Reflections on Mark 1:10-12 —
Why was Jesus baptized? I wonder if Jesus Himself was mulling this over as He waded through the murky, brown water of the Jordan River. Unlike everyone else who had approached John the Baptist, Jesus had no sin to confess, no need for a lifestyle change. But the one thing He knew for certain: He wanted to do whatever His Father asked.
We often point to Jesus’ baptism as a reason Christians should be baptized. After all, if it’s good enough for Him, it’s good enough for us, right? I want my believing children to be baptized, but I want them to do it for the right reason. I don’t want to tell them to do it; I want them to want it themselves. I want them to know why Jesus was baptized, not just that He did it. I suppose what I want most is this: I want them to have the same desire to please God as Jesus did.
In my study of the gospel of Mark, I have found some useful clues Mark gave us to help us understand the significance of Jesus’ baptism. According to Mark, Jesus’ baptism is inseparably linked to submission to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ submission to the Holy Spirit’s leadership was very pleasing to God. Paul encourages us to try to learn what is pleasing to God (Ephesians 5:10). When I connect these dots, I am convinced that submitting to the Holy Spirit’s leadership greatly pleases God.
After Jesus was lifted out of the water, the Holy Spirit dramatically descended upon Him in the form of a dove (Mark 1:10). In the past, men had been filled with the Holy Spirit from time to time, to accomplish specific tasks. The man did not have to be particularly noble or godly. The Holy Spirit would simply come upon him and do His thing. But the Holy Spirit’s descent upon Jesus was initiated by Jesus’ public commitment to do what His Father God wanted. God wanted Jesus to submit to the Holy Spirit, so He did. According to Mark, immediately after Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit “impelled” Jesus to go into the wilderness, and so off He went (Mark 1:12). Jesus’ baptism was thus a landmark event — This was the first time a man knowingly and willingly offered Himself up to follow the Holy Spirit.
There’s something else in Mark’s account we should notice. When the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus, God the Father made an important, public announcement. He stated that Jesus was His “…Beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Mark 1:11). Jesus’ submitting Himself to the Holy Spirit’s leading was very pleasing to God.
Believers — we have the Holy Spirit. We should try to get to know Him better. The Holy Spirit is not a ghost, not the Force from Star Wars. Although He is a member of the Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — He is the least popular, the least recognized, of the three. Yet His work in us is absolutely essential. And I suggest the Holy Spirit is what discriminates Christianity from all other religions. “All paths lead to God” is not true. Only in Christianity do we see such an urgent, dependent need on a divine power to help us live righteously. We can’t be moral, can’t be righteous, on our own. Practitioners of the other religions of the world — Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baha’i, Hindus, etc. — may be more passionate in their practice, more zealous in their sacrifice, but they cannot please God without submitting to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit’s work is to reveal things about God to us, to comfort us in need, to strengthen us when we need courage, to convict us of sin, to embolden us to do the right thing, to fill us with peace, to produce good character qualities in us, and to direct our steps. It is no wonder Paul adjures us to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). By this, Paul is telling us to do what Jesus did — drop our agenda by the wayside and follow what the Holy Spirit directs us to do.
Walking by the Holy Spirit is not automatic. Believers — we also have a fleshly nature that is directly opposed to the Holy Spirit. Our fleshly nature is self-seeking, conceited, and proud. It is still very much alive in us, and we live by it more than we care to admit. The fact that most of the Israelites did not please God in the wilderness (I Corinthians 10:5) is evidence that most of the time, we live by our fleshly nature. We also know that no man living by his fleshly nature can please God (Romans 8:8). Left to ourselves, we walk by our fleshly nature and are not pleasing to the Lord.
Jesus’ act of submitting to the Holy Spirit’s leadership, demonstrated by His baptism, was well-pleasing to God. To be well-pleasing, we should thus follow Jesus’ example and submit to the Holy Spirit’s leading. This is not a one-time event; it’s a day-by-day, decision-by-decision act of submission. We don’t teach that enough in churches today. There’s too much emphasis on behavioral management and daily disciplines. Hard work and human effort don’t please God. A heart submitted to the Holy Spirit does.
The act of baptism is a one-time thing. The act of submission to the Holy Spirit’s leadership is a lifestyle. I want my kids to be baptized. Even more, I want my kids to experience the comfort, security, peace, and excitement of a life submitted to the Holy Spirit’s leadership.