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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:Christ enters his earthly ministry
Text:Mark 1:9-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 136:1-6
Hymn 62:3
Psalm 91
Psalm 2
Hymn 19

Reading: Isaiah 42:1-13
Text: Mark 1:9-13
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

Every Saturday the our local paper has a large section called “Working.” If you’re on the lookout for a new job, this is one place you might look. There are often requirements or prerequisites for many of the jobs listed – some of them quite specialized. Many of the ads also have a brief description of what the job involves – a so-called job description.

In Holy Scripture we also find a number of job descriptions. We can page through our Bibles and discover what being a king or judge involved or a prophet or a priest. But above all, we can also go through the Old Testament and find out what being the Messiah would involve. The Old Testament gives a sort of job description for the Messiah, the anointed One of God who would redeem his people. We find this especially in the prophets and especially with Isaiah. It’s in passages like the one we read from Isaiah 42. He would be the one in whom God delights. He would bring forth justice. He would be a light for the Gentiles. He would open blind eyes and bring freedom to captives. All of this and so much more. In Isaiah 50, we read about how this suffering servant, the Messiah of God, would humble himself before God and man. He would be obedient.

Hundreds of years passed by and finally the Messiah arrived. He knew his job description and he was going to carry it out faithfully. In his mind, there was no question about what needed to be done. He knew that the Old Testament job description for the Messiah required a humbling. With his incarnation, birth and youth he had already set out on this path. No doubt, he’d heard that his relative John was in the desert, at the Jordan River baptizing the people of God. He knew that he had to be there too. Jesus’ descent into humiliation continues with his formal anointing and his entrance into his earthly ministry. As we explore all this today, we’ll see that this also develops and impacts our earthly ministry as those who share his anointing. I preach to you God’s Word this morning with this theme:

Humbling himself, Christ enters into his earthly ministry

We’ll consider his:

  1. Baptism
  2. Temptation

1. His baptism.

Mark begins this section in a way that reminds us of the Old Testament. He uses the expression, “At that time…” These words were carefully chosen to emphasize that what’s happening here is sacred history, just like the history of the Old Testament. It is sacred – that means it has to do with God’s grand redemptive plan. It is history – this really happened in space and time some 2000 years ago.

Then, all of a sudden, the name Jesus appears again. His name was mentioned in verse 1 as part of the title of the book, but even there the details are few. Verse 1 told us that he is the Christ, the Messiah. He is also the Son of God. But apart from that, Mark seems to take it for granted that his readers will know something about the incarnation and birth of the Saviour. In Mark, the Holy Spirit wants to direct our attention right away to the most important period of the Saviour’s life.

We’re told that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee. Matthew mentions that he came from Galilee, but only Mark mentions his hometown of Nazareth. In the first verses of Mark, we heard about the crowds coming from the big centers in Palestine: Judea and Jerusalem. Now the Messiah appears and we’re told that he comes from nowhereville. If Jesus hadn’t come from there, Nazareth would be just one more forgotten small place in Palestine. If we put it in contemporary terms, it was like the crowds were all from Vancouver or Toronto and Jesus was from Takla Landing, BC, a little place not even on some maps. He had nothing to his name, no hometown credentials. He was just from a small town in Galilee, the hick region of Palestine.

Jesus’ humble origins set the stage for what happens next. Again, Mark is very selective with the details he wants to emphasize. The other gospel writers fill us in on some of the back and forth between the Lord Jesus and John. But Mark just simply tells us: he was baptized by John in the Jordan. And for his purposes, this is adequate; in fact, it speaks volumes.

Again looking back to the previous passage, you’ll remember that this baptism of John was something that the Jews would have been familiar with. When Gentiles wanted to become followers of the Jewish religion, one of the things necessary was baptism. John, however, said that it was the Jews who needed to be baptized. They were dirty and unclean and therefore unprepared for the coming of the Christ. Being baptized by John involved humbling yourself before God and your neighbour.

