Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Reading Ramblings – February 21, 2021

February 14, 2021

Date: First Sunday in Lent, February 21, 2021

Texts: Genesis 22:1-18; Psalm 25:1-10; James 1:12-18; Mark 1:9-15

Context: The season of Lent begins. This takes us out of Ordinary Time, and marks the binding of the texts together thematically, something that will continue until June and the season of Pentecost. Lent is the season of self-examination and penance, an anticipation of both the inconceivable sacrifice of the Son of God on Good Friday for our sake, and his glorious vindication on Easter morning. It is the oldest and in many ways deepest season of the Church Year, predating Christmas. We are called in this season, whether we deprive ourselves of meat or some other pleasantry as was once more traditional, to consider our sinfulness that necessitates the blood of Christ to be poured out for us. In some ways this is awkward because Sundays are not technically counted as part of the season of Lent and remain mini-celebrations of Easter. It is awkward also because we live in Christ’s victory over our sin. Our self-examination then is not in uncertainty over whether or not God has forgiven us – He has! Rather it serves as an opportunity to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us away from sinful habits in our lives we might overlook, and to focus our hearts and minds more specifically on what we receive in Christ.

Genesis 22:1-18 – What God did not require Abraham to give – his only son – God the Father does not withhold in his only-begotten Son, Jesus the Christ. The experience of Abraham in this chapter has troubled many people. It’s important to note that we are told immediately this is a test. We are to be under no illusions as to what is going on here or if God truly desired Abraham to sacrifice his son. God is testing Abraham. Translations vary as to how they translate the Hebrew, whether as test, tempt, tried, prove. Perhaps this chapter is valuable as a litmus test for our attitudes towards God. Is He truly the loving father who cares for us, or is He a trickster or a capricious entity? Abraham did not necessarily know at this point, but Abraham likely also did not see God’s request as problematic. Sad, to be sure, but child sacrifice was hardly unknown in that age and area of the world. And, as Luther asserts in his commentary, Abraham demonstrates a strength of faith that trusts God is capable of anything He desires, including restoring Isaac should He require Abraham to sacrifice him. Because of God the Son’s obedient sacrifice on our behalf we need never wonder whether God might as a similar thing of you and I. We are free in his grace and mercy to be advocates of human life from conception through old age.

Psalm 25:1-10 – The Lord must teach us his ways and we must want to learn them constantly as they often contradict worldly wisdom and expectations. Yet faithfulness insists that it is far better to listen to God’s Word than the dictates of human conscience or public opinion. Vindication will come, whether in our lifetime or not until our Lord’s return and all things are revealed for their proper worth (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). We rely on the grace and mercy of God that He continues to remind us of his revealed will. He continues to repeat his Word to us over and over, knowing both our poor memories and the active distortion sin causes whether from within ourselves or from the broken world and people around us. But we can be assured that God’s way is best. Not that it will be the most popular (it won’t be) or the easiest (it won’t be) or that following it might not entail sacrifices large and small. But of all the shifting sands of human ideas and conventions and desires, the Word of God stands as one firm rock we can cling to in confidence.

James 1:12-18 – What caught my eye in this reading are verses 12-15. In particular verse 14 which identifies temptation as an appeal by a person’s own desires. We typically say temptation comes from within, from the world, and from Satan. But the reality is that temptation is only really temptation if it’s something we want. The world or Satan might suggest to me the idea of starting an illegal dog-fighting business, but since I am disgusted by the very idea, it’s not a very real temptation. But if it’s suggested to me by Satan or the world that I do something I already have a desire to do, even though I know it’s wrong? That’s a temptation. Abraham was tested rather than tempted, in part because he had no internal desire to slay his son. God did not appeal to some sinful deficiency or proclivity on Abraham’s part but rather demanded obedience to a command. Thus, by James’ definition, God certainly didn’t tempt Abraham even had James not just asssured us God doesn’t tempt people!

Mark 1:9-15 – Jesus as the Second Adam must demonstrate his willingness and ability – as far as his human nature and will – to remain faithful to the leading of God the Father where Adam failed. His past obedience is affirmed and commended by God the Father’s exclamation of approval at his baptism. But that obedience is only the start – obedience must be maintained, and if perhaps Jesus was shielded from direct Satanic attacks as a young man, now that He prepares to launch his public ministry He must face Satan in the fullness of Jesus’ human weakness. He must face Satan as one of us. Mark does not record the interchange that occurs, and apparently considers even the outcome of that temptation to be so obvious as to not need stating! Matthew 4 and Luke 4 both provide fuller accounts of the nature of the temptations Jesus faced as well as Jesus’ fidelity to his heavenly Father.

If we rely on James’ (and the Holy Spirit’s) insights to temptation, it’s easy to see Satan’s offerings to Jesus find no footing for temptation. What Jesus desires is to be obedient to his father, and perhaps at this early stage of his ministry Jesus is not yet worried about the very real and very painful sacrifice He will be called upon to make. While Jesus may be weaker later on, and find temptation more difficult to resist (Mark 8), here He deflects Satan’s offerings with ease, relying not on angelic protection or some other unique power but rather with the Word of God.

Jesus enters the wilderness in a re-enactment of the Exodus. The Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness because they were too afraid to enter the Promised Land. Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness, but is faithful and obedient while the Israelites were not. He functions here as a summation of Israel and all the people of God, being faithful and obedient where they and we can not and are not.

In verses 12 and 13 we hear elements of prophecy as well, particularly Isaiah 43:19-20. Jesus is accomplishing already what was prophesied, a restoration of the harmony and peace of the created order. That restoration is very limited for the moment, but reveals what Jesus is about, and what the kingdom of God He proclaims in vs. 14-15 will be like.

Breaking Good

February 8, 2021

The Supreme Court Friday determined the State of California could no longer enforce bans on indoor worship. This is good news for people of faith – Christian or otherwise – who over the past nearly year have by and large been unable to worship indoors and required to meet virtually or in parked cars, separated from one another by varying degrees of frankly arbitrary directions enacted by executive fiat rather than a due process of legislative evaluation and feedback. Good intentions to curb the pandemic, but good intentions which look at only the material, physical side of the suffering and ignore and even exacerbate the emotional, psychological, and spiritual sides.

