The first thing that hits us when we open the gospel of Mark are the words, “The Beginning”. John’s gospel also begins with the words, “In the Beginning”. We’re back to the start of the Bible. The book of Genesis opens with the majestic words, “In the Beginning”. So the evangelist sets the scene with simplicity and economy: we’re getting a fresh start folks. This is the story of a new creation, and it’s “good news”.
The words “evangelion” is used. This is the word from which we get “evangelist” and “Evangelical” and it means “good news” or “the gospel”. The good news is of Jesus Christ. “Jesus” is the Greek form of the name “Joshua” or “Yeshua” which means “Savior”. That was Jesus’ name. The title “Christ” means anointed one. The Messiah was to be the anointed one. The words “Son of God” are in brackets because scholars think they are a later addition to the text.
Mark plunges straight into the story by introducing John the Baptist. He says he is quoting Isaiah the Old Testament prophet, but in reality the quote is a conflation of texts from Isaiah and Malachi. That’s okay. He’s making the point that John the Baptist is the bridge between the Old Testament and the New. He’s following in the prophetic tradition. He’s the last of the old Bible thumping preachers and he is fulfilling all they said would come true. That’s why he wears the rough clothes and lives in the wilderness like Elijah.
There was a Jewish prophecy that before the Messiah appeared Elijah would come again. Mark’s making the point that John the Baptist fulfills the prophecies of Elijah returned. “Get ready” he seems to be saying. “If Elijah has appeared the Messiah is right around the corner.”
Everybody was going out to see and hear John the Baptist and they were being baptized to mark their repentance. This is old fashioned revival meeting stuff. You’ve got a fiery preacher. You’ve got the river of life. You’ve got people turning from their sins and turning to God big time. The stage is set to meet the Messiah.
Then Jesus appears from Galilee to be baptized by John. Galilee was North of where John was baptizing. Jesus appeared as a stranger to most of the people in Judea. Who was this stranger? John said he was greater–so great that he was not worthy to untie his sandals.
When he was baptized the heavens were “torn open”. I like that. Mark uses a lot of violent sounding language. The heavens were “torn open” is a metaphor for Jesus interruption into the physical and historical world. Heaven which was normally sealed up tightly was torn open when Jesus came into the world. imagine God ripping heaven open to make way for his Son to appear. Then at the baptism the heavens are torn open so the Holy Spirit can descend like a dove. Then God speaks his approval.
Did everyone hear the voice? Did only Jesus hear it? Did John hear it? Maybe others heard it as thunder. That’s what the other gospels suggest.
And that dove? Here we have the new creation once again. In Genesis the Spirit of God broods over the waters of creation. God speaks creation into being. Here are the waters of the new creation. God’s Word is now enfleshed in the world and the Spirit like a great bird hovers over the waters of this new creation, and just as God bellowed out in Genesis with delight, “That’s Good!” so when he sees his Son he says, “That’s Good! I am well pleased.”
Then suddenly the heavens are tightly closed again and Mark uses more violent language. The Spirit “throws” Jesus out into the desert. He “thrusts” Jesus out into the desert to be tempted. This sounds like Adam being expelled from the Garden of Eden. Adam is thrown out into the desert of the world. Jesus is thrown out into the desert of the world.
Then this scary and intriguing detail: “He was among the wild beasts.” Yikes! “Where the Wild Things Are.” Not just lions and tigers and bears and scorpions and snakes and hyenas and other horrors, but the wild beasts of hell too, for Satan was there and the drama now begins.