Their are a handful of longings that bind together the experience of every human being. Some of them are very pragmatic, like the need for food and shelter. Others are more communal, like the need to belong to a group, tribe, nation, etc.
Then there are some needs that are deeply spiritual – needs that cut to the center of the soul. One of those is the need for meaning. We come out of the womb with a desperate desire to find it.
Perhaps you would choose from a list of synonymous words – significant, special, worthy, valuable, and important can all communicate the same basic idea. We need to be affirmed that we carry a sense of meaning, and we intuitively discover that this blessing of significance must come from the outside. We can look in the mirror and tell ourselves that we are awesome all day, but saying it in the first person just doesn’t do the trick. We need someone from the outside to validate us.
That is why I have come to the conclusion that the Baptism of Jesus Christ is one of the most important Biblical accounts when it comes to the topic of identity transformation. This was an incredibly sacred moment for Jesus, and he ensured that it was recorded and passed on for every successive generation. Here is how Matthew recalls the experience:
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3.13-17)
At the point of the story where Jesus is baptized, he has not yet done anything that feels particularly divine yet (at least that we know of). He has not healed anyone. He has not turned any water into wine. He has not walked on any lakes in the middle of the night. He has not cast any demons out of people. He has not done a single thing that we would consider spectacular or supernatural.
Those are all coming. But before they do Jesus – the human incarnation of God – needed something first. He needed to have his identity rooted in and blessed by the belovedness of the Father.
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
God doesn’t say that Jesus has earned his love with his amazing miracles. God doesn’t say that Jesus has pleased him by performing at an acceptable rate. Those would steal the very blessing that is being bestowed.
Instead, God speaks to the identity of Jesus. It is independent of anything that Jesus has done or will do. It is simply an affirmation of the belovedness of Jesus… for who he is.
I believe that these were the words that Jesus most desperately needed to hear. They were the words that would carry him into the desert to do battle with the devil immediately after. They were the words that would secure Jesus’ identity when everyone around him rejected him. They were the words that would keep Jesus grounded when everyone around him tried to create a king in their own image.
If that’s true – if these were the words that Jesus most desperately needed to hear – then what does that mean for us?
I think that when the Apostle Paul tells us that transformation is linked to our ability to “Learn Christ,” he is pointing first to this. Jesus knows you and I better than we will ever know ourselves. He knows that we are designed with a soul craving for meaning, and that the words of blessing we long for must come from outside of us. He also knows that we will search incessantly for that blessing, and that we will do tremendous damage to ourselves if/when we allow the voice of anyone but God to bestow that blessing.
So in a simple, primal, spiritual way, Jesus continually leads us back to the point where meaning begins. It is a voice outside of us, and it is a blessing that is independent of our good or bad deeds. It is an affirmation of who we are at the identity level.
In short, there are no words that we more desperately need to hear. They are the same words that affirmed the very identity of Jesus:
“This is my child, whom I love; with whom I am well pleased.”