O Savior, Rend the Heavens

Text: Mark 1:9-11
Date: Baptism of Our Lord + Epiphany 1 + 1/11/15

Today is the starting line, the countdown of Advent and Christmas is over, “three, two, one,” and today we hear the gun shot word, “Go!” “Lift off,” “And they’re off!” Do you remember that Advent word? We sang that beautiful hymn “O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide,” expecting and inviting our Savior to “Come down with mighty stride.” It was before Christmas so we were getting in the mood to gather on a silent night, holy night around the tender Christ child in a manger. We sang in images of light and morning dew, clouds and rain, of hill and dale in garb of green and meadow fair. We looked for and expected comfort and joy. So now here we are, ready to go. The Christmas trees and decorations are gone, and we take comfort and hope in the fact that the days are getting longer and the season of Spring is on its way to rescue and liberate us from the harsh, cruel winter.

So we’re ready. So let’s get going. But what’s the first word we hear? The gospel today takes us by our collar and pulls us back into Advent! “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!” John the Baptist makes a curtain call. People are still being baptized by him and confessing their sins. But this is Mark’s Gospel. He has but few things to say compared to the others. And he doesn’t want to waste any time. Remember? No Christmas story. No teenage Savior in the temple. Just, “Bam!” in the wilderness, John the Baptist splashing water and preaching repentance of sin.

Then, just as suddenly, “It came to pass,” “Bam!” “Jesus came,” “Jesus was baptized by John,” “And when he came up out of the water,” “Bam!” “immediately, he saw the heavens being torn open.” Not gently descending like we sang the hymn, but now, the heavens were being torn open, ripped apart, slashed asunder. It was almost as if God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was in as much of a hurry as St. Mark in writing about it! “Bam,” the Holy Spirit dive bombed onto the Son like a supersonic dove and, “Bam,” a booming voice from heaven, “You … are … my … Son.”

We simply sang and prayed, “O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide.” But in Mark no Christmas angels, no shepherds in the fields watching their flocks by night, just “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” announced like a flash bomb, a water-proof flash bomb. It is the baptism of our Lord. God ripped open the heavens and shook the earth and became one of us. He didn’t need to be baptized, he had no sin to confess or of which to repent. But there he was, suddenly, standing shoulder to shoulder with us in that water. When Jesus was baptized he joined himself to us in the waters of our fears and failures, in the muck even of our sins, in our sorry condition, our blindness, weakness and infirmities. He joined himself with us for but one reason.

That reason was not to pat us on the head, give us a bath nor to tickle us under our chin, to suggest to us that everything will be all right, after all. No, that reason was to liberate us from the tyranny of the cosmic terrorist who has taken us and the whole world hostage, who hates us just for being ourselves—the creation and image of God—whose only remedy is to take down as many with him as he can, because his end is certain, take us down to eternal destruction and damnation, to kill us. That’s what terrorists do.

Therefore when Jesus came to rescue us, when He was baptized it was as if He were putting on armor for the battle, the armor of the Spirit; the same armor, by the way, that God has given you who were baptized in water.

The Savior rent the heavens wide because He came as a great warrior. The spiritual terrorist, the devil, was not afraid, however, just amused at first. So he would meet Jesus in the wilderness with temptation. “If you are the Son of God,” prove it. So he would dog Jesus every day inciting as much opposition as possible. So he would eventually make people immune to Jesus’ preaching so that they would lose interest, fall away (John 6). Worse than that, however, is that he would stir up such hatred against Jesus that the very people He came to save would ask for His death. It was only as it seemed the plot to have Jesus killed was succeeding that…wait…no, even the devil, the cosmic terrorist knew that Jesus’ death would be his own undoing. “If you are the Son of God come down, come down from the cross.”

Jesus did not come down from the cross. As we sang, as we asked He came down from heaven with mighty stride into the water that by His death, his atoning, substitutionary death He would unlock the gates, break down the doors and unbar the way to heaven’s crown for us, for you. Now all who come into His water are baptized into His death, buried with Him by baptism into death, so that, just as He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life, forever.

Having heard the word preached by John, the word of the gospel preached by Mark, by the apostles, by those sent to speak God’s liberating word to you, guess what? “Bam!” God creates saving faith in your heart. You didn’t come up with that on your own, or as one famous person said it, “You didn’t build that.” In this case it’s true. True, saving faith is the gift and work of God, that dive bombing Holy Spirit who creates in you a clean heart, a clear conscience and fills you with wisdom and love and righteousness, giving you a makeover to be what God originally intended you to be, His creation, His child. He did that when He sent His Son. That’s your brother in the water over there, your friend, your Lord, your Savior.

Some people prefer a dry gospel and deny that water baptism is anything more than a sign, a ritual. A sign of what? They say it’s a sign of some decision you have made. It is, rather, a sign, a physical seal of the decision God has made regarding you. In your holy baptism God has acted as surely and as dramatically as on that day of our Lord’s baptism. And because it was God’s command and God’s action it doesn’t need to be repeated. God says it, “You are my son, my daughter,” and “Bam!” there you are.

To the tyrant-terrorist we say today,
Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ!
Drop your ugly accusation, I am not so soon enticed.
Now that to the font I’ve traveled,
All your might has come unraveled,
And, against your tyranny,
God, my Lord, unites with me! (LSB 594:3)

The baptismal words: In the name of the Father and of + the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen