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The Gospel Begins

October 6, 2019 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: The Gospel of Mark

Topic: The Glory of Christ Passage: Mark 1:1–15


An Exposition of Mark 1:1-15

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date:   October 6, 2019

Series: Mark: Knowing and Following God’s Son

Note:   Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard   Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 



Here is the Word of God as it is written in Mark 1:1-15 – 

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

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.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:1-15)


When we hear the phrase the beginning, we often think back to Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is about the beginning of creation – and “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31) But the goodness of that original creation was severely disrupted and distorted by sin – by man turning away from the life-giving Word of God and trying to write his own story in its place. We are the self-appointed gods of our own substitute stories, and you can look around and see how that’s working out for us. The gods are discontent, don’t treat each other well, and all manage to die. Sin and death, conflict and pain, frustration and futility.

In this wilderness of sinful human experience, sinners believe all kinds of false stories:

Some people believe that there is no god in heaven above: there is no transcendent meaning or moral purpose, and after the grave comes nothing. Life is ultimately pointless.

Other people believe that the god above is a distant deity, far away and uninvolved in earthly life. You would say that this faraway god is on the side of the good, but he doesn’t actually do you any good. He set everything in motion, but now it’s up to you.

There are also the people – lots of them, in fact – who believe in a god below. The pharaohs of Egypt, the emperors of Rome, and the dictators of one-party nations would function as gods over the people. For people who possess wealth or who wish they did, money is often their ultimate god. For every sinner, the perennial temptation is to deify the person you see in the mirror, to make everything about you, and to esteem personal autonomy (=self-rule) as the highest good. The self-centered life means that in the most fundamental sense you have put yourself in the place of God.

You might be tempted to assume that you’re not foolish enough to believe any of these false stories. But be careful: the Bible shows us – and the Gospel of Mark shows us – that all too often religious people, even those who claim to believe in the true God, have hearts that are far from Him. So take heed!

We were created to live together in unity under God’s wise and gracious rule. But when we rebelled against our Creator, we lost our capacity for virtue and unleashed horrors into our world. Our fall into sin led to devastating consequences. But the same God who “created the heavens and the earth” promised that one day He would put sin to death and bring life out of the grave – and make “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). This was the promise of the gospel – of God’s grace invading the darkness. The patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament looked forward to this future day and they believed that God Almighty would send His Messiah in order to make good on His Word.

In due course, a man named Mark stepped into a first century world that was as full of problems as our own. We know him as John Mark, cousin of the missionary Barnabas and associate of the apostle Peter. In fact, the early church believed that the apostle Peter was Mark’s primary human source of information for his book. Mark was not an eyewitness to many of the events that he writes about, but Peter was – and Mark has taken Peter’s remembrance of events and written them down, that they might be forever known and reflected upon by the church.

Mark comes to set forth the true story of God’s kingdom breaking forth into our sad world and bringing hope to sinners like us. Mark is writing to people who have already begun to follow Jesus, and these people need encouragement and strength to stay the course. At the same time, outsiders and skeptics and fence-sitters are free to tune in, and perhaps they will be awakened to the glory of God’s grace. Perhaps they will be caught up into the wonderful story of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

Mark leaves no doubt as to the theme of his book: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Here, dear friends, is a new beginning. We cannot go back to the original goodness of Genesis 1-2. From Genesis 3 onward we find ourselves in the midst of a disobedient, dysfunctional world that stands condemned under the righteous judgment of God. But all along God promised to send a Redeemer in order to save His people from their sins. As we turn to the pages of the New Testament, we see that the day of fulfillment has finally come.

In the first verse Mark tells us that his book is all about the good news. Gospel means ‘good news’. This book is about the good news of Jesus Christ, and its decisive entrance into our broken world. God’s gracious salvation comes into the world through His Son.

Who is Jesus? He is the Christ, which means Messiah or Anointed One – the true King anointed by God to bring righteousness and peace to our upside down world. Jesus the Messiah is God’s Son who possesses all the authority of the Father who sent Him. What does He do? He comes. The very fact of His coming is good news to an impoverished world. Here is a great shaft of heavenly light shining into the shadows. And how fitting it is that His ministry gets launched not from any center of earthly power, but in the wilderness. God begins to change the world in the wilderness (see Hosea 2:14).

