Gleanings from the Text
–The entrance of John the Baptist in the gospel of Mark occurs right after a recitation of Isaiah, indicating that this messenger’s proclamation of Jesus is the fulfillment of scripture. Indeed, the allusion includes not only Isaiah but also Exodus and Malachi as they describe the coming of a messenger who will prepare the way of the Lord (see Isaiah 40:3, Exodus 23:20, and Malachi 3:1).
–Although the other gospels begin at earlier points in the life of Jesus, an account of Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist is the first glimpse of Jesus that Mark provides. The scene establishes Jesus’s identity as the Son of God, a theme which is repeated throughout the gospel. While Matthew provides an explanation for why the sinless Jesus would undergo a ritual for the forgiveness of sins (see Matthew 3:14-15), Mark does not address the issue.
–The Greek word, schizō, used to describe the heavens being “torn apart” at Jesus’s baptism is the same word used to describe the tearing of the temple curtain at Jesus’s crucifixion in Mark 15:38. In both places, the word indicates God’s dramatic activity in the world.
–Although this episode alerts readers to Jesus’s identity, the gospel writer gives no indication that anyone but Jesus in the story actually heard the heavenly declaration. The passage identifies Jesus as the one who sees the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending, and unlike the description in Matthew and John, the voice from heaven uses the second person in Mark, indicating that the affirmation is intended for Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (NRSV).
Food for Thought
Salvation in the Wilderness: The theme of wilderness found in both the Isaiah reference and the appearance of John the Baptist reminds believers that God is often at work in times of desolation. Just as God led Moses and the people in the wilderness, so God will lead the people once again through the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Waters of Baptism: It is in the waters of baptism that the heavens are torn apart and a voice from heaven claims Jesus as God’s son. Although we rarely think of it as having such a dramatic flourish, baptism today still serves as a time when we recognize our being claimed as children of God.
Sink Your Teeth into This
As a former participant and now leader of campus ministry programming, I think a lot about the baptism of Jesus in the gospel of Mark. Although the event is a means of public disclosure in both Matthew and John, only Jesus knows that he has been claimed by God in Mark’s version of the story. For those of us who worship in familiar faith communities, this Markan scenario might seem hard to imagine; after all, we are surrounded by people who have boldly promised to care and nurture one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. For a college freshman who is far from home and in the midst of strangers, however, the thought of being an unknown child of God is often a more familiar reality.
Therefore, I am always humbled as I observe the power of baptism at work in the life of the church’s campus ministries. Just as Jesus’s baptism identifies him as the Son of God, so does baptism still claim God’s children wherever their lives may take them. College students show up at the doors of unfamiliar churches, with confidence because they know a church back home had cared for them before. Congregations give their time and resources to nurture students in their midst, even though they’ve never met the students’ families or perhaps heard of their hometowns. Even without the help of a dramatic voice from heaven, both students and congregations trust that God has claimed the people in their midst, and they work to fulfill the baptismal vows that they trust the church has made. Just as John the Baptist prepares for Christ’s coming in his ministry at the river Jordan, so too do believers as they live out the promises of baptism.
Douglas R.A. Hare, Mark. Westminster Bible Companion. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.
Lamar Williamson, Mark. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1983.
Lindy Vogado is a Third Level Final Masters of Divinity student on the Richmond Campus of Union-PSCE
Vogado began her career at Union-PSCE in the summer of 2005 after attending Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina. She was a 2005 Ministry Fellow with the Fund for Theological Education and spent the academic year of 2007 - 2008 as a student intern in Clemson, South Carolina. Vogado currently serves the Richmond student body as Moderator of the Richmond Student Government Assembly.