All Heaven Breaks Loose
The common expression "all hell broke loose" comes from Milton's Paradise Lost, "Wherefore with thee/ came not all hell broke loose" (Bk. IV, 915-16). Why don't we ever say "all heaven broke loose?" That's what happened when the words of Joshua 3:13 were fulfilled. "The Lord of all the earth shall rest in the waters of the Jordan."
But the Baptism of our Lord is so earthly not heavenly. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit signals something big is afoot with the Hebraism frequent in the Greek translation of the Old Testament and in the Gospel of Luke but rare in Mark. The actual Baptism of our Lord begins with those weighty, arresting words, "And it came to pass."
And it came to pass that Jesus - true Son of God the Father, pure as the driven snow, holier than angels came to be baptized literally into the Jordan. The catacombs frequently have depictions of the Baptism of Jesus, and every one of them show Him standing in the Jordan with John pouring water over his head. Even so, clean, unblemished Jesus went into that fetid, muddy, nasty water of whom the ancients said that the person who drank of the Jordan, drank fever.
Told you this was earthly. It doesn't look like all heaven is breaking loose. The text goes on from the momentous, focusing words "And it came to pass" to say it came to pass that Jesus came to be baptized literally under John. Read Matthew 3 to see how this even bothered John. You know what it means to be "under" someone. There is a superior subordinate relationship. But John has already declared he wasn't worthy to do for Jesus what the lowest of servants would do: untie His sandals.
The introduction "and it came to pass" might be a drum roll of sorts to something heavenly but it quickly descends into the muddy waters of the Jordan and Jesus placing Himself under His inferior to be baptized. But wait there's more. It's right before our text. It says the only ones being baptized under John were done so "while confessing their sins." This, the sinless Son of God, confessing sin is all heaven breaking loose? I suppose so if you mean the bounds of heaven have been shattered and what is heavenly has been thrown into the mud.
But that's what happened, and I think we should see this as a Simpsons or Family Guy skit. Both shows regularly depict something ad nauseam. The person groaning and groaning after being hurt. The person ordering food: dish, after dish, after dish. Just when you think they can't go on with the gag, they keep it going longer. Not to make a joke of this, but hear Jesus confessing at least every single one of your sins: "I am guilty of this, this, and this to. I did this when I was 12, this when I was 20, and this when I was 60." On and on and on Jesus' confession of your sins go till His voice begins to tire and there is not a single sin left.
That's all fine, well and good, but where's all heaven breaking loose? In what follows. After it has come to pass that Jesus stepped down into the fetid waters of the Jordan and was baptized by John while confessing your sins, the heavens were tore open. Mark alone uses this word for split, divide, separate, tear apart. Luke and Matthew have the milder opened." Mark's word is used on Good Friday when the temple curtain is torn. Hear the ripping, feel the shuddering as all heaven breaks loose. In Classical Greek a phrase similar to this means " a divine announcement."
I once had a doctor who was treating me for persistent headaches. He was a Baptist and he regularly said, "Pain is God's megaphone." Sounds pious, holy, deep. But you tell me what is God saying? The voice of God in the megaphone of pain sounds like the adults in the Peanuts shows: "mwa, mwa, mwa." They're saying something but your guess is as good as mine, what.
When all heaven breaks out, God by word and deed makes a divine announcement and He speaks clearly. First by deed. We see the Holy Spirit descending literally into Him. Recall the force of Greek prepositions. God's Word leaves no doubt that the Holy Spirit didn't just land on the Man Jesus but went into Him. Remember this is the Man who stood there going on and on and on confessing your sins from big, to small, to forgotten, and yet the Holy Spirit goes into Him. In fact, John 3:34 says God gives the Spirit without measure to Jesus. What you're seeing here is what the Reformed deny. What you're seeing is the finite being capable of the infinite. All heaven breaks loose and comes in it's fullness into the Man Jesus.
And that there might be no doubt about what God is saying through the megaphone of Jesus' Baptism, the Father actually speaks. We get to listen in as God the Father speaks to God the son. We get to hear what normally could only be heard in heaven, so much has all heaven broken loose today. The Father says, "You are My Son, whom I love; in you I am well pleased." The Father literally speaks out of heaven to the Son standing on earth saying that He loves Him. So God the Father claims the Man who went on and on confessing your sins as His beloved Son.
