SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 43:1-7; Romans 6:1-11; Luke 3:15-22
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
We’re two weeks now into this New Year. Perhaps some things have changed for you. Most things, of course, haven’t. There is certainly one thing that hasn’t changed, that won’t change, and that is our need for approval. How many times this year will you ask questions like: How am I doing? Is this ok? What do you think? How do I look? Do you agree? How was dinner?
The desire for approval, whether of others or, finally, of yourself, affects us in so many ways. It affects what we say, what we do, and who we associate with. It does so because gaining approval can be very beneficial. It can bring a date; a discount; a job; a contract; or a bonus. The approval of others can bring entry into a group. Disapproval, on the other hand, can be very detrimental. It can result in financial loss. It can bring the pain of exclusion and lead to loneliness and depression. This is why the desire for approval is such a driving force.
Keep in mind that people’s approval, or disapproval, is temporary. Minds change, and people come and go from our lives. And, as we humans are mistake prone sinners, people’s approval can also be mistaken and mislead.
- Bernie Madoff was touted as an educated, wise, and very skilled investment advisor, and this led many to invest with him.
Even your own feelings of approval can be mistaken and deceiving. What feels and seems so right might actually be very wrong!
Ultimately, the most important approval is God’s approval. After all, He doesn’t come and go. God is. He is also present. He is among us, even though He doesn’t seem to be because we cannot perceive His presence.
- Consider that, after Jesus was baptized, “the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” God was there all along, but suddenly the curtain that hides Him was pulled back and His presence and involvement was revealed.
So it is with our lives. You do not see Him and are unaware of His presence, but do not let your weak senses deceive you. God is present, and His eyes are always upon you. His will be the final voice – of approval or disapproval – that you will hear. “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire,” cries John the Baptist. At the end you will hear God’s voice welcoming you into heaven or casting you into hell. Above anyone else’s approval, then, above even your own, seek God’s approval!
But, where can you find it? Where do you hear God saying, “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased!” You hear this in your baptism.
Baptism may seem like such a little thing. Most of us have no memory of it, for we were babies. We weren’t willing participants who asked to be baptized, and, really, were hardly involved at all. It was just a ceremony that was done to us!
There may be those who say this, and you might even feel this way yourself sometimes and want some more evident blessing from God. Well, pay attention to what God is telling you today in Luke’s Gospel. “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened…” There’s no description of Jesus’ baptism, no mention of where or when or how it took place. No baptizer is mentioned. In fact, we have just told that John had been locked up in prison. It’s as if Jesus was anonymously baptized! The focus is not on the ceremony, the procedure, but on what resulted from it, on the revelation of God the Father’s and God the Holy Spirit’s presence and ongoing approval and blessing. “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” God’s voice is the main thing!
Make it the main thing in your life. Do so by believing that what God said to Jesus in His baptism He also said to you in your baptism. “You are my beloved son… my beloved daughter; with you I am well pleased.” You can be sure of this because Jesus came among us, not to be different – to be a great and inspiring leader of men – but to be one with us sinners. “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,” says Luke. Jesus was one of the people. He went to be baptized as they went to be baptized. He needed to pray, just like they needed to pray; just like we need to pray. He joined in the baptism of sinners and became one with us, even in bearing our sin! And when you were baptized you became one with Him. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:3-5)
Baptism makes you one. And so, what was said to Jesus at His baptism is what God said to you at your baptism: “You are my beloved son… my beloved daughter; with you I am well pleased.” Believe this! Rejoice in this! Your heavenly Father’s approval rests upon you! And now, go forth and live in this baptismal approval. “Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:11)
Too many Christians live as if their lives are their own, live no differently than the unbaptized and unbelieving. They live as if having a Father who loves them and is pleased with them means that they can live however they want. How wrong, and how eternally deadly, this is! God is not pleased with just a brief acknowledgement of Him and only a minimal amount of good works. He says to us in today’s Scriptures:
- “I have called you by name, you are mine… I created [you] for my glory” – not for your own glory! (Is. 43)
- “How can we who died to sin still live in it?... you must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6) Sins, and the things that lead to them, are not to be embraced or enjoyed, but considered death!
Little children look to their parents to learn what is good and what to do. They want to please their parents and hear their words of approval. Let us do the same as children of God!
Return, then, to your baptism, and live it. When you have lived as if you were not God’s child – when you have gone your own way and disobeyed the good commands of your heavenly Father – confess your sin and hear His word of forgiveness. In baptism you have been joined to Christ, your sin-bearer and Savior! Your Father will receive you and forgive you! When you are troubled and worried by your own weakness, as well as by the sins and sorrows of this fallen world, hear God’s voice in your baptism: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Is. 43) Your baptism is your identity, your anchor. It is God’s voice of approval and blessing sounding forth and claiming you into eternity. “You are my beloved son… my beloved daughter; with you I am well pleased.” All through Jesus Christ, our baptismal brother and our Lord. Amen.