The Perfect Servant in Mark’s Gospel: His Identity

Our previous article considered Mark’s title for his Gospel. His personal testimony to the identity of the Perfect Servant was that He was “Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1).[1] In his prologue (1:2-13), Mark draws together testimonies from the Old Testament prophets (vv2-3), John the Baptist (vv4-8), and God Himself (vv9-13).

The Testimony of the Prophets (1:2-3)

Mark uses the prophets to show that this Servant is God. Two Old Testament prophets are cited, each of which looks forward to a messenger who would prepare the way for the Lord. This messenger is John the Baptist (vv4-8).

The first is Malachi, who recorded the LORD (Yahweh) as saying: “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me” (Mal 3:1). God is sending a messenger to Israel who would prepare the way before God. Mark interprets Malachi’s words to mean that God is sending a messenger to Israel who would prepare the way before the Lord Jesus (Mar 1:2). How can Mark’s interpretation of Malachi’s prophecy be correct? Only if Jesus is God.

The second Old Testament prophet cited by Mark clarifies this further. Isaiah wrote: “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” (40:3). Mark again interprets the prophecy as applying directly to the Lord Jesus. He shows that the One referred to as “LORD” and “God” by Isaiah was none other than Jesus. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God … took upon him the form of a servant” (Php 2:5-7). As full possessor of deity, the Lord voluntarily took to Himself servanthood. He did so by way of the incarnation; He did so for our eternal benefit.

This Servant is God. How marvellous it is then that He “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mar 10:45 ESV). In doing so, He imbued servanthood with a dignity never before known. Since the incarnation it has been truly an honour to serve.

The Testimony of John the Baptist (1:4-8)

Mark uses John’s testimony to show that this Servant is Great. John testified, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie” (1:7-8 ESV). The Lord later confirmed that “among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luk 7:28). When compared to all merely human servants, John was the greatest. However, John knew of One person infinitely superior to himself.

The Lord is Greater in Strength

“After me comes he who is mightier than I.” The Lord is mightier in His capacity to accomplish God’s will. The fullest expression of the Burnt Offering was the bull of the herd (Lev 1). This servant animal had great strength to perform the work of its owner. Placed upon the altar for God, it arose as a pleasing aroma to delight God’s heart. John recognised the Lord Jesus as the Servant who could accomplish God’s will to perfection. He would delight the heart of God as none other. He would “not fail nor be discouraged” (Isa 42:4).

The Lord is Greater in Status

With the confession, “the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie,” John showed that he regarded himself as unworthy to perform the most menial service for Christ. John knew the dignity of his own office as forerunner. He was sent from God; he was no servant of men. He thundered his message of warning and judgment to sinners, tax collectors, scribes and Pharisees alike. However, while he was undoubtedly the Lord’s servant, he considered himself unworthy of the honour he had received.

Being granted any role in the service of such an exalted person as the Lord Jesus is all of grace. John, the greatest of merely human servants, didn’t deserve it; he was unworthy of it. If this is true of John, how much more of us? We all have the privilege to serve but this privilege is conferred by grace alone. We are not worthy of it. Our service should, therefore, be carried out with deep humility.

The Testimony of God (1:9-13)

The testimony of God confirms that this Servant is Good. Mark’s testimony, the title of his book, is intended first for us, his readers. The witness of the prophets and of John was intended first for the nation of Israel to whom they were sent. However, the testimony of God was first for the Servant Himself. As the Lord came up from the waters of baptism, He “saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (1:10-11).

Entering into the Jordan for baptism, the Lord anticipated the goal of His service in this world. He knew, as He was immersed in the waters of Jordan, that the service to which He was committed would result in a deeper immersion – in the waters of divine judgment. He would say later, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luk 12:50). Yet, knowing His destiny, He was unwavering in His commitment to the accomplishment of God’s will.

What an encouragement to hear the words from heaven: “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (1:11). The service of the Lord Jesus was carried out first for the pleasure of God and, as a result, He was never distracted by the praise or criticism of men.

This Servant stands unique above all others. He is God; He is Great; He is Good. He is an infinite person with infinite power who brought infinite pleasure to God. May we enter into God’s appreciation of this Perfect Servant; may we find in Him all our delight.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.