1.9.21 homily on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 by Jonathan Snack
What does it take for someone to be well pleased with you?
From a young age, we pick up on when our parents or guardians are pleased with us. For example, my mother was more pleased with me when I did the dishes or took out the trash, and less pleased with me when she would find me staying up late playing Gameboy under my covers.
We learn, whether that is their intention or not, that people are pleased with us when we do something productive or good.
As we went through school, we saw teachers were usually pleased with students who were both smart and well-behaved. Coaches, pleased with athletes who performed.
In our jobs and duties, we are valuable through our production. How well we can produce for our company, how orderly we can keep our house, etc.
I even see this in our older population, or those suffering from sickness. There is often a desire to be as little a “burden” as possible, and some will not ask for help when it is needed.
Our culture puts value on those that can contribute. And at its base level this is not a bad thing. The plumber that drives to your house and fixes your leaking pipe is a lot better than one who never shows up! Society functions through people’s contributions.
However, I do believe that this emphasis on the idea that productivity = value creeps into our walk with God. When we look to elevate our value to God through our work, or tie God’s value to the work we want to see done, we can end up disappointed.
John the Baptist 15-17
Our Scripture for today starts with John the Baptist, but we won’t stay there long. And the reason we won’t stay talking about John is from his own instructions.
John was preaching and teaching, v.3 “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” The people who were following him began to question if he was the Messiah, the Christ. The one who was coming to set them free. John sees this happening and says “listen. I am baptizing you with water. You can commit to a life of following God in repentance. But Jesus, he is the one who gives you the power to do so”. Jesus is the one you are looking for. The one that you should follow. So let’s follow John’s advice and look at Jesus.
In these two verses, there are a lot of things happening and we could probably make a sermon
series about just these. We see that Jesus was baptized! Why would perfect Jesus need to be baptized? We see Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God the Father talking from heaven. That’s the trinity! There is a lot that could be said about the trinity!
But today we are going to sit in the words that God says to Jesus. A voice came from heaven “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Why? Why is God well pleased with Jesus? How many times has Jesus preached before this moment? Once as a kid in the temple? How many miracles has Jesus performed? According to Scripture, none. So far, the only thing that Jesus has done is been baptized. And God is well pleased with him.
What pleases God?
If I am honest, this makes me a little uncomfortable and it also feels out of place. Throughout Scripture we see times where God expresses his displeasure with people.
If we go back a few verses, in 7-14, John is talking to the crowd that has gathered before him and he warns them saying “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance… Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”
The crowd asks him what they need to do. Summed up, John states that those who have should share with those who do not have. Those who are in power should not abuse those they have power over.
John makes it pretty clear that a life of repentance includes living in a specific way. And this is not something new! When the Israelites were sacrificing lame animals instead of their best, through the prophet Malachi God says “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”
But just good sacrifices are not enough. In Micah, as he warns them about God’s coming judgment, he asks “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams?”. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
James 1:27 – “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
I look at all of this and I go “what do you want from me God? How can I please you? Do I just need to be baptized? Is it that, and sacrifice and justice? Was Jesus doing those things before his baptism?
It’s frustrating when you do not know how to please someone! So what is it that pleases God?
I believe that we see in a Scripture it is a heart that is oriented towards God.
Jesus didn’t need to be baptized as a sign of repentance. He was baptized as a way of saying I am entering into the ministry that my Father has laid out for me. My heart is yours God. My will is yours.
I also believe though that there is tension here because God has shown us that a heart oriented towards him is not stagnant. And I think this tension can often lead us into one of two camps.
I believe that there are people who are really good at living in “God being pleased with them”. I have experienced this and seen it. Those of us here get the idea that Jesus has saved us from our sins. We understand that God loves us and we do not need to perform to earn that love. We can often fall into what I would call “works complacency”. When we are in this camp, we don’t want to get caught up in things like “social justice” because we just need to focus on the gospel, and the gospel says that it is faith in God that saves us.
It is true that our works do not save us, that we cannot earn our way into heaven, but it is also true that God has called us to plead the case of the oppressed, to visit the orphan and the widow, to share with those who do not have.
The other camp, something that I have both seen and experienced, can forget that God is pleased with us, and other followers of God, simply because he loves us and we have accepted his love. We read about God’s heart for the marginalized and see how it is woven throughout history, song, law, and prophecy! We live our lives in a way that examines how we are living and asking are there changes we could make that would make us a better neighbor?
In my observation and experience, we can get angry and frustrated with those that do not see the pressing need for justice and reconciliation within our communities. I know personally, I have gotten angry with God for allowing his people to proclaim his name while actively or passively taking part in systems of injustice.
And there is truth there as well. We see God use the prophets to speak to his people, communicating his displeasure with them for ignoring the cases of the weak, ignored, and marginalized. We see in Jesus’s life how he purposefully pursued those that were ignored in society.
Back to Jesus
Like every good Sunday School question, the answer to this is Jesus. Jesus walked that line of tension. What did Jesus do after he was baptized? Jesus did not say “God I am so glad you are well pleased with me” and then return home. Jesus both said “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” and hung out with lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, and Samaritans.
For those of us today who walk with Jesus, God is pleased with you and loves you simply for being his. And that is freeing. It is freeing because, like I said earlier, so much of our culture puts an emphasis on production.
We do not need to produce something for God to be pleased with us. If you are walking with him, he is already pleased with you.
What is also beautiful about this, is that we can pursue good works in a way without pressure!
The “success” of those works are not our ticket into God’s love!
A place where I really saw this mentality was in my experience with InterVarsity. We would have a Bible Study event where one new person would show up, hear the gospel, and never come back. There would be both a celebration that someone heard the gospel and talk about how to make events better. Celebration because Jesus’s name was proclaimed, and a desire to improve out of a love of God, not pressure to please him.
We are called to lead lives that mirror how Jesus lived his life. The starting point for a life like Jesus is a heart oriented towards God, enjoying his pleasure.