And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
As far as a foundation for what it means to be “well pleasing” to the Lord, you can’t do much better than Psalm 41: “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me. But You, O LORD, be merciful to me, and raise me up, That I may repay them. By this I know that You are well pleased with me, Because my enemy does not triumph over me. As for me, You uphold me in my integrity, And set me before Your face forever.”
Yes, because Jesus is well pleasing to the Father, even though He dies due to the work of Judas, who ate bread with Jesus, yet the Lord will raise Him up. And Jesus will ascend and set His face before the Lord forever, and eventually repay those that antagonized Him. As it is for Jesus, so it is for us.
Perhaps with the confidence of this Psalm, Jesus could be led by the Holy Spirit in the wilderness to face His enemy. He had just heard that the Father is well pleased with Him, therefore He needed to have no fear of the enemy.
As it is for Jesus, so it is for us. As we are thrust into the wilderness of this life, to face our enemies (sin, death, and the devil), we know our enemies will not triumph over us. For we share the declaration of the Father over the Son, that He is well pleased with us, because all who are in the waters of baptism share those words.
The Father has all sorts of reasons, of course, to not be pleased with any of us. He hasn’t been pleased with us since our father Adam sinned. Israel displeased Him time and time again. As Isaiah records the Lord saying, and as Jesus applies to Israel of His day, “Seeing many things, but you do not observe; Opening the ears, but he does not hear.”
Yet, in the next verse, we hear, “The LORD is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake.” There we are back to righteousness! And again, Jesus and John fulfill all righteousness, and on account of this righteousness the Lord is well pleased, just as He declares the moment Jesus and John fulfill all righteousness. If the Lord would be pleased with Israel, or any other for that matter, it will be for the sake of the one being baptized with John in the waters.
The Lord is pleased with one, His Son. “This is My beloved Son,” He says. But the waters bind others into His Son, so that these words can extend to others, that is, others who repent and get in those waters. That’s the power of baptism and why baptism forgives sins – that is, it makes us well-pleasing to the Father – and gives us the adoption as His children.
Jesus shares what He possesses – the status as God’s Son – with us. As Hebrews says, “But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Jesus did good and shared His good status with us. He did this at the cross when He first “gave up His Spirit” – with such a sacrifice God is well pleased – and the Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and declares it to us.
That declaration happens in the forgiveness of sins, when Jesus breathed that same Spirit onto the disciples and authorized them to forgive the sins of others. Forgiveness begins, however, in baptism. As St. Peter preached in the first Christian sermon, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
This is the “baptism of the Spirit” John promised Jesus would do. It’s John’s water baptism plus the forgiveness Jesus won and delivers by the Holy Spirit, who takes what belongs to Him and declares it to us in and through those waters of baptism.
The Father is well pleased with those in the waters of baptism, because Jesus is there, and Jesus has shared His status with others by the Holy Spirit, Whom He was given and Whom He has the authority to give out to others. At His death that Spirit had forgiveness to give out, because Jesus sacrificed Himself for our sins. The Father declared from the beginning that He was well pleased with this sacrifice, the sacrifice of one who gave Himself over to be “numbered with sinners.”
At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, however, we learn that baptism is not alone. With baptism is teaching. Baptism is the gift and declaration that we are well pleased to the Father in Christ by the Holy Spirit, into Whose name we are baptized.
Baptism is the beginning – all those in the Jordan certainly shared what Jesus was given. But it still remained for them to learn what this meant. It still remained for them to be taught. And indeed, Jesus taught them exactly what He was given in baptism, that they shared with Him the fatherhood of God and His status as God’s Son. He did this especially in the Sermon on the Mount, after which, the people concluded that Jesus was one with authority, who spoke and taught unlike any other.
But still, this blessing remained spotty, revealed to few – the Jews in the Jordan and at the Mount. Jesus remained hidden, as it were. He Himself told the crowds to keep Him secret. Yes, this prophecy remained in force: “Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench, Till He sends forth justice to victory; And in His name Gentiles will trust.”
Matthew applies this prophecy exactly to the situation described above.
It would remain for another, not Him, to make universally public His person and work. It would remain for the apostles to do that. And so people would know that they “did not follow cunningly devised fables,” the Lord gave them the Transfiguration, where again the Father declared, “This is My beloved Son,” but then added, “Listen to Him.”
Now, the apostles were equipped to have the certainty of the crowds at the mount, or the centurion, or the Canaanite woman, and move on from their “little faith” to a great faith, the sort that shares Jesus status as God’s Son with others, through proclamation and baptism. They were able to teach with certainty Jesus words.
In other words, with that little addition, the seal of the Father on Jesus’ words, the apostolic office became a new sort of prophetic office, authorized to author a new testament.
Or put in the final words of the Gospel of Matthew, which nicely sums this all up, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
With Christ’s authority, in other words, go do what Jesus and John had first done. Join all the nations with Jesus in the waters, where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were present, and then teach them what this means, to be the well pleasing child of God.
And this sign off from Hebrews nicely brings it all together: “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
May God make us complete in what He has declared us to be…well pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ.