Discerning the Spirit

It must have been hot and muggy that afternoon, walking down to the river Jordan. Dirt scratching between their toes and thirst cracking their sunburnt lips. The tour guide raised his toasted arm again over the heads of the crowd, to direct the exhausted stragglers on the right path. A few older women sat down on a rock, complaining about how long this was taking, and what else they should have done this morning.

But they were told this was the right thing to do, to go see John in the wilderness. It was said that he was preparing them for something greater. And they hoped this would be that happy end to their story. Maybe their days would be a little less painful or sorrowful after today. Maybe this washing would change their story for the better. Maybe it would bring them a little closer to God.

As they arrived, they saw a strange man saying strange things. Repent, for the kingdom is near. Repent and be baptized. He told them to remember all those terrible things about their life and their story – that’s what today was all about. So, they timidly stepped into the water, crashed into the smothering deep pool of their slushy sin, and walked out just as confused as before.

Dripping, wondering, trying to feel a renewed spirit in their heart. Searching for the new life they expected to experience after doing the right thing – repenting in the Jordan. They all wanted the essence of wisdom of understanding to light up their hearts. But there was just a dull pounding, the same as before.

Suddenly, John gasped. They turned back to see that he was frozen, standing still in the middle of the water. His gaze and his arm pointed directly at a man who approached the edge of the river. It was Jesus, the Lamb of God, the one sent from God to baptize with the Holy Spirit. “No!” John yelled, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” It was ridiculous that this Jesus would come to him. There was no sin that the Son of God needed to repent for. But He kept walking right into the scummy sludge water. “Do this,” Jesus said, “to fulfill all righteousness.”

Matthew recounts in chapter 3:16-17

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.

The great storyteller, the Holy Spirit, continues to speak this world into existence. First in the beginning by the voice of God, then throughout the Old Testament by the words of the fathers and the prophets. But here, he does not rest in the individual lives and personal righteousness of the repentant sinners who gather at the Jordan. No, the Holy Spirit, the storyteller, is found resting in Jesus Christ, alone.

Jesus will repent for the selfishness of the world in that muddy water. He will then drink down the judgement God pronounced on every person. He will rise, defeat death, and pass that gift to everyone who believes in his name. But our nature is to look within ourselves to find righteousness, a feeling or emotion or an action that makes us worthy. But the story of the Holy Spirit points us to the work of Jesus, outside of our own story and life choices. Repentance is done perfectly in Jesus. Forgiveness is won completely through Jesus. The story of salvation that the Holy Spirit tells is completely outside of you.

Therefore, the story that the Spirit continues to tell through water, bread, and wine is not surprising. Unobstructed by life circumstances and repentant preparation, the Holy Spirit enlightens you with the gift of a salvation story. At the same time as sinful incomplete repentance, the Holy Spirit assures you that everything is finished. Outside of personal righteousness, feeling and emotion, the Holy Spirit only tells the story of Jesus.