Christ Receives Baptism
1. The Gospel According To Mark begins with the words in verse one of "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the son of God." We see from this title that this book is a narrative of Jesus Christ. He is called "the son of God." Mark begins the narrative of Jesus Christ [as] the son of God. It is also called "the gospel." It is good tidings. This narrative is given as good news to bless us.
Where Is The Son Of God?
2. Well, this gospel of Jesus Christ the son of God begins [with this title], but Christ is not on the scene at its beginning. It is John the Baptizer who first appears on the scene. He was seen in the wilderness and was preaching the baptism of repentance to let one receive forgiveness of sin, (verse four). Crowds of people came to him. They confessed their sins there and received baptism from him at the River Jordan. At that time John would speak to them like this, "One greater than me is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose the laces of his footwear. I baptized you with water, but he will baptize with the Holy Spirit," (verses seven and eight).
3. Then, the first time Christ appears at the center stage of the narrative is in verse nine. What, then, does the text say? "About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and received baptism from John at the River Jordan," (verse nine). It's a brief picture, the kind we skim over. He doesn't write of his remarkable childhood. He doesn't begin writing from the period of his marvelous youth. Even though he told about John and what he wore and what he ate, he doesn't even attempt to describe this one named Jesus or his features. He simply records only one thing. It's that he received baptism. Where he was is the only thing important to him. Where was Christ? He was in the water the same as the repentant sinners. From there he begins speaking the narrative of the Lord Jesus.
4. Let's try to imagine the scene there. John was crying out in the wilderness. John's baptismal movement shook the entire region of Judea. It says, all the inhabitants of the region of Judea and Jerusalem came to John." But, when it says "all the inhabitants of Jerusalem" it must be an expression that is somewhat exaggerated. Actually, while many did come to John, it seems there were also many who did not come and many who were critical of him. Those like that appear at the end of chapter eleven. They are the high priests, scribes, and elders. For them, repenting and receiving baptism is something the Gentiles ignorant of God were supposed to do. Being treated the same as Gentiles must have been intolerable for them.
5. Just as it says "the baptism of repentance to let one receive forgiveness of sin," those who came to John and received baptism came seeking for forgiveness of sin. But, while there were people like that, there were on the other hand those who thought, "Why should I have to receive forgiveness of sins?," or "Why should I have to receive something like baptism?" There were some like that among the good citizens. As you'd expect, they didn't come to John. Seeking forgiveness of sin was tantamount to placing themselves in a position of being judged for sin. Therefore, the righteous, or those who think they are righteous did not seek forgiveness of sin. A person who places himself or herself in the position of judging others never seeks forgiveness for his or her own sin. They despised the call to repentance from John, or they ignored it, or there were even some who opposed it and fussed about it who took pride in their own righteousness and asserted it so. This wasn't only found among the likes of the scribes. It is also found among us.
6. But, please take a look right next to them or us, the sinless Christ is quietly passing through. Along with the many others, he came to the Jordan River to receive the baptism that a sinner receives. As one of the sinners, right among the sinners, he submerged himself in the waters of the Jordan. That is the scene we have here.
7. Such a figure consistently runs through this gospel account. Where do we find him later, this one who submerged himself in the Jordan like this as some sinner? Surprisingly, we find him at the table of sinners. Weren't the righteous around him alarmed at that? They said, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?," (2:16). But, that's just the beginning. Ultimately, where do we see Christ? When he is up on the cross. It says, "They crucified two thieves with Jesus, one on his right, one on his left," (Mark 15:27). So then, Christ was to the very end counted as one of the sinners. Thus, the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled. "For, he poured out his soul, died and was counted as one of the sinners," (Isaiah 53:12).
8. "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the son of God."* That's how this gospel's text began. Where in the world is this son of God? He is is right among the sinners. As one of the sinners, he is right among the sinners. This astounding assertion already appears at the very first scene.
The Heavens Split
9. So, in what sense is it good news for us that Christ received baptism as a sinner and ultimately died like a sinner? I would like for us to read ahead as we ponder this point. Mark records what [happened] immediately after Christ received baptism and came up form the water as follows: "Immediately after he came up from the water, the heavens split and he saw "the Spirit" descending upon him like a dove. Whereupon, a voice was audible from heaven, saying, 'You [are] my beloved son, you suit my will,'" (verses ten and eleven).
