There is something inside each man and each woman that wants to please and be accepted by their father. It’s something that God builds into each of our lives. Some struggle with this issue. Maybe they don’t feel they can ever do enough to please their father and become exasperated trying. Sometimes the start of rebellion in the hearts of children is actually an expression of a child trying to get the attention of their father.
I need to add this caution: not all rebellious kids are a result of a neglectful or thoughtless fathers. Remember, Adam and Eve in the garden had everything going for them, with the perfect parent, and still failure and sin occurred. Yet, there remains in the heart of every child, a desire to be loved, accepted, and affirmed by their father just for who they are. This longing and desire does not end when the child grows up. There are middle-aged people here today that are still seeking that affirmation from their father. There are elderly people here today who longed their entire lives to hear their father affirm them. This ache in the heart doesn’t go away. Many people have driven themselves in various fields of life desperately trying to receive this affirmation that never came.
Just before Jesus faced some of the greatest tests of his early ministry – the temptation in the wilderness, and the rejection of his ministry by his friends, family, and associates in his hometown – something powerful happened that gave Jesus exactly what he needed to face those situations. Too often we have assumed that it’s all about us, but what you may not know is that there is something deep within us that needs affirmation and approval by a significant person in our lives.
It is here that we come to understand the value of the Father’s affirmation, to see how it empowered Jesus through his first great testing in the wilderness, and the following challenge in Nazareth. In the Father’s blessing and affirmation, we see three events in Jesus’ life in their chronological order and discover something of the secret of Jesus’ ability to overcome temptation and discouragement. What we discover in those events are three elements that empower our lives as believers.
THE FIRST ELEMENT THAT EMPOWER OUR LIFE IS WORDS OF BLESSING AND AFFIRMATION FROM THE FATHER
The need for fathers to speak words of affirmation in their children’s lives is critical. Yet, too many biological fathers because of human sinfulness fail to do so. However, this can be overcome when we embrace God’s words to us. We need to hear what God says about us when we are in Christ. We have an amazing spiritual inheritance. His words become transformational in our lives. God, the Father spoke words of reassurance and sent the Holy Spirit to empower Jesus, and He desires to do the same for each of us. Jesus did not struggle with identity issues in his life. He knew who He was and what He needed to do. That can be equally true for each of us as God’s children. As we read His love letter, the bible, and discover what He has to say to us and what He will direct us to do, we can live in that same quiet confidence. It was because of this wonderful relationship with the Father, this wonderful knowledge that Jesus had that enabled him to overcome the temptations that came to him in the wilderness experience. Some of you may object, ‘but my earthly father didn’t affirm me’. That may be true, but your heavenly Father does. Let’s see it in Jesus’ life and then apply it to our own. Out of the Father’s acceptance arose the heart to please the Father and live in obedience to His will.
The first event was at his baptism.
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.’
Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry…He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli,[i]
I see a distinction in what God, the Father related to Jesus. Jesus was loved, but was also pleasing to the Father. It is possible to love someone, but not be pleased with their actions. Here we see that Jesus was both loved and brought pleasure to the Father. What are some of the truths from this text that will empower us?
1. Notice that Jesus was following the will of God when He was getting baptized.
When John objected to baptizing Jesus, the response of Jesus reveals to us a powerful lesson.
But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’
Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented.[ii]
Jesus told John that it would fulfill all righteousness. In other words, it was the right thing to do. It was what God, the Father wanted. Jesus is showing us what we need to do. It’s a pattern. We need to follow Jesus in baptism and in doing the right things.
The first lesson in being a son/daughter of God is to walk in obedience. Jesus did. There is a powerful sense of affirmation when we are walking in obedience to our heavenly Father’s purposes for our lives.
2. The second lesson is the value of prayer.
Luke tells us that while Jesus was praying, the Holy Spirit came upon him. If we are going to receive empowerment from the Holy Spirit, it will only come in answer to prayer. We must be asking God to come and empower our lives. The real purpose of prayer is to become filled with the presence of God. Look once again at how Luke describes the nature of prayer in Luke 11.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?
Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?