Of course, by himself, the Lord Jesus was sinless and perfect. He was not dirty and unclean. But by being baptized by John, he was associating himself with the people who were. He was identifying himself with their situation. He was humbling himself before God and his people. The divine Son of God, perfect and holy, took the baptism of John and in so doing pointed ahead to what he would do in his suffering and death: take on all the sins of the people and become sin for them. He humbled himself now and later he would humble himself to the deepest shame and anguish imaginable, taking our sin, our shame, our hell. Brothers and sisters, look at the Lord Jesus in the water of the Jordan. Fix the eyes of your mind on him. It’s the picture of Joshua passing through the river and bringing the people of God into the Promised Land. This is your Saviour and what a Saviour he is! He became sin for you. He became what he was not so that you would become what you are not. He became sin so that you would be righteousness before God. His humbling at his baptism pointed to his willingness to do that for you. His love for you. Doesn’t that fill you with praise? With love and thankfulness?

Verse 10 tells us that as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open. Again, Mark is using Old Testament language and imagery. Specifically, he seems to be thinking of Ezekiel 1:1 where Ezekiel saw the heavens opened and saw visions of God. The tearing open of the heavens means that this is a divine revelation. Something that has previously been hidden is about to be revealed and laid open for everyone to see and hear. Not everyone will necessarily believe it, but they will see and hear.

The first thing that was seen was the Spirit descending on Jesus like a dove. If you do a word study, you’ll find that the dove has a number of connotations or associations in the Bible. In the Song of Songs, for instance, doves are associated with love. Noah sent out the dove three times after the Flood. Doves were part of the Old Testament sacrificial system. Doves are symbolic of love, new life (creation or re-creation), innocence and sacrifice. All these things seem to be bound up in this image. As an aside, in our mind’s eye we often think that this would have been a white dove. Perhaps that’s because of various artistic representations of the scene. However, the text does not tell us that the dove was white. In fact, most of the doves in Palestine were rock doves. These are your regular pigeons, the same as we have around here. Very, very few of them are pure white. We think the image should be of a white dove, but the Bible doesn’t tell us that. In fact, perhaps the ruddy grey, irridescent rainbow appearance of a rock dove might even be more appropriate than white. It makes you think of the Flood again. But that’s an aside and while it’s worth thinking about, it’s not critically important to the text.

More important is the meaning and message of what was taking place there at the Jordan. Christ was being anointed with the Holy Spirit. We know that from Peter’s words in Acts 10:38. Peter says about this time, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power….” Let’s be clear about what happened here. It’s not as if the Lord Jesus did not have the Holy Spirit before this moment. As the Son of God, he had union with the Father and the Spirit from all eternity. At his anointing, it was publicly announced by God that this was the Messiah. This was Israel’s Prophet, Priest and King. Our Prophet, Priest and King. Here was the One for whom John was preparing the Way. Here was Israel’s hope and expectation in the flesh. Not only that, but his anointing also signified the beginning of his earthly ministry. Just like presidents and prime ministers begin their rule with some sort of inauguration ceremony. It was the same here with the Lord Jesus. This was his inauguration.

And we have union with him by faith and the working of the Holy Spirit. That means that we share in his anointing. Just as he is Prophet, Priest and King, so are we. In the past, as we’ve heard sermons on Lord’s Day 12, we’ve heard about what that entails (the job description!) – and no doubt, we’ll hear about it again in the future. For now, just note that those three offices, Prophet, Priest and King, are so essential to understanding who Christ is and what he does and who we are in him. In fact, as you read your Bible and as you try to understand what it means for your life, it’s often helpful to think in terms of Prophet, Priest and King. So, for instance, when you’re in the Old Testament, you might ask whether a given character is acting as Prophet, Priest or King. How does he or she point to Christ the perfect, Prophet, Priest and King? And then you develop what the text means for you and your life out of the fact that you are in Christ, you have union with him.

