In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” – Mark 1:9-11
Each of the four gospels includes an account of the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River. Mark tells the story with an incredible economy of words. Jesus came, was baptized, saw, and heard. The other gospels add more details – conversations between Jesus and John, conversations between John and others. Not Mark, he just sticks with “the facts.”
In spite of its brevity, Mark’s account still holds a quite distinctive element, centered on one little word. All the Gospels talk of the Holy Spirit anointing Jesus at his baptism, in the form of a dove; and Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell that the heavens were parted at this anointing. It is at this point that we find Mark’s distinction. Matthew and Luke use the Greek word, anoigo, which means opened – the way one might open a curtain or a jar of mayonnaise. Mark, on the other hand, uses the Greek word, schizo, from which we get the word schism and schizophrenia. It carries a sense of being broken open, of being burst open, of being ripped open – as we find in the NRSV, account, “the heavens were torn apart.”
As we work our way through Mark, we find many things are broken or ripped open – wineskins and roofs and garments and alabaster jars and the veil of the Temple. All of these point to the radical, almost violent, ways in which Christ Jesus enters our world and our lives, breaking open our small-minded, self-serving ways, rupturing our self-indulgent worldview, breaking down our godless altars, tearing down our prejudices, ripping away our false security, and replacing it all with the life-transforming power and presence of God.
The prophet Joel calls for repentance, saying “Rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2:13). From the start, Mark makes it clear that Jesus Christ has come to fulfill that message. Christ will not be a tame savior who simply works to make things easier or more comfortable. He does not accommodate our self-serving ways but challenges us to our core. His work to transform the world begins by breaking into our lives and breaking open our hearts.
Lord Jesus, your love is all-consuming and life-giving. Give me courage to break free from all that would diminish and defeat me, and fill my life with your presence and power. Amen.
A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston