In some movies the identity of the lead character starts out a mystery and you learn step by step who he is. Luke Skywalker. A lot has to happen before we know who he is and Luke knows who he is.
In others you the watcher know but it’s a process of everyone else figuring it out. Superman. We all know he’s from another planet and only looks like a normal teenager and then newspaper reporter.
The gospel of Mark takes the Superman approach. He tells us right off the bat who this man is that will be the center of the narrative.
John Duncan (1796–1870)—not to be confused with our own John Duncan McLeod—was a Scottish minister who was called "the Rabbi" for his evangelistic work among the Jews.
He wrote no books but became famous for walks he would take with his students. A student of his assembled his musings from these walks into a volume called Colloquia Peripatetica ("Conversations you have while walking").
Here is one of his musings,
Christ: the Trilemma
Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or he was himself deluded and self-deceived, or he was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable.
John Duncan, Colloquia Peripatetica
That “trilemma” is useful in Mark. Jesus’ audiences have these same reactions. The Pharisees would kill him for being a “fraud” and calling himself God. His own family would accuse him of being “deluded.”
But to some, their lives and destinies would change because they saw the truth: “He was Divine.”
If you’re not a Christian, we’re glad you’re visiting with us or watching online. Consider that “Trilemma” as you hear Mark’s eyewitness testimony about Jesus: Is Jesus a deceiver, deluded, or divine?
Some quick facts about the man who wrote the Gospel of Mark:
Some facts about his Gospel:
This morning as we begin this study we look at his opening 15 verses. The people in Mark’s gospel will often be confused about Jesus’ identity. It will take chapters before we get a clear statement by one of his followers about exactly who he is.
But for we the readers it isn’t like that. We are told immediately who Jesus is. In this introduction to Jesus we are shown and told who he is. He’s like no one else. He is held up before us as the centerpiece of God’s plan of salvation and is to be the centerpiece of our faith.
Sermon: (1) The Christ, (2) The Messenger, (3) The Baptism, (4) The Kingdom
Read Mark 1:1–15 and pray
Mark’s opening sentence is kind of a title, kind of a beginning to the narrative itself.
Mark 1:1 (“The beginning of the gospel”) and Genesis 1:1 (“In the beginning…”) begin in very similar ways.
For Mark the introduction of Jesus is no less momentous than the creation of the world, for in Jesus a new creation is at hand.
James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark
And then in six words he reveals what he will take the rest of his gospel to explain: “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” That is the good news Christianity offers to the world.
Christianity offers the Christ. Not a political party or a new diet or tips for a better marriage or 5 things to do to make more money next year.
Christianity offers a person unlike anyone who’s ever lived: “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
To call him “Jesus” sounds to us more remarkable than it would have been at the time. “Jesus” is the Greek way to write what other Jews would have called him, “Joshua.” “Joshua” was one of the commonest names for men among 1st century Jews. That’s why it made sense to call him “Jesus of Nazareth” when referring to him. He wasn’t “Joshua from Jericho.” He was the “Joshua from Nazareth, you know, Joseph’s son.”
Now that name does has a special meaning. “Joshua” means “YHWH is my HELP.” But many would have had that name.
But none of those baby Joshuas would have been called “CHRIST” because none of them were. “Christ” is the Greek Word for the Hebrew, “Messiah.” It’s a title saying Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT promises anticipating a Messiah, an Anointed One, who would come as a King (2 Sam 7:14) and deliverer (Ps 61:1–2) and a champion (Ps 2:2) for the people of God. The Christ is Jesus.
But the Christ God provided wasn’t what anyone expected. They thought he would look a lot like King David—some kind of holy warrior who would establish an earthly kingdom. Someone who would take down the Romans and all earthly tyrants. But even by the end of our passage it’ll be obvious Jesus the Christ was a very different Messiah than they expected.
Mark then introduces Jesus in the loftiest terms he could: “The Son of God.” J. Gresham Machen did a series of radio addresses in 1935 where he was trying to communicate clearly and simply who Jesus is.
In talking about Jesus as God, he said there’s a common reflex that isn’t helpful. When we say Jesus is God we often lower what we mean by “God.” Some even take the approach of thinking we’re all gods in some ways. We all have a measure of the divine in us. Some kind of Pantheism.
But Machen said that’s not what Christians are saying at all:
Now the Christian meaning of the term “deity of Christ” is fairly clear. The Christian believes that there is a personal God, Creator and Ruler of the universe, a God who is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. So when the Christian says that Jesus Christ is God, or when he says that he believes in the deity of Christ, he means that the same person who is known to history as Jesus of Nazareth existed, before he became man, from all eternity as infinite, eternal, and unchangeable God, the second person of the holy Trinity.
J. Gresham Machen, The Person of Jesus
“Jesus the Christ/the Messiah, the Son of God”: That’s Who Mark is introducing us to. That’s Who he will work so hard for us to see and believe.
Mark’s opening is brief, but he still carves out a place for John the Baptist, the “Messenger.”
John the Baptist is a curious figure. He’s in the NT but in some ways he’s the last in the line of the OT prophets. What sets him apart is where other OT prophets looked ahead to a coming Christ, he saw the Christ.
John had his own journey of faith. He didn’t get it all right away either. But he saw the Christ.
John himself is introduced in pretty lofty terms as well: Mark 1:2–3. Two prophecies are spliced together here, Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3.
Malachi speaks of a Messenger coming before the Lord comes. Isaiah speaks of a Voice sent to “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Both of these prophecies speak of a forerunner. A man who will come first and THEN the Lord himself will come.
