At the baptism of our Lord, heaven simply could not contain God Godself and God the Spirit who interrupt the regularly scheduled programming to bring a very important message. That message is that this Jesus who just moments ago was standing in line with all the other rif-raf, this Jesus who has just been baptized, is the Son of God, the beloved in whom God is well pleased to offer to the whole world. That was God's first move. From this place of identity, Jesus was then equipped for his purpose. Check out the next few verses:
And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
And the word that had most recently come from the mouth of God was, "This is my beloved in whom I am well pleased." Identity. It's God's first move.
I was reminded this week by my friend Dave Lose that when the devil says to Jesus "If you are the Son of God...." he calls into question Jesus' relationship with his God because he knows that Jesus, as with Adam and Eve before him, is vulnerable to temptation precisely to the degree that he is insecure about his identity and mistrusts his relationship with God.
So perhaps there's a reason why when Jesus was baptized and given an identity and purpose from God that the devil's first move was putting this very identity and purpose into question saying, "If you really are what God says you are?" Identity. It's like the end of the spool of thread that when gotten a hold of can unwind the whole thing.
I wonder if we too are vulnerable to temptation: Whether it be temptation to self-loathing or self-aggrandizement, depression or pride, self-destruction or self-indulgence -- I wonder if we too are prone to these temptations precisely to the degree that we are insecure about our identity from and relationship to God. We are vulnerable to darkness precisely to the degree in which we doubt the identity and purpose given us by God on the waters of our baptism.
For the record, I have very little predilection for thinking about demons or the devil or that whole powers and principalities thing. Like a good middle-class mainline protestant, I tend to arrogantly look down my theological nose at all of it as superstitious snake-handling nonsense. As though it's all the spiritual equivalent of a Monster Truck Rally. At best I think all that talk about demonic forces is no more than a result of ignorance and lack of education. At worst it's just a way to externalize our own sin. Because if the devil made me do it, then I don't have to face the reality that perhaps I made me do it. It's all so ripe for abuse. Some reading this have been victim to other Christians trying to cast out the so-called demon of homosexuality as though spiritual warfare and the culture wars are one and the same thing.
So I hope you hear me when I say, I in no way have any desire to believe in spiritual warfare, yet in the last couple years I've quietly began to change my ideas about this. Based on the biblical text and my own experience, I now think that there are indeed forces that seek to defy God in the world and that this is demonstrated not only in the evil we see swirling around us in the world -- demonstrated not only in the bullets which flew from a legal handgun in Tuscon into the head of a U.S. congresswoman; bullets that killed a 9-year-old girl and five others. That sort of defiance of God's love and purpose for humanity is obvious. But I think that in more subtle ways these same forces also can seek to defy God's purpose in our own individual lives, and in our Christian communities. And the first move of the devil is always the same. Attack your identity as the beloved with whom God is well pleased. And the precision by which the devil, or evil or darkness (what ever you want to call it) worms into our own lives in just this way is breathtaking. Like a radioactive isotope custom made for each of us calling into question our identity as children of God.
The longer I try to participate in God's redeeming work in the world the more I am convinced despite my proclivity to cynicism that there are indeed forces that seek to defy God. And nowhere are we more prone to encroaching darkness than when we are stepping into the light. If you have ever experienced sudden discouragement in the midst of healthy decisions, or if there is a toxic thought that will always send you spiraling down, or if there is a particular temptation that is your weakness then I make the following suggestion: take a note from Martin Luther's playbook and defiantly shout back at this darkness "I am Baptized" not I was, but I am baptized. When Luther himself was hold up in a castle translating the Greek Bible into German so that for the very fist time somewhat regular folks could read the Word of God for themselves, well, while he was doing this he struggled mightily with doubt and discouragement from what he understood to be the devil. And he was known to not only throw the occasional ink pots at whatever was tormenting him and causing him to doubt God's promises, but while doing so he could be heard throughout the castle grounds shouting "I am baptized".
Lutheran Theologian Craig Koester says that from an earthly perspective, evil can seem so pervasive as to be unstoppable. And watching the evening news would seem to support that idea. But from a heavenly perspective evil rages on earth not because it is so powerful, but because it is so vulnerable. Koester claims that Satan rages on earth because he has already lost and he is desperate. So if you are going to join me in this crazy practice of picturing our discouragement and doubt as a force that wants to defy God then join me in picturing it not as powerful and unstoppable but picture evil and darkness for what it is: desperate and vulnerable