Jesus Publicly Accepts His Ministry as a Substitutionary Atonement (Mark 1:9)

a. Jesus appeared

In verse 9 we read of Jesus’ public submission to His ministry.  There Mark writes, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”  Here Mark introduces us to the main character of this entire account: Jesus.  Mark tells us that Jesus arrived on the scene “in those days.” What were these days?  These were the days of John’s ministry.  So, Jesus came into the picture at the height of John’s ministry when John was in the wilderness baptizing thousands.  From Luke’s account we learn that Jesus was about thirty years old (Luke 3:23).  Mark additionally tells us that Jesus came from “Nazareth of Galilee.”  It is interesting that Mark would make sure to add that Nazareth was in Galilee.  This would be like me telling someone that I am from Brandon, FL.   The only reason that I would add “Florida” would be because the person I was talking to did not know where Brandon is.  This is exactly why Mark adds “of Galilee.”  Nazareth was obscure little village that no one outside of the region would have known.  Mark’s Roman readers (See Introduction) surely wouldn’t have known anything about Nazareth.  In fact, Nazareth isn’t even mentioned in the Old Testament.  Because of its obscurity we do not know a lot about Nazareth.  But we do know a few details about Nazareth.  It was located approximately 70 miles north of Jerusalem in the hills west of the Sea of Galilee.  Due in part to this remote location Nazareth was just an insignificant agricultural village with a meager population during Jesus’ time.  Nazareth is first mentioned in the Bible as the home of Mary and Joseph (Luke 1:26-27).  Jesus was born in Bethlehem rather than Nazareth because of the census.  However, Jesus’ family eventually returned home to Nazareth where Jesus grew up.

The fact that Jesus came from such a small town should be striking to us.  Remember, this appearance may seem to be a bit anticlimactic, but Mark is introducing us to the one “who is mightier.”  In vv. 7-8 John vividly portrayed this one “who is mightier” and His divine ministry.  Everyone who heard John would have been waiting for this “One,” and now Mark tells us that He has arrived.  And it is more than just a little conspicuous that He came from such a small town.    The people would have probably been very confused about this.  How could the Messiah come from Nazareth?  When Philip told Nathanael, who would become one of Jesus’ own disciples, that Jesus was from Nazareth Nathanael asked if “anything good can come out of Nazareth?”  (John 1:46)  So what is the significance of Jesus being from Nazareth?  In Matthew’s account of the Gospel we are told that Jesus “lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: ‘he shall be called a Nazarene.’” (Matthew 2:23) If you are paying attention then you might be wondering how this could be if Nazareth was never mentioned in the Old Testament.  Well, Matthew is not necessarily referring to just Jesus’ home town.  You see, Nazareth was sort of like the “low rent” district.  Nazareth was the place that everyone made fun of (insert the section of your home town that everyone makes fun of here).  Therefore, when Matthew says that it is a fulfillment of prophecy that Jesus was called a Nazarene he has in mind the fact that Jesus would be mocked and detested.  This would fulfill the words of Isaiah in Isaiah 53:3.

This aspect of Jesus’ ministry was often overlooked by the people of his day.  When John said that a mightier one was coming they thought that this mightier one would come in great splendor, overtake the Romans, and establish His earthly kingdom in Jerusalem.  They did not understand that before Jesus could return and set up his earthly kingdom He had to come as a Nazarene and die as a sacrifice for sinners.  This will be an important theme as we continue in the book of Mark.


b. Jesus was baptized by John

From Mark’s description of Jesus we start to get a glimpse of what Jesus’ ministry would be all about.  He would be mocked and hated.  He would bee the despised One of Isaiah 53:3.  But despite this, Mark makes it clear to his readers that Jesus willingly accepted this ministry.  In verse 9 Jesus publicly submits to this ministry by being baptized by John in the Jordan River.  You may be thinking “wait a minute where do you get that from?  Jesus never says anything like that!”  Let me see if I can explain it by first posing a question.  Why was Jesus baptized?  John was “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” but surely Jesus did not need to repent.  Jesus had never sinned. This is why the apostle Paul said that Jesus “knew no sin.”  (2 Corinthians 5:21).  He was perfect in very way. He had no sins to confess; He was “the Holy and Righteous One.” (Acts 3:14)  So why was he baptized by John?  This is the very same question that John asked.