If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him![iii]
What we discover ultimately is that our greatest need is for God, Himself. Nothing less can really satisfy us. We want our Father. Little children understand this. It is only as we get older that we become satisfied with something less than relationship. Anything less than God in our lives is a false substitute or an idol. Deep within each of our hearts is a cry for God. Listen to the yearnings expressed by the Psalmist.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?[iv]
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirsts for you, my whole being longs for you.[v]
3. The third lesson from Christ’s baptism is our need for God, the Holy Spirit to come to us.
We should not be satisfied with anything less than God’s presence indwelling our lives. We must pursue Him. We must receive Him. This is the blessing of God, His very presence. Nothing less will ever really satisfy the longing in our soul. This is the great need in relationships today. We withhold ourselves from each other. We are afraid of being intimate, of giving of ourselves, of being transparent. It is the great need of our lives. There are so many lonely people. Our society is crying out for love, for relationship, for intimacy. Our sexual promiscuity is really a distortion of our longing for intimacy. The real cry is for connectedness to occur, for intimacy of soul and spirit. It has to begin in our relationship with our heavenly Father.
4. The fourth lesson from this event is the words of the Father.
It is the Father’s voice speaking into the soul of His child. Listen to the words of affirmation. It is what every son and daughter longs for from their father.
And a voice came from heaven: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.[vi]
We are looking for the love and approval of our father. We ache for it, we long for it. When we come to Christ, we come into the family. We have a new Father. Before, our father was the Father of lies (cf. John 8:44). He is the enemy of our soul. He works at destroying our identity. We who were created in the image of our Heavenly Father, but through sin, that image was marred. Sin demeans us, it depreciates our dignity as children of God. We lose respect for ourselves and others. We are insecure and try to find security in what we do, rather than who we are – God’s children. Now, as God’s children, there is a work of restoration happening in our souls. We all need to the words of love and affirmation of the Father. God wants to do a work of restoration in your soul. We will see how this blessing and affirmation empowered Jesus to overcome temptation and serve others in spite of rejection.
THE SECOND ELEMENT THAT EMPOWERS OUR LIFE IS THE ABILITY TO OVERCOME TEMPTATION
When we win the battle by not succumbing to temptation, we are invigorated and strengthened for the battles ahead. God’s kingdom principles are often a mystery to us. How can God take the difficult things of life and use them for His glory in our lives? There is nothing more exciting for a child of God than to overcome areas of temptation that used to defeat them in the past. We know that Jesus was never defeated by the enemy, but He identifies with us in our areas of weakness. Jesus knows what it is like to be tempted. He knows what it is like to be in the wilderness. The writer to the book of Hebrews says that Jesus is touched with the feelings of our infirmities. He is a compassionate High Priest. He knows what it is like to struggle through challenging moments in this life. We rarely have compassion for others, unless we first have been touched with pain.
What is striking about the temptation in the wilderness is the issue that is at stake there. It is the same issue that is at stake in our lives. It is the difference between victory over sin, Satan and society or defeat.
The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’[vii]
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God, he said, throw yourself down from here.
For it is written: he will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully;[viii]
The temptation is not primarily about hunger. The issue as stated in these two temptations is about identity. ‘Are you really God’s son or daughter? Are you really saved?’ The temptation is about finding our sense of identity in our relationship with God and not in material things. It is also learning to trust God rather than questioning His care for us.
If we question our relationship and wonder about who we are in Christ, we will always be defeated in spiritual battles. That is the issue. Victory comes not because I’ve got it together, but because I’m trusting Christ.
for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.[ix]
He is my Father; I am his child. He is my victory! He is my righteousness! He is my holiness! He is my shield! He is my defense attorney, my advocate! He is my comforter! He is all I need for whatever situation I find myself in!
I will trust Him at all times. Times when I do not understand what is going on, and times when things do not seem to be working out as I think they should. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you (Psalm 56:3).”
The enemy comes, and challenges God’s word, character, and goodness. ‘If God is so good, why this, why now? If you really are God’s child, why does it seem that He has abandoned you?’ Can you hear the challenge to our confidence, both to God’s goodness and love for us, and our relationship with Him?
What we need to understand is that Jesus was challenged as well. Jesus was led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness and challenged on his relationship with the Father. Can we expect anything less? This is why we need to settle the issue. We need to know who we are in Christ. We need to settle the identity issue. We need to be secure in our relationship with God. We need to understand it is not how well we are doing, but in whom we are trusting.
When we know who we are, we will not be so easily enticed to forsake what we know, and do what we know is not good to do, or don’t do what we know to do. In other words, this identity issue helps us overcome temptation. When you know who you belong to, when you understand who you are in the Father’s house, the wilderness experiences are seen for what they are – a time of refining. Wilderness experiences are reminders of who we belong to and where we are headed.
When we come victorious out of wilderness experiences, those times of deep testing give us a new spiritual authority in our lives. Notice when Jesus came out of the wilderness, He was full of power.