10. He saw the heavens split and the Spirit of God descend. Who? If we go by The Gospel According To Luke, it says, "The Holy Spirit came down on Jesus in a form visible to the eye like a dove," (Luke 3:22). Actually, it is not clear whether everyone saw this. The Gospel According To Mark, says that it was Jesus himself who saw this. In other words, this event is written first as something that happened as an experience for Christ alone. It is the same regarding the voice. Afterwards, a voice from heaven is heard. Who heard it though? Because it says, "You," Christ is the one to whom it is spoken. Christ is the one who heard it. In other words, it means that this is first of all words heard by Christ alone.
11. If we don't even count that, it is an interesting expression when it says, "The heavens split." The expression "the heavens were opened" might be a little more familiar to us. Actually, this expression used here of "the heavens split" does not appear anywhere else. This must be in use like this on purpose.
12. What was the reason the heavens were split afterwards? For anyone familiar with the Bible, it would remind them of something else that split. It would. It is "the curtain of the temple." Please look at The Gospel Of Mark in chapter fifteen and verse thirty-seven. "But, Jesus gave out a shout and gave up his breath. Whereupon, the curtain of the temple split in two from top to bottom," (15:37-38). It is translated "it split" here, however, it actually says, "it was split." It was not a person who split it.** It was God himself. It's the same in regards to the aforementioned [phrase] "the heavens split." It really says, "the heavens were split." The one who split it was God. In this gospel there are only two of these [passives verb forms] "to be split." (By the way, if you go by the Japanese, it appears elsewhere as "he split apart his clothing," but it is a different expression in the original.) So, it is believed that clearly both of them are related.
13. What significance might there be in that this curtain was split by God? This "curtain of the temple" was a partitioning of the holy place and the holy of holies in the temple. Only the high priest could go through that curtain and into the most holy place. He was permitted to go through only once per year. Furthermore, he was not allowed to enter the holy of holies without bringing something in [in particular]. If you ask what did he bring in with him, he carried in "blood." It was the blood of the atonement sacrifice. He did not go in without it. In short, that curtain symbolically stood for the fact that God is a holy being and sinful humanity could not approach him. But, that [same] curtain was split by God. That is, it means that God himself opened the way for sinners. You might say that it symbolizes that the heavens were split open for all people.
14. At first, God split the heavens and let the Holy Spirit descend for Christ alone. It began as an unmistakable work of God. After that Christ assumed God's mission and set out. Christ lived with sinners and died as one of them. The life of Christ moved toward that one moment when the curtain of the temple was split. Therefore, it says, "Jesus gave out a shout and gave up his breath. Whereupon, the curtain of the temple split in two from top to bottom."
15. It happened because Christ [though] he was without sin died as a sinner. Because the sinless son of God bore the sins of all humanity and died as a sinner, the partition between sinners and God was removed. By this we see plainly that this narrative is the gospel. It is good news that blesses us.
16. Where is the son of God? He is right among sinners. As one of the sinners he is in their midst. But, he is more than just with them. In order to remove the partition between sinners and God, in order to take away sin, and in order for sinners also to come to see the split heavens, he lived and died as a sinner.
17. When all the work was fulfilled and Christ gave up his breath, a centurion who was standing nearby made the following whisper, "Truly, this man was the son of God," (15:39). This gospel account began with the words, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the son of God." Then, it was God himself who had said when Christ received baptism that "You [are] my beloved son, you suit my will." But, the narrative goes on. In it, it comes to the point where the same words that God testified to are heard out of the mouth of man. There are persons in it who express that the son of God was with sinners, was in use to sinners, lived and died as one of them. "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the son of God" -- The life of this individual which begins upon receiving baptism leads us individually to the confession of faith the centurion [had]. We too are lead to express that Jesus is the son of God and to express that the son of God lived and died with sinners, and to live as persons opened to heaven by the son of God. Thus, we are to live according to the gospel as persons who have heard the good news.
*In Japanese the very first words in Mark literally are "The son of God."
**The passive form of the verb is used quite frequently for divine actions.