Mark 1:9-11

The Baptism of Jesus
(Mark 1:9-11)

INTRODUCTION

John had the privilege to baptize Jesus when John experienced the divine intervention of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and the confirmation from God the Father.

Bible Text

(9) It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. (10) On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. (11) And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” .

 Interpretation

(9) It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John.

After his private life in Nazareth for around 30 years, Jesus traveled to the Judean part of River Jordan traveling around 70 miles to officially start his mission with the confirmation from his Father and the Holy Spirit. John who had been preaching about Jesus had to get confirmation that he was the Messiah by witnessing the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus. John had to introduce Jesus to his listeners. Hence, though not a sinner, Jesus went to John at Jordan for baptism. Thus, Jesus who took our sinful flesh appeared humbly in front of John as one among us sinners.

(10) On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.

On coming up out of the water
It was after the baptism that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus. According to Luke, “After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” (Luke 3:21-22).

he saw
By specifying “he saw,” the evangelist makes it clear that only John the Baptist saw the opening of heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus in the form of a dove. Others came to know of it only from the witnessing of John.

the heavens being torn open
Mark presents the opening of heaven at the baptism of Jesus as an extraordinary event. The Greek word used for torn open is “schizo.” The English word “scissors” has derived from this word. The image is vivid like what happened at the death of Jesus on the cross, “The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mark 15:38). The other occasions when the heavens were opened were for judgement and destruction of sinners. After Noah built the ark, “the floodgates of the heavens were opened” (Genesis 7:11) to destroy the sinners with a deluge while saving Noah and his family. “The LORD rained down sulfur upon Sodom and Gomorrah, fire from the LORD out of heaven” (Genesis 19:24) to destroy the sinners while saving the life of Lot. However, when Jesus was baptized, the heavens were torn open to reveal the Most Holy Trinity.

the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.
John had experienced the torn open of heaven and the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven. He was sure that it was not a regular dove that came upon Jesus, but the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. The evangelist did not say that the dove flew away afterwards. It descended and remained on him dissolving the shape of the dove.

Dove has several implications in the Bible:

At the time of creation “the Spirit of God hovered upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2). The Hebrew word for hovered is like a mother bird brooding over her eggs. At the time of Jesus’ baptism, the dove had moved upon the waters of Jordan and descended upon Jesus to initiate a new spiritual creation through Jesus.

Dove was the symbol of a new creation in the story of Noah. At the end of the flood he sent out from the ark a raven and a dove. Raven, an unclean bird, ate dead bodies and did not return. Dove, a clean bird, flew over the waters and returned to Noah. (Genesis 8: 7-12).

Israel is compared to a dove in Hosea 11:11.

Dove is a taming bird and a symbol of peace, purity and love. It is symbolic of innocence. Jesus told his disciples: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” (Mathew 10:16).

Dove was a sacred bird in Palestine. It was acceptable for sacrifice in the Temple. Those who could not afford to offer animals of sin offering for sacrifice could offer doves. (Lev 5:7-11).

The Holy Spirit, who is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, was anointing Jesus as the true priest, prophet and king of the world. The Holy Spirit was commissioning Jesus for his mission as he was starting his public ministry. John the Baptist was assured to introduce Jesus as the Messiah to the people. John had testified Jesus saying: “I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’” (John 1:33).

(11) And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

from the heavens
Genesis 1:1 states: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth.” So there are more than one heaven. Bible presents three heavens: 

1. The atmosphere where the birds fly beneath the dome of the sky. (Genesis 1:20). The Psalmist refers to this heaven: “Beside them the birds of heaven nest; among the branches they sing.” (104:12). 

2. The dome where God established sources of light including sun, moon, and stars. (Genesis 1: 14-18). The Psalmist refers to this heaven saying: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of his hands.” (Psalm 19:2).

3. The third heaven is the dwelling place of God and is also known as the highest heavens or the heaven of heavens. Moses told the Israelites: “Look, the heavens, even the highest heavens, belong to the LORD, your God.” (Deuteronomy 10:14). St. Paul had an experience of being taken up to the third heaven where he had the revelation of God. (2 Cor. 12:1-4). He calls this third heaven also paradise.

a voice
Only Jesus had seen God the Father. “No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him.” (John 1: 18). Whereas, many had the privilege to listen to the voice of God. Jesus said: “It is written in the prophets: ‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.” (John 6:45-46). The following are some examples of people hearing the voice of God the Father:

Though Moses saw the glory of God, he did not see the LORD face to face. After giving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, “The LORD said to Moses: This is what you will say to the Israelites: You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven.” (Exodus 20:22). Later Moses told to Israelites: “Out of the heavens he let you hear his voice to discipline you; on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard him speaking out of the fire.” (Deuteronomy 4:36). While the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar was walking on the roof of his royal palace boasting of himself, “a voice spoke from heaven, “It has been decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar, that your kingship is taken from you!” (Daniel 4:25-28). St. Peter documented about the transfiguration experience he, James and John had: “For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, ‘This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.” (2 Peter 1:17-18). While Jesus was troubled on his hour of suffering, he prayed, “‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” (John 12:27-28).

You are my beloved Son;
Jesus who came from heaven already knew that he was the son of God and the beloved one of the Father. Then why did the Father make that statement? It was to convince John who was assigned to introduce Jesus as the Messiah to the public. So, out of conviction John declared: “Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” (John 1:34).

with you I am well pleased.
The Father was well pleased that his Son had completed 30 years of humble life in the world with the ordinary people and then was ready to start his public ministry. It was an assurance to Jesus that the Father was acknowledging his actions and empowering him with His Spirit to go ahead with his mission.

A similar voice came for the assurance of the favorite disciples of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. “A bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’” (Matthew 17:5). Thus, John the Baptist at River Jordan, and the disciples Peter, James and John at Mount Tabor had witnessed the glory of God coming on Jesus, heard His voice acknowledging Jesus as His beloved Son and empowering Jesus stating how pleased was the Father with the work of the Son.

Message

1. Jesus was initiated to Jewish community through his circumcision when he was eight days old. His baptism with water and Holy Spirit was the initiation of his salvific ministry. Through the sacraments of initiation, we become Christians and take up our mission as followers of Christ. Let us keep up our baptismal promises to be faithful to God and to give witness to Christ through his church.

2. Jesus was glorified when he humbled himself to line up with sinners for baptism. Though not a sinner, he appeared as one among us sinners. Let us also find joy in being humble and be at the service of God. Then the heavens will tell to us also: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”