The subsequent verses, verses 2-15, tell us how this gospel started to make its move in our world. There are four scenes that we’ve got to see here.


First there is the scene of preparation: John prepares the way for Jesus. God promised long ago that before the Messiah showed up, another man would show up first. God made this promise through the prophets, including “Isaiah the prophet” (v. 2), who served in the land of Judah all the way back in the 8th century BC. What did God promise? God promised that He would send His messenger (v. 2) whose job was to prepare for the Lord’s coming. How would this messenger prepare for the Lord’s coming? By telling other people to prepare for it. Notice the connection between verses 2 and 3: in verse 2 “my messenger… will prepare your [the Lord’s] way”; in verse 3 this messenger cries out to all who will listen: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” So how does the messenger prepare the Lord’s way? By telling others to prepare the Lord’s way. Hundreds of years after this prophecy, a man named John lifted up his voice in the wilderness and urged the people to make themselves ready for the Lord’s arrival. John was the messenger spoken of beforehand in the prophets.

What does it mean to “[prepare] the way of the Lord” and “make his paths straight”? Well, think of it like the work of an advance team getting ready for a high profile visitor. When the President of the United States travels to a city, he doesn’t just show up unannounced, without any prior planning and preparation. Plans and schedules are carefully made; travel routes are identified and certain roads might have to be blocked off; the secret service goes to work, secures designated areas, and addresses anticipated threats. The goal is that the President be able to travel safely and conduct all of his business in a timely and effective manner. The advance team makes sure that the President’s way is well prepared and that the President’s paths are straight. Other key players in the host city – such as the local police, the mayor, building managers – must cooperate with the advance team in order to make sure that the President’s visit goes off without a hitch. You don’t want to be the guy who throws a wrench in the President’s schedule.

Well, what is true in terms of geographic, logistical, and political preparation when the President comes to your city, is true in terms of moral and spiritual preparation when “the Lord” (v. 3) comes into our world. He isn’t looking for clear, straight, and orderly roads that are ready to receive a presidential motorcade. Instead He is looking for clear, straight, and orderly hearts that are ready to receive His kingly rule. And therein lies the problem: we are sinners! We are, by nature, not ready! Our ways are not aligned with “the way of the Lord.” Our paths are crooked. Our hearts are ungodly. In our sinfulness, we don’t want the Lord to come and rule over us. Unless we change, we will not welcome the Lord Jesus Christ into our communities, homes, and hearts. If we do not prepare His way, then we will only be an obstacle in His way – but He will still come, and His coming will result in our judgment and removal.

When John cries out, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,” he is urging sinners like us to be radically changed and re-aligned into people who are ready to receive the true King. He is urging sinners to show hospitality to the holy Son of God. And the best way to show hospitality to the holy Son of God is to put away your sin and to start loving holiness and righteousness from a pure heart – indeed to delight in the Lord and devote ourselves to His will.

What we see in verses 4-5 is that the people were in no condition to welcome God’s Son into their midst. They had a whole litany of sins that kept them out of alignment with the kingdom of God. The beauty of the gospel, however, is that it takes sinners who are in no condition to welcome God’s Son, and through God’s gracious forgiveness it turns them into ready and willing participants. Many people heard John’s appeal and came in order to make themselves ready – to become a highway of holiness for the Lord. What did they do? They “were going out to [John]” (v. 5). They heard and obeyed God’s Word as it was being proclaimed by John. They were “confessing their sins” (v. 5), which means that they agreed with God that they didn’t measure up, that their hearts and lives were all twisted up, and that they needed a fresh start. So they received the baptism that John administered: “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Baptism represented a break with the past. Repentance means ‘change of mind’ in which we inwardly turn away from sin and in its place turn to the living God as our great treasure. As they came to the waters of baptism, they were essentially saying: ‘Up to this point I’ve been enmeshed in sin, but now I see it for what it is and I’m turning away from it, I’m confessing it, I’m receiving forgiveness and cleansing, and from this moment forward I’m seeking to live differently – to live a holy life that honors God.

Lest anyone think that this “baptism of repentance” thing is cool and hip, one look at the baptizer would put you in a sober frame of mind: “Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.” John was a true prophet, and he looked the part. In fact, he looked similar to the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). And, like Elijah, he had earnest business to conduct on behalf of heaven. Pay attention!

John’s fundamental mission was to point to the Messiah who was about to step onto the scene. John’s purpose, therefore, was not to gain a followership for himself, but rather to gain prospective followers for Jesus. So when he preached, he made it a priority to direct people’s attention to the Lord: “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” (v. 7)

John has a humble regard for himself – he understands that he is only a servant of the Lord, only a messenger of the Messiah, only a spokesman for God’s Son. While there is a sense in which John was a great man of God (Luke 1:15), nevertheless in comparison to Jesus Christ the Mighty One, John was a lowly servant. Jesus’ value and worth is so great – infinitely great – that John knew he was not even worthy to untie Jesus’ shoes. Jesus is in a class by Himself, and we don’t even belong in the same room with Him. And yet, He makes room for us to come. But we must never forget: Jesus Christ is Lord, and we are His unworthy servants.

When John calls attention to the incomparable greatness of Jesus, he specifically refers to Jesus’ saving work: “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (v. 8) Being baptized into water symbolizes a fresh start – it represents cleansing from sin and a commitment to live a holy life. But we need the reality to which the symbol points. And ultimately, the symbol of water points to the life-giving, cleansing, and renewing power of the Holy Spirit. The tragedy of sin is that we are attempting to live life without God, to find fulfillment without God, to pursue purpose without God – and it is a fool’s errand. We were created to know God, to enjoy fellowship with Him, to have His power and grace carrying us along. But sin separates us from God, and puts us in the position of trying to manage and survive without Him. It doesn’t work, and it always leads to a dead end. Why did Jesus come? Jesus came in order to overcome our sin and restore us to fellowship with God. Jesus came in order to immerse us into the life-giving, cleansing, and renewing power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus came in order to breathe spiritual life into our sinful dead hearts and to make us spirited participants in the kingdom of God. The Old Testament prophets looked forward to the day when the Lord would pour out His Spirit on everyone who trusted Him (Joel 2:28-32; Ezekiel 36:25-27). In Jesus, this day has come! No one but Jesus is able to “baptize [us] with the Holy Spirit.” Do you desire true life, true fellowship with God? Go to Jesus.


Second is the scene of presentation: Jesus steps on the stage as the main character. Here we get a beautiful glimpse of the Savior’s identity, character, and glory. Remarkably, during the days when John was baptizing sinners and telling them about the coming Messiah, “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (v. 9) Jesus had no sin to confess; He had no sin for which He needed to receive forgiveness. But He got baptized anyway, which shows Jesus’ humility. The mightier one allowed Himself to be baptized by the lesser one. The Lord allowed Himself to be baptized by His servant. The sinless one allowed Himself to be identified with sinners like us in the waters of baptism. In and through this very act of humility and submission, Jesus was about to be revealed for who He truly is: “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. And a voice came from heaven….” (v. 10-11)

When the Lord Jesus Christ was baptized on earth “by John in the Jordan,” the heavens above like giant curtains were opened up so that the glory of the Triune God could be seen and heard. Listen: when heaven opens, the Spirit descends, and God Almighty speaks, you’d better pay attention! This is big! This is not an everyday occurrence! Don’t miss this!

With heaven opened, the Holy Spirit descended from heaven and came on Jesus. For Jesus, who was baptized at the age of thirty, His baptism marked the beginning of His public ministry. Prior to this time, Jesus had lived in obscurity in his hometown of Nazareth. But now the time had come for Him to preach and teach and reveal the kingdom of God. The Spirit’s coming upon Jesus at the very beginning of His ministry shows us that Jesus had His Father’s approval and that Jesus would conduct His entire ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. Soon the Messiah would stand up and declare: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.” (Isaiah 61:1, 2; see also Luke 4:16-21)

With heaven “torn open” and the Spirit descending on Jesus, “a voice came from heaven” – and this, of course, is the voice of God the Father. The Father speaks to His Son: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (v. 11) Who is Jesus? He is the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God. Here we see a profound contrast between Jesus and every other man or woman who was baptized by John. Every other person who was baptized by John brought a history of sin to the waters. This is why they were “confessing their sins” and seeking “the forgiveness of sins.” In other words, these dear souls were not well-pleasing, but rather blemished and stained all the way through. God loved these sinners, but He didn’t love them because of their loveliness, for they were not lovely. Quite the contrary: they were sin-sick, and our sin-sickness is not pleasing in the sight of God. Thank God that He has compassion and grace for sinners like us!

