Foundational truths

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: 'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way—a voice of one calling in the wilderness, "Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him."'

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan. (Mar 1:1–5)

Deity of Christ

Mark begins his Gospel by telling us that Jesus the Messiah is the Son of God, an essential truth the world needs to hear and understand. The Hebrew word 'Messiah' and the Greek word 'Christ' both mean Anointed One (Joh 1:41).

A common mark of cults, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians, Mormons etc, is that they rob Jesus of his deity. They say that he was a son of God, that he was a prophet, that he was a leader of men. But they will not acknowledge that he was the Son of God; Immanuel—God with us; God living in a human body.

If anyone speaks to you on the subject of religion and you want to know whether you are talking to a Christian or a member of a cult, ask them who Jesus Christ was. If they say he was a prophet, or a leader, or a good man—but not the Son of God, then you know you are dealing with a cult.

Jesus asked his disciples:

'Who do people say the Son of Man is?'

They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.'

'But what about you?' he asked. 'Who do you say I am?'

Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.' (Mat 16:13–6)

Those words send a thrill into the heart of every true believer, because the Holy Spirit confirms that truth to God's people.

Humanity of Christ

One of the themes of Mark's Gospel, even though it begins by proclaiming our Lord's deity, is that Jesus is the Son of Man. That title occurs fourteen times in his Gospel—an average of almost once per chapter. Jesus was not only fully God, he was also fully man: he was God living in a human body.

He didn't have a superhuman body either; he had a normal body made of flesh and blood, just like ours. Jesus was born of a woman as we are born of women; and he was born with the same kind of body we have.

Because he has shared in our humanity, he knows what it's like

Jesus experienced all of those things. That should be a constant source of encouragement to us as we follow him (Luk 14:27).

Good News

Mark doesn't commence his Gospel with:

Jesus the Messiah is good news!

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners… (1Ti 1:15)

Are there any sinners reading this study? The Bible says:

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (Rom 3:23; 1Jo 1:8)

So, if we are all sinners, then Jesus the Messiah (the Christ), who came into the world to save sinners, is good news for you, and for me, and for the whole world!

Repentance

At the beginning of his Gospel, Mark tells us that a man (John the Baptist) came preaching repentance. That's because the gospel—the good news about Jesus Christ—begins with repentance.

The gospel begins with repentance. There can be no salvation without repentance. And God is still, today, commanding all people everywhere to repent (Act 17:30).

Strong's Greek Dictionary tells us that the word translated 'repent' in the above passages means to feel compunction, which is a strong feeling of regret for the wrongs one has committed.

We don't have to reform our lives before we come to Jesus. He accepts us, just as we are, providing there is genuine sorrow in our hearts for our sin (2Co 7:10). Charlotte Elliott, the hymn writer, put it perfectly:

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come.

We come to Christ in the depth of our sin and he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to purify us from all unrighteousness (1Jo 1:9). However, having been cleansed of our sins by the blood of his Son, God then wants us to turn from them and walk in obedience to him, changing our lives in keeping with our repentance (Mat 3:7–8).

Transformation

God originally made mankind perfect: he created them, male and female, in his own image (Gen 1:27). But sin has so scarred us, and sin has so deformed us, that we no longer resemble the people he created.

However, there is good news for every believer. 2Co 3:18 tells us that we are being transformed into the likeness (Greek image) of Christ, with ever-increasing glory, as God's Spirit works in us. The Greek word translated 'transformed' in that verse is metamorphoo, from which family of words we get the English word 'metamorphosis'.

What came first: the physical or the spiritual? The spiritual came first. God, who is spirit (Joh 4:24), created the physical. And when he created the physical he had the spiritual in mind, because a lot of what we see in the physical world illustrates spiritual truth. Metamorphosis is a good example.

The subject has fascinated scientists for centuries—how a living creature can change completely from one form into another. They still don't know why it happens, but they now know how it happens—it happens from the inside out.

A caterpillar starts to change into a chrysalis internally. The process continues until what has been happening on the inside becomes visible on the outside. The chrysalis then continues to change on the inside until what is left (the outer shell) splits and the butterfly emerges.

And that is what happens to us. When we are born again God comes to dwell in our hearts—our innermost beings—by his Spirit (2Co 1:21–2) and starts to transform them.

The process continues until what has been happening on the inside (the transformation of our hearts) becomes visible on the outside—we not only think differently, but also speak differently and act differently: we've been changed.

A caterpillar changes into a butterfly—a complete change. What was ordinary has become something of great beauty. In the same way, God is transforming us into something that is beautiful in his sight—the image of his Son. And, as Christ is the image of God (Col 1:15), so God is restoring us, by his Spirit, to what we originally were—the image of himself.

Perfection of Christ

John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: 'After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.' (Mar 1:6–7)

John was a righteous and holy man (Mar 6:20) and yet he felt unworthy to untie our Lord's sandals. That speaks of the absolute purity and sinless perfection of Christ. He would soon cry out, 'Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (Joh 1:29)!' God was going to walk towards him in a human body. What a thought!

There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven, and let us in.

That God should choose to die for my sins is still a source of great amazement to me.

He will baptize you

'I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.' (Mar 1:8)

John said that he baptized with water, but that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit—and he still does today! The fact that the baptism of the Spirit is different, and in addition to receiving the Spirit at conversion, can be seen from Scripture.

In Joh 20:19–23, Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.' At that moment they were born again and the Holy Spirit came to dwell within them. However, a short while later, Jesus again appeared to his disciples and said:

'Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.' (Act 1:4–5)

Those words were fulfilled at Pentecost (Act 2:1–4). But if the disciples received the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed on them in Joh 20, why did they need to be baptized with the Holy Spirit? Jesus gave the answer in Act 1:8:

'But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'

The baptism of the Holy Spirit is given to empower God's people for ministry, and the result of that empowering can be seen in the Book of Acts. Some Christians today acknowledge the baptism of the Spirit, but don't feel a personal need for it. To such people I ask: Can any Christian have too much power in their ministry?

Even though his disciples had received the Holy Spirit when they were born again, Jesus told them not to go anywhere until they had been baptized with the Holy Spirit. By what stretch of the imagination can we believe that things are different today? Can we now do God's work without his empowering? God forgive us for such arrogance!

In Mat 28:19, Jesus commanded the church to make disciples of all nations: the baptism of the Spirit empowers the church to fulfil that command. Every Christian needs the baptism of the Spirit for personal witness (apart from anything else), and there are many other benefits to be gained from this wonderful blessing.

So, how are we baptized with the Holy Spirit? The answer is by faith, which is the way we receive all of God's blessings, including salvation. As we've already seen, John the Baptist said that he (meaning Jesus) will baptize us with the Holy Spirit (Mar 1:8). He is ready and willing to do that; all we need to do is ask him—and believe. Jesus said:

'Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.' (Mar 11:24)

Jesus wants us all to have this empowering. Are we ready to ask him today?

Michael Graham
August 2001
Revised June 2019

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition). Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved.

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