Life of the Beloved
by Jack Wald | February 8th, 2015

Mark 1:1-20

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

What made Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John follow Jesus? Put yourself in their shoes (or sandals). You are working in a family business and a stranger comes down the road. He calls you to come and follow him and what do you do? Do you ask who he is? Do you tell him you are busy? Who in their right mind would leave their business and follow him?

When we read the stories in the Gospels, or anywhere else in the Bible, we have to understand that the stories are greatly condensed and show only the highlights of the story. They do not provide a full picture of what took place and in order to understand what happened, we have to try to fill in the gaps.

When I first read the Bible, I was puzzled by how the disciples heard Jesus say, “Come follow me,” and left what they were doing and followed him. It just did not make sense. So I speculated that there was some supernatural thing going on. God somehow put in the heads of the disciples that they should follow him. But this is not a very satisfying way of understanding what happened. If there had been a supernatural pull on the disciples, why were they so human in their other interactions with Jesus? There is much more to the story than we read in the Gospels.

Ramsey Michaels was one of my New Testament professors at seminary and he made a case for Jesus having been one of John’s disciples before he began his own ministry. I won’t go into his reasoning for this, but if this was true, then the story of Jesus’ baptism and the calling of the disciples makes a lot more sense. Let me explain.

There was a special bond between Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth, the mother of John, because they had been together when they both were pregnant. Jesus and John were cousins and it would be very strange if they did not grow up knowing each other. There were three annual visits to Jerusalem for the festivals so Jesus and John undoubtedly were together at least during those times. When John began attracting disciples and baptizing large numbers of people coming down to the Jordan River from Jerusalem, those close to John would have been among his first disciples and Jesus may have been one of those. It is speculated that Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John were also disciples of John the Baptist.

In John 1:32–34 we read:
32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

When Jesus came to John in the Jordan River and John saw the Holy Spirit come down on him, John knew that it was his cousin who was the Messiah. If Elizabeth and Mary had talked to their sons about the events of their births, this may not have come as a complete surprise. They both knew that they had been born in special circumstances.

What speaks so well of John is that he submitted to Jesus. He was the discipler and yet he humbled himself and said, (John 3:30) “He must become greater; I must become less.”

There is one more piece to the background that helps to understand the impact of the baptism of Jesus. When I was young, I thought that Jesus knew that he was the Son of God from his birth onward. I am not alone in this. In the early centuries of the church, there were other gospels written that tried to fill in the missing years of Jesus. The Gospels in our Bible, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, tell us almost nothing about the first thirty years of the life of Jesus. So these gospels talk about Jesus when he was a child, making birds out of mud and clay and then breathing on them so they came to life and flew off. One story tells of Jesus getting angry at another boy and striking him dead. The dead boy’s parents complained to Mary and Joseph who made Jesus restore him to life. Jesus kicked him in the rear end and he came back to life.

All these stories tell of the supernatural power of Jesus as a child and they are stories created because we wonder what it must have been like for Jesus to know his supernatural power as a two-year old or an adolescent or teenager. What would it have been like to know, from infancy on, that he was the divine Son of God?

Jesus was fully man as well as fully God and in order for Jesus to be a man, he needed to grow up as a man. We need to remember that the divinity of Jesus was limited on earth. God is present everywhere, but Jesus was not present everywhere. He was either in Bethlehem or Egypt or Nazareth or Jerusalem; not all of those places at the same moment in time. God knows everything, but Jesus’ knowledge was limited. He had to ask where Lazarus was buried. Jesus said he did not know the time when he would return. In Luke 2:52 we read:
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

Jesus did not possess all wisdom and strength as a child; this developed over time. Jesus matured as he aged.

Jesus wet his diapers, wet his bed, and cried when he was hungry. Jesus made mistakes. When Joseph taught him his trade, he measured imperfectly and had to cut again. Jesus probably hit his thumb with a hammer. Jesus was without sin, but being without sin does not preclude making mistakes. Jesus was human.

It helps me, as I read the Gospels, to realize that there was a progressive understanding of Jesus about who he was and why he had been born. He heard stories about his birth from his parents and when he went to the Temple in Jerusalem as a twelve year old, he knew he had a special relationship with God. But what was unclear was what precisely that relationship was.

This makes his baptism a major turning point in his life. It was at his baptism that Jesus heard the blessing of God, his father, that revealed to him more clearly who he was – God’s beloved Son. I would imagine Jesus had many questions and this revelation made sense of all he was experiencing and thinking. He understood what Mary and Joseph and the others at his birth had not completely understood. He knew who he was.

Following this revelation, he went into the wilderness to contemplate what he had learned and what it meant. I would imagine there were many more revelations in those days of fasting and prayer.

