Before starting this study, take a moment to read Mark 1:9-13. Although I’ll primarily be using the NIV version for the preparation of this study, you can read from whichever version you prefer.
Today’s passage continues the story of John the Baptist by showing the fulfillment of what he preached. John preached that someone greater would come. This passage shows Jesus coming to be baptized by John before beginning his earthly ministry.
Immediately after being baptized, the Spirit sends Jesus into the wilderness to be tested. Unlike the temptation account in Matthew 4, Mark’s account doesn’t have many details. Instead, he paints a picture of Jesus’ life and ministry using broad strokes.
One More Powerful
John preaches that one is coming who is more powerful than he is. He even adds that he’s not even worthy to stoop down and untie Jesus’ sandals. There’s no doubt that crowds listening had a picture in their minds of what this powerful one would be like.
There’s also no doubt that Jesus is not what they had in mind. David E. Garland writes, “Jesus appeared as unpowerful as a powerful one could get.” This ordinary-looking man from Nazareth comes to John to be baptized.
There’s something to be said about Jesus coming to John for baptism. John has established that he’s not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, and yet Jesus comes to be baptized by him anyway. Mark 1:10 tells us that when Jesus came out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.
From heaven, a voice declares that Jesus is God’s loved Son. This baptism pleases God.
Heaven Torn Open
It’s worth noting that in verse ten, Jesus does not see heaven merely opened, but torn open. This word, especially in the original language, should give the reader a sense that what has happened here isn’t just a glimpse into heaven, but heaven breaking through to earth.
When you open and close a door, you don’t see a difference in the doorway. The closed door is fully closed because it was designed that way. But if you were to tear through a thick curtain to get into a place, that curtain would remain torn. It isn’t a simple task to close it again.
The same is true of heaven being torn open in this moment. While the divide between people and God may have seen wide before, heaven is torn open and God’s voice is coming to those who will listen. This language and these words will carry further significance as we move toward the end of Mark’s Gospel.
Jesus, though sinless, submits to this sinner’s baptism. Immediately after baptism, he’s sent into the wilderness to be tempted. Mark doesn’t tell us much about this temptation, except that he was in the wilderness for forty days with the wild animals, being attended by angels.
If we connect these verses (as we should) to the first eight in the chapter, we’re once again reminded that Jesus is preparing a way for us. While we’d like to believe that way will be easy, these verses remove all illusion that the way of Jesus is a simple one.
Following Jesus might mean going out into the wilderness (either literally or figuratively) where danger lurks everywhere. Like Jesus, though, we do not go alone. Like Jesus, we’re called to respond to temptation and trials with steadfast faith in God.
Where is God leading you today? Are you being led to the waters of baptism, where you’ll feel the warmth and affirmation for doing what you’re supposed to do? Or are you being led to the dangers of the wilderness, where you’ll be faced with great challenges? Wherever you’re being led today, hold fast to the truth that God goes with you.