The Power in Humility

Pastor Teddie McConnell      1-8-2023      The Power in Humility         Matthew 3:13-17 & Isaiah 42:1-9
            Isaiah’s description of God’s Servant is clearly a prophesy of Jesus. He is someone who will not shout or damage those who are already bruised and battered, but will bring justice, open the eyes of the blind, and release the prisoners from darkness. In other words, he’ll act with self-control and humility as he works to establish a new order that treats everyone with kindness and care. He won’t need force or violence to establish his kingdom, only his love, teaching, and healings that remind everyone who God is, powered by God working behind and within him. Make no mistake, God’s power is here in this text, and God has no need for humility. God is the Alpha and Omega, the only One who can safely say that there is no reason to praise anyone else. So why would Jesus, God’s only Son, want to be baptized?
            By the time Jesus came on the scene in Israel, baptism was considered a way to wash away sin, a ritual cleansing or purification. Baptism was a step toward renewing the relationship with God that doubt and sin break, restoring those who were baptized to faith, obedience, and peace. To show up to be baptized was to publicly admit that you needed freedom from something you were ashamed of, something challenging and humiliating. Although you would gain God’s forgiveness, you  could lose the respect of the people in your community. Your reputation would suffer. This is part of why the best educated religious leaders of the day failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. They knew he’d gone to be baptized, and they assumed that meant he had serious sin to erase. Jesus didn’t care what they thought. He got in line with the sinners.
            John the Baptist knew that he himself was human and sinful. He was a prophet but not the Christ. He believed in Jesus’ superiority and couldn’t imagine that he was worthy to do anything for Jesus, not even carry his sandals. John also knew that, unlike everyone else he was baptizing, Jesus was without sin and didn’t need to repent. Why wash a spotless lamb?
            Yet Jesus, despite being a human container of God’s holy power, told John that this act would fulfill all righteousness. Jesus wanted to be baptized to express his solidarity with the sinners whom God had created him to save. His divine power was combined with incredible love and tenderness toward us fragile people.
Human righteousness is the concept that we are right with God because we are saved by Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we believe in him, trust him, and do God’s revealed will. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect. Jesus was the King and God of the universe humbling himself to serve the people. Baptism was his anointing to ministry. So in turn, the fiery John the Baptist humbled himself to the will of God and baptized Jesus, acting as his partner in God’s saving plan. The power in humility is that it allows us to know in the depths of our being that God is in charge of all things, not us. Once we know that, we can trust God to use divine power to help us to thrive and to do His will.
            We’ve heard this story of Christ’s baptism so many times that it’s hard to realize how startling it must have been when Jesus rose out of the river, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and God proclaimed, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” These words echo the reference to Christ as the Servant from the Isaiah passage.
There are two important things about this announcement. One is that Jesus heard it and understood it as a message from his Father confirming his divine birth, his character, and his mission.
The other important thing is that each one of us needs to hear it for ourselves, claiming Jesus as God’s Son, our precious savior. In our own baptisms as Christians, we aren’t proclaiming our past sinfulness, but our belief that our sin nature can be washed clean by the blood of the Lamb going forward.
            Now let’s talk about doves. They’re a rich symbol in the Bible. The Holy Spirit brooded over the waters during creation in a dove-like way. She has existed with God from the beginning. Later, Noah sent out a dove to determine whether the flood was over and the Arc could be brought to a dry landing place, meaning that the sinful world had been cleansed. It was similar to the whole earth having been baptized. Notice that the Holy Spirit is represented not by a ferocious animal like a lion, not by a powerful bird like an eagle, but by a humble and peaceful dove. Her job is to bring God’s tender, loving ways to bear in situations that human pride would normally allow to escalate into negative reactions and violence.
