Barth’s beginning point is Luke 3:21-22: “Now when the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.'”
Immediately upon reading this verse my mind went straight to the common sermons that it inspires. Most preachers I’ve heard use this reading as an opportunity to brush off some Trinitarian theology from seminary: we see Jesus (Son), the dove (Holy Spirit), and a voice (Father) together. Trinity, ok, got it?
Another routine sermon on this passage as a whole focuses on baptism as Jesus’ anointing or empowering to begin his public ministry. Neither of these are bad sermon topics, but Barth pursues a line of thought wholly other from these.
Barth begins with a reflection on the human desire to be right, to be delighted in. There is a deep desire within all of us to be affirmed and acknowledge for who we are in our own unique ways.
It’s like our greatest desire would be to hear God sing to us that Bruno Mars lyric:
Alas, we don’t quite warrant this divine serenade.
But, there is one who does. “Dear friends, that is the clarity and certainty that the Savior had and that we can neither imitate nor sieze for ourselves. We must rather leave it entirely to him, for it was and is something that belonged and belongs only to him” (39).
So, with some questionable hermeneutical moves, I would interpret Barth to say that Jesus heard that divine serenade we all long for. The rest of us search for ways to change and be that which is other than ourselves. Some of these changes may be aesthetic, but others are intellectual or “spiritual” or the like. To borrow a customer service phrase: “We aim to please.”
We desperately desire and seek approval.
In Christ, we see one who doesn’t seek approval, but has it; who has no desire to change because he has God’s good pleasure. God’s good pleasure is with Jesus, because the Son comes from the Father. “It is like a human father seeing his son, finding his own features in his face, rejoicing that he has the son, acknowledging him, giving him all his love, and helping him as well as he can, from the beginning, simply because he is his son! That is Jesus’ secret: he comes from God!” (41).
Jesus is the only person who can possess this favor, since he is the only one who comes from the fullness of God. When God looks at Jesus, God sees almost as in a mirror. But, when God looks at us, God sees a stranger whose beginnings in God have been misplaced or concealed.
Thankfully for us, what God speaks to Christ–firstborn of creation, of many sisters and brothers–God speaks to us all (43; Rom. 8.29). We are God’s beloved children, not by our action or achievement or because of any change we have made, but by Christ’s willingness to share his own privileged position with us.
This privileged position isn’t the result of our work, but is purely grace, which is to say gift. God is on our side, not in some sectarian sense, like I can push my agenda or view because God endorses it. No, God is literally on our side, as the one in whom the Father is wholly delighted. Which means we’re amazing just the way we are [in Christ, by grace, not earned…]