Even the simplest statements can overwhelm us with their depth and truth, statements that speak clearly and simply in ways that go straight to the heart in uncomplicated ways. One simple statement that grabs my attention is what the Father’s voice declares at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17; Luke 3:22). The Father says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Typical questions people have about Jesus’ baptism include wondering why Jesus would submit to a baptism of repentance, or what water baptism really means, or why ‘immersion’ is better than ‘sprinkling’. I confess I fall into this. Imagining myself present at his baptism, I can see myself yelling back up to the sky:
“Excuse me, but before you close the line would you mind helping us out with a few things?”
God repeats, “This is my beloved Son in whom I’m happy.”
I’m not dissuaded. “Yes, I understand. Thank you. So, about predestination, what’s your view?” I continue.
The answer comes back, “This is my beloved Son in whom I’m well pleased.”
“I get that. Very important, yes,” I reply, a bit irritated. “Now, what about…” and on I continue with my questions, not realizing that the Father’s one utterance is the answer to all my questions. God has been answering me the entire time. God’s answer to them all, indeed, God’s answer to all our questions is “This is my Son whom I love. I’m happy with him.” Christology is complete when we realize this, whatever mysteries we might continue to chase for the rest of our lives.
Consider the timing too. Jesus has yet to begin his public ministry. He has yet to turn water into wine, to preach his first sermon, or to heal a single person. By modern standards of “ministry,” he hasn’t done anything. His résumé wouldn’t especially recommend him for hire at any of our best churches. In addition, 90% of his life is behind him (if he’s, say, 30, and has a 3 year +/- public ministry) and all he’s done is live his life quietly, honor God and his family, work his trade for a living, help his elderly neighbor, celebrate the joys of townsfolk, attend funerals – i.e., take the human journey. Listen, these 30 mundane years of unimpressive mediocrity redeem us just as powerfully as the Cross. Those of us who live mundane lives of unimpressive mediocrity need the 90% of Jesus working 8 to 4, 40 hours a week. His whole story saves us, not just the last 10th of it after his baptism.
This is precisely why the Father’s words here at his baptism are so relevant. The Father is pleased with Jesus before Jesus engages in ministry, before he launches into public service, before he does anything worth writing up in the headlines. But if Jesus hasn’t performed any ‘ministry’ yet, what’s the source of the Father’s pleasure? The answer can be life-changing. What pleases the Father about Jesus is everything that preceded all the accomplishments and notoriety of public ministry and miracles that came later. The Father’s pleasure in Christ preceded Christ’s ministry. We too often look to the doing of things for God to be what recommends us to God and wins his favor, a favor we naturally seek. But that gets things backwards, for ministry flows out of the overflow of an already accomplished relationship of love and acceptance.
You know almost immediately when meeting someone whether they’re at rest in being God’s beloved or whether they’re still striving to get into that place. Less than five minutes of conversation will tell you. People who aren’t striving are able to be fully present in the moment. They’re not self-absorbed. Striving people can never truly attend the present moment. Why? Because ‘who’ they are is always somewhere else. But people who know they’re loved – the present belongs to them.
Only love can fully abide the present.
Lastly, “this is my Son whom I love; I’m so happy with him” is nothing less than creation fulfilled, the gospel, the very salvation of the world. How so? Because this right here is why God created – to celebrate the eternal begetting and loving recognition of Sonship ad extra within a created world, God giving himself to himself anew within and as the non-divine world. The Father’s voice confirms it, for this is what the Father “says” (Logos) eternally. Now he says it within creation. That’s what creation is for. The rest is rescue mission, and there’s no avoiding that. Thank God for it. But all that is just the unfolding of this moment. This baptismal ad extra kiss of love is the Trinity celebrating itself outside itself (so to speak), it is creation as intra-trinitarian gift, God giving himself to himself as created.