THESIS: The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist signified the inauguration of Christ’s ministry; it is an example of the motif of honor-status reversal in God’s Word. The occasion of Jesus’ baptism is punctuated by a voice from heaven—the Father gives immense honor and affection to the Son—and it immediately precedes Christ’s entering the desert to be tempted by the devil. This is an example to Christians: When we experience honor and worthiness accompanied by affection from God, it produces in us something called “shame resilience”—empowering us to fight temptation, to resist the shaming techniques of our communities, and to maintain our integrity and honor before God.
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. 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.’” (Matthew 3:13-17 ESV)
Here is what I observe from this passage concerning the dynamics of honor and shame:
1) The honor-status reversal of John. John the Baptist protests: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John obviously possesses less honor status than Jesus. He has already declared the immense superiority of Jesus: “… but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. … ” (Matthew 3:11). So it is reasonable to conclude that the motif of honor-status reversal in the Old Testament continues in the beginning passages of the Gospels (Matthew 1:19–21, Matthew 2:6, Luke 1:46–53, Luke 3:4–6, John 1:14). John baptizing the Son of God is another example of this motif called honor-status reversal.
2) The honor-status reversal of Jesus. Jesus insists on being baptized by John: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus, the divine Son of Man, humbles himself by being baptized by John, a mortal man, “in order to fulfill all righteousness.” The ESV Study Bible says of this verse: “Jesus’ baptism inaugurates his ministry and fulfills God’s saving activity prophesied throughout the OT.” The symbolism is rich: Jesus stoops down in His honor status by being baptized by John—He “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6)—in order to bring salvation to the world and inaugurate His kingdom.
3) Ascribed honor with great affection was given by the Father to the Son. New Testament scholar David deSilva writes, “In the ancient world, people are not just taken on their ‘merits.’ Instead, their merits begin with the merits (or debits) of their lineage, the reputation of their ancestral house. Greeks and Romans receive a basic identity from their larger family: for Romans this takes the form of including the clan name in the name of each individual.” In the first century Middle East, everyone’s personal honor began with their kinship. So the early Christians of the Middle East would have understood this “voice from heaven” as a message of immense significance. For we see in these few words God the Father ascribing divine honor to the Son. And in using the words “beloved” and “well pleased”, the Father further amplifies the honor of His Son by communicating His infinite affection for Him. Jesus is worthy! He is worthy of infinite affection from God the Father. Notice there is no mention here of Jesus’ achieved honor. No, this is pure ascribed honor, based solely on his His Sonship. Could it be that God the Father—knowing the temptations and challenges Jesus would immediately face—actually infused a measure of extra honor and affection into His Son at this occasion so that Christ would have the resilience to stand against the works of the devil?
4) Immense ascribed honor and affection created “shame resilience”. Here is where I will diverge somewhat to the writings of an author who is a “shame researcher.” Over the past several years, Brené Brown has been conducting research about shame and then writing about her findings. The quote below is from her most recent book, Daring Greatly:
My maps, or theories, on shame resilience, Wholeheartedness, and vulnerability have not been drawn from the experiences of my own travels, but from the data I’ve collected over the past dozen years—the experiences of thousands of men and women who are forging paths in the direction that I, and many others, want to take our lives. …
What we all share in common—what I’ve spent the past several years talking to leaders, parents, and educators about—is the truth that forms the very core of this book: What we know matters, but who we are matters more. Being rather than knowing requires showing up and letting ourselves be seen. It requires us to dare greatly, to be vulnerable.
Keeping in mind these thoughts from Brené Brown’s work—especially the concept of “shame resilience”—I want to suggest some applications concerning the example of Christ. What might “shame resilience” have to do with the baptism of Christ? What might “shame resilience” have to do with the voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Some observations:
- Jesus was completely secure in who He was—He could therefore be vulnerable without sacrificing one iota of authenticity. No wonder he was willing to allow John to baptize Him. Jesus embraced the inauguration of His mission with this profound act of humility, of honor-status reversal. It was a continuation of the motif from the Old Testament, as well as a foretaste of things to come.
- Jesus felt loved and worthy—He is the “beloved Son” in whom His Father is “well-pleased”. We can never know with our finite minds the infinite sense of worthiness which Jesus had of Himself. Jesus did not have an honor-deficit for which he had to compete to gain glory or honor. Jesus knew He was loved infinitely. Jesus knew He was completely and totally worthy. And yet, one wonders if the Father, in saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”, gave His Son even more of that honor, affection and worthiness.
- Jesus entered into great temptation immediately following His baptism and being honored by the Father. Matthew 4: 1–11 describes “The Temptation of Jesus.” In the three great temptations, Jesus becomes vulnerable to the extreme. The devil says twice (in verse verses 3 and 8), “If you are the Son of God…” The devil is challenging Christ’s identify. Jesus is tempted by physical need, having fasted for 40 days. The devil also tempts Jesus regarding his power and authority—telling Jesus that He could have all the kingdoms of the world: “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9). This is honor competition writ large—between the kingdom of the devil and the kingdom of God. Jesus courageously resists, obeying the Word of God, maintaining his integrity, holiness and honor.
- Jesus resisted the great temptation. He won the honor competition with the devil. Of course it is impossible to know for sure what was in the heart and mind of Christ. Could it be that one reason Jesus was able to resist the temptations of the devil is because he had enormous shame resilience? That is, He knew His worthiness! He had just experienced the Father’s infinite affection. He therefore could affirm His own honor and maintain His integrity!
What does this mean for us as followers of Christ?
- We experience the Father’s honor and love as a valuable prerequisite to ministry. With Jesus as our example we ought to explore how our sense of honor as children of God creates in us the “shame resilience” we need to resist the temptations of the world. Would we not be more willing to give and serve sacrificially—as we experience the love, honor and affection of our Father in heaven?
- We embrace the honor and power of the kingdom with the humility of a child. The kingdom of God offers us a new eternal source of honor; however, it is only available through humility—by embracing our honor-status reversal as children of the King. The kingdom—with it’s royal honor, power and privileges—belongs to the King’s children (Matthew 19:14). We are a royal priesthood according to 1 Peter 2:9—so that we, as a faith community, can live powerfully in this world (Acts 1:8)—to extend the King’s blessing to the ends of the earth.
- We identify rivalry as sin. Why is there so much rivalry and honor competition in the Christian community? Does this signify that most Christians have never actually experienced their shame covered and their honor restored? The story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32) is very poignant on this matter. The young son experienced the Father’s love and had his shame covered and honor restored—while the older son, in his ugly spirit of rivalry, did not. See more about this at The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet.
- We accord strategic importance to “shame resilience” in extending God’s blessing to the nations. Cross-cultural workers should place more emphasis on helping new believers develop Christ-centered “shame resilience”—especially for those new Christians who live in honor/shame societies, and thus, are likely to be shamed or rejected by their families and communities.
1. David A. deSilva: Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 159.
2. Brene Brown (2012-09-11). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (p. 16). Gotham. Kindle Edition.