Left Thy First Love
George Bailey and the Homeless Jesus

It Is Proper


Art Credit:

Valente, Liz. Baptism of Jesus, Original source: Liz Valente, https://www.instagram.com/donalizvalente/.

Preparing the Way

“For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” – Matthew 3:3

Every prophetic function with its fulfillment has its counterpart in our lives and it is up to us to seek it. What does it mean for us, as the people of God, to prepare the way for the Lord? How have those who have gone before us prepared a straight path for Him in our lives? How have events and people shaped us so that we could be ready to receive His Word?

God’s ways always involve preparation. He does nothing haphazardly or without thought and planning. When He desires to speak, He prepares the message, the messenger, and the hearer. When He is about to act, He informs His servants the prophets. He is a God of precision and perfect order. He does all things well.

John the Baptist was God’s man in God’s timing. His life was his ministry and he learned to look beyond the obvious and to seek God deeply. He patiently awaited the coming of the messiah and faithfully proclaimed the message God had given him through the days of waiting.

God never wastes time or calls us to bide our time. Everything, all time, all preparation is meaningful and purposeful.

God is working His purpose out

As year succeeds to year;
God is working His purpose out,
And the time is drawing near.
Nearer and nearer draws the time,
The time that shall surely be,
When the earth is filled with the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.
(Arthur C. Ainger, 1894)

Fired Up

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: - Matthew 3:11

Are you fired up? Water reminds us of Spirit and of fire. It is a strange paradox, for water often quenches fire. However, firefighters will tell us that there are some fires that not only cannot be quenched by fire but grow with the introduction of water. So it is with repentance. God observes the intention of our hearts and we long for new life and yearn for change. Jesus is who we need because He has the power to do what water cannot do. The symbolic water of outward repentance signifies the inner fire of new life.

The Son of God is the worthy one. Brother John knew that he was His messenger and that all he did and said was to point the way to Jesus. Though he was as great as any man born of woman, he keenly sensed his comparable unworthiness. Jesus himself would explain that the very least in God’s Kingdom would be greater than the greatest specimen of human nobility.

All of that was because of the introduction of a new factor in the human experience: the possibility of men and women being completely immersed in the Holy Spirit and fire. Water could demonstrate repentance, but fire would burn away all the remnants of sin through a deep cleansing process within and the Spirit would empower us to face temptations, trials and challenges with unprecedented energy.

Fire grows under the proper conditions, and it heats everything up. So, it is with those who have been immersed in God’s Spirit. His fire rages within them and brings heat and light to a cold, dark world. It is more than enthusiasm, though it often manifests itself as such. It is more than passion, though it ignites a passion so deep that nothing can douse it. It is more than energy; it is a result of divine energy. It is God’s very presence in our lives.

Like John, we are unworthy, but we are destined for greatness – not of our own making, but of His. His Spirit within fires us up.

It Is Proper


Jesus showed up at the river, the river Jordan, to be baptized by John the Baptist. And what happened when he got there was that John protested. John didn't want to baptize Jesus. He, it offended him. It offended his sense of prior propriety. John did not feel worthy to baptize Jesus because he saw Jesus as the promised one. He knew that Jesus was the one that God had sent as the Messiah. And whatever he understood about that, it caused John to protest.

He said to Jesus, I can't baptize you. In fact, Matthew says in chapter three that John tried to prevent him. And Jesus insisted, John said, I should be coming to you to be baptized. And Jesus said, let it be so do it. Please do this. It's proper, or it's fitting, or the word can be translated becoming. It is fitting to do this because it is a fulfillment. That's another word that I want to emphasize today.

It is a fulfillment of righteousness. So, let's break it down a little bit. It's fitting. We use fitting for, it's the right, the proper, the becoming, the good thing to do. It's the right thing at the right moment. Now, a lot of times when people say it's the right thing to do, they don't really explain why it's right to do something. And we go away not fully understanding the rightness of what they're doing.

We just know that it's done well. That's the way we do it. You know, that's the way we do it. Where I come from, or that's the way my generation did it. But Jesus is talking about something far more significant. He is always in the right place at the right time, and he is the most intentional human being that has ever lived. And so please understand that when Jesus comes to be baptized, it's not because it's a nice thing to do.

It's not because it's a meaningful thing to do. It's not because, uh, it will please, or everyone will understand. Jesus says it's the proper thing to do, and that's verified. When the heavens are open, the spirit descends like a dove. And God affirms and confirms it by saying, this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. For Jesus, the proper thing is the thing that pleases the Father. And when you please the Father, it brings everything together.

it means that everything is aligned. People sometimes substitute the word universe for God. It's not adequate because God may the universe, but I want to bend in their direction just a little bit. It's like all the stars are aligned. Everything comes into its proper alignment when that which is proper is done. And this can be as mundane as going into the water and having your head pushed under the water while someone says a formula.