To quote Dale Bruner, “That the Christian Spirit is identified with a dove should have world-historical significance. When the church grasps even a portion of the gospel’s downward and dovelike message—theologically (the humility of God, grace) and ethically (gentleness, nonviolence)—the church will be in a stronger position than she now is under a frequently nationalistic and so inevitably militaristic spirit. Christians are given power by the gift of the Spirit in baptism. But it is dove power.” 1
            Dove power is the power in humility. The humble words Jesus spoke to John in this passage are his first words recorded in the gospel of Matthew. We receive the power of his humility when we accept the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is our deepest expression of faith when we continue to ask to be filled and guided along the paths of love, joy, kindness, goodness, righteousness, and peace.
            Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as I’m sure you know, was an amazing and humble leader in the non-violent civil rights movement. He worked tirelessly to bring white people to the awareness of the humanity of Black people and Black people to the awareness of their own worth. The risks he and his colleagues took led to his assassination, but also led to real change over time, although there is still much to do. Here are three things Dr. King said:
“Nonviolent resistance is a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love”2
"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."3
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." 4
So what does humility mean? Humility isn’t weakness or cowardice. It doesn’t mean yielding to evil people. It doesn’t mean you discount your own gifts or beat yourself up because you can’t be good enough for God. God can use anyone who is willing to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. God wants to include us in the plans to bring peace and harmony to our world. Humility is taking your ego out of the equation and giving God the glory. It’s giving God the power and responsibility while we work his plan.
Rick Warren said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
Humility means working toward good with the knowledge that God’s ways are best and God’s will is sovereign. Humility means recognizing your own limitations and being strong enough to ask for help even before you think you need it, being open to the Spirit’s leading over and over again. It’s the opposite of the human failing of pride.
I read about a pastor who was voted the most humble pastor in America. The congregation gave him a medal that said, “To the most humble pastor in America.” Then they took it away from him on Sunday for wearing it.
            People have a hard time being humble, as our selfish sin nature tends to get in the way.
(Song by Mac Davis) Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way. I can't wait to look in the mirror, ‘cause I get better looking each day. To know me is to love me. I must be a heck of a man (gal). Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble, But I'm doing the best that I can.
Pride says, “I can do anything. Get out of my way.” Humility quotes Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Here are some examples of humility in action. I know none of you need them, so I’ll just read them to myself.
Give God credit for the gifts you use to do something instead of boasting. For example, “God gave me the strength to do that,” instead of, “I worked hard to get here.” Or “God inspired me,” instead of, “I had a brilliant idea.” When good things happen, credit God, not luck. Give someone a sincere compliment without expecting one in return. Let someone else go first into a room or into traffic in front of you as you drive. I tell myself that if I’m in that big a hurry, I should have left earlier.
Admit that your body is getting older and you might need to let someone help you or use a walker or a cane. Falls are more embarrassing and painful than using a tool to stabilize yourself.
Read and follow the directions, for life in the Bible and for products you buy. The other day I opened up a bottle of creamer that came in a box with a pump and assumed I could figure out how to make it work. I took the pump parts, a top and a tube, and put them together. Then I put them into the bottle and couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working. I read the directions and discovered that I should have twisted the pump clockwise to make it pop up as the first step. Since it was covered with creamer, twisting it wasn’t working. Then the tube fell into the bottle. So I washed off the pump and got it to pop up, poured the creamer into a measuring cup so I could get the tube, washed it off, put the tube into the pump and put the combination into the bottle. It worked! Pride goes before a mess. Humility lets you laugh at yourself.
When someone tells you that you’ve made a mistake, don’t get defensive. Think about it enough to decide whether they might be right. If they are, admit it, apologize and fix it. If not, then either explain briefly and kindly why you disagree or agree to disagree. If you’re not sure, say something like, “Let me check on that and get back to you.” Or just let it go. Most arguments aren’t worth the time and effort we put into them, and they can make for hard feelings.
I’m going to end with a quote from Ellen G. White, who said, “A Christian reveals true humility by showing the gentleness of Christ, by being always ready to help others, by speaking kind words and performing unselfish acts, which elevate and ennoble the most sacred message that has come to our world.”
1The Christbook: Matthew 1-12, p. 110, revised and updated in 2007   
2King, Stride Toward Freedom, p. 80
3Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, Norway, 1964.      4 Strength to Love, 1963.

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