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Epistle: Acts 8:14-17

14Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16(for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

In the waters of baptism, we received the gift of the promised Holy Spirit. We believe that God’s Word together with the water, God is present, and the Holy Spirit comes.

That doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit DOESN’T show up at other times and other places. The Spirit blows where it chooses, like the wind. But we are assured that the Holy Spirit comes in the water together with God’s Word.

A powerful image of the coming of the Holy Spirit can be found in Mark’s Gospel when Jesus is baptized. Pastor Vince Gerhardy shared the following in a sermon:

Unfortunately, some of the translations of Mark’s version of the baptism of Jesus simply say that the heavens opened when Jesus came up out of the water. More accurately Mark says, “…as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove”. “Being torn open” – that’s a strange choice of words especially since the other gospel writers are far less dramatic and say simply that the heavens opened. The words “being torn open” convey a sense of violence, energy, ripping apart, excitement, anticipation, joy, elation, casting aside what is in the way. When you think of it – much like a child ripping open a Christmas present. It’s almost as if God couldn’t wait another moment. He is so excited and rips open heaven and sends down the Holy Spirit. He has a gift for the world and can’t wait to rip it open.

I got to thinking about this whole idea about heaven needing to be torn open and wondered what is behind this kind of thinking. It’s an idea found in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 64 we read, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…”. The prophet is praying that God would come down and do some mighty things to change the hearts of his people but to be able to do this he must first tear the heavens apart.

To understand this let’s imagine this scene. You live in a tent, and you are lying on your bed at night praying to God. Above your tent the sky is full of stars, the moon is bright, heaven the home of God is truly magnificent but there is something that stands between you on your bed and God in the heavens. Of course, the tent is forming a barrier between you and God. That’s how the ancients thought about the relationship between God and his creation. There was a barrier, a fixed separation between heaven and earth created by sin and corruption that only God could tear open like ripping open the roof of a tent and come down and meet his creation.

There is one other occasion when this ripping apart is mentioned, and Mark uses the same word. Can you guess what that occasion is?

In Mark 15:38 Jesus’ death is recorded, and we are told, “The curtain in the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom”. This is the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies – the dwelling place of God – from the rest of the temple. The separating curtain between the holy God and his people in the temple was now gone. God had torn open the heavens for all to enter through the saving death of his Son on the cross.

When the gospel writer, Mark, describes what happened as Jesus was coming out of the water after his baptism, he uses words that link the day Jesus begins his ministry and identifies himself with sinful humanity as he is baptized in Jordan with the completion of his ministry when he again identifies with sinful humanity and dies for one and all on a cross. On both occasions Mark says that God does some ripping and tearing as he opens the way to bring his kingdom to earth, sends his Holy Spirit, and with his own life brings forgiveness and newness to all his people. You might say heaven has been torn open and is now spilling out on the earth.

We celebrated this at Christmas – God tearing open heaven and coming to earth as a baby, walking on earth with us. Heaven came to earth that night. God came to us because we cannot go to him.

At our baptism God did some ripping and tearing as heaven spilled into our lives. The curtain of sin and death is torn in two and no longer separates us from God – Jesus has made sure of that. Heaven has been torn open and the Holy Spirit descended on us and filled us with faith, hope and love and the peace that comes from knowing that nothing stands between God and his love for us and nothing can ever stop God loving us. At our baptism God has torn in two the power of sin and death over us and made us holy by the blood of Jesus so that we can enter the Holy of Holies of God's presence without any fear or hesitation.

Baptism is an everyday thing and every day God tears open the heavens and sends us his Spirit again and again reminding us that we are his dearly loved children, that we are forgiven even though we offend him and one another so grievously, that he is our loving shepherd who gladly tears away all that is heavy, wearisome and worrying and all the trash that litters our lives. In its place he brings us his grace and peace and love.

Let us pray: Holy God, creator of light and giver of goodness, your voice moves over the waters. Immerse us in your grace, and transform us by your Spirit, that we may follow after your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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