JAC Online

Message from Mark 1:4-11
by Major Pauline Gruer-Caulfield

 *editor's note: These are preaching notes, not academic essay papers, and so may lack a reference here or there (indeed, they were prepared for preaching and not for wider readership).  It is not the intent to withhold credit from a source.


Once torn, things will never be quite the same


Yesterday I was talking with friends about vacationing in Cuba. It seems the right topic with the weather we are having. I was speaking to one family who shared that even today there is still control of information. One example is that the government does not want tourists to stay with locals. We are bussed to all-inclusive resorts which can only be accessed by the locals who work there. Even as you tour town you will notice a beautiful site, well kept, but if you look just behind, the houses are not so nice.


But then the moment this family landed back, the messaging bombarded them, screens all over, invest here, eat this, dress, have…


We think we are free but the truth is that regardless of where we live we have to intentionally decide to whom am I going to give my allegiance.  If we are not intentional, the subtle or not so subtle messaging will do the job for us, and we will consume what we are being told to consume.


So we, as God’s people protect our identity and our freedom by coming to Church, by reading His Word, by continually seeking to align our life to the principles taught in the Bible.



We are in the Gospel of Mark, not too frequently read during Advent or Christmas because he makes no reference to Jesus birth, angels, guiding stars, Bethlehem, shepherds or wise men. He informs his readers then and now of the mind-blowing truth of the incarnation in two short sentences:


He (Jesus) saw heaven torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from Heaven: You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased. Mark 1:10-11


That’s it, succinct. The life altering, history altering event of the incarnation in two short sentences.  We read it so fast that it is easy to miss the magnitude of what is being communicated.


There are two expressions to which I want to call your attention. One is “You are my Son”, the other is the word “torn,” “torn open”.


Jesus – the Son of God

Mark begins his Gospel stating: The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1) No need to guess who Jesus is.


I did a search for references to Son of God within the book of Mark and found that Mark begins by telling us of the divine acknowledgement (Mark 1:10-11), God the Father speaks, God the Spirit descends, God the Son is affirmed.


The next time we find the expression used is when Jesus is recognized by spirits – Mark includes two occasions when Jesus was helping people possessed by evil spirits and the spirits saw exactly who was addressing them: (3:11) whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” (also Mark 5:7)


It dawns on man

And then at the most unexpected place, the oddest moment, the truth dawns on man, a man with no jewish background, a man who had seen Jesus mocked, tormented, rejected and now dying. He sees Jesus for who He truly is: Surely this man was the Son of God! (Mark 15:39)  I don’t know if the Centurion realized the significance of his declaration, but Mark - when he was told of this detail - saw it as the climax of the good news about Jesus, from God’s own declaration, to a man’s realization, and a foreigner at that.


This takes even further significance when we notice another word used both in the account of Jesus’ baptism as well as in his dying moments.


And that is the word torn


Torn open. In greek it is the word schitzo as in schism. “Torn open” has a different connotation than simply saying “opened”. Once something is torn, it is never quite the same. In the other Gospels it is used for example to describe the old cloth that tears when patched with new cloth, in Corinthians when urging Christians to get along that there may be no division, no tearing. So it is not an obscure word.


Luke and John in their description of the events speak of heaven opening. Mark choses this word torn, torn open to imply that something happened beyond the awesome yet straightforward affirmation of Jesus’ identity.


Think about it. This is Mark’s incarnation narrative – “the rending of the heavens by the Father is a declaration that the One on whom the Spirit rests is the Son out of Heaven. The Son of God has pierced the barrier between heaven and earth. In Mark’s Gospel the incarnation of the Son of God is declared by the revelation that happened at this moment. The rending, the voice, the dove all announce that now the Kingdom of God is at hand, now from this moment at the Jordan, the kingdom of God has come; now the beginning of new things – a new beginning in the history of redemption with the advent – the coming of the Son of God.”[1]


It was Isaiah who cried out in prayer:  O that you would tear the heavens open and come down to make your name known to your enemies and make the nations tremble at your presence.  (Isaiah 64:1)  Now if you think of that day by the Jordan, the nations were not trembling when God the Son began to walk among us, no one else may have noticed but this does not mean that things were the same. Something had changed profoundly.


