Mark 1:9-11

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 1

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 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. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

A few years back articles began appearing in numerous news sources about a growing “depbaptism” movement, particularly in Europe. This is a movement in which people who were baptized as infants by their parents formally request to be debaptized, to have their baptisms rendered null and void. Here is one such article.

More than 100,000 Britons have recently downloaded “certificates of de-baptism” from the Internet to renounce their Christian faith.

The initiative launched by a group called the National Secular Society (NSS) follows atheist campaigns here and elsewhere, including a London bus poster which triggered protests by proclaiming “There’s probably no God.”

“We now produce a certificate on parchment and we have sold 1,500 units at three pounds (4.35 dollars, 3.20 euros) a pop,” said NSS president Terry Sanderson, 58.

John Hunt, a 58-year-old from London and one of the first to try to be “de-baptised,” held that he was too young to make any decision when he was christened at five months old.

The male nurse said he approached the Church of England to ask it to remove his name. “They said they had sought legal advice and that I should place an announcement in the London Gazette,” said Hunt, referring to one of the official journals of record of the British government.

So that’s what he did — his notice of renouncement was published in the Gazette in May 2008 and other Britons have followed suit.

Michael Evans, 66, branded baptising children as “a form of child abuse” — and said that when he complained to the church where he was christened he was told to contact the European Court of Human Rights.

The Church of England said its official position was not to amend its records. “Renouncing baptism is a matter between the individual and God,” a Church spokesman told AFP…

De-baptism movements have already sprung up in other countries.

In Spain, the high court ruled in favor of a man from Valencia, Manuel Blat, saying that under data protection laws he could have the record of his baptism erased, according to a report in the International Herald Tribune.

Similarly, the Italian Union of Rationalists and Agnostics (UAAR) won a legal battle over the right to file for de-baptism in 2002, according to media reports. The group’s website carries a “de-baptism” form to facilitate matters.

According to UAAR secretary Raffaele Carcano, more than 60,000 of these forms have been downloaded in the past four years and continue to be downloaded at a rate of about 2,000 per month. Another 1,000 were downloaded in one day when the group held its first national de-baptism day last October 25.

Elsewhere, an Argentinian secularist movement is running a “Collective Apostasy” campaign, using the slogan “Not in my name” (No en mi nombre)…

Sanderson meanwhile remains resolute. “The fact that people are willing to pay for the parchments shows how seriously they are taking them,” he said.”[1]

Yes, they do seem to be taking these debaptism parchments serious indeed. It is a curious thing. I am tempted to beat my Baptist drum here and say that this is yet another reason why believer’s baptism is important. If you listen to what these folks are saying, their primary argument seems to be that their baptisms were imposed upon them, that they were not ready for them and did not seek them.

When I think of this anger and resentment concerning baptism unsought for, I cannot help but think of what a contrast the baptism of Jesus is. Jesus sought, embraced, and submitted to His baptism as the beginning of earthly ministry and as a prophetic pointer to what He would accomplish on the cross and the empty tomb.

Over and against the allegations of injustice from these debaptizers stands the Lord Jesus and His clear sense of readiness, of purpose, and of obedience to the Father.

Mark’s record of the baptism of Jesus is deceptively brief. It is brief, but it is not simple. In fact, it is a deeply moving passaged filled with powerful and poignant markers that reveal that something amazing happened in this moment. John MacArthur, Jr., suggests that this event probably happened on “a summer day in the year A.D. 26.”[2] Perhaps, but it was a day like none other!

The baptism of Jesus was Trinitarian and speaks to us of the nature of God.

