“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” [Luke 3:22]
The gospels disagree on who heard these words of God. In today’s Gospel lesson, Luke says only that “a voice came from heaven.” He doesn’t tell us who heard that voice – only Jesus? or John? or everybody standing around there?
The baptism of Jesus is one of the few events of his life that appears in all four gospels, but not always in the same words, or with the same details. But regardless of who heard the words, or exactly what they were, the important thing is that we hear them today, and they fill us with conflicting emotions.
On the one hand, it is a marvelous affirmation of our faith that Jesus is really the Son of God, and that everything that he did and said is pleasing to God, and what God sent him to do. I imagine that all four gospels wanted to get this message across.
Remember that they were not live television reports from the scene of the action. In fact, they were often stories that had been repeated many times, over the years before they were written down for us. And yet, they were such important words that their meaning and impact is clear.
But when Jesus heard them, his immediate reaction was uncertainty. He just didn’t know what to do about them, so he immediately headed out into the wilderness to pray and meditate about them for “forty days” (meaning “for a long time).
We do know that, while he was there, he wrestled with what the words meant.
- Was he to live with his every need met miraculously, so that all he had to do was ask for anything and it would be provided?
- Was he a powerful king who could conquer all the nations of the world?
- Was he a superpower who could jump off high buildings without getting hurt?
The answer to all these questions is “no.” Jesus was fully human – a man just like you and me, and he had to struggle to understand what God expected of him. And that struggle, as we’ve heard, wasn’t easy. It was like fighting a battle with all the conflicting thoughts and temptations inside his mind.
I think that the one thing Jesus could count on – that he could come back to whenever he had doubts or was unsure what to do – was that simple statement from God: “you are my beloved child, and I am pleased with you.”
That message is what carried Jesus through all that happened to him.
When his family wanted him to just come back home and be a carpenter.
When his home synagogue was so outraged at his preaching that they wanted to push him off a cliff.
When many of his followers found his teachings too difficult and just walked away from him.
And I guess, I hope, that he remembered God’s words when he hung on the cross, dying for you and me: “You are my child. I love you. I am pleased with what you are doing.”
But you know something? Those words from God at his baptism are not just for Jesus. No, they have come down to us over two thousand years, and they are immortalized in all four gospels, because they are for us – they are spoken by God to you and me:
“You are my child. I love you. I am pleased with you.”
Oh, if only we would listen! If only we would be quiet, stop all that we are doing, and let God’s words ring in our hearts.
We live in a world today where it is very hard to believe that anything is going right. Like Jesus, we are just not sure what we are supposed to do, and the fear of doing the wrong thing often paralyzes us into inaction, fear, hopelessness.
We might hear God saying this and tell ourselves: “I am such a sinner. I make a mess of everything. I do the things I shouldn’t do, and I don’t do the things I should do. There’s no way that God could possibly be pleased with me.”
Add to that the dozens of voices, each out-shouting the other, who try to tell us what to think, what to believe, what to do – about every possible question that faces humanity.
In light of all that, how could we possibly see ourselves as God’s beloved children who are pleasing God?
What we really need today is the ability to shut out those clamoring voices, to get away from the conflict and turmoil around us, to find a way to be quiet within ourselves and just listen to God saying the same thing to us that Jesus heard. In other words, to step away for a while and be alone with God and our thoughts, to struggle with our doubts and fears, and to rise and return refreshed and confident of God’s love for us.
So listen today for those words as God speaks to you in your heart.
Trust them. Believe them. Accept them. Live them.
You are God’s child. God does love you. And God is truly pleased with you. Amen.