Two posts back, in our XAnon conspiracy study of Mark’s Gospel, I talked about the “almosts.” In chapter 8, Jesus heals a nameless blind man – ALMOST. He asks if the man can see now, and he says “Almost.”
Okay, technically he didn’t say “almost” – not in English, anyway. But “almost” is a good way to summarize it. He sees men walking like trees. His vision is improved, but not quite healed all the way.
This prophetic healing is not about God’s limitations; it’s about ours. Jesus is working on us, but we are not seeing him as clearly as we might think or hope. We see him like a tree. The tree is a stumbling block. A log in our eye – ALMOST.
Anyway, without chasing that bunny any further (go read the post if you missed it), I also said there are a lot of these “almosts” in Mark. Mark has a way of getting us “almost” there, and then letting us struggle.
This observation, by the way, helps support my thesis that Mark INTENDS to end his narrative account at 16:8. Scandalous, I know. But if you work scandal completely out of your Bible, you won’t have any Gospel left. (Saying that does not prove my thesis, but it does give a little breathing room for it!)
There is another “almost” (as I have termed it) that proves extremely crucial. Did you notice in chapter 1, John tells us that he baptizes in water, but after him comes One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit? (Hint: 1:7-8.)
So, dear XAnon conspiracy theorist, where in Mark’s Gospel does Jesus ever baptize anyone in the Holy Spirit?
I went to school for this stuff, but at no time in my studies there did anyone ever tell me the answer to this question. Not in a lecture, a book, a journal article, or even a private conversation. In fact, no one seemed to notice there was a question there to ask.
Hmmm… Seems like a glaring oversight on the part of major scholarship. No?
This much I did learn though: I was taught to read each Gospel as free standing documents. Each evangelist has a unique voice, a unique perspective, and we do not want to shortchange that. There may be value in conflating the accounts for SOME purposes, but we must not simply do that for all purposes. Matthew has a perspective on Jesus that we simply do not get from John… and so forth. So, I need, when listening to Matthew, really listen to Matthew and not let John barge in unecessarily.
Let me put it like this: I need to let Matthew ask Matthew-ish questions and then listen for the Matthew-ish answers and not run to John for answers to Matthew’s questions. That will skew Matthew’s offering.
Do I make sense to you?
Well, it made sense to me, and I was taught to think this way by the pros.
This way of thinking about the Gospels is not the norm, at least not among the masses. It certainly is not the norm in the faith tradition in which I was raised. And we were “people of the book,” as we called ourselves. We worked very hard and very sober-mindedly to adhere to the Bible and not supply our own ideas. We said things like, “Speak where the Bible speaks; be silent where the Bible is silent.” That is a great reverence for Scripture.
Still, even within that approach, there is more presupposition at work than we typically realize.
So, let me demonstrate my point AS IT APPLIES to our study of Mark.*
I could go to almost any person in an adult Bible class in the church of my faith heritage and ask, “When does Jesus baptize in the Holy Spirit like Mark 1:7-8 points to?” ,,, and I just bet nearly 100 out of 100 responses would point me to Acts 2. That is not, actually a bad answer. It is completely biblical, and Acts 2 gives us by far the richest and most fully robust account of baptism in the Holy Spirit outlined anywhere in the Bible. So, that answer has a lot going for it, and if we were doing a study strictly on baptism in the Holy Spirit, that text would almost certainly occupy the single biggest portion of our time, energy, and focus!
But… I asked a Mark question, not a Luke question. Where does Mark answer this Mark question?
It may not seem important to many of us modern Bible students, but if we want to hear Mark’s perspective, we need to pay close attention to the answers Mark gives. The different Gospel perspectives should not, in the end, cancel each other out, but rather enhance our picture of Jesus in the big scheme of things. But within each account, we need to let the bits each evangelist offers create the view he is framing for us.
Now. It is possible that rats ate the end of Mark’s Gospel, and it’s possible that in the missing portion the rats ate, Mark gave us a clear answer to this question. If so, we simply do not have it anymore. That suggests that we lost a vital part of the Gospel to the mist of time. I just don’t think the Holy Spirit was so lax!
We have already seen evidence that Mark intends to end at 16:8. Not proven, no. But evidence all the same. (Such is the way of conspiracy!) And part of that evidence is the two-stage healing of the blind man in chapter 8. He is “almost” healed, and sees unclearly at first. I have hypothesized (previous posts) that Mark wants his reader (let the reader understand) to read the Gospel twice! The answers are there in the bit we already have, but they must be wrestled out!
Mark’s narrative may be of a different kind from others before it, and it may be full of symbolic – even apocalyptic – codes and the like, but it is still a narrative. And when narrative makes a narrative promise, it must fulfill it in order to satisfy the narrative logic, and Mark 1:7-8 promises us that One is coming after John who will baptize in the Holy Spirit.
And this is where the “almosts” come in to play: The answer to this promise will be encrypted and must be wrestled out. That I am convinced of, but along the way, Mark is going to ALMOST deliver on the promise twice. The third time he will deliver, but will deliver in such a spartan and encrypted way that it will be easy to miss and hard to catch.
Consider yourself blessed to have XAnon as your guide!
NOW… lest you think I am just out of my gourd, let me point out that John’s Gospel also delivers on this promise. I am not just making this stuff up from raw imagination.
It’s not just Luke’s account in Acts 2, but also John’s in 20:22. Yes! Go look it up. There in that passage, the risen Jesus “breathes” on the disciples and tells them to receive his Spirit. This is the same Spirit God breathes into Adam in Genesis! This is the restoration of humanity! John doesn’t dwell on it a whole lot, doesn’t overly describe or dramatize it. Luke, by contrast, not only depicts it quite differently, but devotes a lot of ink and energy to it. And the difference between the two accounts is so profound that we might struggle to reconcile them in our minds.
But we are in a position now to hopefully see Mark has a wide range of ways he might handle this too.
Let’s open up to Mark 4:35-41.
Verses 33 and 34 really kinda belong with the passage(s) that come previous to our text, but I wonder if they aren’t really a segue in the big scheme of things. So, I make mention of them now and leave open the possibility that we might want to include them in any possible subsequent discussion that might develop in the comments later. But, that said, let’s look at the story of the calming of the storm in 4:35-41.
We are looking, in this pericope, for Mark’s baptism in the Holy Spirit. We recall that John promised us that One coming after him would do this vis-à-vis his baptis m in water back in chapter 1. Two people offering two baptisms.
“Baptism” is one of those Bible words we call transliteration. It’s not, technically, an English word. If we were to actually translate it, we would go with “immersion” or “dip” or “dunk” or “plunge.” To do this in water is to submerge below the surface.
When John says this, in chapter 1, we see him immerse Jesus in the Jordan in water. We see the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus as a dove, and we might, at first glance, consider whether that is what John was talking about in 1:7-8. But it can’t be, since we see John immerse in water, as he just said, and Jesus (the One who will immerse in the Holy Spirit) is currently the One being immersed rather than the one immersing anyone else. And that is why the next stop in this hunt is chapter 4. We might say that chapter 1 baptism is ALMOST a baptism in the Holy Spirit, but it is not the one we are looking for yet.
So, a “baptism” is an immersion, and here in chapter 4, the disciples are on a boat with Jesus that is just about to get immersed. In fact, the immersion/baptism is so imminent, the boys fear they are dying. Jesus is asleep and seems not to notice (a factor we will not in other parts of our study, but not dwell on here). He will ask them about their lack of faith when the whole episode is done, and that will seem like an important feature too.
There are several “levels” to this story. The first, we will call historical fact. The next we will call apocalyptic/symbolic. Then there is an “emotional” level. Perhaps there are others too, but these will suffice.
I personally believe the account. I think this episode really happened in the time/space universe of God’s making. A storm kicked up and threatened to overwhelm the boat. These seasoned fishermen knew how to handle themselves, but this storm was too much. They recognize their number is up. They are in over their heads and find Jesus asleep and wake him with questioning that almost accuses him of not caring, but then he commands the winds and the waves to stop. Thus, he saves their lives and the boat.
At the same time I find the story to be historical fact, I also find it to be symbolic. (I think it does double duty.) The fact that they are on “the sea” at all is already suggestive of apocalyptic literature. The “sea” in apocalyptic is symbolic of the source of trouble and chaos. This adds further dimensions to the miracle of stilling the storm. Jesus doesn’t bring peace merely to the Sea of Galilee; he stills the source of all storms! (See also Revelation 4:6.)
