In preparation for this lesson I realized there is a lot more context to give in this set of chapters than the previous ones. Partly because we get a new book in The Gospel of Mark, but also because we get some new characters, but also because we need to get a little more specific with some characters we have already met. So I apologize for so much more context on this lesson. However, I think it will be worth it throughout the course of the year to have that foundation.
I also want to point out that I am posting the lesson’s the week before on the schedule the Come Follow Me program is following. I am doing this so everyone has time to read it and prepare their own lessons or be prepared for their Gospel Doctrine lessons.
Finally, I want to apologize for posting a day later than planned, I had family in town and have been feeling under the weather.
CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 4 – Matt 3, Luke 3, Mark 1
– The conditions surrounding, and the importance of Christ’s baptism as the beginning of His ministry.
– Jesus begins His ministry with healing, teaching, and helping others, and how that applies to us.
– Becoming a disciple is a charge to work together with others to bring righteousness and salvation to others.
Context and Timeline:
– We are introduced to the Book of Mark for the first time in this lesson. As mentioned in earlier lessons, Matthew and Luke likely used Mark as one of their sources. Mark was very choppy, and fragmented in his telling of the stories, it is much faster paced, and some believe it was used as verbal retailing in early Christian worship services. He wasn’t as concerned about context, or the correct order of things, Matthew and Luke helped correct these in their gospels, but he was more concerned about telling all the bits of the story that he has been told. Many people believe that Mark was a companion of Peter and he received most of his information for his book from Peter.
– Isaiah 40:3 is quoted in 3 of the 4 Gospel accounts. It reads “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” I think it is important that people believed this was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. The reason this is important is because it shows that seemingly small instances can be fulfillment of prophecy, as we see in some latter-day examples of fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecies.
– One of the reason’s that Jews at the time of Jesus struggled with their conception of the Messiah was because Salvation, in their minds, was built on the covenant that God had made with Abraham. This covenant is was provided salvation for them, and their willingness to abide by the terms of the covenant. All of the rituals, and sacrifices were derived in an effort to help keep the covenants or atone for their breaking of the covenant. What they failed to understand, was that the covenant was always based on the Messiah’s ability to atone for humanity’s sins and separation with God. The sacrifices and the covenants were built on the premise of a Messiah. John in the early part of Luke says some harsh things and warns the people not to just rely on “Abraham being their father” but they still must bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. It is easy to be complacent when you have the covenants in your midst.
– Ritual immersion, sometimes referred to as Mikvah, were common in ancient Israel. These immersions were done often in a person’s life and were not what we know as baptism today, but had similar ideas of cleansing, purification, and forgiveness of sins. In the years before John and Jesus there was a group of people called the Essenes, most famous for being the curators of the Dead Sea Scrolls, who took ritual immersion to another level. They believed in three different types of immersion, which they called baptism. The first was a daily immersion with no priest required showing the desire to be clean each day. The second was performed when necessary to cleanse from things the Law of Moses deemed unclean and also did not require a priest to perform. The third was considered a “full baptism” and required a priest or priestess to perform and was included with sacraments of oil, bread, water and a hand grasp and kiss from the priest followed by the priest laying the right hand on the person being baptized. Essenes were famous for living apart from society and they believed in this radical version of baptism in preparation for the coming apocalypse. John had spent most of his life in the wilderness and so it was likely when he came teaching the true baptism that many saw him as a break-off or branch of the Essenes and we probably somewhat skeptical of what his baptism was for.
– The Babylonian captivity of Israel began in 597BC and concluded with the destruction of the first temple in 587BC. The period known as the Second Temple period (516BC – 70AD) began when the temple was rebuilt around 516BC. For the first few centuries of the Second Temple period there was constant fighting and conflict over Jewish independence and religious independence. Eventually the Maccabees lead a revolt and gained control over the Temple and over Jewish religious freedom. The period after this revolt brought about the influences of Pharisees and Sadducees in an increased measure. Prior to that they existed but they became very influential during this period. This influence was primarily derived through the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was essentially a court that settled all disputes withing Judaism. The lesser Sanhedrin would be a local court and the Great Sanhedrin would be like the supreme court of the Jewish Courts. They convened in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period. The Sanhedrin were filled Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes and sometimes Essenes.
– Pharisees believed in the written law, and the oral traditions passed down through the priesthood, they also believed it was their responsibility to relate to the common Jewish believer. They had enormous influence on the people and were therefore the main enforcers of Jewish law. Because they believed in the oral law, this gave them latitude to alter, add, and subtract what they saw fit in the law. This caused a lot of contention with people and led to an incomprehensibly difficult law to understand and administer. Sadducees were strict adherents to only the written law and did not believe any of the oral law. They also were primarily from the upper class of priests and did not believe in resurrection of the dead. They were believers that Jews needed to incorporate secular Hellenistic ideas into their religion, whereas Pharisees worked to keep that out of their religious beliefs and practices. In general, however, both groups represented the ruling class of the Jewish religion, and from John and Jesus’s perspective, they had gone astray.
– Remember that the Sabbath day was sundown on Friday evening to sundown on Saturday evening. It wasn’t the full calendar day.
This story contains a little bit from last week’s story and a little bit from next week’s story, but with some different details so we will tell some of the stories twice.