Because it is in the mundane acts of alignment with what we sense to be the will of God in every given moment that a spiritual reality is touched and our lives are touched in a spiritual realm proper, then he uses the word fulfillment. He uses the word fulfillment to mean this fleshes things out. This makes things complete. This is the completeness of the moment. You know, the word perfection is at its root in the biblical languages.

Another word for complete is whole. That which is unadulterated, that which is not left dangling. It's complete, it's fulfilled. And Jesus very much desired to fulfill the law, the Torah he desired to fulfill the prophetic tradition. He desired to fulfill all things related to his understanding of the role that his father had sent him to fill. And he had a deep understanding of what fulfillment would mean. We all want purpose in life.

We want significance in life. We want to know that what we're doing makes a difference. That we're not wasting time, that we're not spinning our wheels, that we're not dragging our feet in life. And Jesus wanted the very same thing, but in his case, it had eternal significance for all humankind. And what he did was extremely consequential. He identified with us, he identified with our humanity, including our human, frail peace and failures and sins all the way to the cross where he invites us to identify with him in his vicariousness of going to the cross on our behalf.

But more so in his resurrection into the life that he intends for us. What would be fulfilling is to align ourselves with Jesus and his way, who is aligning himself with God and with man in that moment. And the third word Jesus uses is righteousness. And righteousness is very much about being right and being on the right track and moving in the right direction and being rightly, and I'm using the word aligned a lot today, aligned with God and God's purpose.

And God's will, may be mysterious as to us. That's the river that runs through everything, the righteousness of God, which comes by faith. From faith to faith where the just live by faith and by faith, Jesus enters into the water identifying with humankind because it's the proper thing to do and it's the fulfilling thing to do, and it's the righteous thing to do. He's the only one who was baptized by John who went into the water, righteous, as righteous as he came out.

But you see, Jesus was not just aiming for his own personal righteousness, his function and his intention was to make us all righteous before God and to lead us all in the right direction. It would stand a reason that if he is leading us in that direction, the direction of fulfillment, the direction of propriety and, and delight, and that which is beatific and becoming and the path of justice and truth where we follow him.

Follow him. It's all he really asks of us. Follow him in his love and his grace and his mercy, and his righteousness and his truth. Follow him all the way home. That's our intention today.

The Lord bless you, keep you, make a space to shine upon you. Lift up his countenance upon you and be gracious under you and give you peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Amen.

Like a Dove

“… and lo, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon him.” – Matthew 3:16b

A family of doves built a nest in a flower basket on our patio. They became my teachers as I observed them conveying more life lessons than I will recount here.

With great interest, we watched as that family, and later, others, came and nested there, hatched their young, and sent them on their way. The site of doves descending is a wonder of nature.

The vision of the Spirit descending is a wonder of super nature.

There was little reason for Jesus to be baptized except to fulfill all righteousness and to identify with sinful humanity in preparation for His sacrificial death on the cross. However, as he stepped into the nest of human experience and began to bear the burden of our frail weakness and disobedience, he was affirmed by the Father and knew the pleasure of his purposes.

As little birds stumble out of the nest and first began to fly, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to face temptation as we face it. He committed in His baptism to be as vulnerable as those he came to save.

By the power of the same Spirit and Word available to us, he stood in the face of Satan’s lures.

The baptism of Jesus speaks of his credibility and ties to us as our elder brother, the first born of a new creation. Where he leads, we can follow, because he has avoided none of the steps we must take. As he identified with us in his baptism, so we identify with him and his redemption in ours. As his Spirit descends upon us in the new birth, we can ascend. Because he has been in the valley of temptation, we can be victorious. Because he has born our sins, we can be free.

The Announcement

“And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:17

When Jesus came to John to be baptized, no one was more perplexed then John himself.

John was accustomed to baptizing sinners who came to repent of their sins. That is why it made no sense to him the Jesus had come.

But Jesus had a point to make. His intention was to identify with the sinners that John was baptizing. He intended to go to the cross for them, on their behalf, representing them, and loving them.

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.

That meant that he would be immersed in the same water as they were. That meant he would be immersed in similar life experiences. He would bear their griefs. He would carry their sorrows. He would feel the pain of their guilt. He would stand in their place.

Jesus announced his esteem for people. It was about his regard for people. It was about his affection for people. He was identifying with people. Specifically, he was identifying with sinners.

That was Jesus’ announcement.

The father also had an announcement to make. Whereas Jesus announced something about humanity, God's announcement was about Jesus. It was visual. It was verbal. A voice from heaven called out.

A voice from heaven was heard by all. It was unmistakable. It was dramatic.

This is my son the voice declared. He is my beloved. I am pleased with him.

God chose the moment when Jesus identified with sinful humanity to declare his identification with Jesus. God was pleased with his son and God was pleased with what his son was doing.

Here is a glimpse into the very mission and heart of God . God declares in Jesus here I am. This is who I am. This is what I am doing in the world. If you want to see me, look at my son.