There are times when our familiarity with a Gospel story might prove to be a hindrance when we come to reading a passage. Our sense that we already know what the account is about and why the Gospel writer recorded it for us can leave us inattentive. And the result? We might overlook what matters most.
As an example, notice Mark’s short (and familiar) account of Jesus’ baptism and wilderness excursion.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him, and a voice came out of the heavens: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well pleased.” Immediately, the Spirit impelled Him to go into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan, and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him. ~ Mark 1:9–13 (NASB)
Other Gospel accounts provide a slightly different perspective on these events; they are not contradictory, only different. So, if we are attentive to what Mark tells us, what does he want us to see, to know, to learn? What do you notice?
Did you notice that it was Jesus who saw the heavens opening? (Others might have seen that, but Mark underscores for us that Jesus was aware.) Did you hear what the voice that came from the heavens said? Who did that voice address? For whose benefit did God speak from heaven? Did you see how it was that Jesus ended up in the wilderness? How did He know to go there? And, once there, did you skip over the mention that the angels were ministering to Him?
Mark is not presenting to us a complete theology of the incarnate Son. But he is telling us some important things. And we would do well to read carefully.
What happened at Jesus’ baptism was for His benefit. God intended to clarify something for Jesus. How Jesus ended up in the wilderness matters. The Spirit was the one who led Him there. And once there, angels ministered to Him. Jesus apparently needed what they provided.
Is that the image most Christians have of Jesus? One who needed the Father’s assurance? One who was led by the Spirit? One who benefitted from what angels could offer? Maybe the incarnate Son really did experience life in a more human way than we tend to think.
If we haven’t read attentively, we might skip over such details. And our view of Jesus will be hampered. And we will miss something Mark intended for us to see.