After John was put into prison, Jesus began his ministry, calling disciples to himself. And then on the Mount of Transfiguration, when Jesus was revealed in his heavenly glory, talking with Moses and Elijah, Jesus understood that he was to die on the cross. After this experience, the gospels say that Jesus set his face to Jerusalem and began to talk about having to die and then be raised from the dead on the third day. His baptism and his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration were the two major turning points of his earthly life.

Let me show how this background helps to understand what happened at the baptism of Jesus and then I will talk about how the blessing Jesus received at his baptism relates to us.

Jesus came to John to be baptized and John saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus. The other disciples of John were there and perhaps Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John were among them. If not, they soon heard about it because this was big news. Like most other events in the life of Jesus, those who were present were not often clear about what had happened and what that meant. But this was clearly an elevation of Jesus as a Rabbi. John was saying that one of his disciples must increase and that he must decrease. This was big news.

So, when Jesus walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he was not a stranger to Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John. They were already in a relationship with him. Jesus called to them to follow him and they dropped what they were doing because they knew him and knew what had happened at his baptism. It was a great honor to work with a Rabbi and the call of Jesus was therefore a powerful call. They dropped what they doing and followed him.

We too have been called by Jesus to follow him, to make our following of him more important than anything else in our life. Each of the disciples of Jesus had their own reason for following Jesus. Matthew, the tax collector, had a prior history with Jesus before Jesus called him to follow him. We can only speculate what that was, but there were weeks and months of thinking and reflection that led to that moment when Jesus said, “Come follow me,” and Matthew pushed aside his business and became a disciple of Jesus.

In the same way, we all have a story that led to the time when we decided to follow Jesus. The disciples were not that different from us. So when we read the Gospels, we are able to identify with them when we see how they responded to the invitation of Jesus and to the experiences they had with him.

This brings us to the key text for this sermon series. (Mark 1:11 – ESV)
And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

I have asked people in the last week if they were God’s beloved daughter or beloved son. Everyone I asked said they were loved by God and said there are many places in the Bible where it tells us we are loved.

Last week Patrick preached great truth from Romans 8. (Romans 8:31–39)
If God is for us, who can be against us?
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.
Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is Paul’s triumphant summary of all that he has been teaching in the first eight chapters of his letter to the church in Rome. It is powerful. It is brilliant truth. And it excites us.

We know we are loved. God thought we were worthy enough to be saved. Jesus died for us. That is how much we are loved.

So I tell you I am loved by God and you are loved by God. But there are competing voices in this world. In Life of the Beloved, by Henri Nouwen, he writes:
Yes, there is that voice, the voice that speaks from above
and from within and that whispers softly or declares loudly:
“You’re my Beloved, on you my favor rests.”
It certainly is not easy to hear that voice
in a world filled with voices that shout:
“You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless;
you are despicable, you are nobody—
unless you can demonstrate the opposite.

We are born into a world and where we are born is not our choice. Some of us were fortunate to be born to parents who loved us, others were not. Some of us suffered rejection from one or both of our parents. Some of us had other siblings who were favorites. No matter how much we were loved, none of us had perfect parents.

When we went from our home to school we entered into a world where groups form and we may be on the inside or outside of those groups. There are popular and unpopular children at school. At home, when we scribbled on a piece of paper, no matter what it looked like, a parent might say, “That’s wonderful!” But at school we are judged relative to others. We discover that what we do is compared to what others do and that there are others better than we are. We discover that others are faster, smarter, prettier or more handsome, stronger than we are. We enter into a world of insecurity and we have to develop defenses to protect ourselves from the hurts we experience. We learn to wear a mask that prevents people from seeing us as we know ourselves.

Most of us are pretty successful in building up defenses and they serve us well. They allow us to function at a high level in the world. So when we are asked, “Are you loved by God?” we can respond, “Yes. I read it in the Bible and I believe it to be true.” But at a deeper level, moving down from our head and closer to our heart, is our response still true? At a heart level, do I believe I am a beloved child of God?

There are many times I have talked to individuals or preached in a sermon that we are loved. I can tell a person who is struggling with self-doubt, “You are much loved by God. You are beautiful in his eyes. He is proud of you. He delights in you. You are his beloved daughter, his beloved son.” I say this with confidence. I say this with full integrity, completely authentic. I believe this to be true from the depth of my being.

But when I think of myself, I am not so sure. You are loved by God, I am not so sure about myself. I know my faults. I know the depth of my thoughts. I know what most people do not know about me. Nouwen writes of being loved by parents, friends, teachers, students and many others who crossed his path over the years and then he writes:
but, somehow, all of these signs of love were not sufficient to convince me that I was the Beloved. Beneath all my seemingly strong self-confidence there remained the question: If all those who shower me with so much attention could see me and know me in my innermost self, would they still love me?”

