The ministry of Jesus was the divinely intended development of all OT history and prophecy. Jesus was not the invention of men who came after His time on earth. Rather He was the plan of God long before.
The first chapter of Mark can be divided into 2 halves: the Preparation of Jesus Christ’s Ministry (1-12) and the Prosecution of Jesus Christ’s Ministry (1:13-45).
Each half has three (3) elements to it. The Preparation of Jesus Christ’s Ministry includes: 1) The Herald of Jesus, 2) The Baptism of Jesus, 3) The Testing of Jesus. Each element will be the focus of individual sermons. Today we are beginning with the Announcement of Jesus.
Why don’t the Gospels begin with Jesus just preaching? Why the “run-up” to His actual preaching and miracle career? Because God is demonstrating the bonafides of Jesus. He’s the real deal. Each of these three events that Mark starts with – the Herald (1-8), the Baptism (9-11)and the Testing of Jesus (12-13) – are all part of the pre-ministry proving of Jesus as the authentic Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Today we focus on the Herald of Jesus: John the Baptist.
1: The Prophecies About John the Baptist (2-3)
John was expected by history. He was planned by God long before he ever was conceived by his aging parents (Luke 1). John is the final OT prophet, and numerous previous OT prophets predicted John’s ministry. In his Gospel, Mark pulls together several OT fragments for us in verses 2 and 3. Read…Let’s see 3 points in these verses.
First John the Baptist’s whole life and ministry was an appointment from God. Mark quoting Malachi 3:1 says, “I will send my messenger” in verse 2.
John the Baptist was not a self-appointed spokesman for God. Like all prophets before and after him his employment was predetermined. God owned him long before his heart made its first beat. His whole life was dedicated to God.
Second, John the Baptist’s purpose was to prepare the way for Messiah. “…who will prepare the way for you” again Mark verse 2 is quoting Malachi 3:1. Then Mark quotes another passage in verse 3, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” This is a quote from Isaiah 40:3.
If someone important is about to enter a scene it is far more appropriate for everyone to be ready for them. It says something about the dignity of the person entering, that, rather than finding everyone awkwardly scratching their heads or scrambling to figure things out, they are anticipating the important person. They are given a “heads up”, and, so, they are prepared to see them.
John the Baptist was the precursor for Jesus Christ. His job was to walk in first to the Jews to give them the heads up that someone great was about to enter Israel. His job was to call everyone to stop what they were doing, listen up, and get ready. Not for him, but, for the One coming after Him. John the Baptist is important because his whole purpose centered around Jesus. That’s a maxim for the Christian life: we are only as important as we make Jesus important.
When the President comes to town the whole town is made ready. Secret Service Agents arrive 3 months early to coordinate with local law enforcement; bad guys are called up and warned; travel routes are planned; highways are scheduled to be shutdown, he has 3 whole levels cleared at the hotel he’s staying at; bomb-sniffing dogs walking the whole route of his travel by car; hospitals are put on standby as the President’s travels never put him more than 10 minutes from a trauma hospital; agents are at each hospital ready to oversee any events; thousands of people are mobilized; multiple helicoptors and airplanes carrying staff, crews, security, equipment, vehicles and more travel everywhere he goes. When the President moves the earth moves.
It was the custom in ancient times that when a king was going to travel to a city, that crews would be sent ahead of time to make sure the roads leading to that city were cleared, level and straight. Trees would be cut down and roads widened, hills would be flattened out into a nice highway; potholes filled in and rocks moved to make a smooth surface. A team would enter the city, announce the coming of the king, and everyone would anticipate his arrival.
John the Baptist was the crew sent ahead of Jesus. His job was not to clear out Kidron Valley Boulevard, or to make North Jerusalem Street straight, or to make sure King David Memorial Highway was level. The roads he cleared were the ones that led to people’s hearts.
Words move hearts and its the heart that moves the man. The Baptist came to move men to Christ.
