Posts Tagged ‘love’

The Father’s Gift

January 15, 2009

The Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Sunday 11 January 2009

Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 89:20-29, Acts 10:34-38, Mark 1:7-11



On Tuesday we began the season of Epiphany.  The word “epiphany” means “revelation” or “manifestation”, and the season of Epiphany speaks of the revelation or manifestation of the glory of God.  John 1:14 says, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as the only begotten from the Father. During the twelve days of Christmas we celebrated how God came among us and became one of us in the birth of Jesus Christ.  For the next few weeks until the beginning of Lent, we meditate on how the glory of God is revealed to us in Jesus His only-begotten Son, and we also reflect on God’s purpose for His glory to be revealed through us as the Body of Christ to the nations of the world around us.  Today we specifically commemorate the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This incident in the life of Jesus, together with today’s readings, reveals to us something about the character of God and the inner life of the Trinity, and it also tells us something about God’s attitude towards us and our calling as His children.


The Baptism of Jesus is a picture of the love of God the Father for His Son, and of the obedience of God the Son towards the Father.  Jesus was baptized by John, and the ministry of John the Baptist was to call people to repent of their sins.  When Jesus came to him, John objected that Jesus did not need to be baptized because He was without sin, but Jesus replied that it was necessary to fulfil all righteousness (Matthew 3:15).  This is not the full meaning of Baptism, but at this most basic level it is an act of obedience to God, and a commitment to live a life of obedience to Him.  If you have experienced the call of God in our life and it is your desire to follow Jesus, then you must be baptized if you are not already, and you must also have your children baptized.


As soon as Jesus had been baptized, the voice of the Father was heard from heaven, saying “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)  God may have been saying to His Son, “well done” because of His obedience, but I believe He also meant something much more than that.  The purpose of the whole Bible from beginning to end is to reveal God to us, and especially to reveal Him through Jesus Christ.  Even though the Old Testament was written before Jesus came, it points us to Him in many ways.  In Isaiah 42:1 God is speaking about His Son when He says “My chosen one in whom My soul delights”.  The Father is expressing His love and affection for His Son in the sheer pleasure and delight He feels towards Him.  We can see this illustrated in the feelings that parents often have towards their newly-born babies.  At this early stage in their lives the parents have just seen their children face to face for the first time, and it is too early for them to have done anything, whether good or bad, to affect the parents’ attitude towards them.  The parents’ feelings towards their baby at this time are very special, and at that moment their child is more precious to them than anyone or anything else in the world.


What we do not realize is that God actually feels the same way about us – not only when we are first born again into His family, but all the time!  Most parents experience a variety of different feelings and emotions towards their children as their relationship with them develops and as they encounter different circumstances together.  Usually their attitude towards their children is affected in one way or another by their children’s behaviour.  It is perhaps harder for a parent to feel and express love and affection towards a disobedient and rebellious child than towards a child that is obedient and well-behaved.  The parents’ attitude may also be affected by other things such as how successful the child is at school.  Yet even when parents are angry and upset with their children, this is because there is a deep bond of affection and beneath the surface they love them.  God has a constant attitude of love and affection towards us, even when we sin, and He is no longer angry with us for our sins and failures because in the death of Jesus His anger has been taken away and we have been completely forgiven for all our sins.  Our heavenly Father sees us without sin, and looks at us as His children with pleasure and delight even as He looks at Jesus.


God is Three Persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Even as the Father has always existed since before the creation of the world and always will exist, the same is true of the Son and the Holy Spirit, because all three are equally God.  The Son of God was always there with the Father in heaven before He became man and was revealed to us in the Person of Jesus Christ.  When He was born into the world and became one of us, everything that He did here on earth He did not only as God, but also as the perfect Man and as our representative before God.  When Jesus was baptized He entered into a Covenant with God on our behalf.  The Second Person of the Trinity was always in eternity the Son of God, but when Jesus was baptized, for the first time ever a human being also became a son of God.  When the Father said to Jesus “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased” He was speaking not only to the Second Person of the Trinity, but also to Jesus as a Man.  He allows us to hear this expression of love not only to show us the love of the Father towards His Son, but also to reveal to us the love that He has for each one of us.



When Jesus was baptized, He saw heavens opening and the Holy Spirit coming down upon Him (Mark 1:10), and it was at this time that He heard the voice of the Father.  The Holy Spirit is the Father’s gift of love to His Son, and He is the Father’s gift of love to each of us.  Romans 8:14-17 tells of the vital role of the Holy Spirit in our relationship with God:  For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.  For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.


