June 12, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 3:21-22.
After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
We believe that Jesus was like us in all ways except sin. So, why did he submit to baptism? The gospels all make it clear that John’s mission was to prepare the way of the Lord. Initially, he didn’t recognize that Jesus was the Lord, the Messiah. Surely, he saw something extraordinary in Jesus, though.
Jesus may have been a disciple of John’s before he began his own ministry. Even if he wasn’t, he was familiar with John’s call to baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, for turning from one’s old ways to a new relationship with God. John was the forerunner of Jesus, the transition figure between the old and the new covenant, between the temple in Jerusalem and the temple of worship in the person of Jesus. Jesus’ mission, though the initiation of the new covenant, was an extension of John’s mission. Therefore, it seems natural that Jesus would have accepted the necessity of John’ baptism rather than rejecting it for himself. His baptism was a sign of his complete immersion in God’s love and will, obedience to Him in all ways. He was human in all respects including the need to allow himself to fully receive God’s purifying love. Barclay believes, “[H]e knew that he too must identify himself with this movement towards God. For Jesus the emergence of John was God’s call to action; and his first step was to identify himself with the people in their search for God.”
Jesus may have been about 30 years of age at this point, well into adulthood. He surely knew that he had a special relationship with God that others did not experience in the same way. He continually sought greater knowledge of God through the scriptures and teachings of the rabbis, but most importantly through prayer or conversation with God. Luke, more than the other gospel writers, describes Jesus in prayer at critical points in his story: before choosing his twelve disciples; before Peter’s realization that he was the Messiah; as he was transfigured, before teaching his disciples how to pray; in the garden of Gethsemane; and before dying on the cross. Always seeking guidance in his constant desire to please his Father and to be at one with Him. Through these conversations Jesus slowly began to understand the plan that God had for his life, the mission to which he must devote himself.
In his conversations with God, His Father, he was able to unravel “the mystery of his sonship,” as Rohr puts it in The Good News According to Luke. “For Jesus, the mystery of divine sonship involves a relationship with God of dependency, intimacy, and trust….[L]earning how to be taught, how to receive love, how to be loved, how to be taken care of, how to be believed in….So Jesus, first of all, steps into his ministry as son, not as a father. Rather he lets the Father teach him. Because Jesus is always listening to the Father, the Father is continually teaching him, and his growth continues….He’s first a faithful son.”
Then we have that glorious announcement by God who conferred upon Jesus His blessing. Finally, Jesus clearly heard confirmation of what had been forming in his heart and mind since childhood. “You are my beloved Son.” And because he had been a faithful son in every way, God lovingly blessed him with those words of grace, “[W]ith you I am well pleased.” What a moment of clarity and joy and gratitude that must have been!
It’s natural that the voice of God would have come to Jesus in the words of scripture. We know that he studied scripture and was wise beyond his years even as a child. From Psalm 2 invoked for a royal coronation: “You are my son; today I am your father.” And from Isaiah 42: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased.”
God has spoken clearly to me at critical points in my life. His voice often comes to me in the words of scripture. Those words give me a sudden clarity or insight that I have been praying for and they bestow an immediate, amazing peace like balm for my aching spirit. I feel certain that Jesus had this experience often and why he spoke with authority, why he was able to love the unlovable, why he could lift up sinners. He was able to inspire people to transform their lives in the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of their sins. Jesus finished what John began.