Monday, December 12, 2011

Down at the riverside

"...The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him--
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord--
and He will delight in the fear of the Lord." Isaiah 11: 2-3

"Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on Him..." Isaiah 42: 1

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, 
to proclaim freedom for the captives,
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the day of the Lord's favor." Isaiah 61: 1-2

Mary's cousin, with whom she'd spent half her pregnancy, had had a baby late in life, a baby also given by God in a rather supernatural fashion, with angels appearing out of nowhere, a papa made mute from disbelief, the little tyke still as a stone in the womb until Mary and her own full womb appeared on the horizon. Then, in a way in which only God could have had a hand, the one baby recognized the other and began to dance beneath his mama's skin for the first time.  And his mother knelt before her much younger cousin in awe and wonder for the thing which God had done and was going to do--for both of them and the whole world far beyond what they could ever imagine.

Thirty years later, that second cousin of Jesus was a rather wild and woolly creature, living off the lean of the land.  Barely fit for proper society, more like a street person.  Eating what he could lay his hands on out in the wilderness and preaching all sorts of 'last days' anxiety-producing prophecies.  But there was something about his words that rang true.  We think WE live in the final days, but there must have been something about that time and place, something in the air in about 28 AD or so (to use our calendar, which they did not!) that made people worry.  John's words, "Prepare for the way of the Lord," brought them out to the side of the Jordan river. And his words, "Repent and be baptized--everyone of you--for the forgiveness of sins!" sent them down into that water in droves. 

What was different was that John really was the one preparing the way of the Lord. His voice really was just ahead of the One whose shoes he knew he wasn't fit to tie. His birth had been foretold by God, his ministry was the prelude to God's one great master plan of salvation. So there was something different about his teaching than all the other teaching in all the centuries before or since.  No matter that he looked like some grizzled, dirty desert wanderer in need of a good scrubbing.

It wasn't only in his mother's womb that John recognized the Messiah when he saw him approaching.  That day down at the riverside, instead of dancing, however, John stood still when Jesus stepped up to him to be baptized. "Me baptize you?"
"Yes," Jesus told him.  "It's the proper order of business--in order to fulfill righteousness."
So John agrees, though I imagine some trepidation in him, some kind of shuddering about the weight of it all. After all, he alone knew what he was doing.
And  we have this sacred moment of one cousin lowering the other into the river and bringing in back out, as an imitation of the dying and resurrection three years ahead.  And as the water covers Jesus, then drips off his garments and beard and hair, hairs on every head and neck and arms stood up because Heaven itself opens. I don't mean the clouds parted and the sun broke through, though this is as close an analogy as we're likely to get, but very Heaven itself, where God dwells, and the angels rim His throne. And the Spirit of God flies in--like a dove--and settles on Jesus.  And God's speaks. Yes, God speaks. We know it's God because only He can say these words:
"This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased." Matthew 3: 17

This moment marks the beginning of Jesus' earthly ministry. And definitely 'fulfills righteousness.' These three prophesies about the Spirit being poured out on God's servant quoted at the beginning of the post are part of what is called 'The Servant Songs, four Messianic passages in Isaiah.  That day on the River Jordan, the 'pouring' of the Spirit is fulfilled. By water and from Heaven. 

This is the moment which marks the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. There have been 'discussions' over the centuries about what else it might mean, whether others at the river heard the voice, all kinds of things. I think that sidesteps the central issue. Jesus marked Himself for ministry by His baptism and God stamped it with approval. Set Him on the track toward Calvary.  And the Spirit settled in to aid with power and might for the earthly ministry.

What that all means is, this is a Triune moment.  A moment when the whole Godhead appears at once. There aren't many of them, so we should pay careful attention. God the Father saying He's pleased, Jesus the Son, obeying in submission, and God the Spirit landing the Incarnate to assist in ministry. This is how THEY work. 

And it's how God wants our lives to work. He calls us, we obey Him, but we don't do it without the Spirit landing on us to give us the same aid. Jesus told His disciples, "But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you." John 16: 7

1 comment:

davey boy said...

hey BS, I dig the Isaiah 11 verses. here, Christ is given amazing Spirits from God,
Wisdom
Understanding
Counsel
Might
Knowledge
Fear of the Lord

and the one He delighted in (maybe cherished, focused on, etc) was not about His wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, might or knowledge (how many of these do I think are important and hope I have) but in the Fear of the Lord. That's the model for us. Count all others "a loss for the knowledge of Him".

my prayer for believers today
-bb