Skip to comments."The Heavens Being Torn Open" (Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord, on Mark 1:4-11)
Posted on 01/07/2018 11:57:07 AM PST by Charles Henrickson
The Heavens Being Torn Open (Mark 1:4-11)
How many of you know when your baptismal birthday is? Mine is September 10. Whats yours? Its good to take note of and remember the day of your baptism, that happy day when all your sins were washed away and you became a child of God. So if you dont know your baptismal birthday, you might want to go ahead and find out when it is and then celebrate it.
But did you know theres a baptismal birthday going on today? And that its one all of us can celebrate? Because today is the First Sunday after the Epiphany, the day in the church year when we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord. This is the day we remember that event when our Lord Jesus Christ was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. So today is, in effect, Jesus baptismal birthday.
The Baptism of Our Lord is an event recorded in all three of the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and also referred to in the Gospel of John. The accounts are very similar, except here and there one writer may include a detail that another leaves out, or one writer may use slightly different wording to describe the same event. So it is in our text today from the Gospel of Mark. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention that when Jesus was baptized the heavens were opened, but only Mark uses the exact word choice that we find today. He says: And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening. The heavens opening, but more literally it says: The Heavens Being Torn Open.
The heavens being torn open. Thats an interesting way to put it, isnt it? The word thats used here in the Greek is the word, schizo. Its the word from which we get our English words scissors and schism, etc. Schizo means to split, to rend, to tear apart or rip open. It has almost a violent connotation. So the heavens were being split wide open, torn apart, when Jesus was baptized.
What do you think of when you hear that the heavens were torn open? What do you expect to happen next? When the heavens open up, what should come down? Usually when God splits open the skies like this, youd think it would be his judgment that comes crashing down, like lightning striking the earth. Think of the time of Noah, when God opened up the heavens and flooded the earth. The clouds burst open, and it rained for forty days and forty nights. Massive, total destruction. A worldwide catastrophe. Gods extreme judgment on a wicked and corrupt humanity. In that case, the heavens being torn open spelled doom and disaster. Or think of the time of Abraham and Lot. The heavens opened up at that time, too. And what came down? Fire and brimstone. God sent fire and brimstone down as a judgment upon the perverse and wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
So the idea of the heavens being torn open is not usually a very pleasant or desirable thing in biblical thinking. The prophet Isaiah cried out to the Lord, Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down! Isaiah wanted the judgment of God to descend upon the wicked nations of the earth. Oh, that you would rend the heavens! Split them open, Lord! Tear them apart and wipe out all the evil on this earth! Come down in judgment on sinful mankind!
This background, then, should shape our expectations when we read that at Jesus baptism the heavens were torn open. We would expect that Gods judgment should come crashing down. After all, look at the people who were being baptized. It says that all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to John, confessing their sins. So these were sinners who were coming to John for baptism. And if they were sinners, then they were ripe for judgment. For the wages of sin is death.
And that is true for us also, isnt it? We too are sinners, ripe for judgment. You and I have broken Gods commandments. We have not loved God with our whole heart or listened to his word as we ought. We have not loved and helped our neighbor as we ought. We have thus earned Gods displeasure and wrath. His judgment should come crashing down on us. And the fact is, we all die. Is that it, then? Is that the eternal death sentence? And when the heavens are torn open on the Last Day, will that be the final judgment?
But back to our text. So here comes this man Jesus, coming to be baptized in the Jordan, just like all of those admitted sinners. Then, after hes baptized, the heavens are torn open. And what comes down out of those heavens? Fire and brimstone? A wipe-em-out flood? No, not fire and brimstone. Not a flood. But rather a voice and a dove. A voice and a dove? What kind of judgment is that?
Well, how does God judge and evaluate this man Jesus? The voice says, You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. Yes, this is who Jesus is. He is Gods own Son! As amazing as it seems--and its the most amazing thing in the world--this man Jesus is the very Son of God. True God and true man. God incarnate, God come down out of heaven in the flesh. Thats who Jesus is.
