Baptism is a deeply mysterious and beautiful act in which we step into our future and declare we are identifying with Jesus in His death and resurrection. It’s stepping into what God says is true about us.
Jesus’ own baptism invoked deeply held stories of the exodus — the Israelites leaving Egypt, trusting God, and stepping through into their future, the promised land. The exodus story was arguably the most valued narrative of the entire Jewish faith. It is still celebrated as the time God rescued His people out of slavery. Israel itself went through its own sort of baptism coming through the Red Sea. When evil was left at the bottom of the water, the Israelites were referred to as God’s firstborn or God’s son. After Jesus’ baptism, He headed into the wilderness as if He was Israel personified.
Of course Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. He was clean. He was God. He was beautiful. But instead of standing back and pointing fingers, He jumps right in and identifies with His people. He steps into the waters as a way of saying, I’m for you, and with you.
And something crazy happens. He hears His Father’s voice thunder down from Heaven, declaring,
You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.2
The Father speaks Jesus’ identity over Him.
Remember, this was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He had not done anything yet. No healings. No preaching. No Cross. No resurrection. This voice came first.
A lot of times we do a bunch of stuff and then hope the voice of approval and love will come after that. This basically describes my whole life. Trying to have a good year in baseball so my friends and coaches would tell me I was awesome. Getting good grades so I could be affirmed. Being as religious as I could so others would think I was a good person.
We hope to hear we are children of God at the end of the road, but God thunders it in the beginning. We hop on the treadmill of life, hoping that when the timer runs out we will hear, “Well done, My child.” When, in fact, God declares that over us before we get on the treadmill. It puts us on a new journey entirely.
Why do you do what you do? Why do you get up? Why do you work? Why do you play sports? Why do you try so hard in school? Is it because you’re trying to get the Father to tell you He loves you, or are you giving life all your energy because you know he already loves you? When you live in the latter, you live more freely because you know failure isn’t a deal breaker but an opportunity to learn and get back up again.
So back to Matthew’s version of Jesus’ baptism. God says Jesus is a Son, a child. He is the Beloved. The word beloved implies a special affection or place in God’s heart for Jesus. But the beautiful thing is when we trust in Jesus, we are wrapped up into Him. So when we are baptized, we are stepping into the future. The future of belovedness that is true right now.
You are God’s beloved.
And God doesn’t sprinkle His love; He drenches us in it. My child, My child, My child. I am well pleased.
Can you hear the Father’s heart? Have you ever listened to His voice?
The crazy thing about water is it’s able to get through every crack it encounters. It moves, changes shape, floods, and permeates every little crevice.
That’s how God loves. Where there is even the slightest hint of surrender and release, the slightest crack in our autonomy, God’s healing love floods in.
I like how Jonathan Martin puts it in his book Prototype: the scandalous thing about Jesus and His baptism is that when God declared He was well pleased in Him and that He was the Beloved, Jesus believed Him. He goes on to say, “And unlike every other person in human history… He never forgot.”3
After we realize we are beloved, there sometimes comes a season when God wants to brand that into us. To let it sink in. Become real. If Jesus went straight from baptism to ministry, preaching, healing, and the Cross, God’s voice might get drowned out. Noise is a powerful thing, and the noise of life can sometimes mute God’s soft whisper of belovedness. But then something crazy happens. Jesus’ hair is still wet as he starts walking toward the wilderness. He goes to the unknown. The place of chaos. The place where Israel wandered for years and years and years. Where they failed. Where people died.
A place of silence. That’s where the future gets ripped into the present.
On our two-year anniversary, Alyssa gave me a sweet, thoughtful, long card of love and encouragement. One thing stood out to me, though: she started speaking the future into the present me. She encouraged me by calling me steady, gracious, loving, and humble.
What’s funny is that I don’t think those are things I actually am. I try to be those things but fail frequently. Anyone who’s been encouraged by a loved one, a parent, or a close friend knows nothing infuses you more with strength, confidence, and peace than a person filling you up with encouragement like that. When I read Alyssa’s letter, I felt like a superhero. Now, am I those things? Maybe feebly sometimes, but certainly not always. What’s important, though, is that Alyssa believes I am and can be. And there’s something deeply mysterious about it all, but when she says those things about me and constantly reminds me and encourages me, guess what? I start to become those things! It’s as if she’s speaking the future to me in the present.
If a loved one can speak such life, or such future, into us, then how much more power is there when the very Creator of the universe does it? He speaks over us, He delights in us, and when we are in Jesus, He tells us our futures are true right now in this very moment.
If you really believe that, and if you really listen to that, nothing can hurt or stop you. I know it might look good on paper right now, but do you really believe that? Have you heard that voice? Do you put your ear toward Jesus and listen?
- N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2008), 29.
- Luke 3:22.
- Jonathan Martin, Prototype: What Happens When You Discover You’re More Like Jesus Than You Think? (Chicago: Tyndale, 2013), 18.
Excerpted with permission from This Thing Called Christianity by Jefferson Bethke, copyright Jefferson Bethke.
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You are beloved. Right now. Before you’ve done anything worthy. Without having to do or be anything. You are beloved. Do you receive it? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily