Mark 1:9-13

The Center of God’s Will

If you could live one day at the absolute center of God’s will for your life what do you imagine it would it look like?   How would your day look if you knew moment by moment that where you are is exactly where God wants you to be?

Jesus had one of those days where he knew he was exactly where his Father wanted him to be.  Of course this was true for all of Jesus’ days but it was apparent to everyone on this day.  Here is how Mark describes it in Mark 1:9-11:

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And 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. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

John had been preaching that the Messiah was coming.  And now he has arrived.  He goes out to meet John in the wilderness. We are not given the particulars of this first encounter but we are told Jesus was baptized by John.

The first question that this raises for us is Why was Jesus baptized?  Wasn’t John’s baptism a baptism of repentance?  Did Jesus need to repent?  Isn’t he the Son of God? – without any defect, let alone sin!  If it puzzles us, imagine how perplexed John must have been.  I imagine the scene could have been something like this:  There is along line of people to be baptized and  Jesus gets in line with everyone else.  John is baptizing one person after another and then its Jesus’ turn.  John is just about to perform the baptism when he nearly falls down in the water after their gazes meet.  In fact Matthew tells us in his gospel that John initally refused to baptize Jesus.   He says (Matthew 3:14), “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus responds (v.15), “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

Jesus is baptized not because he is a sinner but to identify fully and completely with sinners.  He is not baptized for his salvation but for our salvation.  Later he will command his disciples to go forth and make disciples and baptize them into his name (and the name of Father and the Holy Spirit).  But here in the opening lines of Mark we see Jesus being baptized into our mess.  Jesus, the Son of God, enters enters fully into the brokenness of the world.

And here is Jesus’ moment.  When he knows he is at the center of his Father’s will.  I don’t believe he ever doubted but on this occasion it was abundantly clear to him and to all who were present on the banks of the Jordan that day.  As he is coming up out of the waters, the heavens are opened. And not only opened but torn opened.  The Greek word Mark uses is schizo and just like the English translation is connotes a violent or sudden tearing open.  Mark will use the word only one other time in his gospel when he describes the tearing of the temple curtain when Jesus died on the cross (Mark 15:38).

The heavens being torn open, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a bird.  Given the circumstances we might expect that bird to be a fierce and mighty bird – perhaps an eagle or a falcon.  (There is a reason we don’t give our football teams names like the Philadelphia Pigeons – even if the names fits!)  No, the Holy Spirit descends like a dove.  Notice the text does not say that the Holy Spirit was a dove only that he descended like a dove.

A dove is gentle and unassuming.  A dove is symbolic.  At least one of the early church fathers reminds us that it was a dove that Noah sent forth from the ark.  Third century bishop Gregory Thaumaturgus writes:

He opened the gates of the heavens and sent down the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, lighting upon the head of Jesus, pointing him out right there as the new Noah, even the maker of Noah, and the good pilot of the nature which is in shipwreck.    (The Fourth Homily, On the Holy Theophany – from IVP’s Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Mark, p.12)

As through Noah a remnant was saved from the wrath of God so through Jesus a remnant is saved from the wrath of God.  In this way Jesus is the new Noah.  A better Noah.  Jesus he is “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him (Hebrews 7:25).”

The Spirit having descended, the Father speaks.  John was sent to be a voice on earth and here is a voice from heaven.  “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This is the Trinitarian witness: the Father speaking, the Spirit descending, and the Son receiving. Jesus is indeed at the center of his Father’s will.  He is loved by the Father.  His father delights and is pleased with his Son.  Jesus is exactly where his Father intends him to be.  This is true at his baptism and it is also true as Jesus heads into the wilderness.  Mark records it this way (chapter 1):

12The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13And 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.

Jesus is still wet from his baptism.  His Father’s voice is still ringing in his ears.  And then-he is driven into the wilderness.  How?  The same gentle Spirit who descended on him at his baptism drives him into the wilderness.  Jesus was at the center of his Father’s will while in the Jordan River and continues to be in the center of his Father’s will in the wilderness.

We dare not believe that just because our circumstances become difficult that God is not pleased with us.  Or that we are not in the center of God’s will for our lives.  Our comfort is hardly a reliable gauge to know the will of God.  Jesus was loved and delighted in by the Father and it pleased the Father to send him into the wilderness.  In same way when we face trials and experience suffering we ought not to doubt our Father’s love for us.

Further, it is interesting to note the order of events.  Jesus was not put through a trial in the wilderness and then baptized.  No, he was was baptized first.  He received the love and affirmation of his Father first and then came the trial.  He did not have to earn his Father’s love.   Indeed, it was likely these words “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” that provided sustenance for Jesus in the wilderness.  These words should feed our souls as well when we face trials of different sorts.  You are loved.  You do not need to earn God’s love.

Jesus comes not only as the new Noah but as the second Adam (c.f. Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 13).  The first Adam was also tempted.  He and Eve were together in a cultivated garden.  Jesus is alone with wild animals in the desolate wilderness.  Satan twisted God’s words to  deceive Eve.  In same manner he twisted God’s words (c.f. Matthew 4) in an attempt to deceive Jesus.  Adam gave in.  Jesus overcame.  This is why the author of Hebrews writes:  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).”

Jesus is the new and better Adam.  He entered into our mess.  Was tempted as we are and overcame.  And he invites us to come to him.  In the next words we will hear from Jesus (Mark 1:14-15) he will announce the arrival of the kingdom of God saying “Repent and believe the gospel.”  He invites us to place our faith in him for the salvation of our souls.  He invites us to be baptized into his name to escape the wrath of God and to receive the pleasure of God.  As Jesus heard these words “You are my beloved Son,” we will hear them as well when we receive and rest upon Jesus.


Jesus was just as much at the center of his Father’s will in the waters of the Jordan as he was in the desolation of the wilderness.  The same Spirit with which he was baptized, drove him into the wild.

What would it look like for you to be at the center of God’s will for your life?  Corrie ten Boom, the courageous Christian who helped to rescue scores of Jews during the Holocaust once remarked:

“There are no ‘if’s’ in God’s world. And no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety – let us pray that we may always know it!”

Being at the center of his will is not safer because we are shielded from the discomforts of the world.  It is safer because God is good and what he has for us is best.  It is safer because all of the discomforts of the world are to preferred over being outside of his will.  This should give us hope.  In the midst difficulties, I can still be at the center of his will.

Discussion Questions

If you could write the script for your best “spiritual” day what would it include? How would you describe Jesus’ “spiritual” day in this passage?

Why do you think Jesus submitted to John’s baptism of repentance particularly since he did not have sin for which he needed to repent?

At Jesus’ baptism the heavens are torn open and a voice from heaven speaks. What do we learn about Jesus from this testimony?

Why might it have been important for Jesus to hear these words?

How did Jesus end up in the wilderness? Why is this an important detail to note?

In what ways are we tempted to doubt God’s love for us when we end up in the wilderness? What plan might God have for someone in the wilderness?

It’s important to note that the Father first affirmed his love for the Son and then sent him into the wilderness. What would you say to someone who believed that we must first go through the wilderness before we can “earn” the Father’s love?


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