And this is Gods judgment on him: You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. God loves this man Jesus. And he loves what Jesus is doing, standing there at the Jordan, taking his place among sinners. The Father knows what his Son is going to do for them all, starting here at the Jordan. And God just loves that. Notice what he says: With you I am well pleased. God was well pleased to choose Jesus for this mission he is about to undertake. God is well pleased that Jesus voluntarily takes it up and enters into this mission. Hes well pleased that Jesus gets down into the water with sinners like you and me. God is very well pleased, in every respect, with this man Jesus.
But where is the judgment? Where is the displeasure and wrath? There is none. Just divine approval. Because Jesus has no sins of his own to confess. He is without sin. He is holy and righteous--always, constantly, consistently, doing Gods will. Yet he takes his stand with sinners. He identifies with us. And here at the Jordan he undertakes his saving mission to rescue us from the death and judgment we all deserve.
So where and when will the judgment fall? Where is Gods displeasure and wrath? Not here. Not yet. But it will come. At the cross the righteous judgment of God will come crashing down like a ton of bricks. And it will land on the head of this man Jesus, like lightning hitting a lightning rod. The lightning rod takes the hit, and those all around are spared. Thats Jesus, and thats us. For the holy Son of God will take on himself the sin and the guilt of all mankind. At the cross, Jesus bore our sins in his body. He suffered the judgment we deserve, and in so doing, he took that judgment away from us. On that Good Friday, the heavens were not torn open, but rather they were shut closed and became as brass. The heavens were sealed shut to Jesus cry, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The beloved Son, the one in whom God was well pleased, takes the ultimate rejection and alienation from God once and for all. And he does it for you, that you would no longer come under that judgment.
And it all starts in full now, here at the Jordan in Jesus baptism. Thats whats going on here. Thats what Jesus is saying yes to when he steps into the water. And it pleases the Father to no end that his Son takes our place, to give us life that has no end.
So here comes the voice of the Father, pronouncing his approval on his beloved Son and his saving mission. And here comes a dove, descending out of the skies. Think of the dove that brought word to Noah that it was safe to come out, that the flood and the judgment were over. There the dove became a symbol of peace. God was at peace with mankind. So it is here. In the person of the man Jesus, God was making peace with rebellious mankind. Jesus would establish that peace by his death on the cross. So here at the Jordan a dove descends.
But this is no ordinary dove. This is the Holy Spirit taking the form of a dove. The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity--the Spirit likewise gives his approval to Jesus as he embarks upon his mission. And the Spirit empowers this man Jesus for his mission. God here is anointing Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. God puts his Spirit upon his chosen servant to empower him for his task.
So here at Christs baptism, the heavens are torn open. But instead of fire and brimstone theres a voice and a dove, the voice of the Father and the Holy Spirit like a dove. Divine approval and divine empowerment. Approval of Christs person and empowerment for his work.
Because Jesus carried out and completed his work, what happens at your baptism, your baptism into Christ? At your baptism, all your sins are washed away in those Christ-filled waters. And God says the same thing about you that he said about Jesus: You--yes, you--are my beloved child. I am well pleased with you for Jesus sake. And the Spirit descends upon you, making you a new creation in Christ and empowering you for a life of service in Gods kingdom.
So today we celebrate the greatest baptismal birthday of them all, the Baptism of Our Lord. It is his baptism that gives life and vitality to your baptism. Brothers and sisters in Christ, celebrate your baptism. Rejoice in it. Give thanks to God that you are baptized. Not just on your baptismal birthday, but every day. Remember what God did in your baptism, and continues to do: He joined you to Jesus forever, he made you his own dear child, and he gave you the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Dear friends, by his baptism in the Jordan, by his death on the cross, and by his glorious resurrection from the dead, Christ our Lord has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Because of what Jesus began at his baptism and then carried to completion, now heaven truly is open. It stands wide open for you!