Plainly all heaven breaks loose today because heaven is publicly on earth. We sing of Christmas "Today He opens heaven again and gives us His own Son." True, but today it's open for us to go in. By Jesus taking responsibly for my sins, and not only mine, but for the sins of the world that means you, you, and you too, are sinless, without sin. What kept sinners out of heaven was not their humanity but their inhumanity, their sinfulness, their sins.
Have you ever gone to pay a bill, a fine, a ticket, and they had no record of it? It was more dramatic in the days they searched through papers or turned ledger pages than it is now when they type in your name and in an instant it finds or doesn't find a record. See pages being turned and run down with a finger or see the computer digitally going through billions of records in nanoseconds, but hear God saying, "I can find no record of that sin."
Not because you didn't do it; aren't guilty, or no law was broken, but because Jesus took responsibly for the broken law. He could do that because He broken none Himself, and Jesus paid the full fine. That's the guilt, the shame, the pain you go through until you confess your sin and are freed from it. That's what Jesus carried day in and day out and was all but overwhelmed by at Gethsemane and Calvary. But He finished. He bore what you and I could never bear and won for us forgiveness of sins, freedom from guilt, and relief from shame.
This is made clear by the fact that the Holy Spirit, even though Jesus has confessed such unimaginable, unforgettable, and unforgivable sins as mine, nevertheless goes into Him. In the Old Testament, it wasn't the raven that led Noah and the Church out of the ark. It was the dove that told them it was safe to come out of the ark; the wrath of God had abated and dried up. Chrysostom said that "this Dove does not simply lead one family out of an ark, but the whole world toward heaven at her appearing" (ACC, II, 13).
When all heaven breaks loose at Jesus' Baptism a Dove comes from heaven not a lightening bolt, a Dove not thundering Law, a Dove bearing the olive branch that God is at peace with mankind not a raven to pick the bones of sinners dead in their sins. I can't think of a Greek or Roman god sending anything like a dove from heaven. They sent tricks, judgment, wrath, testing, etc. If you passed their test, you might get a real blessing. But here before mankind has made one step in God's direction, before they've passed one test, but rather failed everyone, He sends them Himself in the form of a gentle Dove.
If you still aren't completely clear at what God is saying when all heaven breaks loose at the Baptism of Jesus listen carefully to His Words to Jesus. "You are My Son in You, not with you, I am well pleased." The Father does not proclaim an "Olly olly oxen free" from heaven. He says "in Jesus" He is well pleased. Outside of Jesus He is not well pleased. He's a blinding light and a consuming fire. Outside of Jesus He's not pleased and wrathful beyond measure. You won't, can't like let alone love God outside of Jesus.
All heaven breaks loose today and it's only safe for sinners who are in Jesus. It's not safe for sinners doing their best to be like Jesus. It's not safe for sinners trying their hardest to follow Jesus. It's not safe for sinners who promise to do better. It's not safe for sinners who have this reason and that reason they failed. When all heaven breaks loose on earth it's only safe for those in Jesus in whom the Father is well pleased.
So how do you know if you're in Jesus or not? Stop looking inside that sinful, fallen, maggot infested heart or soul of yours for a thing called faith. Even at its best it's no bigger than a mustard seed. Don't look inside to determine if you're in Jesus, look outside. Have you been Baptized? Then according to God's Word you have been baptized literally into the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Have you been absolved? Did you confess your sins today? Did you hear them forgiven by the command and in the stead of Jesus? Then His Word in your ears placed you in Jesus. Do you eat His Body and Drink His Blood? Tell me how deeper can Jesus be in a Person than that? He's in every organ, every cell, every molecule.
Martin Chemnitz said that the early church had the following versicle and response. The pastor would say Genesis 6:6, "It repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth." What a downer, huh? But then all heaven would break loose on earth when the congregation responded with the words of our text, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (Wenzel, 76). Boom! The congregation was back to the time and place where all heaven broke loose on earth; where the Heavenly Son took responsibility for all sins,; where the Heavenly Spirit came gently into mankind, and where the Heavenly Father was well pleased with them in Jesus. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Baptism of our Lord (20150111); Mark 1: 9-11