Lord’s ministry.  “He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Is 42:2–3).  As Calvin says, “And in this symbol has been held out to us an eminent token of the sweetest consolation, that we may not fear to approach to Christ, who meets us, not in the formidable power of the Spirit, but clothed with gentle and lovely grace.”[5]

Verse 1 of Isaiah 42 says, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him.”  The Spirit rests on Christ as a visible sign of His empowerment for ministry (Is 61:1), and it’s a sign to John the Baptist as well as to us. 

So, we can identify Jesus at His baptism.  Even so, in case you miss the significance here, the Father identifies Jesus next.

IV.         Third, Jesus is identified for believers (v. 11)

11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

What we see here are all three Persons of the Trinity present as the ministry of Christ is to begin—Father, Son, and Spirit.  The Holy Spirit like a dove alights upon Christ, a visible sign of His empowerment for ministry (Is 61:1).  At the same time, a voice from the Father echoes for all to hear.  John the Baptist had both seen the Spirit and heard the Father’s pronouncement (John 1:34) while Jesus stood there.  This will be reflected in the baptismal formula of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19—Jesus commanded, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 

Each Person in the Trinity has a specific task.  The Holy Spirit equips for divine tasks (cf. 1 Sm 16:13), and the meaning of “Christ” is “Anointed One.”  What is spectacularly identified here is the beginning of Jesus’s earthly ministry.  In Lk 4:16–21, He goes into the synagogue, opens the scroll, and reads, “18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’  20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ ”  What are some aspects of Christ’s ministry as the Son of God here?

A.              Jesus is our High Priest

This may be part of the righteousness Christ said must be fulfilled.  Hebrews makes the case that the Father is appointing Jesus as High Priest here, after the order of Melchizedek (Hb 5:4–10).  A priest needed to be at least 30 years old (Nm 4:3, 47), which we already noted is our Lord’s age at this point.  A priest descending Aaron could not also be king, though, which is why our Lord is in the order of the king-priest Melchizedek. 

This is why Jesus had the authority to cleanse the temple.  Remember when they asked Jesus who gave Him such authority (Mt 21:23; Mk 11:28)?  What does Jesus do?  Ask them about John the Baptist.  “Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.  Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me” (Mk 11:29–30).  This wasn’t just a random question to make them look foolish—it was an answer to their question, which is why they refused to answer Him (vv. 31–33).

Christ’s baptism was His consecration for the task as our Great High Priest, interceding for us when we sin.

B.              Jesus is our Sacrifice

In identifying Jesus as the Son of God, the Father calls to mind another father.  Genesis 22 is the sacrifice of Isaac.  As you might remember, Isaac wasn’t sacrificed, though.  We read there, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided” (Gn 22:14).  This is the same hill this Son will be offered for sins.  In John 12:28, the Father’s voice again calls attention to His beloved Son; Jesus speaks about His coming crucifixion and prays, “Father, glorify your name,” and the Father responds, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

Baptism also paints an image of the end of Christ’s earthly ministry.  He’ll die for sinners, be buried, and raise on the third day for those who trust in Him.  Rm 6:3–4 reads, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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.”  This means that Christ’s baptism also foreshadows that He would raise again. 

We even see foreshadowing in the splitting of the heavens.  The next time we read of a splitting is toward the end of Mark in chapter fifteen, where the temple curtain is torn top to bottom (15:38).  At the end of His work on the cross, God needs no more sacrifice upon the altar.

Ultimately, it’s not about being baptized with water, because Jesus didn’t baptize John when asked.  What we have here is the sinless Son of God standing in the place of sinners.  It foreshadows the union we have with Christ through spiritual baptism, knowing that nothing can separate us from Him.  It communicates the hope of new life, grace for today and hope for tomorrow.  This is what we confess when we stand before others and are physically baptized. 

C.              Jesus is our Messiah

With all of this, we come full circle.  The Father’s announcement in v. 11 proves what Mark said in v. 1—Jesus is the Son of God.  It reminds us of what the Lord revealed in Ps 2:7—“The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’”  Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.  He’s the anointed One for this specific ministry announced by the Father.

We even have here a foreshadowing of His whole ministry, including His second coming in which He will subdue the nations as Psalm 2 says.  One interesting fact I found out about Nazareth this week is that it’s located on a ridge.  If you remember, in Luke 4:29, the want to push Jesus off the cliff, so it’s high where Jesus grew up.  What’s interesting is that it overlooks Megiddo, a wide valley of many battles, including the final battle of history—Armageddon.  Jesus spent most His first coming overlooking the battlefield hastening His Second Coming (Rv 16:14–16). 
That leads us to some final thoughts.

V.              Final Thoughts

Calvin says of the occasion of our Lord’s baptism, “The general reason why Christ received baptism was, that he might render full obedience to the Father; and the special reason was, that he might consecrate baptism in his own body, that we might have it in common with him.”[6]
If you are not a believer, or you haven’t been baptized, consider this.  The Person and ministry of Jesus Christ pleases God the Father.  That’s Who we should follow.

I want you to consider the wonders of the gospel with this.  Jesus fulfilled all this righteousness for you and me.  He took on all of this, identifying with us and being identified for the sake of our souls.

Dear Lord,
·        I thank You, Holy Trinity, that You have done so much for us.  
o   I thank You, Lord Jesus, for coming being baptized with us, that we may live through Your sacrifice and life.
o   I thank You, Holy Spirit, for the grace and empowerment You grant us.
o   I thank You, Heavenly Father, for sending Your Son and announcing Him to us.
·        I pray that the good news of the gospel will remain our focus.

[1] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 164.
[2] James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith: A Comprehensive & Readable Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 598.
[3] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 58.
[4] David E. Garland, The NIV Application Commentary: Mark (Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 48.
[5] John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 204.
[6] John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 202.

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