Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching. Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him 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, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
If you've ever heard me preach on Jesus' baptism you may remember that I have a little problem understanding the words "well pleased." Jesus goes to be baptized by John and when he comes up out of the water the heavens open and the spirit comes down and voice from heaven says, "well pleased." We take it as "good job! You did the right thing, son, so I'm happy now...
To me this kind of interpretation of the text brings up all kinds of issues. I'm not a 'behavior' type preacher- I don't believe that there is a time when God isn't "well pleased" with us. I trust that God loves me just the way I am, no matter what- and that while God sees everything I can be, and desires for me to decide to live into the fullness of that identity, the bottom line is that whether I am walking in God's will or not walking in God's will, God is still "well pleased" with me- well pleased with us. So we need to look deeper into the text for understanding.
Paul Nuechterlein observes, Up until now in the Gospel of Matthew, all the action has been happening to and around Jesus... The actions of his parents, the angels, the shepherds, the magi, even Kind Herod's terrible actions to try and find and kill this newborn "king" (1) But with Jesus's baptism the story takes a turn. Jesus initiates or directs the action from here on. It's his idea to go and be baptized.
So let's pause for a second- Why were people getting baptized in the first place? Yes, to begin a new way of life; "repent," meaning, turn around- to wash away the "sin" or misdirection of their actions, and begin anew. And people would be baptized over and over- because try as they might, people just couldn't stop sinning! They were caught up in that cycle- try to follow God's way, fail (sin) get baptized and begin again. Sound familiar?
But why would Jesus need it? He was the perfect embodiment of God's love, after all. What would make him want to be baptized by John- he had no tightrope to walk, nothing to wash clean? Matthew shows us in the text- Jesus tells John he wants to be baptized to "fulfill all righteousness." Now frankly, no one even uses the word "righteousness" anymore, and most of the time we think righteousness just means holiness, or perfection anymore, but it means "to do right, or right action. Right action. So Jesus is coming to be baptized in order to fulfill- or complete- right action- to show us the right thing to do to get out of this cycle of sin and repentance.
When Jesus comes up out of the water, instead of being cleansed from sin and being set back on the tightrope of being good until he fails, Jesus takes time to watch the heavens open, the holy spirit to come down and fall upon him and to hear the voice from heaven affirm, "you are my beloved child- in you I am well pleased."
Notice the voice from heaven didn't say "because you did this I am well pleased." or "Now I'm well pleased but I wont be as soon as you fall off that tightrope." The voice was affirming what all of us need to internalize. That no matter what- God is well pleased with us- that we are loved unconditionally- whether we are walking the tightrope of have fallen off for the thousandth time. And there in lies the key to freedom from the cycle of sin and repentance.
No kidding- this Is not as easy as It sounds. Each of us has a specific way of seeing ourselves. And the way in which we see ourselves, determines our actions in the world. We've been formed and shaped since birth to act in a certain way. We each have bonuses or baggage from childhood that wait in the wings for a trigger- and then they can come out at the slightest provocation. These are what we will call the "source of our actions" because they lie below our conscious level. For example- you may have been raised in an unstable home, or an abusive home- and you learned to no speak unless you were spoken to, or to be invisible as to not rock the boat. You grow up and desire more from life than standing in the background. You set a plan in your head- your intention is to speak up for yourself, but the first time someone loses their temper, your coping mechanism kicks in and you retreat to silence.
For all of us, being aware of what the source of our actions are, and where they've come from is part of growing into an emotionally healthy adult. In fact, to grow into our identity as disciples of christ, we work 'to form a new spiritual source of our actions, deeply rooted in love.' (2)
Now, this takes at the least, 2 steps. One, an affirmation or understanding of God's unconditional love and acceptance. And 2, a decision to live into that identity. That's why I believe Jesus chose to be baptized- it was for the jewish people and still serves us today as a symbol of a decision to walk in the God life. But those words spoken to Jesus from heaven are also spoken to each one of us- the Christ in you recognizes those words- You are my daughter, in you I am well pleased, You are my son, in your I am well pleased, you are my child, in you I am well pleased. If we wan the transformation that comes from God, 'If we want the right source of right actions, then we need to follow Jesus. We have to focus our lives on him and learn the spiritual disciples of placing his love as the deepest source of our actions.'
And listen- there Is no living up to anything. There Is no amount of reaching up or looking up for that voice of affirmation that can change you. Notice, the spirit came down! The spirit came to Mary, and the transformation came from within- the same spirit that fell on Jesus and began his transformation to all God designed for him to be. The spirit pursues you- chases you-