There is something very striking in the first thirteen verses which form what may be called the introduction to the gospel by Mark. They contain a rapid, but remarkably concentrated, testimony to Christ Himself. There is no genealogy, no account of His birth, no visits of wise men, nor of shepherds.
The evangelist enters at once on his line of ministry. His opening words are, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” That gospel displacing, as it were, the law, and starting in all the freshness of its own peculiar message. But he announces this Christ as Son of God—a title in itself striking, when we get to see that Jesus is presented by this writer as Servant. It is the Servant-Son! The Son assumes the lowly “form of a servant.” He preaches, teaches, heals, and labours; but He who deigns to do so is, at the same time, Son of God! Precious combination! For, it may be asked, who can serve as a son can? An alien toils for his wages, and has no personal interest in his work; but a son feels that his father’s interests and his own are the same. It is a common and equal partnership. Profit and loss are borne equally. Self-interest is practically disallowed, and it may be truly said the Son “seeks not His own glory, but the glory of Him that sent Him.”
Jesus is thus presented as the Servant-Son, and thus this gospel begins.
Now, prophets had foretold the advent of the Lord (Jehovah), whose ways were to be made straight, and before whose face a messenger was to come. This was John the Baptist—sent before His face, according to the prophet Malachi; to prepare the way of the Lord, according to Isaiah. First then we have the combined testimony of these two prophets, who unitedly bear witness to the fact of the Lord’s coming. And their words are taken up by John Baptist, who applies them to the mightier than he, who should come after him, the latchet of whose shoe he was not worthy to stoop down and unloose. This was Jesus. “He shall baptise you,” said John, “with the Holy Ghost.”
Now, John was highly popular. He was a rigid and thorough reformer of religious and moral abuses, and was held in great and proper esteem by the people. All the land of Judea and they of Jerusalem accepted his baptism, and owned him as a prophet. His place of testimony was none the less outside and removed from the religious centre, and, while baptising and preaching the advent of the kingdom, he earnestly insisted on the supreme dignity of the Mightier than he.
This is noteworthy in our gospel. The testimony of John is rendered not so much against the state of the leaders of the people (as in Matthew 3), as to the Lord Himself. Hence, “He shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost,” (omitting “and fire”). It is grace for the people rather than judgment. Nor do we read of the axe being laid to the root of trees, nor of the floor being purged. Our evangelist is thus engaged with John’s positive witness to Christ rather than his work of reforming the evils that existed amongst the people. For just as the two prophets quoted had predicted the coming of the Lord, so now John declares the fulfilment of their prediction in Jesus Christ.
In those days came Jesus from Nazareth, and was baptized of John; the heavens were opened, and the Spirit, like a dove, descended upon Him. What a wonderful event! Never before had the heavens been opened on a man—that Man being the object of heaven’s well-merited notice, and the Spirit descended upon Him. This too is a special testimony to the Servant-Son.
And there came a voice from heaven saying, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom [or in Thee] I am well pleased.” Were such words ever heard before? Never was man addressed in such terms. The relationship was new, for the law did not dream of conferring the dignity of sonship on even the best of its subjects. But here we have the Son beloved. Never before could God speak of man as having afforded Him good pleasure. But here the Father addresses the Son as the man of His pleasure. He holds a distinct place—does this lowly Nazarene. He stands in perfect distinctness from all beside, a distinctness that connects itself with His person, and that marks Him off from the children of Adam.
This again is a further and most wonderful testimony to Him.
Finally, driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, He is tempted of Satan. What a fact! What an experience for the Son in manhood to be confronted with the enemy who, alas! had been so successful with his temptations hitherto; who had won so easy a victory in the garden; who had been permitted to strip Job of all; and who had led David to an act of disobedience, the effects of which were arrested at Araunah’s threshing-floor. Now these two are together in the wilderness. Jesus was tempted of Satan. Notice the two personalities; the One was no less real and actual than the other, and how different!
But the tempter, heretofore victorious, is defeated, and that too in the place of his power—the wilderness. The details of the temptation are omitted here. We have simply the fact; yet that suffices. For the testimony is all to the person of Christ, apart, as it were, from historic details. But we read, “He was with the wild beasts” (a point unnoticed by the other evangelists), in order to tell us that even they could recognize in Him their Creator and Lord, whose disarmed servants they were. This in itself is a testimony.
“And the angels came and ministered unto Him.” Had they not done so before? No doubt they had, but never when He, their Master and Lord, had, as now, been in circumstances of temptation and humility. This was to them a service of a new and grateful kind. Ravens might have waited on an Elijah morning and evening with his daily sustenance. Quails and manna might have fed the hungry hosts in the desert, but now the angels of heaven attend upon their suffering Lord. Happy ministry! He “was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death.” He was found in manhood “in the form of a servant,” and now these sinless beings find peculiar pleasure in ministering to One who, claiming their homage, had, in lowly grace and matchless love to man, taken an inferior place. Well may we add—“Which things the angels desire to look into.” They serve Him and then disappear, whilst He comes forth from that point to take His place of tender, patient, faithful service to man. Blessed Servant-Son!
Thus angels contribute to the testimony. Hence, in this brief introduction we have a sevenfold witness. We have prophets, John, the Spirit like a dove, the Father, Satan, wild beasts, and finally angels—all speaking, in different ways, of the glory of Him whose gospel is thus prefaced by His servant Mark.