God’s purpose for us as Christians is for us not only to know information about Him, but to know Him personally.  This is the difference between information and revelation, and between a religion and a relationship.  Jesus did not leave His Father’s side and the pleasures of heaven and suffer and die for us in order to start another religion, but so that we could have a personal relationship with God.  He does not want us only to have occasional spiritual experiences but to live our daily lives in constant communication, fellowship and communion with Him.  Even as we cannot know God the Father personally unless we have a relationship with Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, so we cannot know either the Father or the Son personally unless we have a relationship with the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit who reveals the Father and the Son to us, and who lives in our spirits so that our relationship with God is not just a theological idea but a reality that we personally experience.  It is the Holy Spirit who assures us that we are God’s children, and who makes it possible for our hearts to cry out to God and to call Him “Abba! Father!”  The word “father” means different things to different people. For people who do not know their fathers very well, it might mean only a formal relationship with an authority figure who is distant from them personally.  However, “Abba” has more the meaning of “Daddy”, and it speaks of a relationship of warmth and intimacy.  This is the kind of relationship the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to enjoy with God as His children.


In the Roman Empire when Paul was writing, everyone in the household was either a slave or a son.  By law, if someone adopted a slave, he became a member of the family with the full rights of a family member, and was treated the same way as biological children.  If we have the Holy Spirit in our lives, He is a spirit of adoption – meaning that God has adopted us into His family and has given us the same rights and treats us in the same way that He treats His true Son Jesus.  In the same way, if a slave was adopted as a member of the family, he was no longer treated in the same way as a slave.  In many cultures a son is expected to serve his parents and to conduct business on their behalf, but he does so because he is grateful for all the love and care and the many blessings he has received from them, and not grudgingly because of obligation or intimidation.  Religion makes people slaves to fear, because it intimidates us into thinking that we are not good enough and that we have to try harder to live up to the standard so that we will not be punished.  Some people have been raised by their parents or taught by the Church to live in this way, and even without this the devil has sent religious spirits to tell us these lies so that we will be kept in bondage and will not be able to enjoy our freedom as God’s children.  If this has been your experience, God wants you to know the truth in your heart – that you are no longer a slave but a son, and this truth will set you free.  It may be that you know this as a teaching or a piece of information in you mind, but it has not yet become a reality that you experience in your daily life.  If that is the case, you need to ask the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of sonship, to reveal it to you.



Mark 1:10 says that Jesus saw the Holy Spirit coming down like a dove.  A dove is traditionally a symbol of peace, and so this speaks of the peace in our hearts that only God can give us.  Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, which comes from having a right relationship with God.  You cannot have peace in your heart unless you have a right relationship with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. (John 3:5)   Water speaks of Baptism, and Baptism uses water as a picture of cleansing.  John preached a Baptism of repentance, in order to prepare people to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Even as water cleanses our bodies on the outside, so the Holy Spirit cleanses our hearts on the inside.  Jesus said that it is not dirt on our bodies but the impure thoughts of our hearts that make a person unclean.  The word “baptize” means to immerse.  John baptized people in the river so that the water went over their heads and covered the whole of their bodies.  This is a picture of the inner working of the Holy Spirit, that He desires to fill us completely and to make us thoroughly clean.  This is why He is called the Holy Spirit, because He is holy.  Ephesians 4:30 says, Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God – in other words, the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force, but a Person, even as God the Father is a Person and God the Son is a Person and you are a person.  He is a Person with feelings, and we have to keep our hearts right if we want to have a relationship with Him.  This means we must allow the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and to reveal to us any sin in our lives that we have been unaware of – especially the negative thoughts and emotions such as anger and unforgiveness that we often carry around with us without realizing it and that can so easily wear us down and rob us of our joy and peace.  The Holy Spirit wants to make us aware of the condition of our hearts, not so that He can condemn us – because condemnation is not from God but from Satan – but so that we can confess and repent of our sins, and so that He can wash us clean and set us free to enjoy our relationship with Him.  Many people’s lives are full of stress and anxiety because of their circumstances, and strife and unforgiveness towards other people and towards God.  However God has given us His Holy Spirit as His gift of love to us, so that we can know that He is with us and so that we can enjoy His peace in our hearts as His children.



A dove also speaks to us of gentleness, and the first lesson shows us the gentle and supportive character of God in the way He treats His children.  In the world around us there is a lot of violence, and people often try to get ahead by force and by treating one another roughly, for example by pushing and shoving to get to the front of a queue.  Because of this some people regard gentleness as a sign of weakness, but the Bible tells us it is the fruit of the Spirit.  God shows us gentleness in the fact that He uses His strength not to hurt, crush and destroy us, but to protect, support and help us.  Speaking of Jesus, the Father says in Isaiah 42:1, “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold”.  In Isaiah 42:6 He addresses His Son directly and says “I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you”.  Parents usually hold young children by the hand when they are just learning to walk, or when they take them out somewhere, to support and strengthen them, to lead them in the right direction, to make sure that they do not fall and hurt themselves, and also to stop them from running into the road and being hit by a car.  When they are not holding their children’s hands they watch over them carefully in order to protect them from harm as far as they can.  This is how God the Father watched over His Son during His days on the earth, to guide and protect Him and to support Him as He fulfilled His mission.  In the same way our heavenly Father holds us by the hand and upholds our cause as we journey through the cares and dangers and choices of our lives, as we learn to walk with Him, and as we seek to serve Him and to fulfil the mission He has given us.  As He loves Jesus, so He also loves us. 


