The power of words

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven:“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-23 NIV)

I have always understood this event to be important because it revealed the identity of Jesus to the people who were there the days Jesus was baptised. It was, in other words, for the benefit of the onlookers, that they might know that Jesus was the Son of God. Luke recorded it, as did the other gospel writers, as another bit of evidence that Jesus was who he said he was.

Luke was however, presumably not there at the time. He was recording in his book of Jesus an event that had been passed down to him by tradition. Such a voice from heaven would be a fairly extraordinary phenomenon, and would not easily be forgotten. John (the apostle, not the Baptist) recorded another time when a voice came from heaven and witnessed about Jesus (John 12:28-30). Interestingly, John chooses to mention the skeptics in the crowd, the ones who interpreted the event as thunder, not as the voice of God. Hs willingness to do so adds authenticity to his writing. He thus acknowledges the reality that “evidence” is interpreted differently by different people, depending on their preconceptions. An apparently supernatural event that produces wonder and faith in one person can be interpreted by another as a natural phenomenon that has happened by coincidence. Such is the nature of humans.

In John’s gospel Jesus is recorded as saying that the voice from heaven was for the benefit of the onlookers, but the same explanation is not given at his baptism by the other gospel writers. It occurs to me that this voice from heaven was also for Jesus’ sake. “you are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” The Father is making a statement about the Son, a statement both audible to the Son and to the world around him. Sons (and daughters) need such affirmation from their fathers. Not just privately but publicly. Children, even if they are adults (Jesus was presumably around thirty when this statement was made) need to know that they are loved by their fathers (and mothers). They also benefit from the Uworldknowing that that they are loved by their parents. They also need to know that they are liked by their parents. That would seem to be the message of the second part of the statement: with you I am well pleased. It is a reminder of the very beginning of the Bible records in Genesis when God looked at what he had made and was pleased with what he saw. I suspect that when children feel the pleasure of their parents it makes a huge difference to their self esteem, to their ability to live a satisfying and worthwhile life.

What a difference it would make to society if more parents followed the example of our heavenly Father in their communication to and about their children. Although Jesus presumably knew the love of his Father deeply, the Father chose to make this announcement before the watching world. What an incredible boost for Jesus’ sense of security and significance in a world which would attack him for everything he was to say and do. It comes at the every beginning of Jesus public ministry. It was one of the foundations on which Jesus would be able to build that ministry, the knowledge that he was approved of by his father.

There is much that we can learn from this event that Luke faithfully recorded. First we need to remember how important it is for each one of us to know the love and the pleasure of the Father. There are many of us who have not received this from our own parents and suffer because of it. We spend our lives trying to prove to the world that we are worthwhile. Doctors are often high achievers and high achievers are often those who are trying the hardest to find approval. We need to come to the Father and ask him what he thinks of us, listen to his words of love, experience his pleasure, as Jesus did. God loves us with a ferocious intensity. He wants us to know that but we are so often too busy to hear what he is saying. But God doesn’t just love us, he also likes us. He made us what we are. His pleasure in us is not dependent on our achievement, but on what he made us to be. When God spoke these words, Jesus had not even started his ministry. The Father’s words were not the result of Jesus achievements, they were the foundation for Jesus achievements. When we realise that God takes pleasure in what he made us to be we can begin to do that for which he called us.

Second, we need to follow the example of the Father. Our children, for those of us who are blessed to be parents, need our love and affirmation as much, perhaps more, that Jesus did. We need to speak out that love not just privately but so that the world can hear. It will change our children’s lives. But we also need to speak out our pleasure. Our children need to know that we like them, not because of what they have done, but because of who they are. We need to practice seeing the good in our children, and we need to speak out our pleasure in them, publicly and privately. This will give them the security and the significance they need to achieve the things in life that God has given them to achieve.

Third, this example is not just for parents to follow, but for doctors, indeed for anyone in society who has been given power and authority over people. Every day we as doctors encounter many people, and a large proportion of them have never had the kind of words spoken over them that God spoke over his Son. We are in a position to do that. We need to love our patients, and we need to see the good in them. Professionalism demands that we do this in a sensitive and appropriate manner, but there are ways that we can communicate this message without necessarily using the same words that God does here. The important thing is that patients know that they are loved, and that they know they are liked. This is a challenge because the reality is that we seldom like all the people we encounter. There is a danger too that as doctors we become far too focussed on what is wrong with people than delighted in what is right with them. We need to see them as God sees them. We need to delight in them in the same way as our heavenly Father delights in them. I suspect that as we do so we will convey more healing than any of our other treatments can offer.

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