Epiphany 2, 2017
The Epistle. Romans 12:6-16
The Gospel. St. Mark 1:1-11
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
In this season of Epiphany, we will have a total of 5 Sundays in which we will see different ways Jesus Christ manifesting Himself to the world.
Last week we really touched more on the Season of Epiphany in general and the manifesting of Jesus to the Gentiles in recalling the wise men….coming from the east with gifts to this new born baby boy.
The lesson last week in the Gospel we heard read was of Jesus appearing as a young 12 year old boy to His own people…not really for the first time…for there were others who had of course seen Him...His mother and father being the first, and then shepherds.
The 12 year old boy in the Temple is the manifesting of Jesus to His own people in an interesting way…where they are stunned to see this child, at such a young age, comprehending the conversation of educated adults.
They were astonished at His understanding and answers to questions put to Him or His input in the conversation.
This marked a specific time when Jesus was at the same time, both manifesting Himself and veiling Himself…neither, it would seem by premeditated action, but simply in the course of arriving at the age He was (12) and in the place He was (the Temple).
Today, we are blessed with a different manifestation than the first one.
Today, we have Jesus appearing on the banks of the Jordan, being baptized by John there, and then as He is coming out of the water we are treated with this strange phenomenon.
The Heavens being torn open, the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit, descending on Jesus in the form of a dove…and a voice coming from Heaven saying “Your are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
In other words, we have a manifestation of the Holy Trinity this Sunday.
We have Father, Son and Holy Spirit all present, mentioned and doing something independently…showing the ability to be distinguished from the others…yet at the same time, all unified in what is happening.
First, we have a problem with reading this in English. The original is written in Greek. So we are left a little bit short changed in seeing the real drama here in what Mark is writing.
A commentator has this explanation of what is happening here that bears our attention. He writes, “When Jesus comes up from the water he experiences three things that in Jewish tradition signified the inauguration of God’s eschatological kingdom:
(eschatology is the study of ‘last things.’ So the eschatological Kingdom here means the Kingdom of God that is coming and it is a Kingdom that is the ultimate goal of all that has come before. Eschaton is Greek for ‘last’. The Eschatological Kingdom is the last…the final kingdom of God that He is bringing to earth…to touch the earth…to bring into union both heaven and earth all through the person of Christ.
As Christ came, He is said to have brought the Kingdom with Him. That Kingdom is the telos….the end toward which all of history is heading.)
So the quote again, “When Jesus comes up from the water he experiences three things that in Jewish tradition signified the inauguration of God’s eschatological kingdom: the heavens were opened above him, the Spirit descended into him, and the heavenly voice spoke to him.
The concurrence of these momentous events at the baptism signals that Jesus is the “more powerful one” (1:7) promised in the OT and the inaugurator of God’s eschatological kingdom.”
And the power of this is, first knowing, just what this manifestation of the Three Persons means. That God is appearing to not just Jesus and John but to all around.
The second is how dramatic this event really is, not visually, necessarily, but in what it all signifies to us.
The Heavens here are said by Mark today to be “torn open.”
The language is purposeful. This is not just the heavens parting mildly and the Spirit floating down. Mark is speaking more dramatically by saying they were “torn open.” They are ripped open.
This same concept appears elsewhere in the Old Testament, so Jewish readers will certainly be reading this and grasping it more deeply.
This same “torn” word is used when the rock is split when Moses strikes the rock and water rushes out. Isaiah says “God split the rock and the water gushed out.”
When the Red Sea is parted, Moses stretches his hand over the sea and it is parted…which is what we read in English. The “torn open” word is used there as well. The waters were torn in two.
Zechariah, Old Testament Prophet writes about the Day of the Lord, with vivd imagery. “On that day (The LORD’s) feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward.” (Zechariah 14:4)
So first we have this dramatic opening of heaven occurring where it is described as being torn open.
Then we have the Holy Spirit descending.
Remember again that a Jewish reader will be hearing and discerning much more here by this text.
This is why it is vital that we get to these details so we too are affected by what Mark is trying to convey to keep up by seeing what the Jewish reader would see.