We need not to miss the fascinating Trinitarian note that is sounded in this baptism account. Simply put, we see the Triune God present and at work in the baptism of Jesus. Consider:

11a And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son…”

9a In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee

10b …and the Spirit descending on him like a dove

St. Augustine summed it up nicely when he wrote that “the Trinity appears very clearly: the Father in the voice, the Son in the man, the Spirit in the dove.”[3]

In his book, God the Trinity, Malcolm Yarnell makes the point that while the New Testament contains no formal, propositional, doctrinal statement on the Trinity in the way that we would formulate it today, the Trinity is present all throughout the Bible and that, in fact, the very idiom of the Bible is Trinitarian. “God the Trinity,” writes Yarnell, “is revealed through word and deed in the Bible, even though not in our propositional form.”[4]

Our text would be an example of the Trinity revealed in deed. That is, at the baptism of Jesus, the Father speaks, the Son submits, and the Spirit descends. While the primary point of the passage is not to formulate a doctrine of the Trinity, it is through texts like these that the doctrine of the Trinity is formulated. We should behold and marvel at the Triune God: the Father who commissions and speaks, the Son who obeys and fulfills, and the Spirit who descends, inaugurates, and empowers.

We must also be careful not to see the baptism of the Jesus as the point at which Jesus became the Son of God. This idea is the ancient adoptionist heresy that was condemned at the Synod of Antioch and the first Council of Nicaea. This heretical notion proposed that at His baptism Jesus was adopted into sonship, that it was here that Jesus became the Son of God. Thus, in this idea, before the baptism of Jesus He was merely a man, even a very good man, but a man nonetheless.

This idea must continue to be rejected. Jesus is the Son of God from eternity past. The descent of the Spirit upon Christ does not confer sonship or make any ontological change in the person of Christ. It is a sign of the blessing and power of God on Christ, but that is not a blessing that was withheld before. Christ, fully God and fully man, in a sense, inaugurates His ministry at His baptism, but He does not inaugurate His Sonship. He has been, is, and ever will be the eternal and uncreated Son of God. He stands in full equality with the Father and the Spirit as the Triune God.

The baptism of Jesus was fulfilling and speaks to us of the ministry of Jesus.

Jesus’ baptism was eyebrow-raising to John the Baptist, who knew at least enough to know that this Jesus was no mere man, that this Jesus had no sin of which He needed to repent, and that this Jesus was to be bowed before and worshipped, not baptized by a sinful man like himself! In Matthew’s account of this scene in Matthew 3, we find a fascinating exchange between Jesus and John the Baptist about this very point:

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

First, the baptism of Christ was, as He said, a fulfillment. Specifically, it was a fulfillment of all righteousness. Here we see the active righteousness of Jesus Christ, His active obedience to all that humanity is called to. In a sense, it is almost as if Jesus will not call others to do something He Himself does not do. Jesus was not baptized because He was a sinner. He was baptized because He was not. As the righteous Son of God, Christ submits to the call of God in all of life and one of those calls here in the wilderness with John was baptism.

Was there a kind of example being made here? Perhaps it can be seen like that in a sense. In a sense, it might be said that Christ does this for the benefit of those watching, but only in a sense. His own wording suggests that He Himself wanted to be obedient in this area and that would suggest that Christ would have done this had nobody been watching. So an example is there, to be sure, but it is not His primary motivation.

There is also a powerful prophetic element here as well. On the cross, Jesus will take our sins upon Himself. He will, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:21, somehow “be sin” on the cross as He takes the sin of the world upon Himself. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Jesus did not need to repent, but Jesus would, on the cross, feel the full weight of human sinfulness and the human need for repentance. He will feel the terrible burden of human lostness as a result of the human rebellion that He took upon Himself when He took our sins.

Tellingly, Jesus referred to the coming cross as a baptism. In Luke 12, Jesus spoke of the cross as a coming baptism that caused Him great distress.

50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!

In Mark 10, Jesus told His disciples that His coming baptism on Golgotha was a baptism they could not even begin to fathom, much less endure or undergo.

38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

Put altogether, we might say that Jesus submitted to John’s watery baptism in preparation for and as a prophetic announcement of the baptism of His coming cross. As John would bury Christ under the water, so Christ would be buried in a tomb. As John raised Jesus up out of the water, so Jesus would be raised out of death.

