Reflection for the Feast of the Baptism of Christ 2021

Heaven Opened to Us

For generations, Manchester folk took the Buxton bus from Lower Mosley Street bus station into the Pennine hills to enjoy the countryside.  If they stepped off the bus at Hayfield village and walked eastwards towards the miles of footpaths, open moorland , the beautiful cataract (pictured here) and Kinder Scout, the highest mountain in the Peak District, their way was barred. This piece of heaven was privately owned by the Duke of Devonshire and used only 12 days a year for shooting.

In 1951, the Peak District National Park was created, and all were given a way in! Adventures in places like Edale, Kinder, the Snake Pass, and Featherbed Moss could begin!  Whether rambling, camping or sleeping in an old barn, everyone and the dog could enter into the midst of this idyllic beauty.

The Gospel 

“4 This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptised to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. 5 All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptised them in the Jordan River. 6 His clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey.

7 John announced: “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals. 8 I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit!”  9 One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptised him in the Jordan River.  10 As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on home like a dove. 11 And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”

Why is this Passage so Important to Us?

For me, there are two messages in this reading:

  • our destination, and:
  • our route there.

Whereas Luke and Matthew write of heaven opening (see v10) Mark uses much stronger language – splitting, or being torn apart.  It’s as if Mark wants us to know that the barriers can be removed, and the way to heaven lies open before us. But how can this happen? Mark records Jesus’ baptism because it tells us about His oneness with the Father, and shows Jesus not as a transcendent Lord, but as our brother and pathfinder, showing us the way, and encouraging us to walk in His footsteps.

Two Other Baptisms around 1220 BC and 1180 BC

Passing through water is an Old Testament picture for escaping and moving to a safe place.  Moses leads the Hebrews through the Red Sea, out of the hands of Egyptian tyranny.  Joshua leads the Hebrews through the River Jordan into the Promised land.  Baptism is only an outward sacrament (sign) of an inner spiritual freedom that Jesus brings us into.

Baptism  for Jews

This photo was taken in Salford in 1915.  The man is Herzl the Blecher, a very important member of the Jewish community.  His job was to “baptise” pots, pans, and crockery before the Passover to ensure that there were no traces of yeast contamination on them – in readiness for the festival. This helps us to understand how baptism was also a symbol for the Lord’s power to remove the barrier of sin which separates us from Him and heaven.

This looks like a scene in a Baptist church!  It’s a Mikvah (baptismal pool) in a Jewish synagogue.  The woman is to be married tomorrow.  As this Bride enters the water and is immersed, it signifies the end of all that has gone before, and the beginning of a new life.  This also adds to our understanding of baptism. As it is for this Jewish Bride on the eve of her marriage, so also it is a symbol of entering into a close relationship with Jesus.

Will Baptism open Heaven for You and Me?

No.  Baptism alone will not suffice.  The words which always accompany baptism are “repent and believe” – these two words, only, are the key to the door of heaven.  The Lord asks this of me: leave the path you are now following, and turn to Jesus.  Trust Him with all your heart, and he will put His arm around you and walk you into paradise.

 “I go to prepare a place for you.  If it were not so, I would have told you”.

Lord Jesus I believe You with my whole heart.  I turn to You alone.  Amen.