A couple weeks ago I posted about the connection between freedom and identity. Our experience of freedom, and ability to act freely, is inseparable from our sense of self. Do we know who we are? Are we able to move through the world with all of the strength and assuredness that comes from being God’s beloved sons and daughters?
That thought took root in the scene of Jesus’ baptism, where Jesus’ public ministry begins with a declaration (perhaps, better, an imparting) of an identity. And his whole life rests and depends on it: he is God’s beloved son.
There’s something else going on in the baptism scene as well. And I think that it, too, is related to mission, though the connection is paradoxical.
A Job to Do
When Jesus is baptized, God declares that Jesus is son and the Spirit comes upon him.
This is Jesus’ anointing. This is when Jesus is marked out as king.
If you read through the early history of Israel’s rulers, they are often marked by the Spirit coming upon them. When Samuel anoints Saul the Spirit falls on him such that the people say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
When it is time to mark out David as Saul’s replacement we learn two things. One is that the Spirit of God comes upon David from that time forward. The second is that the Spirit leaves Saul and his place is taken by a not-so-nice spirit.
Ideally, Israel’s kings receive the Spirit when they are marked out for their royal vocation.
Then there’s this: to be a “son of God” meant any number of things, including the idea that the person was Israel’s king.
Psalm 2 was an enthronement psalm. At the day (or celebration) of the enthronement the king says these words:
I will tell of the decree of the Lord. He has said to me, “You are my son, today I have begotten you.”
When God calls someone “son,” on that day they are being installed as king.
When Jesus is baptized, he is inaugurated into his office. Jesus is the Messiah. God has given Jesus a job to do. It is with this knowledge of not only his identity but also his calling and mission that Jesus is able to live a life of freedom.
We Join Him
I am convinced that Jesus’ life of freedom shows us the life of freedom that God wants us to know as well. If, in Christ, God makes us free (cf. Galatians), then freedom must be what God wants for people. And what God wants for people is put on display for us in Christ.
Jesus found his freedom in enacting the coming reign of God, as the king of God’s kingdom. That particular calling gave him the freedom to say no when he might be pulled away by other good things. And it gave him the freedom to say yes even when it looked like saying yes would lead to complete and catastrophic failure.
But how does that help us? Last I checked, I wasn’t the Messiah (see, I do actually know that!).
Jesus calls followers for one major reason: to do everything that he does.
Jesus proclaims the good news. He calls followers for this purpose and sends them out to do so.
Jesus heals the sick. He calls followers for this purpose and sends them out to do so.
Jesus exorcises demons. He calls followers for this purpose and sends them out to do so.
Jesus goes to the cross. And… what?
The first we hear of Jesus as someone who must die he tells us what discipleship means: Take up your cross and follow.
We find our freedom, the freedom that God wants us to have as God’s beloved children, when we participate in the work of bringing the coming kingdom of God to bear on this world.
Empowering One Another
That is why one of the most important things we can do for one another, after making sure that everyone knows that “beloved child of God” is at the core of their identity, is to empower people to participate in the mission of God.
The church’s impulse is often to guard the mission of God, and distribute its roles as through safe deposit boxes in locked vaults. The disciples did a dry run of this for us. John said, “Hey, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we stopped him because he doesn’t follow us.”
John wanted to be the gatekeeper. He thought Jesus would be proud at the way he had set up the
ordination exams um… I mean… genitalia exam not wait… here we go: parameters around who could minister in Jesus’ name.
Jesus wasn’t impressed. “Don’t hinder him.” Maybe we should render that, “How dare you? My name is not yours to control.”
Not ours to control, but it is ours to share in. And it is ours to recognize in the face of our sisters and brothers.
Freedom comes when we give ourselves to what God has gifted and called us to do, inside the church or out. And if God’s desire for the freedom of God’s children runs aground on protective reefs by which we had hoped to protect the gospel, we find ourselves responsible for the pain and damage and dehumanization that is inflicted as a result.
What does healthy theology look like? It looks like starting with the question, How can I love God, and how can I love my neighbor?
Pursuing for our image-bearing neighbor the freedom that God has offered us all in Christ is one way to pursue a healthy, lived theology. This means empowering our sisters and brothers to thrive in whatever God has gifted them to do.
Featured Image Courtesy of meditatecenter.com