Of course, just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Some religious groups may opt to continue worshiping outdoors because they believe it safest for their members. Others will joyfully be back inside tomorrow – or today. This will be another test for congregations – to determine what the best course of action is for them and their people regardless of what congregations around them might be doing.

Further, while indoor worship cannot be banned any longer, additional limitations – such as stronger language prohibiting singing or chanting – may may outdoor worship the preferred option for many congregations, especially if (like ours) the weather makes such an option reasonable. Good news in this case comes tempered by additional restrictions which may ultimately make it less good.

Back in June when the first stay-at-home order was lifted, I pushed easily to have us move back inside. We had already polled our members on this and their response was nearly unanimous that they wanted to return to indoor worship. We didn’t yet realize the staying power of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it seemed the most reasonable course of action. Eight months later, the option to return to indoor worship is more complicated for me.

Firstly, we’re blessed to live in an area where the weather is temperate year round, rainy days are rare and snow days are practically non-existent. It might be nippy at mid-morning still – in the 50’s – but workable, particularly when the sun is shining and there isn’t a breeze. As such even though my congregation is comprised almost exclusively of post-retirement adults, they’re not only willing but able to handle outdoor worship with some layers of clothing. The seats aren’t terribly comfortable, but they weren’t happy with the 50-year old cushions on the pews inside either!

More than a few people have commented how much they like being outside. A change of venue perhaps, or the ability to enjoy our glorious weather a little more than they might otherwise. Because a small group of dedicated volunteers has committed to coming early to set out chairs and set up the sound board and microphones and electronic keyboard, our outdoor worship really is a beautiful setting, even in a parking lot.

The pandemic certainly appears to be affecting our county more in the past couple of months than it did the rest of the previous pandemic period. While I still personally know very few people sickened by COVID, the reported numbers for the county are far higher than they used to be. Those numbers have dropped dramatically in the past two weeks or so, but they’re still comparable to earlier rates we considered high.

While many of my parishioners have either begun or completed their vaccination cycles, some of them won’t. None of our members have had COVID at all, despite our continued in-person worship whether outdoor or indoor. Some dismiss the media frenzy about COVID and point to the overwhelming recovery rates from COVID, despite the fact they are in the highest vulnerability demographic. Some of our folks may not feel comfortable worshiping indoors again knowing not everyone is going to be vaccinated, but that will likely be a minority and moreover that shouldn’t matter if they themselves have received the vaccine.

Our denominational leadership at global, national and local levels has maintained a position since the pandemic began asking local congregations to adhere to all applicable restrictions and instructions from health officials. Our denomination does not see doing so as in any way restricting our ability to worship our God (since we can do so virtually, outdoors, or with other reasonable adjustments), and a failure to abide by instructions runs us afoul of admonitions to civic obedience in Romans 13. Every individual congregation must make their decisions in this regard for themselves, and the range of responses is a rather wide spectrum.

Thrown into the mix are varying ideas of what our obligations are to one another in terms of safety and Christian love. Is it loving our fellow-parishioners to return to indoor worship knowing if they contract COVID they are more likely to have complications from it – complications which could prove lethal? What is the duty of a Christian congregation in the pursuit of safety? Christians around the world routinely choose to worship together despite a host of very real dangers in terms of arrest, imprisonment, capture, or worse. Christians the world over and throughout history have prioritized Christian worship and fellowship as worth risking their lives for. How does that reality and history impact decisions we make today in relative safety and comfort? And how do our decisions balance the reality that we proclaim a God who created all things and sustains all things and is more than able to keep us safe, with the recognition that this God also gave us our brains and we should therefore use them?

So the possibility of worshiping indoors again is more complicated this time than it was eight months ago. At least for me. But I remain steadfast in maintaining that regardless of the decision made, it is the duty and privilege of that local body of Christ – my particular congregation – to keep loving one another. Even if we’re not thrilled with the decision. Even if we would have preferred to stay outdoors or return indoors. Our personal preferences don’t outweigh direct Scriptural commands to show love to our brothers and sisters in Christ in our patience and willingness to sacrifice our personal rights if it in any way might endanger the faith of a brother or sister in Christ (1 Corinthians 8-10; Romans 14-15). It sounds simple but it turns out to be quite challenging for many people. Pandemics apparently don’t make it any easier, either. I trust we’ll make a good decision. Maybe not perfect, but one our people can work and will work with in love for one another and their God.

Reading Ramblings – February 14, 2021

February 7, 2021

Date: The Transfiguration of Our Lord – February 14, 2021

Texts: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 3:12-13, 4:1-6; Mark 9:2-9

Context: The season of Epiphany emphasizes the divinity of our Lord within his humanity. While fully human in every way (except for sin – original or otherwise), Jesus of Nazareth is also the Son of God, the eternal Second Person of the Trinity. This reality was evident throughout his ministry in small ways, ways that might allow another conclusion regarding his identity. But at certain key moments in his ministry his divinity was revealed and affirmed in ways that exclude alternate interpretations. His disciples were shown his glory, experiences which assisted them in confessing him as Lord. Brushing up against the divine changes a person, something the various readings highlight.

2 Kings 2:1-12 – Elijah and Elisha are two prominent prophetic characters in the Old Testament but they get little airplay in the lectionary cycle and therefore in my sermon writing. I chose this rather than the alternative text option from Exodus specifically to push me to interact with these characters. Like the disciples in the Gospel, Elisha brushes up against the divine, as Elijah becomes just the second person in the Old Testament to be transported directly from this life without experiencing death. As such the veil between the world as we normally think about it and the spiritual realm that is part of it but unseen is pulled aside briefly and dramatically. Elijah is not divine but is caught up in divine power. Like the disciples, the event leads Elisha to an exclamation that is difficult to understand fully. And through all of it, the glory of God is foremost.

Psalm 50:1-6 – This is the introduction to a psalm which describes God’s trial and judgment of his people in regards to their worship practice. These opening six verses form the introduction, emphasizing both the power and sovereignty of God. God is described as speaking, summoning, shining, calling and judging. This is not the final judgment of all creation, but rather God summons only his called people to judgment, those who bound themselves to him as his people through the Mosaic covenant. It is these descendants who must give an account before their God, a God they might have thought was far away and not very attentive. But now they discover He is so very near! The heavens and the earth are small in comparison – they are to serve as witnesses in regards to his people and his charges against them. The natural order we think somehow shades us or shelters us from the presence of God turns out rather to be watchful of us and accountable ultimately to when He demands a reckoning of us from them. God may opt to work through predictable mechanisms and we assume when we think we’ve identified those mechanisms we’ve somehow rendered them under our power. This is obviously mistaken. We are still bound in relationship to our Creator, who deserves our thanks and praise. The separation between what we consider temporal reality and spiritual reality is at best flimsy!

