Making Your Father Proud
Who is in the driver’s seat of your life? Listen to this story from pastor and author John Ortberg.
When it was time to take our first child home from the hospital, we put her in the car seat in the back of the car, and then I got in the front seat to drive. She was so small even the baby seat was way too big. She looked so fragile to me that I drove home on the freeway going 35 miles per hour with the hazard lights flashing the whole time.
That first day, when your kid is in the car with you, is a scary day. Does anybody want to know what the next really scary day is with your kid in the car? It’s when they turn 16, and now you’re handing over the keys. Now they’re moving from the passenger seat, from the ride-along seat, into the driver’s seat. That’s a scary moment. As a side note, I’ve always said that driving instructors are either a special kind of brave or a special kind of crazy. Probably both.
It is a big moment in your life when you hand someone else the keys. Up until now, I’ve been driving. I choose the destination. I choose the route. I choose the speed. You’re in the ride-along seat. But if we are to change seats, if you’re going to drive, I have to trust you. It’s all about control. Whoever is in this seat is the person in control.
A lot of people find Jesus handy to have in the car as long as he’s in the ride-along seat, because something may come up where they require his services. Jesus, I have a health problem, and I need some help…. I want you in the car, but I’m not so sure I want you driving. If Jesus is driving, I’m not in charge of my life anymore. If he’s driving, I’m not in charge of my wallet anymore. If I put him in control then it’s no longer a matter of giving some money now and then when I’m feeling generous or when more of it is coming into my life. Now, it’s his wallet. It’s scary. If Jesus is driving, I’m not in charge of my ego anymore.
I no longer have the right to satisfy every self-centered ambition. No, it’s his agenda. It’s his life. Now, I’m not in charge of my mouth anymore. I don’t get to gossip, flatter, cajole, deceive, rage, intimidate, manipulate, exaggerate. I get out of the driver’s seat and hand the keys over to him. I’m fully engaged. In fact, I’m more alive than I’ve ever been before, but it’s not my life anymore. It’s his life.
Let me ask the question again. Who is in the driver’s seat of your life? If your view of God is that God is a ruthless dictator or an angry policeman waiting for you to fail or a distant and impossible-to-please father, the thought of being obedient to God can be terrifying. And that’s the view a lot of us have of God. But if your view of God is the view that Jesus gives us of God, the view of God revealed in the pages of the Bible – a God who loves deeply, who sacrifices himself for the good of his creation, who wants what is best for you – isn’t a terror anymore, it’s a comfort to have God in charge. To be obedient to him. Yes, God is holy and righteous and just. And we are none of those things. Not all the time. So God in his mercy and because he loves us deeply, has made a way for our disobedience to be forgiven, and for obedience to be empowered. Turn with me to Mark 1:9-13.
If there was ever one who DIDN’T need to be baptized by John the Baptist, it was Jesus. Mark tells us back in V. 4 that John’s baptism was for “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” And Jesus, the sinless one, didn’t need to repent and receive forgiveness. There was nothing for him to repent of, nothing to be forgiven of, and yet, here he is, wading out into the Jordan River along with the throngs of people from Jerusalem and Judea, to be baptized along with them. Mark doesn’t mention it, but Matthew tells us that John actually argued with Jesus about it. He said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John is incredulous. And Jesus answered, “Let it be so for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:14-15). Mark doesn’t mention that. He just leaves us to wonder why in the world the one of whom John says, “After me comes one who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie” is now coming TO John to be baptized BY John.
But Matthew makes it clear – Jesus is there to be baptized in order to be obedient to the Father. You see, to accomplish the task for which he had been sent – forgiveness for sinful humanity by a sinless God – the eternal Son had to empty himself. St. Paul tells us that the eternal Christ, the Son, the second member of the Trinity, “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:7-8). He didn’t empty himself of his divinity, because Paul also tells us that “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). Jesus was fully God and fully human, the eternal Son restricted to a human body. So what did he empty himself of? He emptied himself of the glory and the privileges and the rights that were his as the eternal Son, the 2nd member of the Trinity, SO THAT he could identify fully with us.
And so the sinless one joins the line of sinners and is baptized by John in the Jordan river. The giver of life and the one who holds all things together becomes a lowly penitent and receives the sign of repentance.
Christian author John White tells the story of his days as a medical student. For one of his classes, he missed a practicum about venereal disease and had to make it up at the clinic. When he arrived at the clinic he ended up in a line with a bunch of patients who had actually contracted a venereal disease. White barged up to the front and told the head nurse, “I need to see the doctor.”
“That’s what everybody says,” snorted the nurse, “now get in line.”
“But I’m a medical student.”
“Big deal,” said the nurse, “You got it the same way as everybody else; now you can stand in line like everybody else.”
John White writes:
In the end I managed to explain to her why I was there, but I can still feel the sense of shame that made me balk at standing in line with the other men who had a venereal disease. Yet Jesus shunned shame as he went to the cross. (And therefore, he shunned shame when he was baptized.) And the moral gulf that separated him from us was far greater than that separating me from the men at the clinic … But he crossed the gulf, joining our ranks, embraced us and still remained pure. He identified with those he came to save. He became like us.
When he was baptized, Jesus was saying that yes, God will judge sin, and he would take that judgment on himself for us. In being baptized, Jesus was putting himself in our place. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Can you say thank you God for that?