What an amazing thing it is that the Son of God submitted to this baptism! Our hope is in what this baptism anticipates, the cross of Jesus Christ!

The baptism of Jesus was freeing and speaks to us of the beauty of salvation.

There is something else happening here and it is something violent and cage rattling in the most glorious of ways. It is something we might miss if we do not read carefully. It is found in verse 10.

10a And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open

The phrase “being torn open” comes from the word schizo. It is a word that speaks of a violent tearing. So Mark says that the heavens were being ripped, torn open. Interestingly, Matthew and Luke did not use this verb. They used the more common word for “opened.” If, as is commonly believed, Mark was written first and if, as is also commonly believed, Matthew and Luke used Mark as one of their sources in writing their gospels, that means that Matthew and Luke changed the verb from “torn” to “opened.” In and of itself, that is fairly insignificant. Both speak of an opening and perhaps Matthew and Luke simply wanted to use the word that their audiences would have been more familiar with.

Eugene Boring notes that the image of the heavens being torn (schizo) is “an apocalyptic motif” and is “portrayed violently” in Mark (though not in Matthew and Luke).[5] Gundry points out that the more traditional language of the heavens being “opened” “is tame by comparison.”[6] And Robert Stein suggests that Matthew and Luke changed Mark’s verb to “opened” because Mark’s use of schizo was “sufficiently strange” and “open” (anoigo) was “more common.”[7]

Fine and good…but I do so love what Mark wrote here! For Mark, the heavens were not neatly opened, they were ripped!

Now that is most fascinating, but it is made even more so when you realize that Mark only used that verb schizo one other time in his gospel. He used it in Mark 15.

38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

Wow! Fascinating! But wait: Josephus tells us that on the temple veil “was portrayed a panorama of the heavens.” That is, the veil looked like the heavens, it looked like the night sky!

Imagine it: as a Jewish worshiper of Yahweh God you would have known that God was in some way present behind this veil, behind the sky, behind a barrier that was penetrable only at certain times and only by the high priest who entered it, trembling, to make atonement for the sins of the people. The heavens were therefore a sign of wonder, to be sure, but also a sign of power and of dread, for who could go behind the Heavens and see God?

The high priest could, when allowed, but even he feared being struck dead. But certainly you could not. The heavens therefore constituted the barrier between you and God. It was separation. It was distance. God was behind there and you were here.

And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open

And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

Mark is telling us something. He is telling us that the coming of Christ meant that the barrier between God and man had now been removed, obliterated, ripped to shreds. We can now come to God through Christ! What an amazing thing this is, this tearing of the heavens! Jesus did not come to neatly ease the door open. No, Jesus came to kick the doors off the hinges and pronounce to one and to all, “WHOSEVER WILL MAY COME! WHOSEOVER WILL MAY COME! WHOSOEVER WILL MAY COME!”

You can now come home! God is no longer shrouded in fearful distance. God is near to us in Christ! God is not thereby reduced in power or glory. The coming of Christ does not diminish the majesty of God. The coming of Christ magnifies it. For what kind of God would do such a thing as this except a God mighty in grace and love and mercy!

The door is gone! The barrier is gone! You are no longer lost in the darkness! You…may…come!

The 2nd/3rd century church father, Hippolytus

Do you see, beloved, how many and how great blessings we would have lost if the Lord had yielded to the exhortation of John and declined baptism? For the heavens had been shut before this. The region above was inaccessible. We might descend to the lower parts, but not ascend to the upper. So it happened not only that the Lord was being baptized – he also was making new the old creation. He was bringing the alienated under the scepter of adoption…A reconciliation took place between the visible and the invisible. The celestial orders were filled with joy, the diseases of the earth were healed, secret things made known, those at enmity restored to amity…So when the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and the Father’s voice spread everywhere, it was fitting that “the gates of heaven should be lifted up.”[8]

But wait a minute. There is even something else happening here. It is true that the ripping of the heavens means that Heaven is now open to us in and through (and only in and through) Jesus. But is the motion in this story primarily from the ground up or is it from Heaven down?