In Matthew 3:14 we see John’s reaction to Jesus coming to be baptized.  It says:

John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

In the next verse (3:15) Jesus answers John and reveals to us why he needed to be baptized:

But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

Jesus told John to “Let it be so now” even though John was the sinner and Jesus was sinless so that they would “fulfill all righteousness.”  When Jesus speaks of “all righteousness” he is talking about God’s plan and purpose for Jesus’ life and ministry.  Thus, Jesus was not being baptized as a sign of repentance, but instead was being baptized in order to submit Himself to His God-appointed ministry.  Specifically, Jesus was submitting to His role as a sacrifice for sinners.  He came to take the place of sinners, to be their representative in order that He might redeem them.[1]  And it all started with His baptism.  By His baptism He was identifying Himself with sinners.

By publicly being baptized by John Jesus was accepting his role as a representative for the human race.  In the Old Testament Isaiah spoke of this role in Isaiah 53:11:

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

Here Jesus is the righteous one; God’s servant.  Through His ministry many will be accounted righteous because he will bear their iniquities.  In the New Testament Peter spoke of this same thing in 1 Peter 3:18:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…

Jesus came to suffer for sins. He was the righteous sacrifice for the unrighteous.

You may be wondering “why do we need someone to make a sacrifice for us?”  The answer to this is that we need someone to make a sacrifice for us because we have all sinned (Romans 3:23).  Not only that, but we have sinned against an infinitely good God.  The result of this sin is punishment; specifically death (Romans 6:23).  This death includes physical death (our bodies die), spiritual death (we are separated from God), and eternal death (we are punished in hell for all eternity).

In order to avoid this three-fold death our relationship with God must be reconciled.  Because God is a just God he cannot just ignore our sins.  They must be punished.  This is where Jesus’ sacrifice comes in.  He came to provide the needed infinitely good sacrifice for those whom He was representing.   By being put to death he made the payment that we owed for sin.  Additionally, his infinite righteousness was credited to our account so that we can now have a relationship with an infinitely righteous God.  Through this work alone we can be reconciled to God.  This is why Jesus had to identify himself with sinners, and his baptism was the first step in this identification.  It was the first step in a ministry that He knew would ultimately lead to His death.  And yet he willingly accepted this ministry.  He gave up his place at the right hand of the Father.  He accepted the limitations of a human being.  He subjected Himself to the scorn of being a “Nazarene.”  And ultimately, He submitted Himself to dying the death of a criminal on the cross.  This is what Jesus was publicly accepting, and submitting Himself to when He was baptized by John in the Jordan.

The question we would ask is why would He do this?  The answer is two-fold.  First, Jesus submitted Himself to this ministry out of love for His Father.  This submissive love is most clearly demonstrated in Jesus’ last time of prayer before being arrested.  This prayer is recorded for us in John 17:

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.  (vv. 1-5)

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (vv. 24ff)

The second reason why Jesus submitted to this ministry that would lead to His death is so that we might be saved!  Jesus told his disciples that he “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

In light of this incredible act on the part of Jesus let me encourage you in two ways.  First, let me encourage you to have the same submission attitude that Jesus had.  The Father gave Him a ministry that involved being lowered to the point of death on a cross, and he willingly accepted this ministry because He loved the Father and He loved other.  Similarly, God has placed you where you are in life and gifted you in specific ways so that you can bring Him glory.  You need to have the attitude of Jesus and out of love for the Father and for other accept this task from the Lord.  There is nothing mysterious about it.  There are no secrets ways to determine what task God has given you.  It is very simple.  All you need to do is get involved.  Out of love for the Father, seek His glory by serving Him.  Out of love for others, seek their good by serving them.  In everything you do have an attitude of submission, and a desire to see God glorified.  If you do this then you will be submitting to the task that you were made for.

However, before you can submit to your God-given task, you must first be reconciled to God.  So let me implore you with the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:20b-21:

We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This is why “Jesus came” and “was baptized.”  He came to provide forgiveness through His death and resurrection.  You can receive this forgiveness by identifying yourself with Jesus through faith. Repent from you current life of sin, and belief in Jesus so that you will be saved.  This is the promise of the Gospel message and this was the amazing ministry that Jesus publicly submitted to by being baptized by John in the Jordan River.

[1] Hiebert, The Gospel of Mark, pg. 32.


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