John the baptist’s job – his entire vocation – was to prepare people for Jesus’ arrival, to sow the seeds about baptism, about repentance, and about the coming kingdom. I read the verses 15-17, and think, on Jesus’ behalf, “So, no pressure then?”
Four verses later, Jesus is there, and his first act is to submit to John’s baptism. Not because he has sinned, but because it’s the right way to start his ministry. All that pressure, all that expectation. All that taking on the identity of the Messiah, but knowing that you’re not going to be quite what everyone’s hoping for. All that promise. All that that work to do. No wonder Jesus needs to be baptised before he starts doing it all.
And he would be glad that he did. Because when Jesus left the water, he heard the most wonderful words:
“You are my son, my beloved, and with you I am well pleased.”
If you’re the Messiah, if you’re confronted by all that pressure, all that expectation, all that promise, all that work to do, what you need most in the whole world is to know that you are loved, not because of what you have achieved, nor even because of what you will go on to achieve, but simply because you exist.
Every child needs to hear those words. And I tell every parent that as they bring their children for baptism.
And Jesus needed them too.
In the strength of those words, he faced temptation in the wilderness, beating the Devil hands down.
In the strength of those words, he emerged from his ordinary family to embrace Isaiah’s prophecy and announce the manifesto for his mission – to bring release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favour.
In the strength of those words, he went three years of ceaseless ministry, healing, teaching, embracing, arguing, challenging, and bringing life and love to those who needed it most.
In the strength of those words he walked the Way of the Cross, and accepted the suffering that was God’s love for the world, written in blood.
If anyone needed to hear those words, it was Jesus.
You are my son, I love you, and I am pleased with you.
But those words were not just for him. They are for all of us. We are not the Messiah. We do not have to face the Devil in person, we do not have to work miracles, we do not have to bring the dead to life. But whatever we do face today, this week, over these next months, we need a safe place to stand, something to hang on to that is utterly reliable.
Today, we can put our own name on the front of God’s affirmation. Because, like Jesus, we’ve lived half a lifetime or more, but today is the first day of the rest of our life. And we have God’s affirmation not because of what we have done, nor because of what we will do, but as a free gift, in the strength of which we can face whatever life will bring us.