Consider that what is happening in the baptism of Jesus is actually a fulfillment of a plea from Isaiah 64.

1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!

But in this verse the action is not an ascent, us coming to God, but rather a descent, God coming to us. What if our being able to come to the Father is not the primary point of the rending of the heavens?

One of the best explanations I have ever heard for this comes from a most unlikely source. When I was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Dr. Thomas Long, then the professor of preaching at Princeton Divinity School, came and lectured. I will never forget him telling a story about a friend of his who was asked to teach a boy’s Sunday School class. His friend, like Dr. Long, is an academic, a religious scholar we might say, so this was a bit of a daunting task for him, teaching the Bible to young, unruly boys.

Dr. Long recounted that his friend how one boy in this class (we will call him Alan) who very clearly was not interested in the class and did not want to be there. His body language, his lack of participation, his prickly demeanor, and his overall terrible attitude communicated all of this very effectively. In vain the teacher tried to get the young man to engage, to speak, or even just to acknowledge the presence of other people in the room. Week after week Alan showed literally no interest at all. In fact, he oozed a kind of hostile disgust at everybody in the room.

Except for one time. Once, Dr. Long’s friend was teaching the class on our passage. He was teaching them about the baptism of Jesus. As he did so, he reached the part about the ripping of the heavens. “As a result,” he said, “we can now come to God through Jesus.”

When he said this, to his utter amazement, he saw Alan shift uncomfortable in his seat. Alan even appeared to mutter something under his breath.

The teacher, amazed, addressed the boy.

“Alan, is there something you wanted to say?”

Alan simply looked down and shook his head no.

Undeterred, the teacher pressed. “Alan, truly I think we would all like to hear from you. You seem like you have a thought about this passage. Would you be willing to share it with the class.”

There was a pause as Alan, arms crossed, continued to look down at his feet. After a moment, though, the boy looked up. There was something of a snarl on his lips as he surveyed his fellow students and then locked eyes with the teacher. Finally, as if burdened by a great weight of irritation, Alan spoke.

“That ain’t what that means.”

The teacher, amazed, said, “What? That isn’t what what means, Alan?”

“That verse. That ain’t what that verse means.”

Intrigued and slightly nervous, the teacher asked, “Well, what does it mean?”

Another pause, then a deep breath, then Alan responded: “That verse don’t mean that we can get to God. It means that God can get to us. It means that God’s on the loose, and there ain’t nothin’ safe anymore.

I would submit to you that that is one of the greatest interpretations of this passage ever uttered in the long history of biblical interpretation!

God’s on the loose…and there ain’t nothin’ safe anymore!

Yes! God is on the loose! He is on the loose in Jesus! God has come to us, hunting us, pursuing us with radical love and mercy and forgiveness, seeking to overwhelm us with new life, new creation, a new heart, and a relationship with Him! Will you accept this God who has kicked the doors of Heaven off the hinges for you? Will you come to the God who has come to you?

God’s on the loose…and there ain’t nothin’ safe anymore!

Amen and amen.


[1] &show_article=1

[2] John F. MacArthur, Jr. Mark 1-8. MacArthur New Testament Commentary. (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, ), 0ahUKEwjO_tPFqP3LAhXIRyYKHYQwD1gQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=Mark%201%3A9-11&f=false

[3] Thomas C. Oden and Christopher A. Hall, ed. Mark. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Gen. Ed., Thomas C. Oden. New Testament. Vol. II (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), p.11.

[4] Malcolm Yarnell, God the Trinity. (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Academic, 2016), p.18.

[5] M. Eugene Boring, Mark. The New Testament Library. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), p.45.

[6] Robert Gundry, Mark. Vol. 1. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), p.48.

[7] Robert Stein, Mark. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2008), p.56-57.

[8] Thomas C. Oden and Christopher A. Hall, ed., p.11.

One thought on “Mark 1:9-11

  1. Pingback: Mark | Walking Together Ministries

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *