New Vision (Matthew 3)
We all need vision. I don’t mean eyesight, although that helps. We all need a purpose in life, a raison d’etre, a sense of accomplishing something beyond ourselves that makes an impact on this world. And sometimes, when we’ve been on track and life is going fine, we suddenly find everything turning topsy-turvy; we don’t know what we’re about anymore.
John is feeling that. He’s been on task for thirty years, carrying the mantle God placed upon him years ago. He knows he’s a forerunner of the long-awaited Jewish Messiah and he wants to discharge his assignment thoroughly. He speaks with the authority of one who is confident in his role. That’s where we find John near the beginning of Matthew’s gospel. And that might be where we find ourselves – not in John’s role, but ensconced in our own routines. We know how we like to spend our free time, how to transition to our work roles with the least amount of discomfort, and how to maintain a sense of purpose in our lives. We believe we’re justified in our lifestyle choices because we think they reflect who we uniquely are.
John is the epitome of unique; his role has become a sort of cross between a boot camp sergeant and a campaign GOTV coordinator. He’s as abrasive as coarse-grit sandpaper, stripping layers of self-satisfied complacency off anyone who dares to come within earshot of him. The Jordan River has become a cold-tank dip-stripper, a platform for calling the masses to repent, revamp and revise. Even the pious he calls a “brood of vipers”; no one is safe within a furlong of the man. Until he meets Jesus at the river.
“Baptize me”, Jesus requests. Stunned, John tries to deter him. John’s baptism has been one of repentance, of admission of sinfulness and broken relationship before God. John knows this man is unique; this Man is God-in-flesh goodness – for Him there is not one iota of a thought, word or act from which to repent. John has no idea how to proceed. He has no blueprint from which to draw. He’s being asked to step into a role of ministry for which he is entirely unprepared. He becomes hopelessly aware of his own sinfulness, inadequacy, and ineptitude.
“I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” he questions.
That’s a good question. It’s the kind of question we must ask Jesus too. It’s a request for vision, really. It’s a new level of humility that sees Jesus moving us constantly into new phases of our remaking; the vision we have of the cameo for which we’ve been cast needs rejigging. Jesus will not let us settle into routines of complacency when once we’ve heard and responded to His call. His kingdom is too vast for that. His vision for our transformation too far exceeds our own hopes for what we will become to let us settle for mediocrity. Jesus explains it in simple terms.
“Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus is explaining that He has a plan for this world. It’s a good plan and many will benefit by it. It will mean listening carefully to what He calls us to do. The spirit of the law is always more subtle than the letter of the law, but it is the Spirit, not the letter, that gives life.
So John does baptize Jesus after all. He dips Him into Jordan’s cool waters, not quite understanding how it will fulfill all righteousness, but obeying anyway. Time seems to stand still as Jesus rests submerged underwater. But as John lifts Him up, water streaming off His face and hair, heaven seems to open before them. The very Spirit of God descends and lights like a dove on Jesus’ shoulders and the Father’s voice thunders His approval.
We most likely won’t experience what John did; no two lives are the same. God has a way of working in your life and mine that mimics none other. But if we are faithful to listen carefully for and to His voice, to accept the quirks in life as opportunities to obey Him, He will fulfill all righteousness. He will use us in ways we would never expect, giving us new vision for each new step.
Are we just on the cusp of faith? He knows that. Are we long-time followers of Him? He knows that too. Is our vision of Him too small for the idea we’ve had in the past? He’s happy to help us with that. Trusting Jesus means admitting we don’t know exactly how this life works, how to make the most of opportunities and relationships, or even how to find God. It means entrusting our deepest selves to His plans, even if they look like a change of plans to us. He is faithful. He will do it if we will grasp what He offers. It’s all part of the kingdom outlook.