2 Corinthians 3:12-13, 14:1-6 – Light is a theme in the various readings this morning – the fiery light of the chariots that carry Elijah to heaven, God shining forth in the psalm, the light of Jesus’ radiantly glowing clothes, and the light Paul refers to here, the light of the revelation of Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God, a light that eclipses the glory that even Moses experienced in the Tent of Meeting when the glory of God would descend onto the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant. Moses’ face would glow after those encounters, and he covered it soas not to frighten the Israelites, just as they were frightened in Exodus 20 by hearing God speak directly from the mountaintop. Paul compares the New Covenant of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit favorably to the old covenant at Mt. Sinai. The old covenant could only bring death through the Law, but the Spirit brings life through faith in Christ. Yet the old covenant was glorious enough to make Moses’ face glow! How incredibly glorious and powerful must this new covenant be that bestows life instead of decreeing death! What a privilege to carry this good news into the world! The news is so good there’s no need to alter it or adapt it. Not everyone will see or accept it, but that is hardly the fault of the message or even the messenger. Rather, the same blindness that existed in Moses’ day and prompted him to cover his face exists today. Some people will not accept the good news of Jesus Christ. That should not slow or alter our proclamation.

Mark 9:2-9 – So many elements of this account evoke images of God’s meeting with Israel on Mt. Sinai in Exodus. The fact that it takes place on a mountain, the presence of an enveloping cloud, and of course the voice of God the Father himself speaking directly to those present. A select subset of Jesus’ disciples are invited up the mountain just as a select subset were invited up Mt. Sinai in Exodus. Moses is present in both events, and is joined by Elijah. Many speculate Moses is there as the one through whom the Law comes and symbolizing Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law, while Elijah’s presence indicates Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. They also speak as three men in Scripture who have very unusual ends to their lives – Moses dying and being buried by God, Elijah being taken into heaven and Jesus who will rise from the dead and bodily ascend into heaven. Both also have prophecies regarding similar figures who will come after them – a great prophet who will arise after Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15) and the coming of an Elijah-figure prior to the Messiah’s arriavl (Malachie 3:23). They speak with Jesus, three men but one of them more than just a man. Only Jesus is transfigured.

This account should also be read with Mark’s resurrection account (16:1-8) in mind. Both have a white-robed figure, both involve verbal revelation about Jesus, both document fear on the part of the witnesses present, and both involve some aspect or glimpse of how things will be at the end times – Jesus in his glory here in the reading for today and Jesus victorious over death at the end of Mark. As such it is not unreasonable to see Mark’s account of the Transfiguration as a sort of mini-Easter, a sneak preview of what lies ahead, and which will only be fully understandable in light of Jesus’ resurrection.

Reading Ramblings – February 7, 2021

January 31, 2021

Date: Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 7, 2021

Texts: Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11; 1 Corinthians 9:16-27; Mark 1:29-39

Context: What perfect words as we near a year of pandemic fear and alarm! We search for hope in so many places, we anxiously await the latest pronouncements of pundits, politicians and physicians. Each of these vocations is a gift of God in a broken world, but each is limited and should never replace our God as the ultimate source of hope. A year of pandemic feels like an eternity but is nothing more than a breath in a larger historical context. We often look to God as a ready balm for our immediate needs, such as the people of Capernaum in the Gospel reading. But the scope of God’s plans is so much vaster, as the psalm and the reading from Isaiah remind us. This doesn’t detract from God’s individual love and care for every single aspect of his creation, but it should teach us to keep in mind the larger context we are a part of, and consider constantly that God is using us in the midst of our joys or sorrows for things that extend well beyond our awareness or even interest.

Isaiah 40:21-31 – We hear the opening verses of this chapter during Advent. God promises favor to his people (vs.1-5) as his people are reminded of their transience (vs.6-8). The greatness of God is then extolled and the ridiculousness of idols is asserted (vs.9-20). It sounds so easy to us, but to the people of God – surrounded by idols and with idols creeping into or alongside their worship of God, these are strong words in a time of great uncertainty. Can God be trusted? Is God capable of sustaining and delivering his people, or should they continue to hedge their bets with some side offerings to the local deities? God is the All Mighty one, and He alone holds all power over every aspect of creation, whether humanity (vs.21-24) or the heavens (vs. 25-26). This should be a source of confidence for God’s beloved, chosen people, but also a call to fidelity. God is fully aware of their lax faithfulness. But if they think they will be better served by other so-called gods, they are mistaken. It is God alone who sustains all things to his purposes, and no situation or cause is ever beyond the capacity of God to rescue or resuscitate.

Psalm 147:1-11 – We praise God for his all-encompassing power and authority. There is no aspect of creation beyond his jurisdiction, no series of events beyond his ultimate control. His care for his people is a matter of historical record, should memory fail or the fearfulness of present situations cloud our theology. In fact, singing the praises of our God should be a pleasant pasttime, rather than a command we obey grudgingly. As we enjoy relating tales of the heroic or noble deeds of various people in our lives or throughout history, we should also take pleasure in telling and retelling the stories of our God’s faithfulness and deliverance. This act of communal as well as private recollection should serve not simply as an intellectual reminder of historical events, but as encouragement and hope. As we remember God’s ultimate authority we should be able to endure the uncertainties of our individual situations better, knowing his love for us is eternal and so is the relationship created between us through the Holy Spirit’s fostering of faith in the forgiveness won by the incarnate Son of God, Jesus the Christ. We may not know our exact fate in temporal terms – the time of our passing or the cause – but we know that not even death can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, and we know that ultimately whether things play out as we would prefer them to or not, the glory is God’s and we will celebrate his love forever.

