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The Servant’s Identity (Mark 1:1–11)

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1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the Prophets: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,Who will prepare Your way before You.” 3 “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’ ”4 John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 5 Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. 8 I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9 It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. 11 Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Mark wastes no time in telling us the theme of his book. It is the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Since Mark is writing to a Roman audience, he has no need, like Matthew or Luke, to establish Christ’s lineage to prove his credentials as the Son of God to his readers. There are two reasons the Romans did not need such information. First, the Romans had the same attitude as those who are from Missouri—“show me.” They were not so much interested in qualifications as they were in actions.Second, since Jesus is being portrayed as a “servant” or “slave,” there would be no need to show his genealogy since, from a Roman’s standpoint, slaves do not have genealogies. Finally, Mark makes it clear about Jesus’ uniqueness. Jesus is a personal name; it was common among the Jews, being the same as “Joshua” and meaning “the salvation of Jehovah.” Christ is an official title; it is the Greek equivalent of the term “Messiah.” It declares the “anointed one” who is coming to save us from our sins. Son of God expresses the divine nature of our Lord. Mark wanted to make it clear that this was no ordinary servant or just a good man—this was the Son of God, who had come to take away our sins. How does Mark identify this Servant? He records the testimonies of several dependable witnesses to assure us that Jesus is all that He claims to be.
I. John Mark, the author of the book, is the first witness (v. 1).
A. He states boldly that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
It is likely that Mark was an eyewitness of some of the events that he wrote about. He lived in Jerusalem with his mother, Mary; and their home was a meeting place for believers in the city.
Since Peter called Mark “my son” (1 Peter 5:13), it is probable that it was Peter who led Mark to faith in Jesus Christ. Church tradition states that Mark was “Peter’s interpreter,” so that the Gospel of Mark reflects the personal experiences and witness of Simon Peter.
B. The word gospel simply means “the good news.”
To the Romans, Mark’s special target audience, gospel meant “joyful news about the emperor.” The “Gospel of Jesus Christ” is the Good News that God’s Son has come into the world and died for our sins.
It is the Good News that our sins can be forgiven, that we can belong to the family of God and one day go to live with God in heaven. It is the announcement of victory over sin, death, and hell.
II. The second witness is that of the prophets (vv. 2–3).
A. The words messenger and voice refer to John the Baptist.
God sent to prepare the way for His Son. In ancient times, before a king visited any part of his realm, a messenger was sent before him to prepare the way. This included both repairing the roads and preparing the people.
B. John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Mark quoted from two Old Testament prophets to show that Christ’s coming had been foretold long ago. The two prophets that Mark quoted from were Isaiah (40:3) and Malachi (3:1). Mark combined the sayings of these two prophets but named only Isaiah probably because Isaiah emphasized the servanthood and salvation of the Messiah whereas Malachi highlighted the judgment of the Messiah.
In both cases, a messenger was sent to prepare the way for Christ’s coming. Isaiah and Malachi join voices in declaring that Jesus Christ is the Lord, Jehovah God.
III. John the Baptist is the next witness (vv. 4–8).
A. Jesus called him the greatest of the prophets.
In his dress, manner of life, and message of repentance, John identified with Elijah. The “wilderness” where John ministered is the rugged wasteland along the western shore of the Dead Sea.
John was telling the people symbolically that they were in a “spiritual wilderness” far worse than the physical wilderness which their ancestors had endured for forty years. John called the people to leave their spiritual wilderness, trust their “Joshua” (Jesus), and enter into their inheritance.
B. John was careful to magnify Jesus and not himself.
John would baptize repentant sinners in water, but “the coming One” would baptize them with the Spirit. This did not mean that John’s baptism was unauthorized, or that water baptism would one day be replaced by Spirit baptism.
Rather, John’s message and baptism were preparation so that the people would be ready to meet and trust the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
IV. The Father and the Holy Spirit are Mark’s final witnesses to the identity of God’s Servant (vv. 9–11).
A. When Jesus was baptized, the Spirit came on Him as a dove, and the Father spoke from heaven and identified His beloved Son.
The people who were there did not hear the voice or see the dove, but Jesus and John did (see John 1:29–34). The word beloved not only declares affection, but it also carries the meaning of “the only one.”
B. Yes, Jesus is the Servant.
He is a most unusual Servant. After all, it is the servant who prepares the way for others and announces their arrival. But others prepared the way for Jesus and announced that He had come! Even heaven itself took note of Him! This Servant is God the Son.
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