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camels hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.
Im sure you agree that baptism has nothing to do with salvation. Neither the Thief nor any disciple was ever baptized. All chief priests ( and Jesus as chief priest) were baptized and ,of course the Essenes like John ( daily)
Someday people will know the Messiah of Israel was baptized on His 30th birthday. An appointed day He taught Israel to assemble. And not December 25 or January 7.
It’s the same reason there were 40 days of purification at His birth and the same 40 days in the wilderness after His baptism.
Same days, 30 years apart.
Amazing that the day He began His ministry is the same day He was presented in the temple 30 years earlier.
And that day was also a day He taught Israel to assemble.
Shadows and rehearsals for and about Him.
The Word Became Flesh and dwelt among us.
For His Glory!
It is a symbolic ceremony to represent submerging our old selves to death and emerging reborn in Christ.
Your sins are washed and become a child of God when you believe on Jesus and trust in Him.
And then there is "schizophrenia."
What do you think of when you hear that the heavens were torn open? What do you expect to happen next? ... [T]he idea of the heavens being torn open is not usually a very pleasant or desirable thing in biblical thinking.... This background, then, should shape our expectations when we read that at Jesus baptism the heavens were torn open. We would expect that Gods judgment should come crashing down.... And this is Gods judgment on him: You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. ... But where is the judgment? Where is the displeasure and wrath? There is none. Just divine approval. Because Jesus has no sins of his own to confess. He is without sin. He is holy and righteous--always, constantly, consistently, doing Gods will. Yet he takes his stand with sinners. He identifies with us. And here at the Jordan he undertakes his saving mission to rescue us from the death and judgment we all deserve.Thank you for your meditation on the Baptism of Our Lord, as related by Mark the evangelist.
So where and when will the judgment fall? Where is Gods displeasure and wrath? Not here. Not yet. But it will come. At the cross the righteous judgment of God will come crashing down like a ton of bricks. And it will land on the head of this man Jesus, like lightning hitting a lightning rod.
I'm with you so far as the nexus between Christ's baptism in the Jordan and his crucifixion on Calvary, though I do have a different take on the import of schizo, due to my comparing the event of "the heavens being torn open" not to similar events in the OT but to a parallel event near the end of the same Gospel according to Mark. Permit me to explain.
As I've already mentioned, I see a clear connection between Christs baptism in the Jordan at the beginning of his earthly ministry and Christs death on the cross at the end of his ministry. Later in Marks gospel, for example, Jesus himself refers to the death he will suffer on the cross as his baptism, when he will be 'immersed' in suffering (cf. Mk 10:38-39). By accepting Johns baptism of repentance, Jesus is, in fact, unconditionally accepting Gods will for him that he should take upon himself the sins of the world and die on the cross in order to reconcile God and man. Jesus will, as Paul tells us, be obedient to God unto death, even death on a cross (Phil 3:8).
Mark tells us that when Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens being torn opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from the heavens, You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. If we fast-forward in Marks gospel to his narrative of Our Lord's crucifixion, Mark tells us that at the moment of Jesus death, "the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God! We see, then, in Mark's narrative a clear connection between Jesus baptism and his Crucifixion. At both events, we see (1) a tearing apart (same verb, schizo) of the heavens/temple curtain, followed by (2) the presence of the spirit/breath (same root, pneum-, followed by a proclamation of Jesus as the Son (same noun, huios) of God. It is in the parallelism of these two events, both in terms of word usage and sequence, that we recognize that the baptism of Jesus is, in fact, an anticipation and acceptance of the crucifixion.
All this is not to say that I disagree that Jesus suffered God's judgment for our sins on the Cross, but that I am more inclined to understand the schizo at the Lord's crucifixion in the same way as I understand it at his baptism: as a destruction of the barrier separating God and man that had brought about by the sin of Adam.
Again, many thanks for your post, and God bless.
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