questioning our identity, or acting foolishly on it

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 3:16-4:4

The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God’s Spirit—it looked like a dove—descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.”

Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.”

Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”

Matthew 3:16-4:4; MSG

Jesus’s baptism and temptation amount to him fulfilling what Israel failed to do, and more than that, we might say confirming his calling to be the Savior of the world. This was done for us, and in a certain sense none of it can be repeated. Just the same, we can learn important aspects of it for our lives, not the least of which is the importance of standing on Scripture when we’re actually tempted in some way to deviate from God’s will and grace to us in Jesus.

It’s interesting, the difference in the NIV and in most other English translations (not all) from Eugene Peterson’s rendering in The Message. Usually it is written and read as if the devil is tempting Jesus to question his Sonship, and hence him being the Messiah. But from Peterson and a few other English translations we might gather that what the tempter was trying to do was have Jesus act presumptively upon that Sonship. Either way, if the devil can get Jesus to depart from trust/faith and obedience, the devil wins. Jesus would have been sidetracked and diverted from his Sonship, his Messiahship.

Of course we know what Jesus does: He refutes the devil each time by quoting Scripture. Jesus stands firm on and in his Father’s will.

We can take for ourselves a couple of subcategory thoughts. We will be challenged about our identity, so that we might question it. Are we really God’s children by faith in Christ? Am I really loved by God in Jesus? Is God really my Father? When we question our identity in Christ, we’re in danger of acting as if that’s not so, even when it is. And we can either miss out on more than a lot, or we can cave in to that which a child of God should not be victim to.

The entire human race are created children of God. God has made the way for each person in and through Christ, by his life in his incarnation, his teachings and life lived, his death for our sins and resurrection for new life, new creation, and his ascension with the outpouring of the Spirit with the promise of his return when salvation will finally be made complete. But each of us has to put our faith in God through Christ. Trusting in God, that God can and will carry us through in Jesus. That God includes us in his special family in Jesus.

The other temptation is to act presumptively on our identity in Christ. We are God’s children, therefore we can throw caution to the wind. What can be lacking here is the proper reverential awe for God and realization that who we are is meant to be a representation of God to the world, of course that revealed in Jesus and given to us by the Spirit. As far as I can tell, this is less of a temptation for me, so that it’s hard for me to wrap my head around. It may be akin to some things we see going on in the world in the name of Christ which don’t have the scent of Christ on them at all, but instead, the stench of the anti-Christ. We have to be careful lest in our pride and arrogance, we act in ways that are evil in God’s eyes.

We are God’s dearly loved children in Christ. I want to remember that, and keep reminding myself of that again and again, so that I continue to cry out to God for all the help I need. And never to act pridefully on that help, as if somehow I’m something special apart from God. All is a gift, the greatest gift of all being Christ and what he did for us so that we might be included in God’s forever completely loved family. In and through Jesus.

thoughts on the baptism of our Lord

But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

Isaiah 43:1-7

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Father Michael Cupp shared from these two passages along with some thoughts on the Epiphany and the Magi, traditionally wise men, from Matthew 2:1-12.

The entire sermon was striking to me, but the imagery of the Isaiah 43 passage linked to baptism, especially (once again, I think) stood out to me. Water baptism ends up being more than a symbol. It is a passsageway through death into resurrection in and through Jesus. Who submitted to a baptism he didn’t need himself, but which he did need to undergo for the world in anticipation of his death, burial and resurrection. Baptism sets us apart as God’s people in the world. And like our Lord, the Spirit comes anew and afresh for the task that we are given in God’s work in the world.


prayer for the first Sunday after the Epiphany

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

Scot McKnight on forgiveness and new life through Jesus’ baptism*

John’s baptism doesn’t stop with repentance: it is also for the forgiveness of sins. Sometimes Christians are tortured into wondering if their sins are forgiven. In such a state of torture, they fear that their eternal destiny is with the grotesque, dark figures in Dante’s Inferno. Such fears can be allayed knowing two truths that we see in Jesus’ baptism for us: First, our conviction and our confession are each incomplete; this we must admit. But, second, Jesus has full perception and conviction and, therefore, makes the truthful confession. Through him our sins are dealt a knockout blow. Because of Jesus’ conviction and confession, our fears about forgiveness can be released.

Even more: we need more than a true confession. What we seek is a clear conscience and (what Dallas Willard calls) a “renovation of the heart.” So, let us return to the full story of Jesus’ baptism: Jesus, with other Israelites, gets into the Jordan. Along with the others, Jesus utters the true confession—for us. And (here’s the renovation part) the Spirit in the form of a dove descends upon Jesus. John promises that Jesus will send that same Spirit to us.

When we tell the truth to the Father, participating with Jesus in the water, we, too, are flooded with God’s Spirit, who is the Spirit that forgives, and the Spirit empowers us to live out the Jesus Creed. A true confession triggers God’s gift of renovation through the Spirit.

Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others, 245.

*Jesus’ water baptism here, pointing to his baptism of suffering and death through which we are forgiven, followed by his resurrection and exaltation, after which he poured out the Holy Spirit from the Father on all who believed- the new life.

Scot McKnight on Jesus’ perfect repentance* at his baptism to complete our imperfect repentance

Scot McKnight on Jesus’ perfect repentance* at his baptism to complete our imperfect repentance

There is only one reason for Jesus to repent for us. We can’t repent adequatelyAn adequate repentance has four elements: a true perception of sin (conviction), telling the truth to God about sin (confession), the decision to change (commitment), and its demonstrable behaviors (consequences). Because we’ve already looked at the last two, we will look now at the first two.

We need Jesus’ repentance because we don’t know our hearts trulyBut Jesus does: he sees into the hidden hearts of mistaken leaders and wayward people. The prophet Jeremiah once complained: “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? [And the good news is that he continues with] ‘I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind.'” Jesus understood the hearts of all people, what makes people tick….

….it is Jesus’ foreignness to sin that permits him to have a perfect conviction of the unique tragedy of our sinfulness. Since Jesus has perfectly clear eyes to see the tragedy of sin, his confession is utterly true. As the Truly Convicted Confessor, Jesus steps into the water and utters the world’s first genuine confession–for usThis is why we need Jesus to step into the Jordan for us: We need him to confess our confession of sins for us.

But this doesn’t mean that we don’t have to get into the water ourselves. Nor does this mean that we don’t have to repent. No, his repentance parts the water so that our (weak) repentance can stand up in that water. He clears away the waters of confusion so that we can utter, in our weakness, a genuine confession.

Our tentative convictions and our feeble confessions lead us to groan to God for help. I am a great fan of Paul’s famous words about groaning prayer in Romans 8:26-27: Our weak prayers are strengthened by the Spirit’s intercession for us. What Paul is speaking of here is analogous to Jesus’ repentance for us. Even in our repentance, we are not completely clear–why we sinned and what our sin’s implications were and will be. All we can offer is an incomplete repentance. But we know when Jesus waded into the deeps of the Jordan, he was there for us, uttering the true confession on our behalf.

Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others, 243-245.

*”As C.S. Lewis said, ‘Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly….The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person—and he would not need it.'” (Scot McKnight just prior to above [242], from Mere Christianity).