Sunday School Lessons


Commentary by Walter Albritton


March 2


Jesus Begins His Ministry

Mark 1:1-45

Key Verse: There came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. – Mark 1:11


            Mark is decisive. He does not pussyfoot around. He tells a powerful story with a strong sense of urgency.

            God is at work. God has a plan. John plays a major role in that plan. He prepares the way. Then Jesus comes as the plan unfolds.

            Jesus is a man of action. He submits to the baptism of John, though John is understandably hesitant to baptize the Messiah himself.

            We need not quibble about the method of Jesus’ baptism. We should be silly to advance the idea that though the two men waded out into the Jordan River, Jesus was not immersed.

Some diehards would have us believe that John took along a clay pitcher and poured water upon the head of Jesus while the Master was standing before him. Others imagine John took water in his hands and “sprinkled” it on the head of Jesus.

The most plausible conclusion is the one held by our Baptist friends, that John immersed Jesus in the water, taking him “all the way under” and raising him up out of the water. Mark says in fact that Jesus came “up out of the water.”

God’s people have more to do than waste time arguing about the “right” method of baptism. For half a century I have happily shared with people that United Methodists are not “hung up” on any particular method of baptism.

We invite the candidate for baptism to choose any of the three accepted methods: sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. I have usually said, “You decide the amount of water you prefer, and I will baptize you. I can sprinkle water on your head, pour water on your head out of a pitcher, or immerse you in a pool, a lake, or an ocean.” I have had the honor of baptizing people in all of these places.

Most often, when a person has preferred immersion, I have borrowed the baptismal pool of a Baptist pastor on a Saturday. Baptists are delighted to assist Methodists to be baptized by immersion!

            We should understand that it is not the amount of water that concerns God. God wants sinners to repent and be baptized so they may be saved. The water does not save anyone. The method of baptism does not save anyone. God saves the repentant sinner who surrenders to the act of baptism, whatever the method. We are saved by grace, not water.

            Mark tells us about a God who is decisive. When Jesus is baptized, God affirms his Son, making his approval of Jesus known to both Jesus and to John. What a great lesson this is for us: Jesus had done nothing, but his Father was “well pleased” with him! God loved him because Jesus was his Son, not because Jesus had earned his favor by his good works.

            The lesson for us is that God loves us because we are his children. We have no need to earn his love. God’s love is a given, and when we accept his gracious acceptance of us, we are motivated to live out of gratitude, so that our behavior pleases the one who loves us so much. We do not understand the gospel at all until we understand and embrace this truth.

            Once Jesus is baptized, he is quickly driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by Satan. Mark shows us the messianic power of Jesus. He is able to resist Satan, demonstrating that he is indeed the high priest sent by God to offer forgiving grace to all who repent and believe.

            John’s ministry ends abruptly. Immediately Jesus begins his own, announcing that the kingdom of God is at hand. The time for repentance and faith in the gospel had come.

            Mark shows us the magnetism of Jesus as well as his authority and power. The men he calls leave everything and follow him. Gathering his small band of disciples, Jesus goes about preaching, healing, and astonishing the religious leaders with his power over demons.

            The great theme of Jesus’ ministry was the kingdom of God. He invited people to be aware of it, to receive it, and to live within it. As we follow him today, that should be our concern – to live within the kingdom as subjects of the King.

            He is no less able to act decisively in our lives than he was in those early days described so vividly by Mark. Let us then serve him with that strong sense of urgency with which he began his own ministry. + + + +