Our souls desperately long for a blessing of affirmation.
God longs to speak that affirmation of blessing to us.
And yet, for so many of us, we are unable to fully internalize that blessing.
I have been spending a lot of time lately reflecting on the significance of the Baptism of Jesus, and I think that the answer to this conundrum is found somewhere in this beautiful picture. The encounter culminates with Jesus hearing these precious words that spoke to the very center of Jesus’ identity: This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
If these are the words that we most desperately need to hear, and if these are the words that God wants to use to establish our identity, then the question remains: Why is it so difficult to internalize them?
I’ve thought about this a lot in my own life, and have come up with a number of reasons why I think this blessing gets diffused somewhere between the voice of God speaking and the reception of it in my own heart. Some of barriers may be similar to yours, and if so I hope this helps. Some of my barriers may also be different than yours, and if nothing else I hope this sparks some desire to get clear on yours.
Why is it that I have trouble internalizing this blessing?
Interestingly, one of my primary obstacles is more theological in nature: I fear that these words of blessing are reserved exclusively for Jesus.
The account of the Baptism of Jesus is something I have always been fond of. But even as I saw it as a cool window into the life of Jesus, I never seriously considered the experience to be relevant for me. When Jesus effectively internalizes the affirmation of the Father, I presume that to be the normal condition for someone who is actually the Son of God.
But lately I’ve been seeing this in a completely new light. As I reflect on this encounter I can now see something besides Jesus being blessed – I can now find myself in the story as well.
It’s not always easy. Each time I begin to find myself in the story there is a familiar refrain that pops into my head, attempting to invalidate my hopes: “Don’t get too far ahead of yourself. That affirmation was for Jesus, not you.”
I’m not sure why this doubt is so firmly planted in me, but I now realize that it has created one of the greatest obstacles in my internalization of the blessing of God. By seeing this blessing as for Jesus alone, I look on as nothing more than a detached bystander.
But is really the way to view this?
There are two little words that have really transformed this passage for me: when and how
WHEN – It has struck me in a fresh way that the timing of this blessing makes all the difference in how we translate it for ourselves. Based on my own internal objections, you might think that this affirmation came right after Jesus fed the 5,000, or raised Lazarus from the dead. I can’t shake the view that this must clearly follow some type of cause-and-effect formula. Cause: Jesus performs an amazing series of miracles. Effect: God rewards him with words of affirmation.
But that’s just the thing. When Jesus is baptized and blessed he hasn’t done anything yet. He hasn’t preached publicly. He hasn’t healed the sick. He hasn’t cast out any demons yet. He hasn’t done a single thing to earn this blessing.
When the voice of God affirms him, it is not based on a cause-and-effect relationship. Jesus being blessed wasn’t a result of his good or bad deeds. Jesus was blessed because of who he was.
HOW – This largely makes the same point. As Pastor Jonathan Martin, author of Prototype says (paraphrased from memory): “How God says this to Jesus is significant. There is an enormous difference between the words “with” and “by.” If God would have said he was pleased “by” what Jesus did, it would have been directly tied to his behaviors. But God says he is pleased “with” Jesus. That speaks to the very core of identity.”
When I look at when and how God blessed Jesus, I start to grapple with an amazing truth. Perhaps I (and you!) am way more like Jesus than I ever imagined. I’m not saying in that some kind of, “I’m awesome” way. I mean, maybe those amazing words of affirmation aren’t meant just for Jesus. Maybe those are the words that every son and daughter of God are meant to revel in. Maybe we are just like Jesus in that we are meant to receive this blessing and then head out in the world.
This is not just some theological rant from me. Seeing these words as meant for Jesus alone been an authentic stumbling block for me. But as I’ve begun to see how important it is that the affirmation came independent of his deeds or behaviors, I have begun to find myself in the story in new and fresh ways.
And that only deepens my conviction about the importance of this particular encounter. I have become more certain than ever – these are the words that we most desperately need to hear, internalize, and translate into something that anchors our heart:
“This is my daughter. This is my son. This is my beloved. With her/him I am well pleased.”