1 Corinthians 9:16-27 – I’d much prefer that we read the first two-thirds of this chapter as well! Otherwise, it’s very easy to spiritualize what is an eminently practical chapter regarding the restraint we place on our rights rather than endanger the work of the Gospel in those around us. In the previous chapter Paul addressed the issue of rights (the ability to eat meat sacrificed to idols, since idols are nothing) as one less so of theology and more of love towards our brothers and sisters in Christ who might be endangered as we engage in our Christian freedom. Paul illustrates what this looks like with a personal example in Chapter 9 – the matter of his not asking for support from the Corinthians although he is entitled to it. The structure of chapter 9 is confusing at first as it seems such a major change from the previous chapter, but v.12b is the place where the first 11 verses of the chapter are put into context as personal example. Paul wants to make clear how serious he is in admonishing us to focus less on what our rights are in Christ and more on loving our brothers and sisters in Christ and considering their welfare constantly.

Mark 1:29-39 – Jesus begins his public ministry with demonstrations of authority in teaching (vs.21-22, 27), authority over demons (vs.23-27, 34) and authority over illness and disease (vs.29-34). Among people living essentially hand-to-mouth, the presence of someone who could offer such protection and deliverance would be a Godsend in every sense of the word! So it was that Jesus was busy late into the evening, after the workday and dinner time ended (v.32) and already He was being sought very early in the morning (vs. 35-37). Jesus no doubt understood the need and the desire of the people of Capernaum for him to stay. But Jesus’ purpose was broader than the temporal well-being of the population of one small town. Jesus makes this plain to Simon Peter and the other disciples. And even more specific, Jesus indicates his primary work is preaching. The Greek word in vs. 38-39 is often described as acting as a herald, announcing in a very public and obvious way, carrying a gravitas and authority, perhaps associated with the one commanding the herald’s announcements. Jesus has something important to announce – the need for repentance and preparation because the Kingdom of God is arriving (vs. 14-15). Jesus is preaching and a response is necessary – both repentance and belief of the good news He is proclaiming. Preaching has the same goal today, even with the people of God. Repentance is an ongoing necessity, as is an active belief in the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are always in danger of becoming lackadaisical in our faith, sitting too comfortably with our sin and not comfortably enough with the assurances of God’s grace and peace through Jesus Christ. We are too easily enticed away from reliance on God to casting our hopes on any number of other possible sources. Fortunately, the Gospel assures us of our forgiveness as it refocuses us on the Good News of Jesus Christ as our fullest and greatest hope.

Reading Ramblings – January 31, 2021

January 24, 2021

Date: Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, January 31, 2021

Texts: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

Context: The one to come after Moses. The one who must be listened to, or Moses himself will condemn those who ignore his words. Powerful prophecy. A prophecy Jesus will refer to in his disputations with Jewish leadership in John 5. One who speaks with authority as Jesus does in his ministry, not simply quoting and citing the great scholars and rabbis before him but speaking authoritatively about Scripture as the Word made flesh. It is easy to maintain all of this in the realm of doctrine and history and theology, but the Word made flesh continues to confront and challenge us today. Each of us is not only vulnerable to but guilty of assuming the world’s ways of thinking and acting, or trying to justify our personal preferences with cherry-picked Bible verses. Each of us must submit humbly in repentance and allow the Holy Spirit to show us where we are off base, where our theology is inadequate to the love of neighbor we are commanded.

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 – In Chapter 17 of Deuteronomy Moses addresses the Israelites before his death and prophecies that some day they will have a king, something that is a considerable amount of time away! Here in Chapter 18 Moses prophecies as to another great prophet God’s people must be on the lookout for, who will bear God’s Word to them in a way they can hear, as opposed to direct, unmediated divine presence and communication such as what happened in Exodus 19-20 around Mt. Sinai. In Jesus’, the mediation will be his incarnation, his human nature. The Word of God is made man to dwell among us as one of us, while also retaining his full divine nature. As such Jesus speaks with the authority of God the Father himself, an authority that people marvel about even in the early days of his public ministry (see the Gospel reading). The Jewish people understood they should be watching for the prophet Moses prophecies to arise, but Jesus is not what they expect and so He is rejected by many people. Of course it’s easy for someone to claim the mantle of prophet or claim that God is speaking to and through them. Such claims are not to be made lightly. Hebrews 1:1-2 make it clear that the fullness of God’s authoritative speaking comes in the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ. Jesus is the fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy, and the fullest proclamation of God’s Word to and for us.

Psalm 111 – This and Psalm 112 are considered related thematically and stylistically. The psalm is an acrostic using letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and consisting of twenty lines arranged in ten verses. The theme is the praise of God and both psalms start with Hallelujah (praise). The psalm dwells on various reasons God should be praised, centering on his acts of provision and power. But after such a praise oriented psalm the final line has a rather odd tone – a call to not simply praise God but to live according to his Word. This will become the dominant theme of Psalm 112.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 – The subject matter here may seem odd at first. After all, it isn’t typical in Western culture to worry about food being sacrificed to idols. In other parts of the world this is a far more reasonable concern! It was a big issue for the Corinthians who lived in a pagan and pluralistic culture where meat was rare – particularly for the poor – and most likely available via pagan temples and markets. Likewise these pagan temples and markets were likely common meeting places for the wealthier members of society, and we have ample invitations to dinners hosted in the dining areas (tricliniums) of these temples in Corinth. The question is theological but Paul begins his response (which will cover chapters 8-10) by calling the Corinthians to look beyond themselves and their theological acumen to their brothers and sisters in Christ. It is not simply a matter of right theology but also concern for one another in the faith that dictates the best response to this particular issue. In love for one another we voluntarily hold back from exercising our rights or acting in ways that might be theologically correct but inconsiderate of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul will give more detailed responses in Chapter 10, but wants to lay the groundwork first in Chapter 8 and then illustrate what he means in Chapter 9.

