Perhaps the first written account of Jesus’s ministry, the Gospel of Mark was written almost thirty years after His death and resurrection. The authorship has been unanimously attributed to John Mark, a Hellenistic Jew, who came from a wealthy family and had the means and education to write such an account at a time when only a few people would have been able to do so. As part of the early Church movement, John Mark’s family was heavily involved in building the community as his cousin Barnabas was a generous contributor to the cause and his childhood home was a regular place of worship. He even accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journeys and would have heard countless sermons about the life and mission of Jesus. Amongst the disciples, Mark was perhaps closest to Peter and according to the early church traditions, it was his sermons that influenced his account of the Gospel. At the time of writing this account of the life of Christ, the Roman church was facing persecution. Perhaps the intention of recording the very first account of the life of Jesus, which was previously only orally narrated, would have to do with the persecutions and the fact that apostles were not being able to travel to those Roman cities and encourage the believers during their time of trial.
The Greatest Hits Gospel
While the accounts of Luke and Matthew tried to capture the early years of Jesus, Mark jumps starts his version from the start of Jesus’s ministry. Since Mark only knew what he heard in the sermons of Peter, Paul and the other apostles, his account seems like a fast-tracked version of Jesus’s ministry. His Gospel often does not match with the chronology followed by the other writers and focuses only on revealing the identity of Jesus as the Messiah and not so much on the minor details that are included in other accounts. Amidst the impending persecution of the Roman churches, Mark’s theme for the Gospel seems to be that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah who did not come to overturn the Roman government but to restore the bridge between humanity and God, by humble dying on the cross.
Preparing the Way
“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”Mark 1:2
More than half a century before Jesus’s birth, the prophet Isaiah spoke about messengers sent before the Messiah to prepare the way. While the other writers mention messengers such as the jubilant shepherds, the Magi, the angels, Simeon the devout and Anna the prophet, Mark mentions only the last messenger, John the baptist. There is no mention about the relationship between the two or even the incredible birth and the life of John, but only that he was the man that baptised our Lord.
The whole Judean countryside flocked to see this man, some perhaps to see a wild mad man but many to attain what was previously unattainable, repentance and forgiveness of their sins. When the people heard that God’s salvation was available to all, they poured in great numbers at the banks of the Jordan River where John baptized them. For the first time, coming into the fold of God did not seem like joining an exclusive club, which handed out memberships only to the children of their alumni.
In ancient Jewish rituals, immersion in a water body was required to convert a Gentile to Judaism. But John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for everyone including the Jews. This would have been a rude awakening for the Jews who thought their lineage assured their safe passage to heaven. John makes a clear distinction between the baptism of repentance that he ministered and the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire that the Messiah would bring.
I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”Mark 1:8
Sometime later, Jesus also left His hometown of Nazareth and came to the Jordan river, looking to be baptised by John. A baptism of repentance for the sinless seems unnecessary, but John did not dare stand in the way of the Messiah’s mission and baptised Jesus in the River Jordan.
Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”Mark 1:10-11
The baptism of Jesus marked the start of Jesus’s ministry and is mentioned in some form by all four Gospel writers. The tense, chronology or details of the event might have differed but all of them carefully mention this momentous event when the sinless Son of God came to be baptised by a sinner for the repentance of His sins. Mark originally ended His account of Jesus by portraying the empty grave and fearful women running away from it. And so Mark starts his account with the baptism of a sinless man and ends it with the same man having the sins of the world laid on Him on the cross where He dies a painful death for a world that did not care for Him or His Father.
- Why do we need four different perspectives on the life of Jesus?
- What was the way that John needed to prepare?
- Why did Jesus take the baptism of repentance?