Our union with Christ is also significant as we consider verse 11. Not only was there the visual aspect, the image of the dove – there was also a voice heard. The voice of God. He said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Clearly this was God the Father. He made this announcement so that the world would know that this is the Son of God. The Son of God who is loved and who pleases the Father. All those there at that moment would have heard that the relationship between the Father and the Son is defined by love. They would have heard that the Son in his humility and obedience is pleasing to his Father. This is understandable when we consider that the Son was taking on the anointing that would propel him into his ministry, including his obedience, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension. The Son did not balk and this pleased the Father.

What happens here is meaningful for us in at least three ways. First off, this is pure gospel. The good news here is that we have a perfect Saviour. Here is the one who can carry the load of our sin and guilt. Here is the one who will be perfectly obedient for us. Here is the one who can save like no other. He saves from the curse of sin and from the power of sin. So, brothers and sisters, let us fix our eyes on him!

Then, in the second place, remember your union with this Saviour. Because you’re united to him, God also speaks these words in our text to you. He said it at your baptism and he still says it today. Amazing, isn’t it? Clinging to Christ in true faith, the Almighty Holy God speaks to you, “You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Hear his voice to us today. We sin each day, but because we are in Christ he loves us. He is pleased with us. We are accepted in the Beloved. We may not always feel like this is the case, but the Word of God stands true. Martin Luther had a little ditty about this. Of course, he wrote it in German, but somehow somebody made it sound good in English too. It goes something like this, “Feelings come and feelings go, and feelings are deceiving. My warrant is the Word of God, nothing else is worth believing.” Luther struggled with doubts and questions and had to remind himself repeatedly to flee to Christ and his Word. Perhaps you have the same struggle. Don’t trust your feelings, don’t build your faith on feelings, trust Christ, look to him and hear the voice of God to him and to you: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased. It’s objectively true whether you feel it or not. Oh, pure gospel, isn’t it? So beautiful, so true.

Believing that is going to impact our lives and our relationships. It cannot but. This is the third thing. When we are in Christ, God the Father speaks words of affirmation, love and encouragement to us. How now shall we live? Wouldn’t it be just natural for us to do the same with others? Think here especially of our children. How sad it is when you see families in the world who never affirm and encourage their children. How much more sad when you see families in the church who do the same, who never even say “I love you” to their children. How sad! Because they know the love of the Father in Christ, because they have heard him speak in loving words, families in the church should know better. Sometimes people have this strange idea that affirming and encouraging our children will make them have fat heads, that it will make them prideful if we praise them. Meanwhile, the exact opposite is true. We create a culture of pride when we do not encourage, support and affirm one another. Because if no one else builds you up, you’re going to be tempted to do it for yourself. And think again of Christ. He was more humble than we can fathom. Yet, the Father affirmed him and encouraged him. And when you read his letters to the seven churches in the first three chapters of Revelation, you see the Son of God affirming and encouraging the churches where he can – just like his Father did with him in our text. Sure, there are also some necessary words of admonition, but nevertheless, there is also praise. So, do we know better than God? Brothers and sisters, living out of our union with Christ, let’s take every opportunity we can to encourage, praise and support one another and let’s especially do this with our children.

Let’s now move on and consider the second scene in our text, that of the temptation of the Lord Jesus.

2. His temptation.

Once again, compared to the other gospels, Mark is unbelievably brief. The action moves right along. One moment the Spirit is descending upon Jesus and the next moment – “right away!” says Mark – the Spirit is sending him into the desert. Rather than fill in all the details from the other gospels, let’s take Mark at face value. What is the specific message that the Holy Spirit wants to communicate to us here at this place in Scripture?

The desert figures significantly here. John was in the desert and now Christ is sent out into the desert. As we heard last week, the desert was the place that Israel had to pass through on their way to redemption in the Promised Land. That pattern is continued with Christ in our text. In some sense, Jesus is re-enacting the exodus from Egypt. And as Israel was out in the desert and they were tempted and often failed, so Jesus is now out in the desert being tempted and he does not fail.