Third, John the Baptist’s method was to preach. “I will send my messenger….a voice of one calling…” John’s ministry, while emphasizing baptism, was one of preaching. How can they believe if they have not heard and how can they hear if someone has not preached to them? That is the question Paul asked in Romans 10. How beautiful, he says, are the feet of those who bring good news. John had beautiful feet. You could tell by what he said.
The importance Mark wants to impress us with here is that John’s ministry was predicted before John’s time. That means everything John did had divine credibility and that meant that the message John proclaimed about Jesus had credibility. Mark begins by showing that any true understanding of the ministry of Jesus must be firmly grounded in the OT. In other words, the ministry of Jesus is the divinely intended development of all OT history and prophecy. Jesus was not the invention of men who came after His time on earth. Rather Jesus was the plan of God long before His time on earth.
2: The Baptism of John the Baptist (4-5)
The first thing it says about John is that he came to baptize. Now, we remember one of the features of Mark’s Gospel is that it is fast moving and it is more action-centered than the other Gospels. Mark only records 4 parables (4:2-20, 26-29, 30-32; 12:1-9); only 1 major discourse of Jesus (13:3-37); often Mark tells us the fact that Jesus taught but doesn’t tell us what those teachings were (1:21, 39; 2:2, 13; 6:2, 6, 34). So, it makes sense to me why we read of what John did first before we read about what he said in verses 7-8. So Mark tells us that John came baptizing. Notice 4 things about John’s Baptism:
First, he baptized in the desert region by the Jordan river. Notice two things here. First, the Jordan River ran through an uninhabited area of Judea. A Jew could have looked at John while preaching and thought, “Well, this guy is way out there in no-man’s land. He must not be all there in the head. Otherwise he would be in Jerusalem where all the action is.” Be careful you don’t get your security from being wherever the crowd is.
The crowd was wrong, and often is. Jesus said in Matthew 7 there are two roads: a wide and a narrow road. The narrow road was the path of life and it was narrow because it wasn’t going to get much traffic. The wide road, however, was the path to destruction and it was wide precisely because of the bumper to bumper traffic on it. Don’t get your security from the crowd. Furthermore, in Isaiah 53 the prediction of Jesus’ coming was stated like this: “[He] was like a root out of dry ground.” The dry ground was symbolic of the nation of Israel, it was spiritually dry. The root was Jesus, whose “sprouting” was unlikely in such a dry place as Israel. In that same chapter it said, “we had all gone astray”. “All” referred to all – the whole crowd. The going astray from God is the reason the ground was dry. Here was John the Baptist, the mouthpiece of God, standing alone in the wilderness calling people who had gone astray. Calling those crowds that went astray.
The Jordan River was also historically significant for the Jews because their ancestors crossed the Jordan to enter the Promised Land. Their ancestors had to cross the Jordan to get into the Promised Land, to take possession of the blessings God promised. They couldn’t do that unless they crossed the Jordan. Now John was baptizing them in the Jordan. It was almost like a restart – like through John God was saying “You need to come back to the starting point of it all. You need to startover. You need to new start, a fresh beginning. That happens with repentance and baptism in the same waters your ancestors crossed. They stepped into my blessing when they stepped through the Jordan and if you are going to receive my blessings you too must step into the Jordan. In other words, a Jew couldn’t count on simply being a Jew as any guarantee he would be in God’s favor.
Application: Familiar religion is no guarantee of right religion.
Application: To go forward with Christ you will have to leave things behind (8:34-37; 2 Cor. 8:9; 1 John 2:15-17).
Second, his ministry of baptism was popular. Verse 5 says “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.” John was wildly popular among the people. He was a sensation. Which was a preview in itself of Jesus subsequent ministry. But, if we polled the Pharisees and the religious leaders, how popular would he be? His numbers would be very low. In Matthew 3:7 it says, “But when John saw many of the Pharisees and the Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from teh coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’. I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Again I ask, how popular do you think John was with the religious leaders talking that way to them?