The tearing of heaven is significant especially coupled with the Holy Spirit now being said to appear and descend.
Now the readers of Mark originally knew this fact: They knew that the Old Testament Prophets had stopped speaking.
Or maybe better to say, no prophets were raised up by God to do any speaking on His behalf. There was a silence of about 400 years between the last Prophets who spoke, (Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi)
The Jews understood the silence of God in this period and the silence of the Prophets to mean that the Holy Spirit had ceased speaking directly to God’s people. The absence of the Spirit meant the absence of Prophecy…and in a sense, the absence of God. God was veiling Himself for a time from His people.
They viewed the Prophet as one who had the Spirit of God. They had probably a lesser understanding of just who the Holy Spirit was than even we do.
They did not really have a Trinitarian understanding of God…to the extent New Testament people did as they came to be Christians.
So when Mark comes along as he does here and writes that the Heavens were torn open and the Spirit of God descended, this was music to their ears. It was a sign that God had once again begun to speak.
He had come
out of hiding.
He was once again speaking to His people.
The tearing open of the Heavens and the descending of The Holy Spirit at the baptism of Jesus signal the inauguration of the long-awaited return of God’s Spirit.
The Spirit is said by Mark to have “descended on Jesus like a dove.” Matthew and Luke describe this more in an actual physical bird descending on Jesus.
Commentators point out that the Greek actually conveys the image of the Spirit descending into Him. This is not to say that Mark is at variance with Matthew and Luke.
Mark is seen in his version to be conveying more of what the descending of the Spirit in “dove form” was accomplishing by descending.
If the dove simply lands on Jesus, not much is being conveyed. But in Mark’s description, the language is telling us that the Holy Spirit is descending down indicating that it was doing something in particular…that is was filling Jesus …completing Him, (maybe empowering Him) and equipping Him for His upcoming ministry.
Other Jewish writers around the same time speak of the dove as symbolizing the wisdom of God or the word of God.
This is not spiritual enlightenment or some sort of mystical New Age thing like that. Jesus was God in the flesh at His birth. The Spirit was with Him at His birth…and even at His conception in the Virgin’s womb.
The Spirit is more to be seen here as showing Himself at this time saying “I'm here. I have been here but you have not seen me. I'm here in the Son of God and I work as He works.”
John even says here today, I baptize with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s presence in the event is like the Spirit saying, “Yes He will baptize you with the Spirit and Here I Am!” “I AM the One who will unite you with Christ.”
Then finally we have the “Voice from Heaven.” “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
This is understood to be the voice of the Father. This is the voice of Yahweh. The LORD.
Any Jewish reader both then, and one educated in the Old Testament today would be able to read this and understand that Mark is saying, “…The LORD, God, Yahweh, Adonai, the God of your fathers…the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. The God of Moses… is speaking from heaven saying, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”
And those of course around hearing this should also have been aware of just who was speaking. There is no indication here that those around did not hear God’s voice or that they were confused like other places in the New Testament where some people hear only thunder. The voice is clear according to Matthew, Mark and Luke.
This is direct divine discourse. The Father speaking to the Son. The first two are visual here.
1. Jesus coming up out of the water.
2. The Holy Spirit descending like a dove.
But now, the third is audible only; the voice of God from Heaven speaking to the Son. And the Holy Spirit placing His stamp of approval on both the declaration of the Father and pointing everyone to just who this Son is.
It’s as if the Spirit is saying, “Just in case you aren't sure here as to whom the voice is ‘speaking, ill show you.”
“He’s right here. I descend on Him to indicate whom the Father is referring to and I do so in joyful approval.”
If we read Isaiah in the Old Testament we find things like this…Isaiah giving us the words of God…..
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.”
These are the sorts of passages in the Old Testament that Mark intended the people to recall to mind as they read this. They were to think, “Wait, this is what Isaiah wrote…that God spoke to Isaiah like this. We have read about this and now it is coming to pass!!!” “Before our eyes!”
So when we read the first chapter of Mark again at home later on, read it with these things in mind.
Jesus came up out of the water, and 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.”
This should read much differently now than it did before…for this is, as Mark says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
 Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 34). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.