But when the Father said to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son,” the Father was not saying this as an act of compassion. Mark 1:11 is not about the Father’s compassion for an unworthy sinner; it is about His delight in His worthy Son! You are my Son! You are my Beloved! With you I am well pleased! One commentator refers to the Father’s assessment as “unqualified divine approval.”[1] When the Father beheld His Son, when the Father reviewed the past thirty years of Jesus’ ordinary earthly life, He saw excellence; He saw holiness; He saw perfect heartfelt obedience to the Ten Commandments; He saw wholehearted allegiance to the Father; He saw unbegrudging submission to His earthly parents; He saw gentleness, love, and respect in the way He treated other people; He saw a generous and warm spirit, unstained by envy or lust; He saw the unblemished image of God shining forth in the beauty of godly character. This Jesus bore a striking resemblance to the Father, for He was none other than the one and only “Son of God” who had come to make the Father known.

The whole baptismal scene echoes the reality of Isaiah 42:1 when God speaks: “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:1)

If you can get a glimpse of this well-pleasing Son, you will realize that you do not belong in His presence. Unlike us, He has no defects. Unlike us, He has no flaws. Unlike us, He has no sins. We don’t belong in His presence, but He has come to us and for us. We need Him to “baptize [us] with the Holy Spirit.” We need Him to show us the Father. We need Him to rescue us from our sins, so that we might become His spiritual brothers and sisters who are pleasing in the sight of God. Jesus, in His essential nature, is the only begotten Son of God. But by His grace and sacrificial death, we can enter into His sphere of sonship and become the adopted sons and daughters of the Most High God (Galatians 3:26, 4:4-6).  


Third is the scene of temptation: Jesus withstands Satan in the wilderness. The Holy Spirit, who had just descended on Jesus, “immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” (v. 12) Of course, Jesus was already in the wilderness, since that is where John was baptizing people. But even though John was baptizing people in the wilderness, there was a gathering of people there – a makeshift community of people who were heeding John’s message. So the idea of verse 12 is that the Holy Spirit “drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness” frontier, further out, and far away from other people. Jesus had to endure a time of testing; He had to do battle with the arch-enemy, Satan.

The fact that Jesus “was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan,” is full of significance. When the Lord God made mankind, He put the first man in a garden, not in a wilderness. Man, and the woman that God had made to be with him, were in the Garden of Eden, which the Lord had planned and planted. There was wilderness outside the garden, but inside the garden things were beautiful and well-developed. Man’s mission was to keep the garden and to take the beauty of the garden out into the wilderness and to bring the entire earth under mankind’s gracious and wise rule. In this ideal condition of a garden, Satan showed up and tempted the woman to operate outside of God’s direction. So the woman, and the man who was with her, ate the forbidden fruit, thereby abandoning their fellowship with the Lord and bringing sin and death into our world.

If the man and his wife had trusted God and walked in His ways, they would have continued to enjoy the beautiful garden of life. But when they walked away from God, they ushered themselves into a spiritual wilderness – and then God kicked them out of the garden and exiled them into an earthly wilderness filled with thorns, thistles, and death. From Genesis 3 onward, human beings live both physically and spiritually in the wilderness. Part of the good news is that Jesus came into the wilderness of human experience in order to undo the power of sin. This meant doing battle with the serpent. This meant isolation from human community. This meant enduring dangers from “the wild animals.” (v. 13) This meant trusting the Father and receiving help from the unseen realm – from “the angels [who] were ministering to him.” (v. 13)

