Jesus himself points to God’s ultimate purposes that are about to be fulfilled: God’s coming reign, which is coming near. Such coming near eventuates in repentance and belief— again it is God’s action of bringing the reign close that sets human response in motion. — Jacobsen, David Schnasa, Mark (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries) (Fortress Press. Kindle Edition, Loc.562–864
Let’s look at the Gospel Reading for today, which is of course from Mark 1. It begins this way:
Not long afterwards Jesus came from Nazareth in the province of Galilee, and was baptised by John in the Jordan. As soon as Jesus came up out of the water, he saw heaven opening and the Spirit coming down on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.’
Mark’s story is pretty quick fire. No sooner does one thing happen than we’re onto another event. Jesus comes to Judea from Galilee—and without delay, he is baptised by John.
John was the prophet of a new age, in which people repented for their sins and the sins of all Israel by being baptised. It wasn’t a mainstream thing to be baptised as John practised it; this was for those who were looking for the Messiah that God would send.
What happened after Jesus’ baptism was life-changing. He saw ‘heaven opening’.
We usually say ‘the heavens opened’ when it rains really hard and we get drenched. But that’s not what this means. Here, ‘the heavens opened’ means something like a direct line of sight between Jesus and God. It certainly seems so, because he sees ‘the Spirit coming down on him like a dove’.
Every English bible is a translation, with some well-done bits and others not so good. I have to say here that the Good News Bible could be better. ‘The heavens opened’: it’s better to say they were ‘torn apart’. That’s what Mark wrote.
When Matthew and Luke came to write their gospels, it seems each of them had a copy of Mark with them. They toned down Mark’s rough language in a few places, and both of them said at this point that the heavens ‘opened’.
But in Mark, they are ‘torn apart’. What difference does it make? You can close something that is opened. It’s a lot harder to put it back the way it was when it’s torn apart.
When God rips the heavens apart they stay ripped apart. Now, Jesus always has that clear line of sight to God his Father. And through the Spirit of Jesus, by God’s grace and by that grace alone, we can also come to know something of that line of sight.