Category Archives: Gospel of Mark

Christ – Baptised. Mark 1:9-11

John’s baptism was for repentance and the forgiveness of sin. Why, then, did Jesus, the one who was without sin, need to be baptised?

The concept of baptism didn’t start with John. Ceremonial cleanliness and ritual washing had been part of Jewish practice for generations. All Jewish people were familiar with it. At his consecration as a Priest, Aaron and his sons were washed with water (Leviticus 6:8). It was an act of cleansing for both men and women. By the time of Christ there had developed a practice of washing the whole body as part of an ‘initiation’ when someone converted to Judaism. It symbolised transformation. Purity. A new start. A new beginning. (The Mikvah –

Obviously, this was a huge moment for Jesus. Here he was, about to step out of the shadows, into the final phase of his ministry. There is a sense of consecration at the start of his journey. A ‘new beginning’. A new start.

That’s all fine, passingly interesting, and there’s much more we could say about all that, but I think the true reason may be rather simpler. The question was, remember why did Jesus need to be baptised? I believe that the simple answer is that he didn’t. I believe that he consciously chose to be baptised. Why would he do that? Because he knew that this was God’s will for him.

‘Behold,’ says John, when he first sees Jesus approaching. ‘The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’ (John 1:29). There is no question. John knows that this Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah. No wonder he is hesitant about baptising him. But Jesus steps into the water. ‘It I right that you baptise me to fulfil all righteousness.’ (Matthew 3:14). This act of extraordinary humility by the Son of God was part of God’s plan for Jesus. His acceptance of John’s baptism was an act of obedience at the start of Hs journey.

And so Jesus is baptised. An act which fulfilled all righteousness, unquestionably. An act of extraordinary symbolism, undoubtedly. An act which His heavenly Father wanted him to be a part of, absolutely. An act of obedience, self evidently. 

‘As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove ad alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said ‘You are my Son. With you I am well pleased. ’(Mark 1:11)

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The influencer.. Mark 1:5-8

In this first quarter of the 21st Century, we have a new concept of what it means to be an ‘influencer’. An influencer is someone who is perceived as having authority or knowledge on a specific topic and who attracts the interest of large numbers of people. Today, we have ‘cultural influencers’, some of whom can claim millions of followers. Their endorsement of a product or a lifestyle choice can inspire a large tranche of their admirers to change their behaviour. For better or worse, social media influencers can be a powerful force in contemporary culture.

John the Baptist was perceived as having very specific knowledge and authority and he quickly attracted the attention of a very large number of people. His promotion of a lifestyle focussed on repentance before God and acceptance of his forgiveness inspired many to want to listen to him and share in his baptism of water. Within his own culture, John the Baptist was, by the most contemporary of definitions, an influencer of his day.

Leaving aside the immeasurable differences in styles of communication in 1st Century Palestine against 21st Century world, I want to highlight two key differences in the style of influence.

Firstly, there is the act of commitment of followers. Today, I can follow anyone I choose by simply clicking on a screen. Job done. To follow John involved rather more commitment. It involved travelling into the wilderness, facing dangers and difficulties which are beyond the experience of even the most experienced modern travelers. Yet people came. From Jerusalem. From all over Judea. Travelling, almost exclusively  by foot through the hostile environment, often for several days or more. To find John the Baptist at his work involved determination, effort and commitment.

Secondly, the purpose of his message. Social media influencers are, for the most part, about self promotion. We can optimise our websites, manipulate meta data and tags, influence algorithms, and play a host of tricks to encourage people to follow us. There are exceptions, but most influencers are generally self interested. We live in a celebrity culture, where success is measured in ‘clicks’, ‘likes’, ‘follows’, and generated advertising income. Whatever the message of John was, it was not about self, but about someone else. The Gospel writers present him as a signpost linking the coming of Christ to the prophets of old. They also describe a signpost pointing towards the future. His message was to herald the arrival of one who was to follow him. One whose sandals John was not even fit to untie. The message was not about John. It was about Jesus.

Today, we may see influencers with followers in the million. We will never know how many followers John had, but it probably numbered a few thousands. Yet 2000 years later, the message of this influencer continues to resound through the ages. The prophetic voice calling in the desert, proclaiming ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord’.

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John appeared.. Mark 1:4

From The Friars - CFR Blog: John the BaptistIt is in verse 4 that the drama starts. My French Bible (i) begins this verse with the shortest of sentences. ‘Jean parait.’ The message is clear. After 400 years of prophetic silence, ‘John appeared’. His name is rooted in the Hebrew name of Yehochanan, which means ‘the grace or mercy of Jehovah’ (ii). ‘A most proper and significant name for the forerunner of the God of All Grace.’ (iii)

There is a parched, unwelcoming and sparsely populated desert area between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. Sometimes referred to as Jeshimon, this is an arid, bare and sterile land. Mile after mile of scorched, unwelcoming emptiness, where virtually no plant life can thrive. This strip of utterly waterless land is the wilderness of John the Baptist. This is exactly the type of place where the prophets of old were to be found.

How, in such a place, was John able to baptise people? In the midst of this desolate place, the wilderness is dissected by the River Jordan, and it was here that people flocked to meet and listen to John. (iv)

Here is a man who looks like a prophet, in a place where you might have expected to find a prophet in the days of the ancients, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

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  • Bible du Semeur, Nouveau Testament, Marc 1:4
  • Adam Clark, Gospel of Mark Commentary
  • Adam Clark, ibid
  • The actual site of Christ’s baptism is believed to be Al Maghtas, sometimes called Bethany beyond the Jordan, on the east bank of the Jordan about 8 miles north of the Dead Sea (

400 Years of Silence

The Holy Prophet MalachiWhilst the identity of Malachi, the man, is subject to some debate, it is accepted in the Christian, and more importantly the Jewish tradition, that his prophecies were the last recorded in the Hebrew Bible.

‘The Talmud teaches, “After the last prophets Chaggai, Zechariah, and Malachi died, the Divine Spirit of prophetic revelation departed from the Jewish people.” ‘(Who Was the Prophet Malachi? –

Of course, the story of Israel continues. It is a story of invasion and suppression. The invading army of Alexander the Great. The Seleucid empire. The Ptolemies.  These regimes brought not only waves of terror and suppression to the Jewish people, but also exposed them to Greek influences which filtered throughout the Jewish culture. Ultimately these invaders were superceded by the Romans. Whilst again and again throughout this period the hand of God is evident in the preservation of His people, it is beyond doubt that when the voice of Malachi fell silent, so also the voice of prophecy.

400 years of incredible violence and turbulence. 400 years of the most profound and protracted silence.

And then, in the wilderness, ‘John appeared.’

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The story begins: Mark 1:1-3

Lessons from John the Baptist

‘This is the beginning of the story of how Jesus Christ, the Son of God, brought the good news to men.’

So begins Mark’s gospel. The focus of the Gospel, from the first sentence, is Jesus. Yet the action begins with someone else.  The second sentence, as written in translation by William Barclay, starts ‘There is a passage in Isaiah the prophet which says ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.’ The Book of Isaiah was written about 7 centuries before the birth of Jesus.

Before moving forwards, Mark looks back. He quotes from the Prophet Micah ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘prepare the Way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.’ In its original context, this is a warning to a nation who had lost their way. A warning to their priests and leaders that they should change their ways. Micah was written around 400 years before the birth of Jesus.

These are the words which Mark uses to introduce John the Baptist, cousin of this Jesus. The words of Malachi had been delivered to a nation which had lost its way. These same words introduce the one who will direct them back to the right path.

‘Mark starts the story of Jesus a long way back. It did not begin with Jesus birth. It did not even begin with John the Baptist in the wilderness. It began with the dreams of the prophets long ago; that is to say, it began long, long ago in the mind of God.’ (Wm Barclay, Commentary on Mark)

This is the start of the greatest story ever told. The story not of a man, but of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

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Mark: The authentic voice

This is the first in our series of posts on the Gospel of Mark, first published in August 2023

Who wrote the Gospel of Mark (Part III) | Dead Heroes Don't Save

In Acts 12, we read that James, the brother of John, had been martyred by King Herod in order to satisfy the Jewish leaders. This was quickly followed by the arrest of the Apostle Peter, with the expectation that he would also be put to the sword. Herod is determined that Peter will not escape his fate, appointing four squads of guards to watch over him. He is forced to sleep between two guards, whilst further soldiers guard the door. Meanwhile, the Church is praying for Peter’s release.

This is the start of one of my favourite stories.  In the middle of the night, Peter is awoken by an angel, who tells him to get dressed and follow him. Peter’s shackles fall away, and he is led out of the prison. Finding himself alone in the street, Peter makes his way to the house of a friend called Mary, where people are praying for his release.  This Mary is identified as the mother of a man called Mark, sometimes called John Mark (Acts 12:12). At this point, Mark was probably a young man. This is the first that we read about this man who is the author of the Gospel which bears his name.

As with most biblical characters, we know little of his life, apart from one or two ‘cameo’ moments. If Mark met Christ, he would almost certainly have been a small child at the time. However we know that he travelled with Barnabas and Paul (Acts 12:25), becoming the cause of a disagreement between them because of his behaviour (Acts 15:38). Yet he was later reconciled as an important support to Paul’s ministry (2 Timothy 4:11).

Not only was he close to Paul, but this Mark also became a friend, colleague and companion of the Apostle Peter, closest companion of Jesus. Peter even referred to as ‘my son Mark’ in 1 Peter 5:13. We know that Mark was with Peter towards the end of his life in Rome, and there is every reason to believe that Peter was the direct source of this Gospel. When we read , we hear the voice of Peter.

To read this Gospel is to listen to the voice not of Mark, but of Peter. To read this Gospel is to hear the voice of the one who walked with Christ, talked with Christ, ate with Christ, and witnessed the miracles of Christ. To read this Gospel is to listen to the voice of the one who walked on the water, who recognised Christ as Messiah, and knew the pain of hearing the cock crow three times. To read this Gospel is to hear the voice of one who witnessed the death and resurrection of Christ, one who experienced Pentecost, one who witnessed at first hand the exponential growth of the early Church. To read this Gospel is to listen to the voice of the one upon whose shoulders the Church was built.

Read this Gospel with expectation.  Read it in the hope of being encouraged and inspired. Read it to listen to the voice of the Apostle and to engage with the story of how Jesus Christ, the Son of God, brought the good news to men, as written by Mark, but as described by one who was actually there.

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