Emotionally speaking? The boys on the boat are driven totally by fear. Jesus saves them, sure. He asks them why they are afraid and have no faith. They ask, “Who can command the storm?”
(That last bit goes back to our last post. It all ties together so closely.)
Let’s look more at the symbolic level.
What do we need for a baptism in the Holy Spirit? If this were a recipe, we would need plunging (which we very nearly have) and we would need Holy Spirit instead of water.
Let’s look at this carefully now.
The word for “spirit” in Greek can be translated as “spirit,” “breath,” or “wind.” In this symbolic story we have water breaking over the boat about to plunge it into the deeps. Of course, that’s John’s baptism, not Jesus’s. But they are very close to having it when Jesus rebukes the “wind” and the “waves.” The wind and the water. It’s all there! Hmm…
It turns out there are two words in Greek for wind. One is anemos which just means wind. The other is pnuema which means spirit, breath, wind. Though we have all the correct ingredients for this recipe in English, we have the wrong wind in Greek. But otherwise, we are oh so close. ALMOST.
Of course, we should notice that the baptism is not complete. The boat almost plunges into the waves, but Jesus prevents the plunging at the last second, rebuking the wind and water, but it’s not the spirit wind.
Wow! That is close!
It’s ALMOST baptized in the Holy Spirit. But not quite. Close enough that it’s obvious Mark is teasing us with it. A deadly baptism. Food for thought, but not quite what we are looking for. And somehow it functions to get us wrestling with the idea.
Now, I know that right about now, unless you are just really and truly a conspiracy nut, this post and this analysis is getting pretty long and burdensome. It’s all the more ironic that I type twice or three times as many words to describe it than Mark who packs so much dynamite in every word and gives us the shortest gospel account. But, this is XAnon and it is conspiracy here. So drop out when it’s too much for you, but for those sucked in… well… this rabbit hole keeps going.
I will confess. The first time I found ALMOST baptism in the Holy Spirit, in Mark 4, I ALMOST didn’t think it was worth talking about. It just FEELS like such a bunny trail. Surely the point of this story on the boat during the storm is not to say “Fooled ya!” or “Psyche!” Surely it is meant to showcase Jesus’s real identity as implied by the questions the disciples ask.
And I will concur. That is the point. But it is not the only function. This ALMOST feature functions to get your baptism-in-the-Holy-Spirit juices going. And it’s not the only ALMOST of it’s kind.
Hop over to Mark 10.
If we are looking for the baptism-in-the-Holy-Spirit recipe, we have another pericope here where all the ingredients ALMOST come together again in the special request put to Jesus by James and John and in his response to it.
It’s important, in fact vital, to point out here that James and John (as well as the rest of the Twelve) are not seeing Jesus clearly, but seeing him like a man in need of a two stage miracle for blindness. They see him like trees walking. They ALMOST see him, but not quite. As we come to this passage in the sandals of the young, Jewish rebel who comes to Jerusalm in 66 A.D. wanting to defend the temple from Titus and the pagan hordes, specifically as we come to it the SECOND time (clearing up our blindness), we see the request for what it is, a desire for greatness.
These “Sons of Thunder” have been struggling with pride since at least 9:33-37 where Jesus challenges them to be humble. The humility is a central part of his teaching since that point when the boys ask Jesus in chapter 10 that one might sit on his left and the other on his right when he comes in glory. These “disciples” think they have joined a revolution following a master rebel. They are looking for a piece of the glory for themselves.
Allow me to paint the picture like this: James and John clearly see that Jesus is here to be crowned King of the Jews, and they are signed on to be part of his army, alright. They even believe in their hearts that this is going to really happen! They are so close, they can taste it. But there’s ten other top lieutenants in this ragtag army, and James and John don’t want to be rewarded and remembered as the ones in charge of latrines or supply. No. They want glory! It’s as if they are saying, Grant one of us to be in charge of a tank division and the other in charge of nukes! (maybe fire from heaven?).
Jesus replies in what surely is a bit cryptic fashion asking them about their level of commitment and sacrifice. “You don’t really see clearly what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup that I drink? To be immersed in the immersion in which I am immersed?”