If people knew you as you know yourself, would they still love you?

How important is it that we feel, at the depth of our being, that we are a beloved child of God? If we have developed defenses that allow us to function at a high level, why is that not enough?

From the world’s perspective, there probably is not much reason to do this. The world values people who can take care of themselves, be responsible, work hard, and be successful. You don’t have to know that you are God’s beloved to do this. But if you want to work for God’s kingdom, then it does make a difference.

Nouwen writes of self-rejection as a deep human darkness:
the darkness of not feeling truly welcome in human existence. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.

The deep feelings of being unworthy and unlovable, work against what God wants to do in our lives. We can mask the feelings, cover them over with defenses we create, but deep down, they are still at work in our lives, inhibiting our ability to love as God loves.

When we know, in the depth of our being, that we are a beloved child of God, then we are delivered from the need to perform in order to be accepted. Once again, let me quote Nouwen from his book:
I am putting this so directly and so simply because, though the experience of being the Beloved has never been completely absent from my life, I never claimed it as my core truth. I kept running around it in large or small circles, always looking for someone or something able to convince me of my Belovedness. It was as if I kept refusing to hear the voice that speaks from the very depth of my being and says: “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” That voice has always been there, but it seems that I was much more eager to listen to other, louder voices saying: “Prove that you are worth something; do something relevant, spectacular or powerful, and then you will earn the love you so desire.” Meanwhile, the soft, gentle voice that speaks in the silence and solitude of my heart remained unheard of, at least, unconvincing.`

Jesus knew he was loved. He was God’s beloved. He heard this at his baptism and he heard this again at the Mount of Transfiguration when God spoke to Peter, James, and John (Matthew 17:5 – ESV)
[Peter] was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

These are the two recorded affirmations of Jesus as being God’s Beloved Son and certainly not the only ones.

Because Jesus knew in the depth of his being he was God’s Beloved Son, he was delivered from the need to perform in order to gain approval. Jesus did spectacular miracles in the lives of people and spoke words of wisdom that have captivated his followers and others throughout the centuries since then. He did not worry about what people thought about him. He moved with confidence and strength through the years of his ministry. He was set free to work with power for his kingdom because he knew he was deeply loved. He loved with power because he was loved.

There are others who come to my mind that know, deep within them, that they are God’s beloved child. And this has set them free to love others and care for others with a power that is evidenced by all. We look at them and marvel. We appreciate them deeply for the way they have encouraged us.

We can be like them. We can be like Jesus. We too can love with a power that comes from God when we are not inhibiting that power with our self-doubts. When we are able to accept that we are God’s beloved son or daughter, we will be set free to love as Jesus loved.

When you know in the depth of your being that you are God’s beloved child, then you are set free to love and care for others without worrying about how they will respond to you. You are set free to work without the anxiety of how your work will be perceived. You can absorb the blows of the world because you know who you are and who loves you.

Henri Nouwen talks in his book how we can get to this place. He talks about four words, words of our experience in communion when the bread is taken, blessed, broken, and then given. We will focus on these four words: taken, blessed, broken, and given as we consider over the next four weeks how we can accept the truth of how we are loved.

If you want to know, deep within you, that you are God’s beloved child, you will have to do more than listen to these sermons. You will have to take time to pray and reflect. You will have to look where you seldom look. You will have to get beneath your defenses and, before God, allow the Holy Spirit to work at healing the hurts that are buried.

I made some bookmarks that can help you as you spend time reading, praying, and reflecting. Each has the image of a child resting on his or her father’s shoulders. And below the image is this verse from Deuteronomy 33:12
Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him,
for he shields him all day long,
and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.

Keep the bookmark in your Bible. Or put it on your refrigerator or on your desk at work. Keep it in front of you and allow God’s healing to take place.

When I left Rabat on January 1 to go to France and then Thailand to meet with counselors, I wanted to hear from God that he still wanted me to be pastor of RIC. Last year was a difficult year and I had questions about whether or not I was still the right person to be pastor of this church.

It was the counselor in France who encouraged me to read Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved. I had read it when I was younger, but it did not penetrate very deeply. This time it went deep and I continued to reflect on the truths in this book when I was in Thailand. My reflection, reading, and prayer in the weeks after that week in France resulted in an experience with God that affirmed my call to serve as pastor of RIC, but more importantly and more deeply, helped me see myself as God’s beloved son. I still have a long way to go, but this was a significant step that has opened me up to God’s work in my life.

This is our journey. We have been called by Jesus to follow him. We are in the process of making him more important than anything else. We are in the process of leaving our nets and following him. We are in the process of learning from him how deeply we are loved, that we are his beloved daughter or son.

May God bless us all as we continue this journey over the next four weeks.