Epic Family, I want to use Pastor Mark’s message from last week as a launching pad to what we are going to talk about today. If you recall, Pastor Mark opened with the example of Pavlov’s Conditioned Reflexes; and how at times we tend to constantly focus on, or be triggered by, our biggest mistakes or regrets (for Peter, this was his denial of Jesus, which he was reminded of each time a rooster crowed). And Pastor Mark talked about how we get stuck in our walk with God because of those reflexes; we give up pursuing God and his calling (like Peter, who went back to fishing). But Mark closed with a message of hope, of how God restored Peter and how he wants to rewire those reflexes in our own lives and remind us that we are loved and accepted by Him.
And it’s that last point that I want to drive home today: that reminder that We are loved and accepted by God more than we can imagine. And I want to propose to you today that you knowing that (not just in your head but also in your heart), and you leaning into that love, is the most important thing that is going to move you forward on your spiritual journey and on the path of transformation.
And we know this to be true. Because any relationship without love is stuck. It’s not moving forward. It can’t move forward. Think of a marriage where love is not present. I can almost guarantee that there is no life or joy in that relationship. (As a side note, if that’s you there is hope. We’ve been there; but we went through it with our marriage in tack and stronger than ever.) But this applies also to parenting relationships and friendships. If there’s no love there’s no transformation. And the same goes for our relationship with Jesus.
Pastor Mark also referenced a quote by A.W. Tozer that is so important to this conversation (which he might have only mentioned at the 9:00am service): What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. (A. W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy) Why? Why is that the most important thing about you? Because if you think that God is angry at you all the time, or that he is uninvolved in your life or unconcerned about your life, that belief is going to push you away from him, not draw you close. Tozer goes on to say in his book: We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. Again, what he is saying is that your reflexes are conditioned. That image, or view, of God that you have will set the course of your relationship with him, which in turn will set the course of your life.
So let me ask you, When God looks at you, what do you believe he sees? A failure? A disappointment? A burden? A sinner? David Benner writes, Some Christians base their identity on being a sinner. I think they have it wrong—or only half right. You are not simply a sinner; you are a deeply loved sinner. And there is all the difference in the world between the two. (David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself)
When you think about God what image comes to mind? If it’s anything but a loving and generous God, it’s the wrong image. In fact, let me correct that. If your image of God is anything but a loving and generous FATHER, then it’s the wrong image. Let me show you why I believe that.
21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
I absolutely love this scene. Imagine yourself being present at Jesus’ baptism. And what you have the privilege of witnessing is a father speaking to his son. This is an intimate moment. Even though others might be able to hear what the Father is saying, he is speaking directly to his son by saying, “YOU! You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” I believe Jesus is hearing those words deep in his soul.
But not only do I love the words; I love the timing. I love when the words are given. The Father didn’t wait for Jesus to accomplish a few things in life before he shared these intimate and loving words with Jesus. You see, at the time of his baptism Jesus hadn’t preached a message yet. He hadn’t healed anyone yet. Heck, the Father didn’t even know (at least not experientially) how Jesus would respond to the temptations of Satan in the wilderness. But despite all of that, three things the Father does: he accepts Jesus (you are my son), he’s affectionate with him (whom I love), and he affirms him (with you I am well pleased). Jesus didn’t have to earn God’s love – it was freely given.
And out of that identity of being loved by the Father, immediately after his baptism he then goes forth into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (Luke 4:1-2) and he begins his ministry. You can’t move forward in your spiritual life unless you realize how greatly loved you are by God. Until then we are stuck.
Now, here’s where the disconnect happens for most of us. We have no issue with the Father speaking those words to Jesus. For those of us who have any semblance of a church background, for starters, we know that Jesus is literally the Son of God. Secondly, even though he had not started his ministry yet, we know that he was perfect – he had no sin. So it makes perfect sense why the Father would say to Jesus, You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased. No issues there.
What we don’t understand is what Jesus’ baptism and the Father’s words have to do with us – we can’t imagine him ever speaking those words to us. But let me tell you, Jesus’ baptism has everything to do with you and those words are meant precisely for you too. You see, the moment that Jesus came up out of that water, he spent the rest of his life and ministry (and he gave his church this mandate as well) to tell anyone that would listen that they could enter into a parent-child relationship with the God of heaven.
When he taught his disciples how to pray, what was his opening line? Our FATHER. I recently heard a pastor reference a scholar (who is not a Christian) that concluded that up to that point in history, and for many centuries later, no religious teacher had ever taught their followers to address God (or the gods) as Father. This scholar concluded that this was the most radical religious component ever introduced in history – God as Father. Jesus could have taught us to relate to God as Creator, or as Judge, or as All-Powerful. But no. Out of all of the options available to him, Jesus taught us to pray to our Father.
Jesus understood that this father-son relationship wasn’t reserved only for him. In fact, this is the very reason Jesus came and died, to make that relationship between you and the Father possible. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
Epic Family, Are you convinced that you are a son/daughter that is loved by your Heavenly Father? Today, I hope today you realize and hear in your soul, that when God looks at you he says, You are my child, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.
