The Gospel of Mark is shorter than the other three gospels. It seems to me that it is in many ways included as witness to many of the events in the other three gospels, although it does have some quite different insights of it’s own. While Matthew seemed to focus on the fulfilment of prophecies to show who Jesus was, Mark seems to have presented a more general account of the times and events surrounding Jesus appearance and work on the earth. His account is more condensed and has focussed more on the principal teachings and events of Christianity beginning with baptism and John the Baptist in these first few scriptures.
John the Baptist came as prophesied to prepare the way of the Lord. He was the messenger sent before the Messiah to prepare a people ready to receive the words of Jesus and the New Covenant. We see in this section that John came preaching a baptism of repentance telling the people to be baptised in water for the forgiveness of their sins. (Verse 4) At the end of this section John also spoke of his baptism in this way saying, “I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.” (Verse 9)
He speaks of two baptisms, one of water and one being a baptism of the Holy Spirit. Jesus also spoke of two baptisms as well for he said in John 3:5, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Being baptised is the process by which a Christian is born again. As Jesus clearly shows here, we must be born again of water and of the spirit.
Now in fact this process of being born again of water is baptism, but it is not the baptism that John preached. John taught a baptism for the repentance from sins, but being born again is not merely repentance but the complete removal of sin. Paul showed this difference when speaking to a group of disciples at Ephesus. He said, “And he said, “Into what then were you baptised?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptised with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 19:3-5)
Thus we see that Paul makes this distinction between the baptism of John the Baptist and the baptism where people are baptised into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Both are water baptisms, but the second baptism is the important one. John the Baptist prepared the way by introducing the process of baptism and teaching about repentance and forgiveness, and in Jesus this baptism was expanded to have a much greater meaning.
The distinction between the two baptisms is that John the Baptist taught repentance and forgiveness of sin through baptism. But the baptism into Jesus removes sin for we symbolically die and are resurrected with Jesus in his baptism. And as we are symbolically resurrected as we are lifted out of the water we are reborn as new creations, no longer under the power of sin but in a new life ready to walk in the ways of the Lord. Following this baptism for rebirth into Jesus Christ we are prepared to receive and be baptised with the Holy Spirit so that the work of transformation that occurs under the New Covenant can commence.
It is in the baptism into Jesus Christ that we must come as Paul showed the Ephesians for we are not looking for forgiveness of sin but the complete removal of sin from our lives. In this way we are made ready to come into the presence of God and be prepared for his kingdom. Forgiveness of sin was already attainable under the law for the people were required to offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin. But perfection and removal of sin could not be achieved until Christ came and died for our sins. This is then the true purpose of Christian baptism, the release from sin and the law so that we are transformed into the image of Christ and walk with him in the new life of the Spirit.