We think this story is about John the Baptizer preparing the way for The Way. And while that certainly is true, there is another preparation that often is missed. It’s equally important.
The summer of 2013 will mark the end of an era. Well, maybe not the end, but at least a time of pause. When I was 16, I decided that if I had sons, I would take them on a 13-year-old sojourn. I have three sons, and my youngest son will turn 13 next year. It’s been an amazing experience for them and certainly for me.
Colorado has been the chosen destination. We do manly stuff like eat beef jerky and beans for about four days. If it doesn’t fit in a backpack, it doesn’t go along. We sleep in a tiny tent and look at the stars and freeze to death in the summer. But mostly, we talk about what it means to be a righteous, holy man.
There are two basic reasons we have this tradition—preparation and affirmation. When Jesus was 12, he wasn’t proclaimed a teenager and therefore expected to make foolish decisions. No, this is the creation of our culture.
Rather, Jesus showed with his actions that he was mature enough to teach the teachers of the law. Being 12 wasn’t a proclamation of folly, it was a declaration of current and coming maturity. Being 12 meant he was prepared to “grow in wisdom” and to “find favor with God and men.” I sojourn with my sons because I’m launching them into the greatest sojourn they will experience—life.
During the sojourn, my focus is to affirm my son is deeply loved by his most important Father, his heavenly one. He needs to learn that sometimes, the affirming voice of his heavenly Father will be the only voice of affirmation he may have, and that voice is enough. Your boss won’t always affirm you. In some seasons, your wife and children won’t be affirming, but the voice of your heavenly Father is one of constant affirmation.
And in steps Mark 1. Yes, John the Baptizer prepared the way for Christ. But the Heavenly Father also prepared the way for his Son. “Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’” (vv. 11-12). These are the words of baptism. They are affirming and true words. They reflect the very heart of a loving Heavenly Father toward his holy and deserving Son.
Pastors do quite a bit of counseling. Sometimes it is more formal in nature, behind closed doors. Often, however, it is counseling “on the fly” on a Sunday morning with just a few precious minutes with a wounded soul.
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This is what I know from counseling people. These words would change many a person and mend many broken relationships: “You are my unique son. No one else is like you. I love you deeply. I am pleased with the person God created when he created you.” Similar words expressed between parents and child, sibling and sibling, or even husband and wife would be revolutionary. For many, they are just the affirming words that would bring peace, security, healing and safety.
During Jesus’ three years of ministry, he was treated harshly. He was taken to the very brink of death in the wilderness. He walked hundreds of miles and constantly was in threat of death from the Pharisees. He was doubted by many, even his own disciples. He was full of sorrow and acquainted with grief. He was despised and rejected. He was nailed.
Yet, he didn’t pursue the approval of man. A mentor taught me “the only voice he needed was the voice of his heavenly Father.” Jesus received that voice only twice in his ministry—at baptism and at his transfiguration. The affirming words of his heavenly Father had to last all the way to the cross and death. They were life giving. They were sustaining. They were preparatory.
I wonder if Jesus heard those words while in the desert. I wonder if he heard that quiet refrain in his mind over the piercing words: “Crucify Him.” I wonder if that voice broke through as he offered his back to the whip.
The Father’s words prepared the Son for a wonderfully arduous ministry (that’s the nature of all ministry). How might your words prepare someone for the gospel? How might your loving words sustain someone who is struggling? How might your loving act shine on the narrow path of salvation?
In about 20 years, I hope and pray I will get to take my sons on another 13-year-old sojourn … along with my grandsons. Until that time, I will be reminding many people: “You are God’s child. He created all of your wonderful uniqueness. He loves you and says ‘I am pleased that I created you.’”
Since we are morphing your Bible study group into a “Bible-doing” group, I have three possible applications for you this week:
1. Discuss this “other preparation” for the Christ. Have you noticed it before? Why or why not?
2. To whom do you need to reflect God’s words to Jesus in his baptism? How would that change them?
3. If you want to be radical, choose several youth from your church who you know need to hear personally the baptism words for Christ. Share it with them one on one. Our children and youth need spiritual affirmation from a voice beside their parents. It’s transformational.