Heaven Torn Open
Sunday, April 9th, 2023
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA
4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 5 And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; 7 And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. 8 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost. 9 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. 10 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: 11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Father, we thank you for giving us this gospel, this written testimony of Your truth. We ask that you would quicken these words to our hearts, that You might inhabit the praises of Your people, for we ask this in Jesus name, Amen.
Last Sunday we saw that Mark’s gospel begins in the wilderness. And the wilderness is the place where God prepares His people for conquest. It was where Moses was trained before leading the Exodus, it was where Joshua was trained before conquering Canaan, it was where David was trained before he became king.
And Mark is giving us all these different Old Testament associations to tell us who Jesus is and what Jesus has come to do.
We also saw in the opening verses of Mark’s gospel that he weaves together three different Old Testament quotations to demonstrate that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the promised Messiah, He is the servant of the Lord that was prophesied by Isaiah, He is the divine messenger of Malachi, who comes to purify Israel. Jesus is all of these things and much more.
Here in our text, verses 4-11, we move from that prologue and introduction into historical reality. We have been given the thesis and final cause for this book: that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and now Mark carries us into the wilderness, to behold the fulfillment of these prophesies.
So let us walk through our text together, and I am going to start from the very beginning of the book so we have the context in mind.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; 2 As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
So Mark identifies John as the voice in the wilderness. John is the messenger that Isaiah and Malachi foretold, and he comes to prepare the way for God.
But how is the way of the Lord prepared?
The first way is by preaching. John is preaching that God is coming, judgment is coming, and the axe is already laid at the root of the tree. Therefore, those who do not bear good fruits keeping with repentance, are going to be cut down and thrown into the fire.
This is the contents of John’s preaching that is set forth in other gospels and in verse 5 we are given a picture of the response.
5 And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.
This is a mass migration of Jews into the wilderness. This is what you would call the baptizing of a nation or a national conversion.
Like Jonah going to Nineveh, John announces that judgment is on the horizon burning like an oven, and these are the people who want to survive that judgment. Who rather than being burned up and destroyed by fire, shall instead be refined and made more glorious. Judgment is coming whether you like it or not, and the choice is yours whether that day will be glorious or your destruction.
That is the choice John sets before them, and that is the same choice before our nation today. Either we repent of our sins and change our ways, or God will burn us up.
In John’s day, the day of judgment was drawing near. And it would be another 40 years until the fire came in full and burned Jerusalem to the ground.
In our day, we don’t know how long God’s patience will wait, but we know from Scripture that it is never wise to presume upon His delay.
As it says in Romans 2, “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”
We don’t know when national judgment will come in full. But if God were to send down fire and brimstone upon every capital and every city, He would be just in doing so. For we have rebelled against far more light, against for more truth and far more gospel than Sodom & Gomorrah ever had. We have consciously rebelled against Christ. It is the religion of Christianity that has characterized the West and the founding of our nation, and it is the religion of Christianity that we are now consciously seeking to throw off.
Make no mistake, God is not mocked, a nation will reap what it sows, and we have sown the wind.
So John comes on the scene, he calls Israel to repentance, and all of Judaea and Jerusalem go out to him. They are baptized in the Jordan and confess their sins. This is how the way of the Lord is made straight, this is how a highway is prepared for God.
In verse 6 we get a description of John’s appearance.
6 And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey…”
This description of John is intended to connect him with the prophet Elijah.
2 Kings 1:8 says of Elijah, “He was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins.”
This eating of locusts and wild honey is connected to the blessings and curses of the covenant.
If Israel disobeyed, Deuteronomy 28 says, “Thou shalt carry much seed out into the field, and shalt gather but little in; for the locust shall consume it…All thy trees and fruit of thy land shall the locust consume.”
So for John to come on the scene, eating locusts and wild honey is to say two things at once: 1) That Israel has broken God’s covenant, thus wilderness and locusts. And 2) That John has come to devour the devourer. He has come to prepare the way for the One who will eat the curse into Himself, destroy it, and bring God’s people into a land flowing with milk and honey.
Mark wants us to see in John a second coming of Elijah and a second coming of Moses. Elijah like Moses was a man of the wilderness, he confronted evil kings, he called down plagues upon the land, he performed signs and wonders, he called down fire from heaven. And if John is Elijah and John is Moses, then who does that makes Jesus? Who is the one comes after these men?
7 And [John] preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. 8 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.
For however impressive and powerful John’s ministry was (leading a national revival), He wants there to be no doubt that he is just the forerunner, “There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.”
What is the significance of this reference to the shoes of the one who comes after?
In the Old Testament, who was told to take off their shoes?
Moses. God says to Him from the burning bush, “Do not draw near to this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground” (Ex. 3:5).
Likewise, the priests, when they serve in the tabernacle or temple, are required to take off their shoes and wash their feet. They are barefoot when they go into the holy place.