Many centuries after Adam and Eve were exiled into the wilderness, God established Israel as His special people. God planned to bring them into the Promised Land, which – if the people obeyed – would be turned into an Edenic garden-country characterized by life and peace and flourishing in every way. But before the people entered the Promised Land, they had to endure a season of testing – not forty days, but forty years. As they were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses told them: “And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3) Before they entered the land of promise and plenty, they had to learn to trust God in the wilderness. Israel, of course, never really passed the test. But now, many more centuries later, Jesus had to face the same kind of test. Adam failed miserably in the garden. Israel was always stubborn and rebellious (Deuteronomy 9:6-7), and ultimately the Promised Land remained a wilderness because the Israelites never got their act together. Would Jesus be a better man than Adam? Would Jesus be a better son than Israel? Would Jesus humbly depend on His Father and draw nourishment from His Father’s every word? Would Jesus withstand Satan and overcome Satan’s crafty temptations? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Mark doesn’t describe the wilderness temptations with the same amount of detail as Matthew and Luke do. Nevertheless, Jesus’ experience of temptation is an important part of the good news, and Mark wants us to understand that Jesus endured the temptation and passed the test. Finally, here is a Man who enters into the wilderness and endures and proves true. Here is a Man who faces off against the devil and wins. Here is a Man who can lead us out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land of eternal salvation. Follow Him!


In the first scene, we learn that Jesus is the Promised One – the Lord who would come and baptize His people with the Holy Spirit. And John was sent beforehand to prepare the way.

In the second scene, we learn that Jesus is the well-pleasing Son – on Him the Father smiles, in Him the Father takes delight, and to Him the Father grants His Spirit.

In the third scene, we learn that Jesus is the tested and tied and proven Son – He entered into the wilderness of this fallen world, and where every other man has failed, Jesus did not fail. He successfully endured forty days of isolation, privation, and temptation, and now He is ready to speak to us.

Finally we come to the fourth scene – the scene of proclamation: Jesus tells us to get aligned with God’s program. Jesus, the Messiah, God’s Son, is the preacher who proclaims the gospel to us. By this time, John is fading from the storyline: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying” (v. 14-15). What is Jesus going to say? What Jesus tells us is that it is high time for us to get with God’s program.

Mark 1:1-13 has been proclaiming “[the] beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” And what He is telling us in various ways is that Jesus, God’s Son, the Messiah, has come. The prophets spoke about it in the Old Testament (v. 2-3). John spoke about it to the people he baptized (v. 7-8). The Father spoke about it from heaven (v. 11). Mark himself is speaking to us about Jesus throughout the passage. And the question is: What now? What must we do in response? What does God want us to do with all this information? Jesus answers this question for us. Others have spoken, now it is time for Jesus to speak for the first time in Mark’s Gospel. What is His message? “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (v. 15)

“The time is fulfilled”: the days that the prophets promised long ago about the coming of the Lord – it is taking place right now. God is making good on His Word. The Messiah has come, and He is ready to rescue sinners from the kingdom of this world.

“[The] kingdom of God is at hand”: the reason God’s kingdom is at hand is because God’s anointed King has drawn near. Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed King. The Father has placed the administration of His kingdom into the hands of His Son. Do you want to enter into the sphere of His kingdom where His Spirit holds sway? Do you want to be led out of sin, temptation, and the wilderness of death, and led into righteousness, peace, and the garden of life where the glory of the Father shines bright?

Then do this: “repent and believe in the gospel.” Turn away from the false stories, and turn to the faithful Son. Quit doing life your way, and start doing it His way. No longer depend on your own inadequate resources, and be immersed in the power of His Spirit. Be done with the lies, and believe that Jesus is God’s grace to you: go to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, for a brand new beginning, for the resources of heaven poured out upon you, and – most fundamentally – for fellowship with the living God. 

There is a God in heaven above: He is not a distant deity, but He has drawn near through Jesus Christ to bring us salvation. Stop acting as if God’s kingdom remains far off, and receive it as the wonderfully good news that it is. And for those of you who have already begun to follow Jesus, keep your eyes on Him and stay the course!



[1] William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974: p. 57.


Victor Babajide Cole, “Mark.” In Africa Bible Commentary: A One-Volume Commentary Written by 70 African Scholars. Tokunboh Adeyemo, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark (The Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.

Eckhard J. Schnabel, Mark (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Vol. 2). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017.

Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.

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