In September of 2012, during that time of personal searching, we had a baptismal service at the Hardware River, just like we did every year. We had a lot of baptisms, and a few people who had already been baptized, who were immersed again in order to reaffirm their original baptism. I was going through a lot of personal change and growth during that time, and felt that I also wanted to get immersed. Now, I had been baptized at the age of six when my family transferred membership from the Presbyterian to the Baptist church. But as an adult, I needed something to mark the time of personal change that I was going through, something like a sign post to point to the new beginning and new self-understanding that I was developing. So re-immersion was the perfect thing for me. And the beautiful thing was that Earl could do that for me. Imagine how my church responded, seeing their own pastor put under the water. For me, it wasn’t a baptism of repentance, but the marker of a new commitment, renewed faith, and a greater understand of the direction God was giving me.
Everybody goes through times of personal growth and change. These might be brought on by personal tragedy, or by ecstatic visionary ideas. What we need during those times is the ability to look into ourselves, hear the voice of God, and follow God’s call. The problem is that too often we are busy listening to other people’s opinions or expectations, to hear the word of the Lord. We get distracted by the activities of life that crowd out that voice. We need to be able to quietly reflect so that we can know ourselves.
The Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras said, “Man, know thyself; then thou shalt know the universe and God.” In Luke 3:15-22, we read about two who took time to look deep within themselves, to find God’s direction, and to live their lives authentically, according to God’s calling. John the Baptist and Jesus knew themselves, their place in the universe, and the purpose that God had for their lives.
John’s family were strict adherents to the law and customs of the Hebrew people. As the only son of Zechariah the priest, John would have been expected to grow up to be a priest himself. Yet John knew himself well enough to buck the system, to seek his calling within himself, and to live it out to the glory of God. Verses 15-16 say:
As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”[i]
John knew both who he was, and who he wasn’t. He knew God’s mission for his life, but he also knew better than to claim authority that wasn’t rightfully his. He wasn’t the Messiah, and he didn’t try to be who he wasn’t. But he did try to live authentically, according to the person God made him to be. He knew himself well enough to refuse to follow other people’s expectations for what he should be. Instead, he concentrated on God’s expectations for him. His unwavering commitment to authenticity and truth landed him in prison and eventually led to his martyrdom, but at least he died a man who was faithful to himself.
There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “Those who understand others are intelligent;
Those who understand themselves are enlightened. Those who overcome others have strength;
Those who overcome themselves are powerful.” This is the kind of enlightenment and power that John and Jesus had. Verses 21-22 say:
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus looked deep within himself and knew that in order to mark the beginning of his ministry, he needed baptism. It wasn’t a baptism of repentance for sins, but something that He did “to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15).” In other words, it was the right thing to do, according to the vision that God had given him when He took time to look inward and seek God and know himself. Sure, it was different than what his family or synagogue or anybody else thought he ought to be doing—but it was exactly what He needed to be doing. And at His baptism, Jesus got to hear God’s voice of approval.
There’s a story that “Rabbi Zusya years ago said, ‘In the world to come I will not be asked, Why were you not Moses? I will be asked, Why were you not Zusya?'"[ii] God means for you to be authentically who you are—not who other people expect you to be. God had a calling for John. God had a calling for Jesus. God has a calling for you. Lamentations 3:40 says, “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!” He invites you to get quiet and take time to seek God, and “know Thyself.”
[i] Scriptures taken from the ESV.
[ii] . B. Larsen, Luke, p. 42. http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/s/self_discovery.htm. February 6, 2016.