“Moses walked down to the red sea and the waters parted, Joshua came to the Jordan and the waters parted, Elijah struck the water too, but when Jesus went down to the Jordan the very heavens were parted. There is something new and greater here.[2]


Torn places never close as neatly as before again. Nothing would ever be the same.


What was torn, never to be the same?


In this event in particular we see that:

Jesus changed the concept of God – He reveals himself to us as God who humbles himself, God being willing to identify so completely with us. God with us in a way He has not been before.


Jesus changed the concept of Messiah. (What is your concept of Messiah, of the one who comes to rescue us, a Liberator, many women were brought up with the concept of a Prince Charming who will ride in on a white horse and make all well… who do men dream of? Who would be your liberator)  Jesus changes the concept, He is the one who comes to liberate us from ourselves first and foremost, who comes to give us the Holy Spirit. Not a Napoleonic force imposing his rule, but the Power from within. The meaning of the word for Spirit is breath. The indwelling Breath of God…


And the tearing continued throughout His ministry. He tore the concept of poor as a personal failure, of the ill as failures (remember when the disciples so callously asked, who sinned them or their parents?)


Jesus tore the basis for determining the value of a human being. We see it in the way He treated women, foreigners, children, elderly, sick, the outcast showing the intrinsic value of each person regardless of race, age, gender, nationality.


Most of all Jesus changed our possibilities so that we could be free, holy people, He tore our bond from victims to people with choices, real choices.


Jesus tore the separation between heaven and earth, creating the possibility of relationship, real relationship not just as created and their Creator, but as family, friends.


We need to hold on to these concepts/assumptions that Jesus tore because we keep being pulled back to the old way of thinking/valuing things.


There are only two places in the Gospel of Mark where he uses the word torn (schitzo).  In the oddest place we hear the same words again. In describing the death of Jesus Mark tell us “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Mark 15:38). In the very next sentence he tells us about the centurion, standing at the foot of the cross, a Roman official waiting to pronounce him dead, who somehow as he witnessed Jesus taking his last breath said the same words Jesus had heard at the Jordan, truly this man was God’s Son.



What does this mean for us?

If you think of the two moments which Mark joins in our minds by the use of the same terminology, they are moments of full surrender.  At the Jordan, surrendering His life for ministry, at the cross the ultimate surrender - His life for our life. These two dyings, unexpectedly in our mind, become moments of transparency, moments when His true identity come shining through.


It is baffling but even being God the Son, it was His willingness to surrender it all for us that tore open the heavens. You and I have life and hope because of Jesus’ surrender.


Ephesians 3 tells us that God’s intent is that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known. Ephesians 3:10


How do we make this known?  Following the example of Jesus.


Many here have surrendered their lives by entering into a covenant with God as soldiers

Together we read the doctrines at the beginning of the meeting, when you go home review your commitment.


What does it look like? Surrendering is not a matter of a moment, but a daily practice, it is intentionally living each day following God’s guidance.


Later on today I will send you an e-mail with various tools available as you seek to be intentional about your surrender.


 I am using Infinitum as a rule of life.


For some it may mean that  before  turning on your technology making sure you have your quiet time with God, reading the Bible, meditating on, surrendering your day to Him.



*editor's note: These are preaching notes, not academic essay papers, and so may lack a reference here or there (indeed, they were prepared for preaching and not for wider readership).  It is not the intent to withhold credit from a source.


[1] http://www.kerux.com/doc/0903A1.asp

[2] https://www.onemansweb.org/theology/the-year-of-mark-2015/fake-tan-mark-1-4-11.html








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