What if God said, “What do you want? I’ll give you one thing.” What would you ask for? If they took time to figure it out, if all the consequences of sin (theirs and others) in their lives were gone for a moment, most would say (in some way), “I want to know God’s loving, permanent approval in the deepest part of my being.”
Have you ever had an experience where you were humbled because a person way above you in stature served you in an extraordinary way and you knew not only that you didn’t deserve it, but that they were really letting go of their position to do it?
Did you ever see the documentary on Patrik Elias, the multi-millionaire star of the New Jersey Devils spending his summers working in orphanages in the Czech Republic to bring love into the lives of orphans? How about Angelina Jolie who reportedly gives 1/3 of her earnings to charity and shows up to visit the victims of the Haiti earthquake?
I had one of those incidents with Brian Doerksen when he gave me a loving embrace in 1992 at the Langley Worship Festival. I was so awkward. He was 10 years my younger, but seemed larger than life - a recording star; a celebrated worship leader; a man who moved among the most influential Christian leaders in the world. Yet he took time to hear my thanks and to hug me and pray for me.
In a moment like that, all you can think is, “I am so privileged that this great man has come down to my level to love me. I don’t deserve this, I know, but it is like life to receive it. I’ll never forget it.” And I haven’t. At the deepest levels of our being, our souls are searching for something like that because it is a deeply penetrating love that requires humility on the part of the person giving. It is not required by their status. For them to recognize us, or a Haitian earthquake victim, or an orphan, it means they have to deliberately choose to humble themselves to come down to our level.
John got this, right? Here comes Jesus to submit to a baptism of repentance. John already knows the Christ will bring a greater baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. If Jesus has the spiritual status to give that baptism, what could He possibly need of any baptism of John’s? John’s baptism is for sinners, the ones far from God who need to prepare. Not the Christ. He is in God. He is from God. He is righteous. He is sinless. He needs nothing. “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
Like John, our whole world system works against that very notion. We feel we ought to be lower. But that feeling is rooted in a view of power and authority that is sinful and fallen. We want to serve the Queen, not to be served by the Queen. Because it justifies the system. They have power over us. We have power over others. We serve them. Others serve us. It justifies a high view of myself if I have power and influence. It also justifies a low view of myself if I don’t. It was the basis of the prideful rich young ruler’s approach to Jesus in Luke 18, it was also the basis of rationalization for the lowly steward who had next to nothing in Matthew 25.
You see, we don’t generally believe we are lovable. We think we are too sinful, too fat, too unimportant, too ugly, too poor, too lacking in character. Some of us have had that reinforced so often by so many people and experiences that we don’t hope any more. Some of us still retain a secret hope, but we dare not believe it will come - though we long for it. Some of us have had a bit of it, but feel we are now further away from it than we were then because our view of ourselves has diminished.
Dare we believe? “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
It is ironic that the thing we most desperately need - a deep, deep experience of love that approves of who we are at the core of our being - is prohibited by the very view of relationship we hold as a core value. So we move into pride and self-protection trying desperately to convey a persona that somebody, somewhere will see and say, “I love you.” We project a self that is a desperate grasp for approval. Or the hardened behave in ways that reinforce their belief that no one will ever say it and mean it.
Tragic, isn’t it, that the deep, deep love we so long for is in the letting go of the very views of relationship and chronic behaviours we are using to try to grasp for it?
To me, Mike Bickel used to be a “power speaker”. He was one of those “intense, never-say-die, move into the centre of what God is doing, go for it all out” Christians. Way above me. But not any more. I met him at IHOP. I hung out after church service; regular church service on Sunday. There I saw him as a “loving pastor” who will “serve the lowest - even those like me he doesn’t know.” He has spoken before a million people in a year, yet he loved me enough to pray over me. Why would he do that? He rubs shoulders with the big prophetic guys. He counsels with world leaders. Why would he do that? “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
Jesus let go. Jesus submitted to a baptism He didn’t need and a sinful humanity he didn’t need to identify with, to love. And in letting go of His right to power and glory it happened. At the very point at which He had given up all a man could want - to fulfill all righteousness so he said; to identify with sinners - he got what all of us, in our sanest moments would say we want more than anything else in our lives: the love of God speaking affirmation that permanently penetrated the deepest levels of His being.
1. The heavens opened up for him!! Wow!! Do you understand that an open heaven is a an amazing expression. It speaks of the open access Jesus has to all of heaven’s resources including face-to-face love with the Father.
2. An audible voice from heaven comes. This too is an amazing and rare affirmation. The audible voice of God happens very, very rarely in the fallen creation. It is a direct affirmation of the level of Jesus capability through his humility, to carry the weight of ministry that would prompt God to release an audible voice. Remember, the magnitude of revelation is usually in proportion to the magnitude of the call.
3. Then the message. The one every son and every daughter for all eternity will crave to hear: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” It is the deep, deep love of God penetrating the deepest level of the human soul to meet the longing, magnified by sin, for eternal approval of our being. Jesus took on the form of a servant and humbled himself, being baptized with a baptism that clearly didn’t belong to him. He let go of all that was his right to have, to enter into the Father’s call to love a world that didn’t deserve it. And so he received the love of His Father, expressed in approval at the deepest level of His being.
It wasn’t based in work, effort, accomplishment or ministry. He hadn’t done a thing yet except submit himself to the act that publicly declared his identification with fallen humanity, setting His will upon the Father’s. And God approved.
Would you like to have what He got? Will you let go of what won’t give it to you, embrace a baptism of humility, to get a gift of deep, deep love that will satisfy the deepest need of your soul?