I’ve always had the expectation that good times in life lead to better times, that good builds on good to give way to better. (I’ve had that expectation, mind you, but not necessarily that experience.) Who can blame me for that expectation.? Elementary school was fun, middle school was better, high school was awesome, and college was nearly unbelievable. Probably, not really, but that’s how I tend to think it should have been. In spite of real life experience, I still tend to operate with the notion that better follows good, and great follows better.
That’s why I find the sequence of events in Jesus’ life so surprising, so out-of-whack when it comes to sequence, starting with his baptism. It was an incredible experience. Described in the first chapters of the gospels, he has an experience with God that is fantastic, unbelievably great. In Matthew 4:1-11, he comes up out of the water, a dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit comes to him and he hears a voice – the voice of God saying, “This is my son, in whom I am well-pleased.” What an endorsement! What an experience! We would tend to call that a ‘mountaintop moment’ although it took place in a river valley.
I was about ten when I got baptized, in the dunking-style at the front of a large church. I remember it being pretty special, although I was mostly concentrating on making sure that I went back up the right stairs into the boys’ dressing room, rather than the girls’. But, no dove, no voice – no messiah-like endorsement – good thing, because there is only one of those, messiahs, that is. I have had other moments of mountaintop Presence, clarity, blessing, and sense of calling, as well as moments of seeing God work in amazing ways. And, I have wanted more of those moments, expected more of those moments. And, many times I have been blindsided when better moments didn’t immediately follow.
But, I should have learned something from Jesus’ experience. The great moment of his baptism was immediately followed with the Holy Spirit leading him into the dessert, where he was for forty days, where he was tempted by Satan, enticed to step off the path he had just started. God, didn’t you take a wrong turn there? Shouldn’t you have led Jesus right into Jerusalem, leveraging the power of that baptism experience if you really wanted to announce the kingdom? The dessert certainly doesn’t seem like the next best step. It doesn’t seem very smart to risk it all by putting Jesus in a place of temptation. Could he even remember his baptism by the end of that forty days?
Notes to self:
1. God has his own sequence of things. Great moments may require great testing to forge the steel necessary to fulfill the mission.
2. Preparedness is always better than presumption. Preparedness to follow, to be tested. Presumption about what God should do is the first step towards developing a stiff-neck, that does not turn very easily.
3. Testing is necessary to reveal our passions. Jesus had one – the love of God, the Father.
4. Use pencil instead of permanent marker when dealing with expectations. Oh, and you will need a big eraser, the little one on the end of the pencil will never be enough.