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Identity Is Crisis
Do you ever wonder who you are, or what your purpose is?
Is your identity tied to a career or a person? If it is, do you wonder what would happen to you if that career or person were no longer part of your life?
For the past two weeks, our church has been focusing on what it means to be ‘in Christ,’ and how that reality shapes everything we do and what we pursue. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything, and when we accept the gift of salvation that Jesus paid for with his blood, we receive a new identity as children of God (John 1:12).
This past weekend, Pastor Cheryl shared the story of Mary Magdalene and how an established identity can help overcome despair. If you missed it you can check it out here along with other past messages.
Our whole world has changed so much in the past two years, and in many ways, it will never be the same. We work, travel, and interact with people differently. As a result, our identity and overall purpose has been challenged as we watched the entire world turn upside-down. We saw and experienced lockdowns, wars, and an extraordinary escalation of social polarization. Many people no longer simply disagreed with differing viewpoints, but they began attacking, not only the opinion, but the person presenting the opinion and their very identity. People coped and reacted to these things in many different ways. Some quit their jobs, some moved far away, and many of us took a hard look at our lives, realizing many of our priorities were askew. If someone disagreed with you, they were not only the problem, but they were also the enemy. Many friendships and families were strained to the breaking point. Identities were, and are still, challenged to the core.
The good news is that when we understand our identity as children of God, we can weather the storms of this life. We aren’t crushed in the tempest.
I wonder if Jesus ever wrestled with his identity in the way that we sometimes wrestle with ours? It’s impossible to know for sure, but we know that Jesus gave up his divine privileges and humbled himself, becoming one of us as he joined us on this earth. We also know that “he faced all of the same testings we do, yet did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
As Christians, we accept and believe the paradoxical truth that Jesus was fully human and fully divine (John 1:1-14). It would seem cruel to possess all knowledge, past, present, and future, while being confined to the body of an infant.
The Gospels are absolutely clear that during his ministry Jesus had a complete understanding that he was God. Jesus, with no hesitation, said he was. But looking at his early life, could we ask when did Jesus realize that he was God? Did the baby in the manger hold the mysteries of the universe? It’s impossible for us to know for certain if or when that happened, but even in his childhood, we can see glimpses of his understanding of God as his father and not Joseph.
“And He said to them, ‘Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?’… And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” -Luke 2:29; 52
If Jesus grew in wisdom, then it seems reasonable that he had given up those divine privileges when he humbled himself and became one of us (Philippians 2:5-8). It also means that Jesus was reliant upon God the Father and modeled for us what that looks like through his prayer life and ministry. It’s evident that Jesus had a relationship with God the Father as he grew up, but I wonder if Jesus wrestled with his own divinity before he was baptized.
You see, at Jesus’ baptism, God the Father confirmed Jesus’ identity. His cousin, John the Baptist greeted him with a seemingly strange title, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
“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.”
God the Father spoke what every child longs to hear his or her father say. You are my child; I love you, and I am very proud of you. (Sidenote: If you’re a parent, you need to be speaking these words of life over your children as well.)
I’d imagine that this would have been a defining moment for Jesus. There would be no question about who he was and the mission that lay before him. It must have been wonderful and yet sobering as he came to the realization that he was being asked to do something only God himself could do. Specifically, die on a cross for the sins of the world. Jesus would have carried both the joy of who he was as well as the horror of what he had to do. The amazing thing is that even though Jesus knew what was ahead of him, he chose to do it anyway, because of his love for us. That’s what makes what happens next in the story for Jesus so powerful.
After Jesus was baptized, he spent time in prayer and fasting for 40 days. The Bible says he was full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1). He would have been spiritually strong and yet physically weak. And it’s in this state that the devil comes and tempts and immediately challenges Jesus and his identity. Three times the devil mockingly says, “If you are the son of God…” Before offering him a shortcut, a pain-free option, an alternative to the cross. There is so much to say about what is going on here, but I want to focus on how Jesus responded when his identity was called into question.
- Jesus knew the power of God’s word. Every time he responded to the devil, he quoted a passage of scripture. Jesus not only knew what God had said about him at the baptism, he knew the power of God’s word to overcome the powers of darkness.
- He had memorized God’s word. Jesus must have been meditating on scripture during his time of prayer and fasting. The three verses that Jesus used to respond to the temptations the devil laid before him are all found in Deuteronomy chapters 6 through 8. The verses and the truths that we learn from the bible will all be used at some point in our lives. There is such benefit in putting in the time to study, memorize, and meditate on scripture beforetimes of trial and testing. Because it’s during difficult times that we need them the most.
- Jesus spoke the word with authority. The apostle Paul calls God’s word a spiritual weapon (Ephesians 6:17). Hebrews tells us that the word of God is living, powerful, active, and sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). Pastor Dave often reminds us that the Greek translation of the word, ‘two edged’ can also mean two-mouthed. Meaning, that God spoke it once through scripture, His word, but it’s our job to speak it twice, to speak it aloud. When we do this in faith, the power of God’s word is activated in our lives. In the same way, this power was activated for Jesus when his mission and identity were being tested by the devil.
The first thing that your spiritual enemy wants to do is to cause you to doubt your identity. He wants you to question if what God says about you is true. That’s what happened for Jesus and that is what happens for us. The devil doesn’t like it when we move from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. He will do anything in his power to erode the truth of God’s word in your life. That’s why it’s so important to follow Jesus’ example. Be rooted in prayer and in God’s word. And take hold of the authority that we have been given as God’s beloved children.