The reason its important to note that everyone was going out to John was the effect it would have on the religious leaders: they would become jealous. They would be infuriated for two reasons: 1) they regulated all religious teaching and John was not on the approved list (Mt. 21:23; Jn. 1:22; 7:32; Acts 4:18; 5:27-28), and 2) they were finding themselves on the losing side of a competition with a new ministry (Mt. 21:26). Make no mistake: John was calling out their failures as leaders (Mt. 3:7-12) and stealing sheep.
Third, his target group was the Jewish people. Judea and Jerusalem is the land of the Jews.
One thing that is very commonly overlooked by us Gentile Christians 2000 years later is this: that the earthly ministry of Jesus was directly targeted at the Jewish people. Everything He said and did must be examined by asking the question: how was this specifically meant for the Jewish people? His ministry was very confined, very restricted. He never went beyond Israel. He never went to Gentiles – He actually ignored them to their face (7:24-30). The times He did speak to a Gentile or perform a miracle for one were highly exceptional. Jesus came to the Jews for the Jews first. (He didn’t seek unbelieving Gentiles. He only ministered to them incidentally, and that only when they came to Him believing in Him already. The exceptions when Jesus answered the request of a Gentile was always His response to their faith, like in Matthew 8 with the Centurion).
This is the MO in all of Scripture: Jews first then Gentiles. Romans 1:16 says it for salvation: I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the salvation for all who believe, first for the Jew then for the Gentile. Paul, although he was the Apostle to the Gentiles, always went first to the Jewish synagogue of any town he entered to speak the Gospel to them first. They had rights to hear it first (Acts 13:46; 18:6). If they rejected it then Paul turned to the Gentiles.
So here is John the Baptist, baptizing Jewish people. The fact that so many Jews were volunteering to get baptized was confusing, maybe alarming, and even scandalous. Jews don’t get baptized like this. Sure they were very acquainted with baptism: there were ritual washing of the hands and household items, and so forth. But getting your whole self baptized was not for Jews. Baptism of the whole person was only performed on Gentiles who were converting to Judaism. Jews were born into Israel. Each Jewish person was born a member of God’s covenant people. They were born on the inside, they didn’t need to get inside. Gentiles coming in by conversion were coming “in”. On the outside those Gentiles were “defiled”, and, more important to understand, they were separated (Eph. 2:11-12) from God’s covenant, and promises and blessings. Now, by converting to Judaism they were coming “near”, and, becoming part of the covenant by choice. That conversion, that entrance into Israel, included a whole-body baptism.
Do you see why that would be so confusing and even scandalous for Jews to be getting baptized by John? It would be like saying “yeah, yeah, I know I’m Jewish, but, somehow that’s not enough. Somehow, I’m defiled, separated and my Jewish ethnicity and my membership in Israel isn’t enough to cleanse me. Something deeper, something spiritual needs to happen to me.”
Fourth and last, his baptism was one of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Notice verse 4 and 5: “…and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…Confessing their sins they were baptized by him…”
The Jews were hearing John preach first. Matthew 3:7-12 and Luke 3:7-18. Notice here the distinct attitude of repentance in each person regardless of their profession: their repentance showed through in their readiness to do whatever was right.
His preaching instructed people to turn away from their sin and turn to God and to do it specifically out of the awareness that Messiah was about to appear. Upon hearing John this is what happened: they would be convicted by his preaching and their minds and hearts would be changed. They would humbly confess their sins as they turned to God. Then, with that God-ward momentum in their hearts they would obey John’s instruction to get baptized.
John’s baptism is not the same as Christian baptism. John was not baptizing people “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:18-20). John’s baptism was aimed at Jews under the law to prepare them for receiving Jesus who was about to appear to them. Christian baptism is for whoever accepts Jesus as their savior – Jew or Gentile. John’s baptism anticipated receiving Christ; Christian baptism happens after you accept Jesus as your Savior. His baptism is pre-cross, pre-resurrection. Christian baptism is post-cross, post-resurrection.
It’s important to take note that no water baptism saves anyone. Neither John’s nor Christian baptism. In both baptism’s it is the heart-response of the person, the response of faith in the message – that is what saves the person. That faith is also what compels someone to obey, for all obedience to God is done from faith.