Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
Last Sunday we celebrated the baptism of Christ, the moment that marks the beginning of his public ministry. It is a fascinating event that challenges us to think about Jesus as a role model for our own discipleship. For many that can appear problematic. To what extent can we see Jesus as a model and to what extent is his life simply beyond us? Its clear we are not the second person of the Trinity, sinless and perfect, and always and everywhere available and obedient to the will of God the Father! We know Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, but (in his case) without sin. I imagine that resistance to temptation will be a real issue for many of us as we hit week two of our new year resolutions.
In the story of the baptism there are several crucial points of contact. We know from Paul’s reflections in Philippians Chapter 2 and elsewhere, that Jesus, “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man.” So, there is something in the way that Jesus ministered that could be similar and inspiring for our discipleship. The baptism makes it clear. The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. His is an empowered ministry. In leaving aside some of the aspects of Godhead in the incarnation he makes himself both vulnerable and powerless. In his ministry, the power is supplied by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Jesus didn’t receive Premier League Holy Spirit, as opposed to the Vanarama league that might be available to us. The same Holy Spirit who descended on Jesus at this baptism: the one in whose power he ministered and died, and the one in whose power he rose from the dead, is the same Holy Spirit who comes into Christians when they turn to him in repentance and faith and submit to his Lordship over their lives. That is extraordinary when you think about it. It opens the possibility that when Jesus said in John’s gospel of the disciples who would follow him, “that they would do even greater things than these.” He wasn’t joking or using hyperbole.
But beyond the promise of the Holy Spirit, there are some foundational truths about doing life in a specifically Christian way. Shortly after the Spirit descends the words from heaven are heard, “this is my Son, the beloved, in him I am well pleased.” These are foundational statements that speak into the age-old human quest for identity, security and significance. I was at Oxford University in the early 1980’s and my College had a bit of an aristocratic reputation – I’m not entirely sure how I as a direct grant boy from West London ended up there, but that’s another story. Someone told me the college was like cream – rich, thick and full of clots. I never found that to be the case, but there were some students who did indeed have an aristocratic pedigree. If I’m honest they did walk around with their noses at a slightly higher angle than everyone else. There was a confidence borne of their lineage that affected the way they interacted with others. I have seen too many people quite the opposite, their sense of self and identity crushed and undermined by their background or parenting. But for Christians, whatever our background, the fundamental statement of our identity is the same. We are children of our heavenly Father – by my reckoning that makes us royalty!
The second statement is similar. Jesus is the beloved. We too are the objects of God’s love – his settled will for our good. Again, so many people are seeking the love they never received as children, acting for the goal of affirmation. It can paralyse right interaction. The uncertainty about whether we are loved or indeed loveable can lead to acting on what is expedient or politic, rather than what is right.
The final statement, “in you I am well pleased,” is given before Jesus has done anything. This speaks powerfully into our need of significance. The foundation of our understanding of being God’s
children is that our value doesn’t depend on our achievements or success. If we truly embrace that it frees us from the unhealthy drivenness that causes us to work harder and harder to justify our own existence.
I’ve often spoken of the need to demonstrate our Christian faith by doing things differently rather than doing different things. These words spoken over Jesus, which God also speaks over us, are the base for that different living. We move into the world with our fundamental identity clear as God’s children, secure in his love for us no matter what, and a sense of our value just as who we are not based on what we do. The more we can enter into and embrace that reality, the more we will indeed shine with the light of Christ. We live in a world where people struggle with all of these things. Faith in Jesus Christ points to a different way to wholeness and peace. We have good news to share.