Mark 1:21-28 – This may be Jesus’ first public teaching. It is noted first of all for his authority in teaching the Word of God, and secondly for his authority over unclean spirits. The Greek says the man is “in” a spirit rather than “having” a spirit. The man may not be possessed as we typically imagine it but is being influenced by the spirit’s presence. We were informed in 1:10 that the Holy Spirit of God descended upon Jesus, and we witness now a confrontration between the Holy Spirit of God empowering Jesus and an unclean spirit. While it is not unreasonable to swap out the word unclean with the word evil in describing this spirit, Mark likely chose his words carefully (inspired by the Holy Spirit as he records Peter’s own Holy Spirit-inspired preaching and teaching). Jesus was recently washed by John the Baptist. While Jesus had no sins of which to repent and be washed clean of, John’s washing does indicate cleanness as opposed to the uncleanness of the spirit now confronting Jesus. This is likely the semantic intention of Mark in choosing this adjective – cleanness vs. uncleanness as a condition of a repentant heart as opposed to some ceremonial or ritual definition. This spirit is not only outside the inbreaking kingdom of God in Jesus the Christ but actively opposed to it, and as the unclean spirit causes the man to speak aloud, the words it uses are intended to thwart or complicate Jesus’ efforts at establishing his rule. The spirit’s words indicate an awareness of not just who Jesus is (the Holy One of God) but what his presence in creation likely means (the destruction of all unclean spirits and hearts opposed to the rule of God). As we hear in other accounts of Jesus dealing with demons, the demons understand Jesus’ presence as indicative of judgment. We assume they fear it is the final judgment when they will be banished eternally (see Mark 5:7). They fear – and rightly so – their final defeat and the end of their limited power in creation. Their fear is rightly placed, but their timing is off. Jesus is not here to usher in final judgment immediately, so instead of destroying the unclean spirit He commands it to be silent and to leave the man. While Jesus’ purpose is not the final judgment, He does have authority to command the unclean spirit who has no choice but to obey, if not quietly or happily! The power of God the Holy Spirit at work in Jesus the Christ cannot be denied by any power in heaven or on earth. Satan and his forces may rage against the inbreaking kingdom of God but they are powerless to stop it.

Christmas Revisited

January 19, 2021

Yes, I know. Wrong time of the year. Whatever. These days if you can find something beneficial and good, go with it even if it’s not seasonal.

This is a succinct article summarizing research into the holy sites in Israel – sites associated with the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God. Having been blessed to visit Israel in 2012, I’ve seen many of the sites listed in this article. And as someone with some historical knowledge, I viewed and experienced them from two perspectives. The first is as a pilgrim, someone following centuries of footsteps to places revered by followers of Jesus the Christ, trusting in their footprints to lead me to the right place and grateful for a bit of contextualization and familiarization with places formerly just words in a book and pictures on the Internet.

The other perspective was more as a historian who knows that sometimes things aren’t what they seem, even if they were well-intentioned. Knowing the turbulence of this particular area of the world in just the last 2000 years (or even 1400 years!), I had to realize there was a possibility the venerated sites our guides took us to were not, in fact, the actual place of Jesus’ birth or death or burial.

I reconciled these two perspectives with the knowledge that even if these sites weren’t the sites, there actually were (and therefore are) sites – perhaps ignored or forgotten or erased by the transient irritations of vying potentates. The incarnation of the Son of God in creation, including geography and time, means that Jesus was here. Actually and really and remarkably well-documented, historically. I could relax and enjoy the experience not as a skeptic but as someone of faith who recognizes it is just our human nature and attachment to physical things and places that make such pilgrimages necessary and useful. I could experience these places knowing that, even if they weren’t the places, they were close. In the ballpark, so to speak.

But I have to also admit, as the article noted above supports, that some of these traditional sites have been traditional for a long time. Prior to the 300’s AD and the sudden interest of a converted Roman emperor. As such, it is not unreasonable to presume that the location – if not necessarily the particular walls and accoutrements over and around it – is actually the right spot. While we can be suspect of sinful (even when well-intentioned) human nature looking to make a quick buck off of tourists, there are certain places that have been venerated for a long time. Not because the site itself is divine but because the act of veneration, of being in the same area where the Son of God walked or cried or bled is one particular aspect of a life of faith. Not a necessary one, but a special one. And it can – and should – be enjoyed as such for what it is.

Reading Ramblings – January 24, 2021

January 17, 2021

Date: Third Sunday after the Epiphany, January 24, 2021

Texts: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

Context: How much do we trust the Word of God? We trust it as truthful, but do we regard that truth as inclusive as to it’s power? Do we trust the assertion of Isaiah 55:11, that the Lord’s Word accomplishes that which it purposes? Job doubted the power of God’s Word – or did he? Perhaps he actually trusted the power of God’s Word to turn hearts to repentance, and wished to withhold that opportunity for Nineveh, which was the heart of a pagan and dangerous empire? We see the power of God’s Word as men respond to Jesus’ call to discipleship, setting aside their lives and livelihood for the less practical role of disciple. Yet today I fear many Christians distrust the power of God’s Word, and resign themselves to the ways and tools of the world to accomplish their ends. They trust the power of princes more than the power of God for practical purposes. But God’s Word that accomplishes the impossible is also the Word that calls us to repentance for our distrust, and assures us of God’s continued love for our quaking hearts.

Jonah 3:1-5 – This is the only time a reading from Jonah occurs in the three year Revised Common Lectionary cycle. The book itself is short but dense with meaning, notwithstanding it’s enigmatic ending. Chapter 3 finds God speaking his Word of command to Jonah to share God’s Word of warning to the people of Nineveh. Recently chastened by the power of God’s Word in the belly of a whale, Jonah now obeys where he formerly presumed not to. God’s Word sparks repentance among the Ninevites at a level truly miraculous from the greatest to the least of them (v.5), which is better fleshed out in the next four verses we skip over where the King of Nineveh commands repentance of the entire city, not simply in thought but in action through sackcloth and ashes and fasting – and this is to extend to the animals as well! The power of God’s Word is also demonstrated in its reach – Jonah is sent to preach a warning to a pagan people, people who may have heard of the God of the Israelites but who do not acknowledge him as their god. Yet such is the power of God’s Word that it is capable of even striking concern into the hearts of those who despise or ignore him. How much more should we expect God’s Word to be efficacious in the hearts and minds of those who do claim to know and worship him!

Psalm 62 – Psalms 39, 62 and 77 each make a reference to Jeduthun. This may indicate he had some role in authorship but it might also be reference to a melody he is credited with. Psalms 39 and 62 are credited to David and Psalm 77 is credited to Asaph so perhaps the melodic citation is more accurate. He is noted several times in 1 Chronicles and in Chapter 25 is indicated as associated with worship (presumably) music, specifically harps, lyres and cymbals. The psalm itself exhorts to confidence and trust in God. Verses 1 and 5 are challenging to render accurately in English. The ESV uses the word silence, but that word has a different connotation in English than the Hebrew intends. The psalm is not talking about a parrticular form of waiting – waiting without speaking, for example. Rather the Hebrew word more closely connotates trust, reliance. Our concerns and fears are placed in God’s hands to await his response in faithfulness. Only God can be trusted this completely and fully – human beings are either willfully evil (vs. 3-4) or at best, transient and severely limited in power (vs.9-10), even forceful or violent power. Although we are called to trust God at all times, this really only becomes evident during difficult times, when we are confronted with our own lack of ability to manage a situation. In these times we are reminded that all power belongs to God (v.11).