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.[x]
THE FINAL ELEMENT THAT EMPOWERS OUR LIFE IS THE ABILITY TO PERSEVERE IN SPITE OF HUMAN REJECTION
When we can walk in obedience to God’s purposes, despite a lack of support from those closest to us, we become stronger for it. For every person who overcomes the temptations in the wilderness, there are those who are defeated by the assaults coming from human offense and rejection. This is true especially when it comes from those who are the closest to us. It is one thing to be rejected by strangers, but it is altogether different when it comes from close family, friends and associates that we have known for years. To be rejected after years of respect is difficult.
One of my heroes in the faith is a man by the name of Jonathan Edwards. Edwards, was one of America’s great theological minds. He lived in the 1700’s and experienced a season of incredible revival in the church where he was the pastor. He was also one of the leading American figures in what is known today as the Great Awakening. Most remember him for a sermon he preached in a nearby community, entitled ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.’ What surprised Edwards about the great outpouring of God’s Spirit was that God was so merciful to a people who deserved judgment. Edwards was a very godly person. A conflict arose in the church years later, where some people falsely accused Edwards. He was dismissed from this church where his grandfather had served for fifty years, and where he had served for decades. In a vote of non-confidence, he was dismissed. Two hundred and thirty people voted against him, only twenty-three supported him. Edwards was rejected by the very people he had so lovingly served. Crushed but not defeated, Edwards went to work among the North American indigenous people and continued his incredible writings which have influenced the lives of so many even to this day.
How does a person go on? How can a person not become bitter and disillusioned by the whole thing? The issue is one of security and identity. If we are secure in our relationship with God, and understand who we are in Him, regardless of how people treat us, we will continue to serve Him.
Jesus now comes to his own hometown where he attends the synagogue where he grew up. Reading from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus declares to his family and neighbors that these words are fulfilled in Him. The initial reaction was that they were impressed, but when Jesus explained that they would reject him as their Messiah, their true heart condition was revealed and they grew furious and wanted to kill him.
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
“I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.
I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land.
Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.
And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.
But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.[xi]
It stated that all the people wanted to kill him. How can Jesus walk away and start over again somewhere else? He knew He was loved by the Father! He knew He was the Father’s son! He knew He was doing the Father’s will! Jesus did not need the approval and affirmation of men, because He had it from the Father. He was secure in His identity!
When we come to the temptation in the wilderness, we find that the issue under study is one relating to identity. Satan attacked the identity of Jesus Christ. Often, we fail in moments of temptation because we have not settled the issue of our own identity. We are insecure. We do not understand what God, the Father, has done for us through the work of Christ on the cross.
The reason why we quit serving others is that people may criticize or reject us. It is painful. This is one of the great reasons why so many believers are living defeated, unfruitful lives.
One of the reasons why so little is actually being accomplished in so many lives is we start looking to ourselves, our wisdom and our abilities, and when we realize that they are not enough we quit, falter, and fail.
The Father wants to come to us and speak into our lives. He wants us to hear His words of love, forgiveness, affirmation, and approval. God, the Father wants to deposit His blessing into our lives today.
One of the most remarkable stories showing the power of affirmation came out of the San Francisco Bay area. Evidently the principal of a school called in three teachers to inform them of an experiment that the district would be conducting.
“Because you are the finest teachers in the system”, she said, “we are going to give you ninety selected high-IQ students. We’re going to let you move these students through this next year at their pace and see how much they can learn.”
The faculty and students were delighted. During the next year, they had a wonderful experience. By the end of the last semester, the students had achieved 20 to 30 percent more than any other group of students in the area.
After the year was completed, the principal called in the teachers and told them, “I have a confession to make. I have to confess that you did not have ninety of the most intellectually prominent students. We took ninety students at random from the system and gave them to you.”
The teachers were pleased. If the students were only average, that showed that the teachers had displayed exceptional skill and expertise. “I have another confession,” the principal continued. “Your names were the first three names drawn out of a hat.”
If the students and the teachers had been picked at random, then what had enabled them to make greater progress than any other group in the system? It was the attitudes of the people involved. Because the teachers and students expected to succeed, they increased their potential for success.[xii]
The fact that they were affirmed and believed in made all the difference.
[i] Luke 3:21-23, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[ii] Matthew 3:14-15.
[iii] Luke 11:9-13.
[iv] Psalm 42:1-2.
[v] Psalm 63:1.
[vi] Luke 3:22.
[vii] Luke 4:3.
[viii] Luke 4:9-10.
[ix] 1 John 5:4.
[x] Luke 4:14.
[xi] Luke 4:22-30.
[xii] John Maxwell, The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, (Nashville, Tn: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001), 113-114.