Exodus 30 says, “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 18 “You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base also of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. And you shall put water in it, 19 for Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet in water from it. 20 When they go into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering made by fire to the Lord, they shall wash with water, lest they die. 21 So they shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die. And it shall be a statute forever to them—to him and his descendants throughout their generations.”
So when John says that he is unworthy to take off Jesus’ shoes, He is making an enormous claim. He is saying that Jesus is not only the Elisha who comes after in the fullness of the Spirit, who like Elisha performs miracles and raises dead people to life, He is also Himself holy ground. Jesus is the God who told Moses to take his shoes off. Jesus is the God who makes the tabernacle and temple holy ground. And thus wherever Jesus walks is holy. Jesus has come to cleanse the land of impurity.
There is also a connection here with feet and the Jordan river.
After Moses died, God said to Joshua, “Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses” (Joshua 1:3). And then a couple chapters later, in Joshua 3, the priests carry the ark of the covenant into the Jordan river, so that the nation can cross over into the promised land.
Joshua 3:13 says, “And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of Jordan, that the waters of Jordan shall be cut off from the waters that come down from above; and they shall stand upon an heap.”
So this is the imagery Mark wants us to have when we see John (who was of priestly lineage) baptizing in the Jordan, and then he mentions the removal of shoes from the feet, and then Jesus walks up and stands in the river.
This is the crossing of the Jordan all over again. Mark is saying:
Jesus is a new Joshua who leads us into the promised land.
Jesus is a new Elisha who takes up the mantle and separates the waters. Where is the God of Elijah? Jesus is that God.
Jesus is the one sits upon the ark of the covenant that the priests carry, whose throne is in heaven, but has come down for us.
Mark is telling us so much about Jesus, if we know our Old Testament and pay attention to the details.
In verses 9-11 we have the climax of this scene as Jesus enters the Jordan. So with all of those associations running, let us see what happens.
9 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. 10 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: 11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
So Jesus is baptized, the water is poured upon him, and verse 10 says, “And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened. and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:”
There are at least two Old Testament scenes that should come to our mind here:
1. The first is Genesis 1 and the creation of the world.
Genesis 1:2 says, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God hovered upon the face of the waters.”
And then on Day 2 God says, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. 7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven.”
So in the biblical cosmology, what separates us down here, from where God is up there, is this heavenly ocean called the firmament. And when Jesus is baptized, Mark says that those heavenly waters, that heavenly firmament is torn open. And this is the same verb (σχίζω, to tear apart, schism) that appears at the end of Mark’s gospel when Jesus dies on the cross.
Mark 15 says, “And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last. 38 Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!”
The veil in the temple was a symbolic firmament. It was what separated the holy place from the rest of the world. And when Jesus is baptized heaven is split apart, signifying that by his future death, access to God, access to heaven, access to the holy place, would be made available to all who are baptized in Him.
Jesus is the firmament through which we ascend to God. This is what baptism signifies.
2. The second image that should come to mind at Jesus baptism comes a few chapters later in Genesis 8 with the story of Noah and the ark, and here we also have the first mention of a dove.
So the waters of the flood cleanse the Old World, and the only dry land, the only safe place is the Ark. And when the rain stops falling the ark comes up out of the waters, and rests upon Mount Ararat, and from there Noah sends forth a dove.
The first time the dove returns, having found “no rest for the sole of her foot” (Gen. 8:9). The second time she returns with an olive leaf. And then the third time Noah sends her out, and she does not return.
Well here at Jesus baptism, the dove returns. The Spirit who brooded over those primeval waters, now descends in the form of a dove upon Christ.Mark is saying again that Jesus is the new creation, the new land, He is where the olive trees grow, He is where the birds of the air come and make their nests in his branches (Matt. 13:32). Jesus is Noah’s ark, who carries us into the new world. Jesus is all of these things and more.
Jesus Reveals The Trinity
This is who Mark is portraying Jesus as in these opening 11 verses, and he is going to develop these themes further throughout the book. In Jesus of Nazareth, the entirety of the Old Testament is transformed.
And with the climax of this revelation is the revelation of the true nature of God. Namely, that God is Trinity. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At Christ’s baptism, we have this explosion of knowledge that was hidden and concealed in the Old Testament. We come to see that when God said in Genesis 1:26, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our Likeness,” He was not talking to angels, He was not talking to some divine council of cherubim or seraphim, He was talking within Himself, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And so it is fitting that at the moment of Christ’s baptism, at the dawn of a New Creation, that we see all three persons of the Godhead at once. The Spirit descending like a dove, the Son emerging from the waters, and the Father expressing His Paternal Love, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
For all those who are truly baptized into the Triune name, the baptism of Jesus, is your baptism. This is why Jesus was baptized in the first place, not to be cleansed but to cleanse the waters, not to get to heaven, but to tear heaven open for all who are united to Him.
So if you have not been baptized, what are you waiting for? Christ has torn heaven open for you. Come to Him, repent, and be washed of your sins. For in Christ, the Father’s love flows to you, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”