However He is not over-protective in the way that some human parents try to be.  All human parents know that their children must become independent and make their own choices, and they find that it is a struggle to let go because it is painful for parents to see their children make mistakes and get hurt – yet they also come to realize that this is necessary so that their children can learn and grow through their mistakes and become mature.  God the Father understands and knows the pain of parents, because in sending His Son into the world He allowed Him not only to get hurt, but to suffer and die in the most painful way that any human being could experience.  It is not only Mary the Mother of Jesus who felt this pain, but God the Father of Jesus felt it much more because He knew what His Son had to suffer spiritually for our sake.  Even when Jesus died on the cross, He did so under the Father’s watchful eye.  Although the Jews made several earlier attempts to kill Jesus, the Father did not allow Him to die until the appointed time and in the way that He had appointed, and He ensured that after His death no bone in His body was broken and that His Body was buried and received the proper care.  In the same way, although God does not promise us a life that is free from pain and suffering, He does assure that in the midst of our struggles and trials He is walking with us and holding us by the hand, as a parent walks hand in hand with a young child, and that He is watching over us to protect us and to keep us from coming to any real harm, whether as a result of circumstances and the actions of other people, or even as a result of our own foolish choices.


In Isaiah 42:3 we see that Jesus has the same character of gentleness that He has received from the Father: A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish.  There are times when the struggles and hardships of our lives seem almost too much for us to bear, but God understands our feelings of weakness and frailty at these times because He has experienced the same thing Himself in the way His own people treated Him.  He also set an example for us, as He did not complain or retaliate when people beat Him, made fun of Him, falsely accused Him and in various other ways abused Him, but He continued to show them love and mercy and asked the Father to forgive even those who crucified Him.  The world around us believes in the survival of the fittest, and many areas of work and business are regarded as a “rat race”.  When someone is weak or suffers a misfortune, there are people who will do what they can to make it worse, and some people will even beat and rob the homeless who are trying to sleep on the streets.  Some people hurt and undermine others in order to get ahead of them, because they are greedy for success or simply desperate to survive.  Others hate people who are weak and suffering or who seem to be failures, because it reminds them of their own condition from which they are trying desperately to escape. 


But Jesus is not like this – He shows us compassion and care in all our weaknesses.  If your soul is bruised and you feel like the leaf of a plant that is damaged and that is about to break, He will not break you but He will heal you.  If you feel that your spirit is like a candle in a windy place so that the wick is covered with wax and the flame is about to go out, then be assured that God’s purpose is not to put out your flame but to make it burn more strongly.  If you feel that life is unfair and that you have been treated harshly and unjustly, put your hope in Him and wait patiently.  Vengeance is in the hand of God, and your reward is also with Him.  Do not give up, and do not take matters into your own hands, but remain faithful, because He sees what people do not see – He knows your heart and He knows your faithfulness, and He will reward you.



Isaiah 42:4 says that Jesus will not be disheartened or crushed until He has established justice in the earth.  Jesus knew why He came among us – He knew His mission and purpose.  He came to heal all who were oppressed by the devil, and to destroy the devil’s work.  Because God the Father had put this purpose in His heart, and because God the Father strengthened Him and upheld His cause, Jesus would not falter or waver until His mission was accomplished.  Because of the Father’s protection and care He would not be crushed, and because of the Father’s love He would never give up or lose heart.  The oppression and injustice that we suffer are from the devil, and Jesus has already won the victory and destroyed the devil’s work.  Although we do not see its complete fulfilment yet, Jesus has already accomplished His mission on the earth and destroyed the devil’s work.  He has established justice for us, and we will see the answers to our prayers.  But now it is our turn – as children of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called to carry on His mission until it reaches its final fulfilment.  How is the vision that God has put in your heart?  The Father will protect us, guide us, keep us from being crushed, and He will uphold and establish our cause.  Our part is to continue, and to pray that we will not lose heart.  Let us guard our hearts against discouragement and defeat, and continue to put our hope in the love that God has for us.  He loves you and takes great delight in you, and your victory and well-being are His greatest concern.