Aha! Jesus is talking about them getting baptized now, and it is the immersion you get following him! This will not be John’s baptism in water, this will be Jesus’s baptism in the Holy Spirit – at least we are seeing it hinted here. James and John are sure they can, that they are able. So, Jesus assures them they will. But, of course, that is future tense. It is not this moment in time, but another yet to come.
This ALMOST is the baptism in the Holy Spirit, but not quite there yet. But it gives us something of the shape of it, AND it points us readers (let the reader understand) especially those of us undergoing a second round of healing for our blindness, that we will find our answer at the cross. The cross is where Jesus will drink the cup and be immersed with the cup and immersion which will await James and John. It also is the place where he will be crowned King of the Jews with a sign above his head confirming it for all the world to see.
Just one thing blurring the vision there still: pride. This will be a humiliation, not a proud moment. It will be glory, but the glory will be God’s. It will have the things of God in mind and not the interests of man.
You now have been ALMOST baptized in the Holy Spirit in Mark. Your blindness is now lifted. Jesus asks what do you see? And now we go to Mark 15 to look again at a man on a tree.
Mark 15:39 brings all the ingredients of our recipe together finally. We have the immersion/cup Jesus spoke of in chapter 9, and just as the pneuma (yes, the Greek word is the right one this time), the breath goes out of him the last time, the centurion standing there SEEING it makes the confession that no mortal human has been able to make to this point.
This centurion is not one of the Twelve. He is not one of the closest three. He is a complete outsider as far as this revolution is concerned. But apparently he is standing in the way of that breath and looking intently at Jesus at just the right moment to have his blindness healed!
He is baptized in the Holy Spirit.
And you, my young, Jewish rebel friend, you are reading Mark for the second time. You see it now too. At first glance, you saw just one more dead Jew. That was the initial healing touch that didn’t quite complete your clear vision. You saw one more failed revolt – there are soooooooo very many! But now, with your second look suddenly you are confronted with more.
Do you see a common execution here or a coronation?
Just how do you expect YHWH, God, to receive a crown? How does LOVE get crowned King of the Jews in Jerusalem? What would that look like… when you REALLY think about it?
You came to Jerusalem willing to lose your life in order to save it. Suddenly you see Jesus for who he is. This changes everything.
It’s a short and fast path from 15:39 to 16:8! Mark’s narrative is known to move swiftly. It’s only sixteen verses until we readers are the one left holding the bag! We have subtly become the 13th Apostle… somewhere along the way. The women are told to go and tell. They are the only witnesses left. But they don’t because of the fear, the lack of faith Jesus rebuked when he calmed the storm!
It all comes to a head on me! The READER! (Let the reader understand.)
What will I do with this insider information, even though I have been an outsider up until now?
I am baptized in the Holy Spirit!
The ALMOSTS got me here, but we are done with them now. I am either with Jesus or with the terrorists.
(There is more for us to study. A lot more. But this crucial study should come into focus and remain with us from here on. I think.)
Did you pray with me at the start of this series? Our prayer was, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, I want to see Jesus.” We are now having our second touch from his healing hand. How are you seeing him right about now?
Please, leave me a comment.
* I have to thank a certain prophetess for my insight into the baptism in the Holy Spirit according to Mark from a different faith heritage than mine. We will call her Agent Holy Roller on this blog.
At the time, I was fresh out of school and had joined an ecumenical group in prison ministry when I was tasked with leading a study of Mark. Our group was mostly Protestant, but had one Catholic. It was mostly Baptist, but a few Methodists and a couple of Pentecostals. Agent Holy Roller was one of our Pentecostals.
At first my respect for Agent Holy Roller was a bit lacking. She didn’t seem to know her Bible as well as many of the others in our group, but she fancied herself a leader and a prophet. I always afforded her deference, but it wasn’t until she, the one most acutely aware of the Holy Spirit, asked me “When in Mark does Jesus baptize in the Holy Spirit?” I had been making my point that we should let Mark give us Mark answers to Mark questions, and yet I had never considered this one.
Agent Holy Roller could not supply the answer to the question she highlighted for me either, but she stumped me and sent me back to Mark with new vigor. After rereading Mark again several times with this question in mind, I found the answer which this post presents.
I certainly came to appreciate Agent Holy Roller after that. Without her input in my Bible study, without her voice and leadership in our group, I would likely not have found the depths of Jesus Mark offers. (And I doubt very seriously that I have exhausted Mark’s Jesus yet.)