Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness (Luke 4:1).
From the very beginning, Jesus’ invitation was simple: “Follow me.”
Follow. That’s a loaded word.
Jesus isn’t asking to be admired and respected. He’s not asking that his thoughts and ideas be accepted and agreed with. He’s truly inviting us to follow – to walk in his steps and become like him, to live our days according to the practices and patterns we see in him, to become his students. The churchy word for this is “disciples.”
I grew up in churches that loved singing a chorus that said, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” This decision was very important, almost as important as the invitation itself. When I was eight years old, I made my decision, at least publicly. In my church, baptism came after the decision. I’ve been following (with imperfect steps) ever since.
And yet, in a very real sense that decision to follow has to be made again every day. The invitation comes fresh with each sunrise. Jesus’ invitation to follow speaks to our embodied life, and embodied life happens every day. In what this day brings – both the planned and unplanned – will I speak and act and think like Jesus?
Luke: The Mission
In these early weeks of 2023 at Grace Church we’re continuing to make our way through the Gospel of Luke, moving from Luke’s nativity stories to the lengthy narrative of Jesus’ ministry. We want Jesus’ way of life of become our own. As a church, we want his mission to be ours.
To follow Jesus means that we will walk the path he is walking.
Fair warning: We might not always like where that path leads.
As he tells the story of Jesus, Luke places two events side by side that mark the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and mission. In Matthew and Mark, these two events are next door neighbors, one coming right on the heels of the other. Luke separates the events by a lengthy genealogy, but they are nevertheless closely tied together in his story.
Jesus is baptized in the Jordan river.
Jesus is then led to the wilderness place of testing.
Today I’m asking you to ponder the way those two events are placed side by side in Scripture. More importantly, ponder how they are placed side by side in Jesus’ life. See Jesus coming out of the river, dripping wet, leaving a muddy trail as he begins walking to the desert. See him as he leaves the place of God’s blessing and favor to the site of Satan’s trial and testing.
And consider: Where are you on that path today?
Water and Wilderness
Some of you are standing waist deep in the Jordan. You sense the favor of God on you life. You stand under blessing, and in the words of the Psalmist your “cup overflows. Jesus’ baptism was marked by God’s powerful confirmation of who Jesus was. The heavens open, the Spirit descends upon him, and a voice speaks. God is “well pleased.” Jesus is the beloved son.
That scene soon ends, and the next thing we know we’re in the barren place of testing. Here Jesus endures forty days of fasting and withstands a repeated onslaught on that identity as beloved son. Some of you are in that wilderness place, the place of testing. In that place God can seem distant, even absent.
The common denominator (and don’t miss this) between the water and the wilderness is the Spirit. The same Spirit that comes on Jesus in baptism leads him to the place of testing.
In the ministry of Jesus, the desert place of testing was not a “mistake.” It was a “must.”
To follow Jesus is to walk that path from water to wilderness, from dripping wet to dry as a bone. Where are you on that path today?
Father God, give us the grace we need to live this day in the steps of your son. As we sense your blessing and favor, we will give you thanks. As we live through a season of testing, we will trust you, knowing that your Spirit is with us in the wilderness place. Fill us with your Spirit as we decide again today to follow you. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.