1 Corinthians 7:29-31 – The Lectionary makes an additional three verses optional and I’ve decided to leave them off as I think these verses capture Paul’s intentions very clearly. I wonder how many Christian marriages would benefit from the Church actually preaching all of this chapter on a regular basis, as well as Paul’s other Holy Spirit-inspired words on marriage. Apparently that’s considered too risky or ill-advised or no longer pertinent. Although the Church would never say those things, silence in this area of Scripture seems to have done far more harm than good, given current divorce statistics. Instead we focus on broad theological realities which are of course very important but unhinged from their very tangible applications, such as marriage. Yes, the time is short. How short? We don’t know. Clearly it isn’t/wasn’t as short as Paul expected. Yet our basic attitude should be exactly what Paul espouses here. He is not espousing spousal neglect, which the rest of this chapter makes abundantly clear. Much of his letter thus far is practical teaching about how to live life in this world. This teaching is necessary to clarify sinful practices and establish holy guidelines because, of course, we are part of this world. But as Paul emphasizes here, the present form of this world is passing away! This is not escapism, but rather a practical reminder that what fills the majority of our days and hours is passing away. At the very least it passes away from us in a span of years or decades as we are drawn through death into eternity. But it is also passing away in that history and creation have a terminus. These things are not infinitely cyclcial but rather linear, part of a divine plan that includes a divine conclusion. With this in mind we live our lives and engage in our relationships, in Christian love and gentleness but also with the understanding they cannot bear the weight of our eternal hope (see Psalm 62 above).

Mark 1:14-20 – Once again the Word of God accomplishes powerful things, no less impressive than the repentance of the Ninevites, it calls ordinary people into discipleship, into personal relationship with the Triune God who creates, redeems and sanctifies all of creation. This relationship with God transforms and may alter all of our other relationships. It reprioritizes our entire life. Not everyone is called to discipleship in such a specific way as the Apostles (obviously) or dedication to the Church and it’s work.

Note also the similarity in what Jonah was commanded to preach and what Jesus preached! Both are a call to repentance, an acknowledgement there is a God against whom our thoughts, words and deeds are in a state of rebellion. Both indicate there is a judgment or reckoning coming, but that this judgment needn’t be feared if there is genuine repentance. It’s important to remember here the Biblical concept of repentance is much more extensive than our current notions of being apologetic or sorry. It isn’t simply lip service. It is both an honest acknowledgement of being in the wrong – being guilty – as well as a commitment to an opposite course of action, a course of action characterized by obedience rather than rebellion.

As such, the call to repentance is every bit as valid and urgent today as it was 2000 years ago or 2800 years ago. Judgment is not simply the objective return of the Son of God in glory to bring creation history as we know it to an end. Judgment comes at the end of our respective lives, the time and date and circumstances of which we are not privy to. As such, putting off the call to repentance is never the appropriate response. The call is always imminent, always relevant, always pertinent.

Contemplating Failure

January 13, 2021

At what point is it reasonable to contemplate failure? At what point is it reasonable to consider helplessness? Does the post-modern philosophical landscape even permit such an option? Or must everything be a strident, insistent-even-if-delusional declaration of eventual success and dominance?

I wonder this as I watch COVID numbers continue to tick upwards. Our state has been among the most strict in the United States in regards to limiting business operations and attempting to mandate personal behavior. Yet our state has been the media spotlight over the past month for skyrocketing cases of COVID-19, particularly in the greater Los Angeles area.

Nine months of devastating economic restrictions have put who knows how many thousands or tens of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses at risk of failure. Nine months of unending doomsaying and worst-case scenarios have battered our collective psyches. Masks are the norm now inside buildings. People are literally afraid to get too physically close to anyone they don’t know. A cough or a sneeze sets an entire grocery store on edge.

Yet despite all of these mandates and what seems to be – at least anecdotally – fairly good compliance with them, COVID continues to rage, numbers continue to tick upwards. Case numbers are what catches our eyes. Mortalities are on a far smaller level, though of course no mitigating contextual data is given to determine whether these mortality rates are unusual or unexpected for any sort of respiratory infection. California struggles with a growing case number despite some of the strictest protective policies in the country. Neighboring states where people can still eat at restaurants or have a drink at a bar don’t seem to have as severe a situation.

Is it possible to admit our attempts to outsmart the virus have failed? Is it reasonable to do so? At what point – if any – do we resign ourselves to the reality of a contagion we can’t contain? Are we capable of saying our intentions were good but ultimately of uncertain effectiveness?

Perhaps this isn’t possible to a Western culture where scientism is fast becoming the official religion, where God is presumed dead or non-existent and we are the determiners of our own fates. In a culture where the State is presumed to have all the answers it becomes rarer and rarer to admit that efforts were unsuccessful, let alone misguided. Everything must have a patina of success to it, even if the core is considerably tarnished. We must constantly slap ourselves on our collective back for our ingenuity and resourcefulness and tenacity even if we can’t prove that what we did or didn’t do actually had much of an effect.

My Biblical Christianity, in contrast, does allow for this. Allows for us to do the best we can but also admit that our best efforts may be, definitionally, not only inadequate but misguided and ultimately even, at odds with an authority higher than our own. My Biblical Christianity allows for a world in which we are not the eventual victors by our own efforts, but rather rescued from our good intentions that are fatally flawed and marred by sin, including our ability to admit our inabilities and limitations.

Some might see this as a fatalism of sorts that destroys the importance of striving for better. Historically though, this is obviously patently untrue as Christians have been at the forefront of working to make the world a better place for everyone. Rather than resign ourselves to God’s uncontrollable and largely unknowable divine workings, we rest in his love and grace and forgiveness and take seriously his original commands to us to be caretakers of his creation (Genesis 1:28). Biblical Christianity both conveys the truth that we can and do and should take seriously that we can effect positive changes in the world, but also that there are limitations both to what we are intended to accomplish and what we are able to accomplish. This emphasizes not so much our failures and limitations as the goodness and grace of God. We are forbidden from seeing ourselves as the ultimate authority and therefore do not labor in vain under that burden. Rather we are free to apply ourselves the best ways we can conceive of. It should also mean we are free to admit when our efforts have been incorrect or ineffective without stigmatizing ourselves or others for it.