We begin with an illusion to John the Baptist having been in the wilderness for a time and being inspired by God to begin to preach and baptize people in preparation for the coming Messiah. All three books quote Isaiah 40:3 and then we are brought to the scene of some mass baptisms. John is baptizing many people and he is confronted by some Pharisees and Sadducees and calls them to repentance. He also declares to them that he is not the Christ, but that he is coming.
Sometime after that encounter Jesus comes to John to be baptized. It may have been with many people, but it was likely with less fanfare than when the Pharisees and Sadduccees were in attendance. Many have asked why Christ needed to be baptized if it was for remission of sins, but being baptized accomplishes several things for Jesus at the same time:
- He can “fulfill all righteousness” by following the commandment of God to be baptized.
- Even though he was perfect, he declares through this action that he is putting his old self away and starting anew as part of the kingdom of God, or family of believers that Paul later calls the “body of Christ”.
- He shows his disciples, and us the way to begin our discipleship and join him in that family of believers.
- God gives his first and one of his most powerful witnesses of the Savior’s divinity by declaring that Jesus is His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased.
Shortly after the baptism of Jesus Christ, John is arrested by Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee for criticizing his marriage to his brother’s wife Herodias among a great many other things. This stirs the people up and many began to follow John’s admonition to follow Jesus.
In the book of Luke, we get a genealogy of Jesus similar to that in the book of Matthew, but it shows some more traditions past down in Israel by taking the generations all the way back to Adam and Eve. In both Luke and Matthew, the chapters end before the book of Mark. In Mark, we move forward in the story by learning that Jesus confronted Satan while fasting for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness in preparation for His ministry. He follows that up by calling Andrew, Peter, John, and Jacob away from their fisherman responsibilities to leave their lives and follow Him on his journey. These men were not sophisticated, not well known, they may not have even been considered devout at the time, but they were willing to follow Jesus. They acted on the feeling of inspiration, having almost no idea what journey it would lead them on. These kinds of disciples became the core on which the church is founded.
If the disciples following Jesus were already amazed at some of the spiritual experiences they had seen, their minds were quickly blown even more, as Jesus goes to a synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath and has a conversation with a demon possessing a man and casts the unclean spirit out. Not only are the disciples in shock that the spirits knew Jesus and that he could command them, but all the people witnessing this event were astonished. They began spreading the news that Messiah had come and he had power and authority like no one they had seen.
As a result, Jesus heals and teaches many people, including Peter’s mother-in-law. He also commands other unclean spirits to depart and that brings even more and more people looking for him. Rather than stay in one place though, Jesus has a mission to accomplish, and so he let’s his disciples know they need to leave and attend to neighboring towns to heal and teach. What the disciples are not recognizing, is that Jesus has dual reasons for spreading his works around. He wants the basis of the gospel and the church to be built on helping others, lifting faith, lessening burdens and bringing us together as a body of Christ, but he also has a mission to get the Sanhedrin even more aware of him. His intent is clearly to get his message, his influence, and his ministry spread across Judea and Galilee. This, He knows, will truly have consequences among the ruling elite, but those consequences are the foundation of His mission as God condescending down to be a mortal to sacrifice Himself for us.
What do you think the wives of the first disciples were thinking? Does that make what they did seem even more incredible?
What does it mean to us being part of the family of believers? Being baptized is so important, why do Latter Day Saints do it when they are 8 years old?
There can be big differences between different ways of practicing the gospel in our lives. Some traditions are not from God but from our fathers, and with so many recent changes by church leaders we can see change can be powerful in our journey toward being better disciples. How do we balance being somewhat disruptive, like Jesus, and being respectful to traditions that matter to those who came before? How can we find our own way while being at one with the Body of Christ? Since we are doing this together and helping each other, how important is it to find that balance?
How do we deal with new information about spiritual things that don’t always square with what we have been taught, or previously thought? How can we do better at letting new ideas in, and finding how they fit and help us in our faith?
Key Moment or Scripture: Matt 3:13-17 KJV
13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
14 But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
I have been helping to teach a temple class for adults for the past three years and this is one of the scriptures that I use to discuss our participation in the ordinances of salvation. In verse 15, after John has expressed his unworthiness compared to the Savior, Jesus then says something that really matters to us all. He says to John, “for thus it becometh US to fulfil all righteousness.” It is a group effort, and in order for salvation to be achieved for all of us, we must participate in the ordinances (enter a partnership with the Savior) together despite the enormous gap of worthiness between us and the Savior.
I think it is easy to look at our own and others’ perceived obedience as the measure of righteousness, but in this context righteousness is mostly defined by engaging in the gospel and its ordinances with each other. When we consider that there is nothing we can do on our own to bridge the gap between holiness on our own state. It is only our partnership with Jesus Christ, which we enter through the gospel and its ordinances, that bridges the gap.
When we commit in our hearts and actions to be a partner with Christ, we become his disciple. His mission becomes our mission. The mission is to bring compassion, love, help, strength, build faith, and teach the gospel to those around us. We can do this even if we aren’t perfect, we can do this even if we are far from perfect, we can do this if we are barely making it, and even if we are in the depths of darkness, if we will just believe the voice that tells us Jesus still loves us and wants our partnership, we can do it.