You know, the Scriptures tell us that God gives us his Holy Spirit partly so that we may hear those words of love and affirmation resonating in our soul. That is exactly what we see taking place with Jesus at his baptism. Jesus’ baptism is one of the few occasions where all three members of the Trinity are present and clearly identified. (Luke 3:21-22) Notice that the Holy Spirit descends first on Jesus and the voice from heaven is heard. This is why I believe Jesus hears those words in his soul – in his innermost being.
My prayer is that that is what is happening to you right now because the Holy Spirit is here in this place and in you. More than power and speaking in tongues, or whatever else we tend to attribute to the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit reminds you of who you are and whose you are. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)
Let me say a quick word about the fact that so much of this teaching is emphasizing a father speaking to a son. Even in this passage that we just read from Paul, he writes about how we have received a Spirit of sonship. What does that mean for women? Well, rather than it being a slap in the face, it’s actually the highest compliment. Women in those days did not receive an inheritance; only sons did. So by saying we are all sons (including women) he’s saying that the promises and inheritance of God are for women as well – which was huge in that day and age (and is huge today). By the way, we see this done the other way as well. Elsewhere Paul writes that we are all the Bride of Christ. So women and men are the Bride of Christ, and men and women are his sons. Christ died for this to become possible - he wanted this that much for us.
Let’s shift gears here for a moment. How do we know when we are not living out of our identity as a beloved child of God? Well, for starters, I want to go back to the Romans 8 (v.15) passage that we read. Paul contrasts the Spirit of sonship with a spirit of fear. The way I know I’m not leaning into my position as a son is when I have an unhealthy fear of God. (1: unhealthy fear of God) Yes, we are to have a reverential and respectful fear of God; but never a fear that will cause me to want to hide and not face him.
Secondly, (and this one can be closely tied to the first) 2: not praying or asking God for anything. Children who know that they are loved have no issues asking their parents for things. They are shameless in their requests. And if they get a no, they will keep on asking.
The other day I commended my youngest son, Noble, for this because he models it so well. That dude does not hold back from asking. And his older brother knows that about him too so he finds a way to plant the seed to play video games, so that Noble will come ask us. Sometimes I will say to Noble I will let you guys play if Honor comes and asks. Because I want him to know that he can get a yes too because he is also a son. Check out this statement from Jesus to his disciples: “In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:26-27)
When I told Noble that he models this so well he said something interesting: I just ask because I know that it doesn’t change how you see me. He’s secure in his status as a son and in our relationship!
Let me give you a third sign that we are not living out of our identity as loved children of God. 3: we are unwilling to be baptized (You had to know this was coming.) Baptism is for those who know that they are loved by God the Father, and who have received by faith what Jesus has done on their behalf to make that relationship possible.
Some of the common reasons that I hear why people don’t get baptized is because of 1) fear, 2) they are concerned about what people will think, and 3) they feel that they are not ready. But here’s the thing, when you know that you are loved it changes everything. For starters, as John the disciple wrote, …perfect love drives out fear… (1 John 4:18). Secondly, when you know that you are loved you care more about what those who love you think (God and this community), not the rest of the world. Lastly, when you are loved you recognize that you can’t earn or lose love; so it’s not a matter of being ready. We don’t feel ready because we can’t see how God can love us after all that we have done; or we can’t see how he will forgive us after our future sin – which will come (because there’s no such thing as a perfect Christian). When we say that we are not ready it just shows that we have an inflated view of our sin, but not of the love of God.
You are loved though. Receive that today. Believe that today. Feel that today. And baptism is an acknowledgement that you are aware of God’s love personally for you and that you are stepping into it. In fact, during the ceremony you are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as an indication that you are entering into a relationship with the Trinity. Baptism is a one-time event. It's not too different from marriage. I only marry once; but live out of those commitments and that covenant on a daily basis.
And so I want to invite you to take this next step of faith. In two weeks, on July 10th, we are going to be celebrating baptisms. Grab the card that is on your seat and sign up today. If the 10th doesn’t work, we would be glad to do it next week on the 3rd. But don’t let the fear or doubts that have kept you stuck – that have kept you from growing in your faith and getting baptized – hold you back any longer. Perfect love drives out fear.
As we close, I just want to create space and give you the opportunity to hear those words from God the Father spoken directly to you – directly to your soul. God tells you today. You are my son (you are my daughter), whom I love; with you I am well pleased. Picture yourself at Jesus’ baptism. But you are in his place. You are in Him and He is in you. And as you are in the water you are seeking God – seeking to connect with Him; asking Him to fill you. And as you are baptized the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you hear those words from heaven spoken to your soul: You are my child, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.
Your Father loves you. The fact that Jesus revealed God as Father to us is massive. He’s making a statement that we can’t miss. We all know that friend love comes and goes – especially as people change and they start to do shady things. Romantic love can even come and go for the same reasons. But parental love is so different. It’s really strange. If you are a father or mother and your child starts to act up, your heart locks into them more, rather than pull away. You grow in concern and your love is steadfast. It’s a weird thing. I know that some of you never received that kind of love from a parent because they were absent or abusive. But those of you who are parents you know what I’m talking about. And here’s the point: If we, being evil, love in this way, how much more our Heavenly Father?
Let me close with this prayer from the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:17b-19a: I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge. Amen.