This raises the question of whether he could fail. Some say that because he is the Son of God, because he is God, it was impossible for him to give in to temptation. However, is it a true temptation if you cannot possibly give in to it? Isn’t it then just an apparent temptation? Hebrews tells us that he was tempted in every respect just like we are, except without sin. For that to be meaningful, it had to be a real temptation. For his humiliation to be meaningful, it had to be a real temptation. In other words, he could have failed. He was really tempted, but unlike Israel, he did not give in. This gives us comfort because he really does know what we’re experiencing when we’re tempted. He knows what it is like to be drawn to lusts and desires of various sorts. He knows what it’s like to have the demonic carrot dangled in front of your nose. You have a Saviour who knows and understands. Moreover, you have a Saviour who withstood the temptation and with his obedience covers for all the times that you have not. And being in him, you too will stand more and more as your sanctification progresses.

Mark tells us that this scene took place over forty days. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he was tempted each day 24 hours for forty days. He was in the desert for forty days and during this time, he faced the temptations of Satan. Perhaps this was a 24 hour a day thing, but it would be too much to insist on it from the text. The point is it was 40 days and we find this number more often in the Bible. It’s usually connected with important events in redemptive history: the rain fell for 40 days in the Flood, the waters also subsided for this length of time, Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days, David and Solomon each reigned for 40 years, and so on. It’s a number of fulness with respect to a variety of people and offices: prophets, priests and kings. Therefore, it’s appropriate for the Christ, the Anointed One to be in the desert for this period of time.

A detail that’s not found elsewhere in the gospels is the mention of wild animals in verse 13. Why does the Spirit lead Mark to include this? There could be a connection here with Adam in the Garden of Eden. Christ is the Second Adam in the desert. The first Adam was tempted in a garden of comfort and safety. There didn’t appear to be any threats – all was lush and green and wonderful – food was readily at hand. The second Adam was tempted in a scene of abandonment and danger, the very opposite of the first Adam. Perhaps that is what is being communicated with this detail. At any rate, we can see it as being indicative of the isolation the Lord Jesus experienced in his temptation.

Now Mark doesn’t really come out and tell us explicitly what the outcome was. It’s like he expects us to know, either from elsewhere in the Bible or from what follows. We’re expected to know that the Lord Jesus was victorious. His victory over Satan here was yet another battle in the War between the serpent and the woman. That war would be ultimately won at Golgotha.

For now, we see a wimpering Satan being robbed of his power and dominion. He cannot stop the conquering Christ. And after the battle is over, God shows his providential love and care by sending angels to minister to Christ. We’re not told what exactly those angels did, but we can reasonably infer that they would have given some kind of nourishment to Christ. The angels were a sign that the Father still loved his Son and would care for him.

For us today, we know the fulness of Christ’s victory. Because of his victory we are declared right before God and we are made holy in God’s eyes. And because of this victory, we are growing in holiness as we live our lives each day on this earth. As we live here, we can also be assured of God’s love and care for us. He exercises that care in a number of ways, including the angels. Some Christians have the idea that each believer has a guardian angel. The Scriptural reality is far better: we have hosts of angels watching over each one of us. The angels are there to serve, not only to serve God, but to serve us. Think of what it says in Hebrews 1:14, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” The good news today includes the fact that God is caring for you through his angels, just as he cared for his Son in the desert!

Brothers and sisters, the baptism and temptation of our Saviour were necessary steps in his humiliation. His work for us. When we reflect on these steps -- watch what it does to your heart and life. As you fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith, watch how God will change you, mould you, make you somebody new, the person God wants you to be. He will do it and we will praise him for it, now and forever. AMEN.

For Further Reflection and Discussion

(this can be inserted in your liturgy sheet or church bulletin)

1. Was there any significance attached to the fact that Jesus came from Nazareth?

2. Where else do we read in Scripture about heaven being torn open? How does that connect to what we read here in Mark?

3. We’re told that the Spirit descended upon Christ like a dove. Why is this an important detail? What associations arise from the image of the dove?

4. How do the Father’s words to the Son in verse 11 impact the way that Christian parents relate to their children and grandchildren?

5. Does the account of Christ's baptism and temptation connect in any way with our baptism and the temptations we face? If so, how?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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