Baptism and Testing
Our Scripture this morning is Mark 1:9-13. We are continuing with our series in Mark this morning. Last week, we looked at the first eight verses and saw that Jesus is the Son of God and that John the Baptist was preparing the people for the salvation found only in Jesus. I invite you to follow along as I read from God’s holy and life giving Word.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. 
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Prayer of Illumination
Lord, help us to know your ways; teach us your paths. Lead us in truth and teach us, for you are the God of our salvation; for you we have waited all day long. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
No one likes tests. One of my best friends is a teacher. The first day of class he gives a test. He takes attendance and then he hands out the test. The moment he says that the class will be taking a test there is groan from every student.
No one likes test. And yet life is filled with them. School is filled with tests, from tests to see how students understand the material to end of the term finals. Children test their parents and grandparents with their crazy antics. Co-workers and bosses test your patience. Life is filled with tests and no one really likes them.
Last week when we began our series, we didn’t actually meet Jesus. We talked about who Jesus is that he is the Son of God, but we didn’t actually meet him. Today, Jesus will make his entrance into the Gospel of Mark. And we’ll see Jesus’ identification with humanity, the Trinity, and testing in the wilderness.
Jesus’ Identification with Humanity
Last week, we saw that John was baptizing in the wilderness and all Judea and Jerusalem was coming out to him. The people were coming out to him, confessing their sins, repenting of them, and were then baptized by John. It was a baptism of repentance.
One of the things I didn’t say last week about John’s baptism is that it is not the same thing as Christian baptism. In Acts 19 when Paul finds some disciples who hadn’t heard about the Holy Spirit. He asked what baptism they received and they replied they had received John’s baptism. Paul then proceeds to give these disciples Christian baptism. Christian baptism began with the Great commission.
While John is baptizing those who repent of their sins, “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan”. If John baptism for the repentance of sins, then why is Jesus baptized? If Jesus is God, perfect and sinless, why does he let John baptize him?
Some might say that Jesus is being baptized as a sign of his anointing to do his priestly work. When he comes to John, he’s thirty years old; the same age that the Levitical priests began their service. The problem with that is Jesus isn’t a Levitical priest. He’s not of the tribe of Levi. He is of the house and lineage of David, which means he cannot be a priest under the Mosaic Law.
So then why is Jesus baptized by John? Jesus is baptized by John in order to identify with humanity. We don’t read it here in Mark, but in Matthew 3 when Jesus comes for baptism John protests. He immediately recognizes who Jesus is and says, “This baptism isn’t for you; it’s for sinners”. John’s baptism is for those who have repented of their sin and Jesus hasn’t sinned. But Jesus responds “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). He is being baptized as a way to identify with us, his people.
We are the ones who need to be cleansed of our sin, shame, and guilt; we are the ones who need our sins to be washed away. We are the ones who have lied, lusted, been inordinately angry; we are the ones who have rebelled against God. And because Jesus is the one who saves his people, he is baptized not because he needs but because we need it. Jesus’ baptism is his identification with his people. In submitting to John’s baptism, Jesus acknowledges God’s judgment upon Israel but also that he is taking it upon himself.
There’s an old story about a young man who is standing before a judge, accused of a crime. He puts up the best defense he could muster but there was just too much evidence. The judge pronounces his verdict, “Guilty”. He orders the young man to pay damages. He bangs the gavel bringing a close to the proceedings.
Then the judge does something unexpected. He steps down from the bench, he puts his arm around the young man, and says, “It’ll be alright son. I’ll pay”. The judge is innocent of the crime but he identifies with it to redeem his son; he took the judgment upon himself. Jesus is innocent of sin and shame. Yet he identified with sinful humanity in order to redeem them. He acknowledged that his people deserved judgment but he was baptized symbolizing that he would be the one taking it upon himself.
“And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”
Jesus has just identified with humanity and the very first thing we see is that the Triune God is pleased with it. God says, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased”. Jesus’ ministry has only just begun with his baptism and God the Father is pleased with the fact that Jesus is taking on the judgment for the sins of his people.
The plan from all eternity was for God the Son to redeem his people by identifying with them, taking on their judgment, and redeeming them. The baptism is the beginning of God’s redemptive act found only in Jesus. And so God the Father pronounces his judgment that he is pleased with Jesus’ identification with sinful humanity. He is pleased with Jesus taking the judgment for his people.
The second thing we see is that God is a Trinity. We see all three persons of the Godhead here. We see Jesus as he comes out of the water, we see the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, and we hear God the Father’s voice.
It’s important for us to recognize that God is one. The Christian religion as found throughout the Old and New Testaments makes very clear that there is only one God. But this one God eternally exists in three persons. This is not tritheism, which states that there are three separate Gods. This is not one God who takes three separate forms at different times. Unfortunately many believe that. Most, if not all, of the health and wealth prosperity preachers believe that. Both of those are heresies that the Church has condemned. Instead, we believe in a trinity; a God who is one in essence but within whom there are three separate and equal persons.
The Athanasian Creed puts it like this, “That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons nor dividing their essence”. The trinity is an essential part of our faith.
The doctrine of the trinity has a couple of applications for us. The first is it gives us an assurance in salvation. Salvation is accomplished by God. God the Father chooses; God the Son redeems; God the Spirit applies. If God isn’t triune, if he’s three different gods or one god who takes three separate forms, then salvation isn’t accomplished. But because God is triune, we can rest assured that salvation is accomplished. God the Father planned salvation, God the Son accomplished it, and God the Spirit applies it.
That allows us to rest assured in God’s salvation. We know it is accomplished. There is nothing we need to do to make it take effect. There is nothing we need to do so that we remain saved. The fact that God is triune assures us of our salvation.
The second application is that healthy community is the putting others first. Throughout Scripture, each person of the Godhead glorifies the other and puts them first. God the Son is constantly glorifying God the Father. God the Spirit is constantly pointing to the redeeming work of God the Son. God the Father is constantly planning so that God the Son is glorified. Each member of the Trinity is putting the other first.
Sometimes theologians call this the dance of God. Each person of the Godhead is moving in relation to the others, making the others the center of the dance. That is how a healthy community is supposed to function.
Have you ever noticed when someone constantly says “dance around me, make it all about me, put me first” it all comes to a halt? That’s not how a community functions. That’s not how people have healthy relationships. Healthy relationships reflect the dance of God.
In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul reflecting on this, tells wives “dance around you husband, put your husband first”. Then he turns to the husbands and says “put your wife first, dance around your wife”. He tells workers “put your boss first, dance around them”. Then he turns to the bosses and says “put your workers first, dance around your workers”.
That’s how a healthy community works. A healthy community is a reflection of the Godhead, dancing around others, seeking to put others first.
Testing in the Wilderness
Jesus has identified with humanity, the triune God is pleased with Jesus’ identification, and now we see the first test of Jesus’ ministry. “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.”
The very first thing the Spirit does is lead Jesus out into the wilderness. Remember what we said last week about the wilderness? The wilderness is the place where you need to lean on God. It’s the place where it feels like your life is caving in and you need to learn God’s ways and God’s character. And that is the place the Spirit drives Jesus immediately after his baptism.
He spends forty days in the wilderness. And while he’s out there, Satan is constantly tempting him. Mark doesn’t give us the details of the temptation, like Matthew and Luke do. Satan spends the forty days tempting Jesus to glorify himself and not God the Father. Each of the three temptations is designed to make Jesus question whether or not he will do the will of the Father or if he will glorify himself. The Holy Spirit led Jesus out to the wilderness to test him.
Notice, the testing isn’t a result of Jesus’ sin. Jesus hasn’t sinned. The testing isn’t some sort of punishment for Jesus. So often when we experience testing we think it’s a punishment from God. We think, “I’m in the wilderness and I’m being tested, I’ve sinned and this is my punishment”.
But the truth is God testing us is not a punishment. God allowing Satan to tempt us to sin is not because we’ve sinned. God tests us to refine us. He allows Satan to tempt us so that we can recognize our need for God’s salvation. The testing is so that we cling more deeply and truly to God.
Look at Job. We’re told Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). And yet Job lost his children, his material wealth, and his own health. Job’s testing wasn’t a result of his sin. It was to refine him. It was to help him see God more clearly and to know God’s way better.
Sometimes I hear people say, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”. Biblically that’s just not true. He gives us more than we can handle. He gives us these incredibly hard tests, tests that on our own we would fail. He does it so that we learn to trust him more. He does that so we learn that he is God and we are not. He does it so that we can learn that his ways are higher than our ways. So the test that God gives is harder than we can stand, he does give us more than we can handle.
As we are tested and refined, we begin to reflect Jesus more. Just as Jesus was always putting God the Father first, the testing will cause us to put others first. The result of testing will be that we dance around others, putting their needs and wants before our needs and wants.
Often in our testing we fail. Instead of glorifying God in our moments of temptation, we glorify ourselves. But Jesus didn’t. Every time Satan tempted Jesus to glorify himself and not God the Father, Jesus chose to obey God the Father. Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread but Jesus responded that “man shall not live by bread alone but every word that comes from the mouth of God”. Satan tempted Jesus to display his power for his own purposes and Jesus responds that you shouldn’t put God to the test. When Satan tempted Jesus to take the easy way to become king, Jesus responds that you are to worship God alone.
Jesus was tested in the wilderness and glorified God. But his tempting didn’t stop there. Mark doesn’t record that the temptation ended in the wilderness. Jesus’ testing continued all throughout his ministry. But the most intense testing he encountered was in the Garden of Gethsemane. At that moment Jesus was tested in ways he had never been. He was tempted to abandon the plan; he was tempted to glorify himself. In that moment, he chose to glorify God the Father. He said “not my will but yours” and went to cross. At the cross Jesus bore the judgment for the sins of his people, something he symbolically undertook at his baptism.
He didn’t do that so that God would love him. He didn’t do that so that he could have worshippers. He went to the cross to bring us into the dance. He said, “You need this. You first. I’ll dance around you”. He went to the cross to bring us into the heavenly community. When we get that, our lives changes. That’s what causes us to put others first; that’s what allows us to dance around others. The more we understand the cross, the more we can enter times of trial and testing knowing that God is working to refine us so that we glorify him more.