- There are times in our lives when we are tempted to turn from the person we most love.
- There are times in our lives when we are tempted to leave what we most treasure.
- There are times in our lives when we are tempted to deny what we most believe in.
I’ve heard of a supposedly happily married man who went on a business trip and ended up in bed with another woman – why would he do that?
I’ve heard of a highly respected businessman who gambled away all his investors’ money – why would he do that?
I’ve heard of totally committed Christians who have totally renounced their faith – why would they do that?
People will give different answers for such erratic behaviour, but this much I know:
- we need to be absolutely sure that we are totally loved by God, or we might fall,
- we need to thank God and celebrate his love daily, or we might be led astray,
- we need to pray for God’s help and commit to follow God daily, or we may sink.
Israel knew that it was created by God, and rescued and redeemed by God, and brought through the Red Sea into the Promised Land. Israel knew that God was faithful, and loving and that their future depended on God’s promises in his covenant with them, and their trust and obedience to live faithfully as God’s covenant people. But Israel constantly:
- hankered after the fertility gods of the nations around them,
- ignored the Sabbath in pursuit of materialism,
- turned from the righteousness of God to treat the weak and poor & alien unjustly.
Despite all the warnings and calls to repentance from the prophets, God finally stepped in through invading armies and Israel was led into captivity. Here God lovingly wooed back the people he created and loved and had committed himself to.
But now says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you O Israel: Do not fear for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine … I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. I give Egypt as your ransom … Because you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you.
God is always more loving than his people, always more faithful than those he calls to follow him. Just imagine hearing words like that spoken to you after you have turned from the one you love, or cheated dreadfully in your business, or doubted God because you could not understand his ways. God does speak to you like that when times are good, and when you are at your worst. God is always loving and always faithful, regardless of how you feel towards him or treat him. “God is the same, yesterday, today and forever,” even if you bob all over the place on the turbulent waters of this life.
But how can we know God is always loving and faithful even when our love for him and others grows cold? How can we know that God is still faithful to us, even when we become unfaithful to him, or to his call on our life, or to our relationships at home or work? Let’s discover the love and faithfulness of God at Jesus’ baptism.
Now when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘you are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.’
In 30 years all we know of Jesus is the stories of his birth, the visit of the wise men, and his parents taking him to the temple at twelve. After all these silent years, here Jesus stands in the queues waiting to be baptised by John. He looks like everybody else. He acts like everybody else. Nobody recognises him as different. In Luke’s Gospel, not even John is said to recognise him as the Son of God.
But suddenly the heavens are opened, and the Holy Spirit descended, and a voice spoke from heaven. This is no ordinary baptism. Every other baptism was a preparation for the coming of the Messiah. This was the Messiah. This was the Son of God. This was God announcing from heaven, that his Son was here and ready to begin his ministry.
Listen to God’s amazing words to his Son: “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Almost a repeat of Isaiah 43 “I have called you by name, you are mine … you are precious in my sight, and honoured and I love you.”
And if sinful Israel needed to hear such words from God, so sinless Jesus needed to hear them from his Father. Jesus was being called into a mission where he would be tempted every step of the way, every time he opened his mouth, and every time he acted in God’s name.
He would be questioned and ridiculed by church and state. He would be welcomed by the poor and needy, but rejected by the powerful. He came to bring life, but he was killed. What Israel did to God in the Old Testament, the people did to Jesus when he was on earth. How people rejected Jesus then is how people reject Jesus today. Yet he loves us. Yet he is faithful to us. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful.”
How could Jesus remain loving and faithful to God and us when faced with temptation, suffering and rejection and death? Because he heard God say at his baptism: “you are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In the strength of that assurance he could face all that the devil and rebellious humanity threw at him.
And God spoke the same words to Jesus at his transfiguration. In the strength of that assurance he could face his suffering and death. Every day Jesus met with his Father in prayer. Every Sabbath Jesus met with his Father in the synagogue. Because he knew how loved and precious he was to God, his Father, he was able to be loving and faithful to God, and to love us to the end.
God came to you once, as he did to a baby baptised today, in the water, with the Word: “you are my child … I have called you by name … you are precious in my sight and I love you.” In your Baptism you were baptised into Christ, and the words the Father spoke to his Son at his Baptism, he spoke to you his child, at your baptism. “You are my Son [my child], the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
We need to hear those words ringing in our ears each day as we begin and end the day with Jesus. We need to hear God telling us how much he loves us, each time we face temptation, each time we make decisions, each time we are called to take a stand for God. We need to celebrate God’s love in regular worship, eat and drink his love in Holy Communion, hear his love in regular Bible reading, and be encouraged in his love as we regularly meet with God’s beloved people. Leave today knowing you are God’s beloved child, & never forget it … never, ever forget it.
I am God’s beloved;
I am God’s beloved;
I am God’s beloved. Amen.
Pastor David Christian