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. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10-11 ESV)
Can you recall any Baptisms that were memorable? Perhaps it was a service where a father and his four sons were all baptized. Perhaps it was a Baptism where a single shaft of light came through one of the sanctuary windows, shining on the baptismal font as the child was being baptized.
The Baptism of Jesus was memorable for reasons far greater than a mere shaft of light beaming on a baptismal font. Mark writes that, after John had baptized Jesus, the heavens were “torn open.” Next, God the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in bodily form like a dove (Luke 3:22) and remained on Jesus (John 1:32). Then a voice sounded from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” God the Son was being baptized. God the Holy Spirit was visibly present. God the Father verbally spoke His approval of Jesus from heaven. John would say later of this Baptism, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:34) Heaven was torn open at the Baptism of the Son of God.
When Adam and Eve sinned against God, Paradise was closed off; an angel with a flaming sword blocked the way. Because of sin, the Paradise of God—that is, heaven—is closed. Sinners are not allowed access to the throne room of the most Holy God. Isaiah writes, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2 ESV)
In order to open heaven to us, God first had to tear the heavens open and become one of us. God took on flesh and Jesus was born as our Brother. He was born to be the perfect Son who would win the Father’s approval. We hear of that approval at Jesus’ Baptism.
Three years after Jesus’ Baptism, on Good Friday, heaven was closed to the beloved Son of God. It wasn’t closed because the beloved Son had done something to displease the Father, but rather heaven was closed to Jesus because He had taken on Himself all that we had done to displease God. Jesus became our sin. Remembering the verse from Isaiah 59 above, how remarkable it is that God would not hear the cries of Jesus from the cross! God hid His face from His Son because Jesus was bearing our sin in His body on the cross. Heaven was closed to Jesus as He hung on the cross so that by His death He could tear heaven open for us.
At His Baptism, heaven was torn open as the Father spoke words of approval and blessing as Jesus began His journey to the cross to save us. When you were baptized, heaven was torn open once again. In your Baptism, the name of the Triune God was placed on a lost sinner and you were adopted into His family. Paul says that having been baptized into Christ, you have put on Christ (Galatians 3:27). In your Baptism you were covered with Jesus and His holiness, His perfection was credited to you as though it was your very own.
Heaven has been torn open. It was torn open when God became Man and when the God-Man was baptized. By taking your sins on Himself, Jesus opened heaven for you. Through Baptism and faith in Jesus, God now says to you, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” Praise be to the Triune God for His gift of Baptism, whereby He unites us with Jesus! Hallelujah! Amen!
Nathan Pfeiffer is pastor of Berea Lutheran Church in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota.