Mark 1:9-11 - Coming to terms with what baptism means

Updated: Mar 3

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Also read in church:

[And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”]


In total, this is the Gospel selection that will be read aloud in Episcopal churches on the first Sunday in Lent, in the liturgical Year B. I have written about this selection prior, with the title “The path of the Lord requires testing.” It is available on a search of Mark 1:9-15. I stand behind what I have been led to write before; but the beauty of Scripture is there is always more than can be added.

Because this selection is only fully read during Lent [with some verses here read during Epiphany 1B and 3B], I want to put focus now on the element of self-sacrifice. The season known as Lent cannot begin without baptism, which means understanding baptism is vital.

In verse nine, Mark says “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee”. From John’s Gospel we read that John was baptizing Jews in the Jordan, near the place named Bethany [“Bethany on the other side of the Jordan”]. (John 1:28) Thus, for Jesus to be “baptized by John in the Jordan,” Jesus had traveled from Nazareth in Galilee. The distance between those two places says there was reason for Jesus going there in the first place, rather than as a point to be baptized by John, his cousin. The most likely reason would be the late summer festival of Sukkot, which would be a time when John would also be in that area near Jerusalem (along with his disciples and other Jews seeking baptism). At that time the waters in the Jordan would be nice and warm, not too cold to enter casually.

From reading John’s Gospel, we see the order of presentation has Jesus being baptized by John, with a return to Nazareth, after which the wedding in Cana took place. That was prior to Jesus’ ministry beginning. The time that would have passed after his baptism in water by John is significant, which is not shown above in Mark's Gospel. The reading above stating, “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness,” gives the impression that Jesus took off right after being baptized and spent forty days in the wilderness. That could not have happened, meaning the immediacy that took place that “drove Jesus into the wilderness” occurred after a time jump from the baptism in the Jordan, to a later point in time of urgency. In between, a wedding in Cana took place.

That time leap means the verses that tell of Jesus entering the Jordan are important to see as preparation for testing, with testing being a vital step to complete before any entrance into ministry full-time could commence. Because the Gospel of Mark is the recordings of the Apostle Peter, as the disciple Simon, called Cephas, the pairing of this reading in Mark with the verses from 1 Peter 3 are significant, if for nothing more than the same source supplies both messages. That reading selection is also read with this one from Mark on the first Sunday in Lent. In his epistle, Peter made remarks about the preparatory work that must be done first.

In 1 Peter 3:20-21 is found written: “God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built [when some] were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also”. This becomes a comparison to the waters of the Jordan River and Jesus and John, to the Great Flood waters and Noah and family. It makes water be the element that test one's metal, sink or swim. It says that neither Jesus nor John was soiled by sins; and as such, neither needed cleansing. They were both as pure as were Noah and his sons and wives. Everyone had been led by God to their points of baptism, with cleansing from sin never the reason. None of them sank and drown. The ark Noah and family built, while “God waited patiently,” becomes a reflection of the lives led by John and Jesus, prior to each becoming baptizers: John by water; Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Baptism was the ark God had designed for each to build.

Because Jesus and John were already sin-free, Mark's words that literally state “was baptized in the Jordan by John” need further inspection. The meaning changes somewhat, so the comparison to Noah, where his baptism was entering the ark and it floated. That comparison means both Jesus and John were baptized by God. Just as God had given Noah instructions to follow - to build the ark, which he followed - Noah’s baptism was the ability to float on water, while the sinful drown [their baptism by water]. Thus, Jesus “was baptized” [“ebaptisthē, preceded by “kai”] by God; and, that happened as soon as Jesus entered the Jordan. Likewise, while John stood in the waters of the Jordan when Jesus “was baptized” upon entry, so too was John baptized by God. Both had done the prior work as instructed by God [their arks build and seaworthy], so both were verified as possessing eternally saved souls. The importance of "was baptized" is it applies to both Jesus and John, just as the family of Noah "was baptized" by being in the ark with him, which they helped build.

When Mark is shown to have next written, “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him,” this too needs slower evaluation for deeper understanding.

The Greek text written is “kai euthys anabainōn ek tou hydatos,” where the word “kai” must be seen as a marker word to see importance that follows. That importance places focus on “immediately rising from the water,” which becomes a statement of floating. Rather than being submerged in the water, as were the sinful that drown in the Great Flood, Jesus rose to the top of the water, as an ark built from the instructions of God to avoid submersion. The importance marked is not about Jesus coming up out of the river water after being dunked, because we have already read Jesus “was baptized” simply by going to the Jordan River. Thus, the importance is to see the purity of Jesus being shown in his ability not to sink in water – not unlike the miracles of Jesus walking on water.

When that is grasped, we next read of Mark writing “he saw the heavens torn apart.” This gives the impression that the eyes of Jesus cleared, after having been underwater, so when he opened his eyes he saw something crazy happening in the sky. This is not the proper way to read these words. Literally stated, Mark wrote, “he saw tearing open the heavens,” where emphasis must be placed on Jesus having the immediate ability to see insights, through his mind’s eye, which shredded all veils that blinded him from knowing God’s Will. This says that Jesus saw through the eye of God’s All-Seeing Eye.

Next, Mark wrote, “the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” Here, the capitalization of “Pneuma” [“Spirit”] is less a statement of the Holy Spirit then coming down from heaven to Jesus, as that would be like Noah floating above the waters of a global inundation and God then sending him an ark to get aboard. The meaning of “descending” says that the presence of the “Spirit” was already upon Jesus, such that it made him be that “coming down” [as if from higher ground]. Jesus was the presence of the Holy Spirit on earth, to those of the world of Judaism God had sent him to save.

When the element of “like a dove” is analyzed, the Greek literally states “as according” or “just like” “the dove.” Here, "a dove" must be remembered as the bird that Noah sent out to see if land had appeared above the waters. It returned empty beaked at first, but then later returned with a sprig from an olive tree, saying higher land had risen above the surface, as the waters descended. Jesus was then like the land that first appeared [hope], which held a tree [nourishment], from which the dove descended and picked a sprig. The sprig was the sign that Noah would begin to teach the world the value of serving God, as one filled with the Spirit and baptized through an ark that would not sink in water. Thus, Jesus became the symbol of hope for the future of mankind.

It is this presence of God incarnate on earth that then led Mark to write, “And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Again seeing how this is begun with the marker word “kai,” it is important to see that Jesus not only saw through the eye of God, he also heard the “voice” of God speaking to him through the “Spirit.” The voice of God spoke to Jesus in the same way that God spoke to Noah, telling him about the rainbow being a sign of His covenant with him. The covenant made to Jesus said, “You are my Son.” It said, “You are beloved.” It also said, “I am pleased to be in you.” These identification are vital to grasp.

Again, returning to the 1 Peter 3 reading, where Peter spoke of the Great Flood and the salvation of Noah as being the original form of “baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you,” the whole point of reading verses of the Holy Bible on Sundays is not to force anyone to believe what is written. Thus, Scripture is not read aloud in churches so everyone will jump up and down with glee, having heard once again about something that happened to Jesus. We do not enter a period called Lent as if thinking Jesus was baptized, so he could handle forty days in the wilderness before going into his ministry. None of that does anything that “prefigures” you being saved. Just because Noah and his family were saved [Peter said, “a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water,” meaning many, many others were not saved] sets a standard for salvation by baptism. The lesson means this: to be saved one must do the prior work set before one by God. For you to be saved, then you need to hear the voice of God tell you, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” [Regardless of your human gender.]

As a reading on the first Sunday in Lent, one must be able to see oneself as having quickly been driven [only one Ash Wednesday before] into the wilderness of commitment to serve God as His beloved Son, in whom God has taken up residence in one’s heart. This is not some forty day test of commitment, just as Jesus never stopped being pure of sin and Noah never stopped serving God after the ark became landlocked at the top of some mountain and everybody got off the boat. Lent only happens every year so the new Apostles can be tested before they graduate to full pledged Saints. This makes baptism one’s official marriage to God, when floating above the waters that kill mere mortals is the beginning of a relationship that is endless [till death do us part will never happen, once one is blessed with eternal life].

Not long ago, on the cesspool named “Episcopalians on Facebook,” a snake in the grass posed the question, “What is the spirituality of the season of Epiphany?” All the other snakes that slither around those posts immediately spewed, “Epiphany is a day – January 6th. It is not a season.”

The same ignorance would make it seem that Lent has no spirituality, as it is just a month and a half of giving up one simple pleasure. That group is filled with sinners who seek to destroy all forms of faith in God. Those so-called Episcopalians call marriage anything between two human beings [preferably not those joined of the opposite sex], so they certainly would not promote anything about the Episcopal Church as demanding one recognize a need to marry God. Their big brains [with tiny, hard hearts] deny God even exists, but even those sinners realize [if they presume there is a God] a marriage to God would mean permanently giving up sin. They would vehemently argue against Lent representing that spirituality! They would say no one but Jesus ... and John the baptizer ... and Noah ... and a few with him in the ark ... could ever hear the voice of God speaking to him or her.

At some point in one’s spiritual life, regardless of whatever denomination one enjoys claiming membership with, it all comes down to one of two choices. You (which includes your body of flesh meshed with your soul) and who you will be married to. The choices are God and all others. In that regard, Jesus forewarned, "You cannot serve two masters. You will either love the one and hate the other, or you will hold on to the one and despise the other. You have to see yourself as one of your possible masters. If you seek a marriage between equals, it will become a house divided that cannot stand.

The symbolism of the season of Christmas [along with Advent] is the birth of the realization, “I need to be married.” The season that follows the imaginary Epiphany [according to Episcopal snakes on Facebook] is the preparations for marriage have suddenly become urgent, where you are told, “Build an ark or drown.” The season of Lent signifies a timeframe when you have five to seven weeks to get your act together and plan when, where, how, why, and who you will go down to the altar and say, “I do” to God [and mean it!].

The season of Lent is then learning how little you mean in that relationship. God is everything, and without Him you are nothing. So, Lent is all about getting used to saying, “Yessir” and “You know Lord,” and “Here I am, choose me Lord.” It is getting used to the realization that what you want only leads to sin. Let God lead you as His Son reborn. To even get to that point where God tells you, “I do too,” you have to show him how one floats on water. It is not for forty days. It is forever.

That is the truth of baptism.