Perhaps our efforts to contain the Coronavirus have not been successful. Perhaps they’ve even been somewhat pointless. Perhaps rather than trying to keep it from spreading at all we should focus our efforts on protecting those who are most vulnerable while allowing the younger population in work and school to shoulder the difficult but necessary work of gaining some sort of herd immunity that alone will ultimately render the virus less dangerous to everyone.

This is the long-game point of view. I believe it is the point of view of most scientists and immunologists. Someday COVID-19 will be no more dangerous or feared than the common cold or flu. This means it will still be dangerous to a small population group and that will likely never change, but the vast majority of the rest of the population will not be unduly threatened by it. Some experts hope vaccines expedite this process. But we also have no idea whether a vaccinated person who does not develop the symptoms associated with Coronavirus is capable of carrying the virus and infecting other people. We have no idea how long immunization to the Coronavirus lasts, and evidence seems to suggest it doesn’t last more than a few weeks or months at the most. The net result is an approach to the virus that demands fearfulness even when following all the proper protocols.

Perhaps this isn’t the best approach. Perhaps this only draws out the damage a new virus causes not only physically but psychologically and emotionally and socially. I just wonder if anyone is capable of admitting this might be the case and exploring that possibility intelligently, or if any such admission would immediately be silenced as traitorous unless backed with clearly defensible data. I tend to suspect it’s the latter option. In which case I guess the only thing we can do is pray for continued strength and healing even with potentially flawed policies in place. And we can keep an eye on places where alternate approaches are being tried in hopes those prove more successful. And we can continue to speak our truth about our proper role in creation. Caretakers, not owners. Creatures, not gods. We can encourage one another to continue doing our best and we can also consider a variety of options rather than insisting on a single approach.

Reading Ramblings – January 17, 2021

January 10, 2021

Date: Second Sunday after the Epiphany – January 17, 2021

Texts: 1 Samuel 3:1-20; Psalm 139:1-10; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

Context: The liturgical season of Epiphany started Janury 6 – 12 days after Christmas. Last Sunday was the festival of the Baptism of Our Lord, so this is the second Sunday after the Epiphany. Epiphany is a Greek word meaning appearance or manifestation. As Christmas celebrates the humanity of our Lord, the season of Epiphany calls us to contemplate his divinity, that in Jesus of Nazareth the very Son of God came to dwell with and among us. However the season of Epiphany ended last Sunday, and this Sunday marks the first Sunday of Ordinary Time in the liturgical year – Sundays not part of a particular season. As with Ordinary Time later in the year after Pentecost, the Sundays are noted in relation to the last major festival. That means right now the Sundays are noted in respect to Epiphany, just as later in the year they will be noted in respect to Pentecost. As such, while psalm, Old Testament and Gospel readings all work together in some respect, the Epistle readings revert back to more or less consecutive readings from particular books in the New Testament, in this case 1 Corinthians.

1 Samuel 3:1-20 – Some mistake the silence of God as evidence He is not here, or at least not paying attention. Yet this reading makes it clear first of all that silence is not unusual with God, and secondly that He is indeed paying attention. Eli perhaps thought God would not care that his sons were extorting God’s people (1 Samuel 2:12ff). Evil often seems to run unchecked, leading some to conclude God does not exist or does not care. Scripture repeatedly reminds us that all of creation will be accountable before God, and that sometimes such accountability will come here and now as well as in eternity. God’s people are therefore to cling to what is right, to resist evil both in themselves and others, and when evil seems to prevail, trust that God who is sovereign over all things will indeed set things right in his own time. The existence of evil in the world around us is a constant reminder of the evil that lurks within our own selves, and a call to daily give thanks to God through whom temporal forgiveness and eternal reconciliation are made possible because of the incarnate obedience of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

Psalm 139:1-10 – Verse 6 functions as the balancing moment for the first half of the psalm. God is indeed sovereign and omnipresent, sustaining all of creation moment by moment in his power, and this includes you and I. How will we react to this knowledge? Some react against it, angry and frustrated, seeking to establish what independence and separation they can from God by rejecting him completely. But the psalmist realizes this ever-presence of God is actually a beautiful thing, a blessing too marvelous to understand. This should help us interpret the next six verses not as the author (and therefore we as the speakers) lamenting there is no place to run or hide from God, but rather as thanksgiving that there is literally nowhere in all of creation where we are without God’s sustaining presence. Our lives may take us in diverse directions and we may lose all connection to the familiar and the beloved in this world, but nothing can remove us from the constant presence of God. He who created us (vs.13ff) abides with us in Spirit every bit as much as He did in the incarnate Christ.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 – Paul writes to a group of Christians with some rather major misunderstandings of their lives of faith. They are Christians – Paul has asserted this from the beginning of his letter to them and in no way wavers from this point. He knows they are in Christ, but that doesn’t mean they know how a life in Christ looks and works. They – like us – need to be taught and reminded, lest worldly ways of thinking creep in and ultimately displace or distort the truth of forgiveness through the blood of the resurrected Son of God, Jesus the Christ! In this section Paul is likely paraphrasing or quoting popular phrases – either in Corinth in general or particularly in the Christian congregation there. They emphasized their freedom in Christ to their detriment, engaging in or permitting behavior amongst themselves that was dangerous and scandalous. Our freedom in Christ is not freedom to be our own masters, determining right and wrong as we see fit. Rather our freedom in Christ means we have been bought with the blood of Christ. We are not free – but we are free from the slavery of sin. We are not free to be our own masters, but we are free finally to submit ourselves to slavery in Christ, knowing him to be the master we were created for and in whom we have all good things. Even those areas of our lives we guard most zealously in terms of control, whether our sexual behaviors (Chapter 5, 6:15-18) or our business dealings (6:1-11), all are subject to the authority of Christ.

John 1:43-51 – Jesus begins calling his disciples in the Jordan River valley just outside of Jerusalem very shortly after his baptism. Arrangements and agreements are made here which are later activated once Jesus and the others have returned to Galilee and made the necessary arrangements with their families. John the Baptist encourages his own followers to become followers of Jesus by pointing out Jesus as the promised Messiah (1:29-37).