Isaiah’s Voice crying in the wilderness is to “Prepare the way of the Lord.” John’s ministry is, “The Lord/YAHWH is coming, get ready! Prepare your hearts, prepare your lives! The Lord is coming! The God of the OT is about to return, get ready.”
John didn’t expect that the God of the Old Testament would look like the man Jesus. That’s why John would have his own journey of faith. But we Mark’s readers shouldn’t be in doubt: When Jesus showed up to be baptized by John the Baptist this was indeed the Lord of the Old Testament coming to his people.
Malachi goes on to say that his Messenger is also connected to the OT prophet Elijah. The last two verses of the OT say that Elijah will come again and then the day of the Lord will come.
Elijah is the reason we learn what John the Baptist wore—his “camel’s hair” and “leather belt around his waist.” That’s just what Elijah wore (2 Kgs 1:8). His clothing was unusual even for his day, but his diet wasn’t. Mark tells us John the Baptist also “ate locusts and honey.” Locusts were an occasional part of the diet. As one man said, they were a “high source of protein and minerals.” Yum.
John’s clothing is meant to tell us he’s the return of Elijah. And that means the return of the Lord is about to happen. When Jesus comes to John to be baptized it’s the “day of the Lord” happening.
John had a ministry of baptism. It was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). To us that seems familiar. Not many of us were shocked by our baptism this morning, since that’s what Christians do.
But being baptized by someone else by immersion in water had never been done before John the Baptist. In fact the noun “baptism” didn’t even exist until Christians began using the word. A few people had practiced a kind of self-baptism, a cleansing ritual as an act of consecration. But nothing like what John was doing.
But John is aware that even though his baptism is new, it’s not the baptism we should make a big deal about. He prophesied of someone coming with a much greater baptism. He’s the one to make a big deal about: Mark 1:7–8.
John as a typical man could pour water on people. He knew he couldn’t pour out God’s Spirit on people. God had revealed to him that the One to come could do that. He could immerse people in God’s Spirit in the same way that John was immersing people in water.
Water could symbolize things but it didn’t have power to do anything in the one being baptized. Only the person’s faith could receive the forgiveness of sins God offered.
But the Spirit is different. When the Spirit is poured out on people that Holy Spirit can do a new and great work in the person receiving it.
Remember it’s Peter behind Mark’s writing. It would be Peter who would be part of the great outpouring of God’s Spirit on the church at Pentecost. Peter would then preach the great Pentecost sermon where he explained that what people were “seeing and hearing” was the Lord Jesus Christ pouring out the Holy Spirit on his people from God’s right hand.
All that was a few years in the future. But God is telling us here that the one about to be baptized in the Spirit himself is the one who will baptize Christians “with the Holy Spirit.”
So far we’ve had 3 witnesses telling us who Jesus is:
Now there’s a fourth witness that is the witness behind all these witnesses—God the Father.
God our heavenly Father has his own way of speaking. He’s not limited to words and small gestures. He speaks in ways for all to see and hear.
He does several things to communicate to the world that Jesus bears the divine stamp of approval. Jesus is indeed God’s Son.
First, he speaks by “tearing open the heavens” (Mark 1:10). When God wants to do dramatic things, sometimes he rends the heavens to make a point (Ps 18:9; Isa 64:1).
At the end of Mark’s gospel God will “tear open the veil” in the temple, the same verb used (Mark 15:38).
Second, he anoints Jesus with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Christ the Anointed One not just as a title but also as a fact. He’s the one Anointed by the Holy Spirit for the work God gave him to do.
And then the Father will speak. Sometimes we look to the skies and pray for God to speak. This time he does. He speaks a word of affirmation to his Son.
We shouldn’t trivialize this for Jesus personally. For eternity they were together in unbroken communication and fellowship. Then the Son of God became the man Jesus. It’s possible the Father hadn’t spoken to Jesus so directly for his whole life till this moment. For these 30+ years maybe Jesus was longing to hear a word and it hadn’t been there. But now it was. Mark 1:11.
The Anointing with the Spirit and the voice of commendation call us back to the Old Testament. They give us more insight into who Jesus is.
Isaiah 42 and Psalm 2:
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. (Isa 42:2)
I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. (Ps 2:7)
As R.T. France points out, the people we read about in Mark’s narrative will be unclear about Jesus’ identity, but we the readers have no doubt.
In this fourth section we see Mark the dramatic storyteller come out – Mark 1:12–13. “Immediately.” “The Spirit drove him out.” In the wilderness with “the wild animals.”
And here Jesus begins to do the work that he continues to do, overcome the reign of Satan in this world. He takes on the devil by letting himself be “TEMPTED BY SATAN” in a personal and unique way.
For the details of the temptation people would have to wait for Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels. Here we just know it was a battle and Jesus won.
“The wild animals” as a symbol for the danger of the wilderness. But to readers who would vividly recall the way Christians were wrapped in animal skins and placed in arenas with wild animals, it was also a close tie to Nero’s persecution.
Then this whole introduction leads to its high point. Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee – Mark 1:14-15.
What we do have in these opening verses: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
How should you respond? “Repent and believe in the gospel.”
The “gospel,” the good news that Christianity brings is…Jesus.
Prayer and closing song
 Duncan, Colloquia Peripatetica (R. Clark, 1873), 109. “Inexorable” = “inescapable.”
 Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, PNTC, 23.
 Machen, The Person of Jesus (Westminster Seminary, 2017), 18.
 James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, PNTC, 32.
 R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC, 66; Edwards, PNTC, 29.
 R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC, 79.
 James Edwards, PNTC, 47.
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