First words are critical. Just ask any novelist or screenplay writer. J.J. Abrams was on Jimmy Kimmel Live before the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Kimmel wanted to see if he could get a scoop on some inside information about the movie so he asked Abrams to give him just one thing. He asked for the first spoken word in the film.
With anticipation mounting Abrams said “Ready?” and then leaned in towards Kimmel and said… “This.” There you have it. It doesn’t tell you much other than the fact that we are interested in first words. Of course, after you see the movie you find that the complete sentence is “This will begin to make things right.” Some think it is an insult aimed at the first three prequels. Who knows? But we do know that first words often tell us something significant.
They do in Mathew’s gospel. The rabbis believed that when the last of the prophets had died God’s Spirit had vanished from Israel. They believed they were allowed to hear the bath-qol which means “echo” or “daughter of the voice.” But they had not heard directly from God.
That all changes when Jesus comes to be baptized by John in the Jordan. The heavens open, the Spirit of God descends like a dove and comes to a resting place on Jesus and then the silence from heaven is broken.
What comes next is the Father’s voice. In the great movie that answers all the questions about manhood anyone would ever need to ask—Fight Club—Tyler Durden says “Our fathers were our models for God, if our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God?’”
Many can relate. If the words you heard from a father or mother or sibling or schoolmates or neighbors or co-workers were negative words and negative words were the normative words for you, chances are those are the words you imagine God saying to you.
Religion has not helped the matter. Many groups have relied on guilt and shame to hopefully keep people in line. Grace is seen as something that, if taught, would send people to a life of license. And so we hear stern words and critical words from authority figures early in our lives and maybe even later and we think those are the same words from God.
People in the first century no doubt faced the same. Jesus himself would be confronted with his own doubters. He would know opposition. He would hear the detractors. He would feel the breath of his accusers on his neck. What he needed were strong words from his Father. And that is what he gets. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Want to know what sustained Jesus in his difficult days? He was the Beloved. He was loved by the Father. The Father was pleased with him. He never spent one moment unsure of God’s love for him. His identity was this: “I am one loved by the Father.”
That identity would strengthen him and sustain him. The first words from God when he broke the silence of heaven were words of love. That’s what Jesus needed to hear.
And they are the words you need to hear. What the Father said to Jesus at his baptism he says to you at yours. He says, “You are my beloved son or daughter. And I am well pleased with you.”
That is who you are. You are God’s beloved. That is your identity. You need only believe it. And that may be the largest part of faith you need to deal with today. As Brennan Manning said often: “I am utterly convinced that on judgment day, the Lord Jesus will ask one question and only one question: Did you believe that I loved you?”
Hear the Father saying to you: “You are my Beloved. I am well pleased with you.” This will begin to make things right.
Question: What words do you hear the Father speaking to you?