Now, look at Vv. 10-11. We often picture this as a voice booming from heaven for all to hear, the dove descending for all to see. But that isn’t what the Bible says. Look carefully. It says “he saw.” And the words are directed to Jesus alone. “YOU ARE my beloved Son; with YOU I am well pleased.” The Gospel of John tells us that John the Baptist also saw the dove, but no one else does, because John actually tells the people what he saw. In one of his most humble moments, Jesus, God-in-the-flesh obediently standing in line with a bunch of sinful human beings to be baptized just like them, the Father speaks directly to him, telling him “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” “I claim you, I love you, and I am so very proud of you.”
You are my son. The words son and daughter indicate relationship, don’t they? A special relationship. A relationship reserved for a child in relation to their parent. And with that relationship comes connection and protection, and also identity and a family to belong to. When Brad and Jamie adopted Jess, they gave her their name, their identity. She became Jess Schichtel, their daughter. That means that they claim her. That she belongs to their family just as much as Brayden and Gavin do. You are my Son. Identity and belonging.
But the Father didn’t just say, “You are my Son,” did he? He said, “You are my BELOVED Son.” You are my Son, and I love you very much. I claim you. You belong. And I love you deeply. Even as you stand there in line with a bunch of people waiting to repent and be baptized, I love you. Their sin will be placed on you, and I love you.
With you I am well pleased. And I am so very proud of you. The eternal Father looked at the Eternal Son, standing there in the muddy waters of the Jordan river, patiently waiting his turn to be baptized, in his case not to be forgiven of sin but to identify with us and take our sin upon himself, to become sin for us. And he said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” “I claim you, I love you, and I am proud of you.” Words of belonging, love, and praise.
Now, pay close attention to this. Paul, in Galatians 4, writes, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:4-7). Jesus passes his Sonship on to us. His belonging, his identity, his love from his Father, and the words of affirmation the Father spoke to him are now ours through him. He accomplished for us what we could not accomplish for ourselves – he lived a perfect life. And because he did that, he was qualified to take our sin upon himself. And in identifying with us fully there in the Jordan River that is exactly what he did. And so he took our judgment upon himself, and we get his identity and belonging, we get his love, we get his words of affirmation. We cry out “Abba, Father” and God’s reply is “You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased.”
Now, look at what happens next. Look at Vv. 12-13. Matthew spends much more time talking about the temptation of Jesus than Mark does. But Mark says a lot in these two short verses. He begins by telling us that the Spirit, the third person of the Trinity (the entire Trinity was fully present in that muddy river), the Spirit of God that had just descended on Jesus, hovering over him like a dove, now sent him further out into the wilderness. And Jesus, having obeyed in baptism, now obeys and places himself squarely in the crosshairs of Satan and he is tempted. In Matthew’s Gospel we’re told that he was tempted to give in to self and protect himself, disobey God and feed himself in that moment when he was supposed to be fasting, and seek glory for himself. But whereas Matthew wraps up the temptation, Mark leaves it open, telling us only that Jesus was tempted by Satan. He doesn’t tell us how Jesus was tempted, or how he resisted that temptation. He only tells us that Jesus was tempted.
The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16). Jesus fully identified with us not only in becoming sin for us, but by facing temptation, in a weakened state, just like we do.
How do we know he was weakened? Mark tells us that he spent 40 days in the wilderness. Matthew adds that Jesus fasted for that 40 days. He knows what it is like not just to be tempted, but to be tempted when and where we are weak. After the 40 day fast, what was Satan’s first temptation? “You’re God. Turn those stones to bread and eat.” Take care of yourself. Preserve yourself. Ease the gnawing in your stomach, the craving in your body. And just as he resisted, so we are given the strength to resist. James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Obey and resist, just like our spiritual big brother Jesus did.
And not only was Jesus tempted in the wilderness, he was in danger in the wilderness. Mark tells us that he was “with the wild animals.” Now he doesn’t mean that Jesus was sitting there serenely petting mountain lions and bears. No! It means that he faced the same confusing and unpredictable and sometimes dangerous natural world that we all face. He identified with us fully. He faced the full impact of and temptation to sin and the dangers that come with living in a fallen and broken cosmos.
And when it was over, he was ministered to by angels. There’s only one other place in the Gospel accounts where angels are said to have come and directly ministered to Jesus, and that was in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before he was betrayed, as he sweat drops of blood. Jesus has just been through an ordeal in the wilderness. He has faced fully the sinfulness of humanity, the power of temptation, and the dangers of this world, and angels come and minister to him.
Obedience isn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for Jesus, and it certainly isn’t easy for us. But it’s part of being a child of God, a member of the family of God, and a citizen of the kingdom of God. Obedience isn’t about following a set of rules. It’s about living in relationship with Christ, doing what pleases him, and not doing what doesn’t please him. None of us can do that perfectly. There are times we don’t want to resist the devil. There are times we’d much rather follow Satan’s lead. There are times we’d rather not have Jesus in the driver’s seat of our lives. But we also have this promise – that those of us who cry out “Abba, Father” to our loving, mercy-filled heavenly Father, can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
In The Democratic Republic of the Congo, the weather was long and dank. No breath of air stirred; leaves hung from the trees as though they were weighted. In the garden not far from the missionary home a small boy played under a tree. Suddenly, the father called to him: “Philip, obey me instantly – get down on your stomach.” The boy reacted at once, and his father continued, “Now crawl toward me fast.” The boy again obeyed. After he had come about halfway, the father said, “Now stand up and run to me.” The boy reached his father and turned to look back – hanging from the branch under which he had been playing was a fifteen-foot serpent.
Are we always as ready to obey? Or do we say: “Tell me why”? “Explain to me”? “I will after a while”? Who is in the driver’s seat of your life? Let us pray.