I tend to see a lot of humor going on in this passage. Nathanael’s incredulity that Nazareth might have something valuable or good to contribute to the world at large. Jesus’ assessment of Nathanael as an honest man – perhaps too honest for his own good? Nathanael’s immediate declaration of faith that Jesus is in fact the divine Son of God and promised Messiah simply because Jesus knew where Nathanael was previous to their encounter. And Jesus’ reminder that we too often expect too little of our God, who is always willing and able to provide vastly more than we could conceive of asking for.

Jesus begins his ministry with the affirmations of God the Father (1:32) as well as John the Baptist (1:29-31) as to his identity. His disciples are convinced despite their previous interest in John the Baptist. His disciples exhibit a healthy uncertainty and reluctance to jump to conclusions. But they are also clearly convinced in short order of Jesus’ identity and purpose, even if that identity and purpose will continue to also be confusing and elusive to them (John 6:16-20). So we are called to follow in faith, not because we have all the answers but because we are convinced that Jesus alone has the words of eternal life (6:68)

Reading Ramblings – January 10, 2021

January 3, 2021

Date: The Baptism of Our Lord – January 10, 2021

Texts: Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Romans 6:1-11; Mark 1:4-11

Context: The emphasis in the readings is on God’s power and authority. God the Father is the creator of all things and also specifically creates with his Word, the Genesis text emphasizes. What God declares, is. The psalm further reinforces this power and again emphasizes the voice of God. God’s creative power is unleashed specifically in baptism, whereby we are created anew. John the Baptist indicates Jesus will baptize in and with the power of the Holy Spirit. As the Word of God made flesh, what Jesus is not symbolic but actual, a key difference between the baptism He brings as opposed to John’s baptism. This is elaborated on in Paul’s beautifully inspired words in Romans. Sin truly has been killed in us as our defining and controlling quality. We are freed from slavery to this sin and therefore are free to resist it, even if imperfectly. Though we still see our sin we must count it as nothing compared to the power of the Word of God declaring us alive in Christ through baptism. All of this highlights the importance of baptism in the Christian life. At Jesus’ command we submit ourselves to the re-creative power of the Holy Spirit on the basis of the obedience of Jesus the Christ to receive reconciliation with God the Father.

Genesis 1:1-5 – Initially the selection of this reading might seem odd for a Sunday commemorating Jesus’ baptism. We might try to find some corrolation with the waters mentioned in v.2, but this is secondary (and more likely symbolic of nothingness or chaos) compared with the primal creative work of God in v.3. How does God the Father accomplish creating? He speaks. The creative power of God the Father is in his Word, which John tells us in the opening of his Gospel is made flesh in Jesus the Christ. So when the Word of God institutes baptism, He does so not symbolically but with power, a power consisting of the giving of the Holy Spirit of God present at the creation of all things. Baptism is a moment of God’s creative powers. This should not push us to make baptism into some sort of Law. We are commanded to be baptized (Matthew 28:16-20, Acts 2:38; Romans 6:1-11, etc). Anyone professing to be a follower of Jesus the Christ will submit themselves or be submitted to baptism. But baptism is not a Law restricting access to the grace of God. For the miscarried child or someone who is killed or dies before they can receive baptism, we do not say this precludes them from God’s grace and mercy. It is simply the normal course of action for someone of the faith as indicated in 1 Peter 3:21.

Psalm 29 – This psalm begins with a command – for the people of God to ascribe – to give voice to – the qualities and attributes of God the Father He has revealed to us. We are to acknowledge God for who He has shown himself to be. This would be in contrast to attributing these qualities to any other entity or person, real or imagined. Some translations say give or bring rather than ascribe, but the idea is the same. But then the psalm moves on to focus not on what we ascribe/say/bring/give but rather remind us what God accomplishes through his voice. His voice is the voice of power, and the most powerful and frightening or intimidating natural phenoma we can point to are at his command. This culminates in the most amazing of reminders – the Lord of all creation uses his voice and power for the benefit of his people! He is the source of their strength and blessing! Surely, the God who creates and can destroy is more than able to bless and strengthen, so that his people should all the more have reason to ascribe to him glory and strength and holiness!

Romans 6:1-11 – We can’t outsin the grace of God. God’s grace is bountiful, Paul concludes in Chapter 5. Which might lead some to mistakenly or mischievously argue that by sinning more, we show God’s greatness better by giving him more opportunities to forgive! This is unthinkable! We have been changed. How great is that change? As great as the change from life to death. As definitive and all encompassing. We have died – it is already an accomplished event in our lives – to sin. When did this happen? At our baptism. Baptism is not merely some perfunctory act of symbolism. It has spiritual connections to the very death of the Son of God. Spiritually we die with him and are buried with him. And as Christ was raised from the tomb, our baptism raises us spiritually to new life. Paul uses strong language. Our sinful nature didn’t simply die, it was crucified! It was nailed to the cross of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit who brought us to faith! Therefore we can’t simply choose to sin as though this is somehow appropriate to us or glorifying to God. Just as a living person can’t pretend to be a corpse – or visa versa – we can’t pretend at something we aren’t.

Mark 1:4-11 – Mark (recording Peter’s testimony) begins his story of Jesus with John the Baptist, the one who prepares the way for the Messiah according to prophecy, and the one who clearly differentiates himself as the messenger rather than the messiah (vs.7-8). The difference is in power and authority and purpose. John the Baptist can only point the way – the Messiah is the one who will accomplish the bringing of the HolySpirit.

But John’s baptism of Jesus does accomplish something beyond prophetic fulfillment – it provides an opportunity for God the Father to express his love for his Son as the Son is obedient to his Father’s will as prompted by the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist testifies that he witnesses this event as well (John 1:32-33) as verification of both his own purpose and Jesus’ identity as the Messiah.

In his baptism – which Jesus does not need for his own forgiveness of sins – Jesus immerses himself in us, our situation, our brokenness, our sinfulness. He emerges from the water not washed clean of sins but rather with our sins on his shoulders. His willingness to do this, to stand in our place, is I believe what prompts the Father’s outburst of joy and love. His Son is obedient to the Father’s plan, fully knowing this will lead to a very brutal end (according to his humanity).