Born to Be Loved – (Matthew 3:13-17)
Down at the Methodist church, a group of fourth graders were studying infant baptism. Their Sunday School teacher asked, “Why do we use water in baptisms?” One youngster piped up and said, “To make the baby’s hair grow.”
Today, on the first Sunday after Epiphany, we see Jesus at the moment of baptism. We can imagine so many people traveling from all over Judea and Jerusalem to be baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Lots of people were lining up, awaiting their turn to be baptized… And… in the midst of this chaos… there was a man who showed up to be baptized… The gospel of Matthew for today describes it this way: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.”
Well, that’s not what John really expected. So he says to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you.” You see, baptizing Jesus does not fit John’s expectations of who Jesus is and what he will do.
For John, Jesus is the “more powerful” one than himself who is “not [even] worthy to carry his sandals” (Matthew 3:11). John warns people of the coming Judgement made by Jesus, with his idea of the Messiah – “a fire-and-brimstone Messiah” – who would “clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the granary, and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12). I believe that with that idea of the Messiah, John had no idea that he would be baptizing Jesus, such a powerful being who would bring salvation and judgment.
Well, I suspect that we all have been there, like John, to say no to God simply because we had no idea. We just had no idea that God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. We thought we understood and had it figured out. We thought our ways and our thoughts were God’s and left no room for God to surprise us. Who can blame John? How could he or we expect the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God to be baptized by a mere human being? And yet, that is exactly what Jesus does.
The gospel of Matthew says, “John would have prevented him.” John would have stopped Jesus’ baptism. Well, we know why he tried to stop baptizing Jesus, but still that’s a pretty scary thought. It is a scary thing that we have the freedom and maybe even the ability to prevent Jesus’ baptism. What if John would have denied Jesus’ baptism? What would have happened then? What does it mean to prevent Jesus’ baptism?
Jesus’ baptism is God’s gifts to humanity. Jesus did not need to be baptized. He was not a sinner. He had no reason for repentance. But when he went down under the water, he did so to identify himself with those he came to save – with sinners – with each of us.
Jesus’ baptism is more than his immersion in the water of the Jordan River. It is God’s immersion into the depths of humanity, and into your life as well as mine. God has taken on our flesh and our blood –our experience – our joys and concerns, our trials and tribulations… so that He might be on our side, present, standing with us as one of us.
Yes, Jesus was baptized into the life of humanity so that we might be baptized into the life of divinity, so that we might know that we are loved. Indeed, it is a sign of love, and that is what the baptism of Jesus is about.
In this sense, to prevent Jesus’ baptism means that we withhold ourselves from the God who comes to us. It means we deny God’s desire and longing for solidarity with a life of humanity. It means we deprive God of the unique and irreplaceable love that he seeks in and for each and every one of us.
But Jesus says to John, “Let it be so now.” “Then he consented.” John’s consent leads to Jesus’ baptism that Matthew describes beautifully in the verses 16-17.
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw God’s Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
What powerful words of affirmation for Jesus as he was beginning his public ministry! I believe that since he heard that voice of God’s love in the moment of baptism, Jesus would never forget those words of affirmation. He spent many times in prayer trying to listen to those words of love again and again and again. The words, “This is my Son, the Beloved,” reveal Jesus’ sonship and how much God loves him. But these words are also true for us, all human beings. Through Jesus’ baptism, with his immersion into our life, we are also God’s beloved children, sons and daughters, every one of us.
Probably, the gentle voice that calls us “the Beloved” has come to us in countless ways. Our parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, and others have all sounded that voice in different ways, whether we may remember it or not.
In 1993 after I graduated from college, I started working for LG Electronics Co. in Korea. At this time, God had already called me to ministry and so I had a three year plan to save money in order to pay for my theology studies in the United States. But in reality I could not keep up with this plan, because my life was too busy working and studying English at the same time. Eventually, I had already passed four years of working for the company.
My goal to study theology in three years was becoming distant. To make matters even worse, due to too much work and lots of stress, especially working under a new boss, my body reacted; my gums became inflamed and were in severe pain. But the hardest thing that troubled me was the fact that I couldn’t keep up with my study plan.
Then, one Saturday my dad took me to lunch and treated me to some beef noodle soup. He took out the beef from his soup and put it into my bowl, and said, “You need to eat more in order to maintain your health in your busy life.” But, I couldn’t eat well because my gums were in so much pain. Well, knowing my father was a stubborn man, who usually would nag me to eat more whenever I didn’t eat enough, I expected a lecture coming from him at that moment.
But there was a silence. I wondered what was going on and so I raised my head and looked at him. Oh my gosh! I saw little tears that filled the eyes of my dad, something I’d never seen from such a strong man. Then he gently encouraged me by saying, “My son, I know you are having a hard time now. But, try to be patient just a little longer. Your mother and I love you so much, and we always pray for you. So, try not to get too stressed out, but also pray to God about your plan. God will strengthen you and help you to reach your goal someday when the time is right.”
On that day when I met my dad, I truly realized I was his beloved son no matter what. To know that I was the beloved really helped me to persevere as well as keep up with my study plan, as a first step in following God’s call.
My friends, God calls each of us with His gentle voice of love: “You are the Beloved.” “You are my beloved.” “You are so precious to me.” Yes, we are beloved regardless of our successes and failures, and beloved even in the midst of great suffering and anguish. WE ARE BORN TO BE LOVED!
There is one popular Korean gospel song entitled You Were Born To Be Loved. Let me introduce some parts of the song to you today.
Yes, we are born to be loved. That is our true identity. That is what God said to Jesus in the moment of his baptism and to us as we are baptized in the name of the Trinity. That is what God continues to say to us each day, each moment as we listen attentively to the voice of love saying, “You are the Beloved.”
Every time we listen to that voice that calls us the Beloved, we will discover, within ourselves, a vital spiritual force, and so with it we will be able to keep living truthfully. Knowing with our hearts that we are beloved will help us to overcome our difficult times and to keep participating in God’s ministry in our daily lives.
In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.