Gospel Bookends: The Perfect Son

E-books and tablets have changed the way we read, but there’s still nothing quite like a real set of books standing between real bookends on a real bookshelf. I have an interesting set of bookends in my office. Each side has one half of a model of an old-fashioned sailing ship: the front half of the boat is on the right bookend and the back half on the left. Either half looks nice enough on its own, but if you really want to appreciate the ship as a whole, you need to place both bookends side by side and look at them together.

That set of bookends illustrates what I have in mind for these articles. I want to look at some matching “bookends” in the Gospels. These bookends are themes or phrases that we find repeated both at the beginning and then again at the end of a given Gospel. Although each passage is beautiful on its own, once we place them side by side they complement each other in a way that presents us with a fuller, richer portrait of Christ.

We start our series on bookends with the Gospel of Mark and a two-part portrait of the Perfect Son. Mark introduces his Gospel as “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1).[1] And the bookend theme that we want to notice is that something is torn at both the start and the end of Mark, and each time that tearing is followed by a voice declaring Jesus to be God’s Son.

The Heavens Are Torn (Mark 1:9-11)

Mark opens his Gospel with the testimony of John the Baptist. John was an unusual man, even for his day. He came from a dignified priestly family, but ended up living in the wilderness, eating locusts and honey and wearing camel’s hair and a leather belt, as he called the nation to repentance.

Everyone was talking about John as they flocked to hear him; but John wanted to talk about someone else – the coming Messiah. People wondered if he was the Christ, but he denied it, saying that when the Messiah came, He would be so great that John would feel unworthy to even loosen His sandal strap.

Crowds came from all over to receive John’s baptism of repentance. Tax collectors, soldiers, religious people, commoners – they were all baptized by John in the Jordan River, confessing their sins (1:5).

But one day an unassuming man from Galilee entered the water among the crowds. John knew Him; He was a relative, Jesus of Nazareth. And for the first time, John felt unworthy to baptize the person standing before him. Still, he agreed to do it. But it was unlike any other baptism that he had done before. This Man didn’t confess His sins like all the rest. He had none to confess! Instead, as He came up out of the water, the heavens were torn open, and God the Father confessed over Him, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (v11).

What a marvelous triune revelation: the Father delighting in His Son, as the Spirit descends! And those words He spoke foreshadowed the whole course of redemption, as they echoed three great Old Testament passages:

“In whom I am well pleased” recalls Isaiah 42:1. He is the Servant whose life was a delight to God.

“Beloved” reflects Genesis 22:2. He is the only-begotten Son, who willingly laid down His life in submission to His Father.

“Thou art my Son” is the language of Psalm 2:7. He is the God-appointed King who would rise from the dead to reign forever.

But there is something else interesting in the language here. When Matthew and Luke write about these events, they use the common word for something being “opened”; but Mark uses a different Greek word that means “torn.” The heavens were “torn open,” as God declared His delight in His Son. And, most interestingly, Mark only uses this word “torn” twice: here at the start of the book, as Christ’s ministry begins (1:10), and again near the close of the book, as it comes to an end (15:38).

The Veil Is Torn (Mark 15:37-39)

The scenes of Calvary stand in such stark contrast to His baptism that we can understand why people questioned the truth of those heavenly words. Was this bleeding, dying man on the middle cross really God’s beloved Son, in whom He delighted? Many of them mocked, “He trusted in the Lord … Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!” (Psa 22:8 NKJV).

When the sun suddenly went dark, it seemed to confirm their suspicions that He was being judged by God (Exo 10:21-22). And then He cried out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Mar 15:34). Not long after, He yielded up His spirit and bowed His head in death.

And then it happened – another mighty, divine tearing! It was not the sky this time, but the veil of the temple, from top to bottom (15:38). And once again, a voice cried out, this time saying (v39), “Truly this Man was the Son of God!”

Who was speaking? It was a Roman soldier, likely a pagan man who had never met Christ before. Yet, as he looked upon the blood-stained body of a man that he had helped put to death, he was so moved by what he had witnessed that he said, “This Man was the Son of God!”

That, my friends, is the marvel of Calvary. It’s there that a holy God and a repentant sinner unite, as they delight together in the person of His Son. And this God, who tore the heavens open at the start of Mark to say, “This is my beloved Son,” is the same God who tore the veil open at the end of Mark to welcome into His holy presence those who say by faith, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!”

The Perfect Son – that’s the secret of our acceptance. He completely delighted His Father, who received Him back into Heaven. And where He goes, we may follow without fear – even right into the presence of God Himself. We’re blessed and accepted in the Beloved One, to the praise of His glorious grace!

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.