Part 3: What can we learn from Jesus’ sense of his own vocation/calling?

Hello, and welcome to our series of teachings on spiritual discernment. As we said in the previous tapes, this course on spiritual discernment will be divided into two parts.


First of all, there’ll be a series of five teaching videos, exploring how we discern choices, important choices in our life, and particularly how we discern our own calling our vocation in life. And then the second part of the course, we will discuss how we discern spirits, how we detect and notice and respond to those interior movements in our heart, how we sort them out and recognize which ones are from God and leading us toward God and which ones are the suggestion of the evil one or the enemy, and are leading us away from God. So if we think of a little figure and an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, it’s that tension that we’re talking about, how do we recognize this voice either to accept it and embrace it or else to reject it.

So we are at the third video in this five-part series on spiritual discernment. In the first video, we talked about what spiritual discernment is, in the second video, we talked about the phrases that Christians often use to describe their calling in life, their sense of vocation. And we explored what we mean when we talk about a calling or a vocation. And today we’re going to shift our attention to Jesus. And we’re going to explore a little bit what Jesus’ vocation might have been like and how he might’ve come to discover it.

We began the last tape with a definition of vocation from Walter Brueggemann, a theologian and a scripture scholar. Brueggemann writes that, “A vocation is a purpose for being in the world that is related to the purposes of God.” So we have a sense that we are doing this thing in the world, this form of service, this form of work, but that is part of God’s bigger plan and God’s bigger purposes, that we are cooperating with God and bringing in the kingdom by doing this particular work or taking on this role. So if that’s hard definition of vocation, we’d have to say it is very clear that Jesus had a very strong sense of vocation. He said, “I didn’t come into the world to do my own will. I came to do the will of the one who sent me.” He comes into the world, not with his own agenda, but simply to fulfill the desires and will of the one that he calls Father. He says, “I abide in the Father and the Father abides in me. And whatever you see me doing is what the Father is doing. And the words that I speak are not my words, they’re the words that the Father gives me.” Over and over again, we see this message in the gospels. Jesus withdrawing into silence and solitude to attune his ears and his heart to that voice of God so that he can know what is next and how to respond. Jesus goes so far as to say, “The Father and I are one, and apart from the Father, I can do nothing.” So he realizes his complete dependence on the Father and his purpose for being in the world, the words that he speaks, the actions that he does, the way he relates to people are all reflective of this relationship that he has with the Father.

So Jesus definitely had a purpose for being in the world that was related to the purposes of God. He saw his purpose for being on earth, very much a part of what God was doing. God’s overall plan of salvation. So we don’t have a very clear explanation anywhere in the scriptures of how Jesus understood his vocation or any detailed revelations around how he came to understand what it was that he was to be and to do. So I’d like to look at some passages that might give us some insight into that. We don’t have a clear answer, but I think there are some things that we can see. And I’m directing our attention today to some passages in Luke chapter three and four. And you remember in Luke’s gospel, Luke begins his gospel by telling the story of Jesus’ birth. And he introduces it by the angel coming to Zachariah and predicting that he and his wife, Elizabeth, will parent a boy named John who will be the forerunner and who will announce the coming of the kingdom and the coming of the Messiah. And then in chapter two of Luke’s gospel, we read the narrative about his parents, Joseph and Mary, traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where he is born and the extraordinary circumstances that surround his birth. And chapter three, we lean in, more of it we get an insight into Jesus as a boy. He is, he goes with his parents to Jerusalem for a religious festival and they lose track of him and find him eventually in the temple, talking with the scribes and the Pharisees, engaging them in theological discussions. And he says, “This is my place. This is where I belong. You shouldn’t have been surprised to find me here.” And then, and later in chapter three, we finally got to the point where his adult ministry begins.

And it’s interesting to note, and this is in Luke chapter three, verses 21 and 22. It’s interesting to note that the very first thing happens, that happens, the very first thing that he does, in terms of his adult ministry is to receive baptism at the hands of John the Baptist. He goes out into the wilderness to find John, where, the place where John is baptizing, and he offers himself to John to be baptized. And we read about it in Luke’s gospel. Luke says, “Now when all 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.” We don’t know exactly what happened here. Some of the gospel accounts vary in their description of it, then details are different. Was there really a bird coming down from the sky that alighted on Jesus or did the sky actually open? And was this voice heard? Was it an internal voice that Jesus sensed in himself? Or was it an external auditory voice that he heard? Did other people who were present hear it? We don’t know. We’ll never know the details of how this actually unfolded. If there had been news cameras and microphones and film rolling, we might have a better idea of what other people saw and experienced here, but we don’t really know. But we do know, what we do know is that this event is crucial in the life of Jesus. It’s reported by every one of the gospel writers, and it has a significant place in his…

So whatever happened, however, Jesus experienced this moment, it was a powerful moment, a spiritual epiphany, a moment of awakening and of hearing God say to him, “You are my son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” I think it’s unusual too that this is the very first story that we hear. We might expect this word from God, “I’m well pleased with you” to come at the end of his ministry and say, yes, you’ve done a very good job, but it’s not any kind of evaluation or report on how he has performed throughout his life. It’s rather a declaration from God that comes before he’s done a single thing. And it speaks to his heart, a very important message for Jesus to hear from the Father, these words, “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” And I think if that is true for Jesus, if this relationship of love that he was in with the Father, this relationship with intimacy of mutual abiding, of constant communication, if this is true of Jesus, it’s equally true of us. Our calling has to have as its foundation, these words, “You are my beloved child. You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter in whom I’m well pleased.” I suggest that just as Jesus needed to hear these words and internalize them, so we also need to receive this word as it’s spoken to us. And that this, and this foundation, knowing that we are beloved children of God, is the essential foundation for all our ministry and all of our efforts. They won’t amount to anything unless they are grounded in love. And I’m sometimes surprised when I talk to various people about their spiritual lives and how difficult it is for some of us to receive this message and to really believe it. We’ve all been taught from early on and that God loves us. We sing songs like, “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.” We have this as our constant message. God is love. And God so loved the world that he sent his son into the world. So we’re clear on this message that God loves the world and that God loves us. And yet, if you explore below the surface, many of us haven’t taken that in really, or it hasn’t claimed our hearts or become a part of our identity.

One of the things I do is ask people, “Does God love you?” And, and invariably, they’ll say, “Yes, I believe God loves me.” And I then, “Does God like you?” Can you imagine a God who looks at you and has pleasure, takes pleasure in you? You are the apple of his eye. He’s pleased with you. Can you imagine that God who looks upon you with that kind of favor? Who actually loves you just as you are. He’s not waiting for you to get it all together or to become very holy or to do everything right before he loves you. He simply says to you, “I love you just as you are.” And I believe that in order for us to be the proclaimers, the conveyors, the conduits of that love to others in the world, we need to receive that message ourselves. And it means to move from our head to our hearts. It can’t be something that we just acknowledged to be true. We have to take it in to a very deep place within us and begin to revolutionize the way that we think about ourselves so that our primary identity becomes the fact that we are beloved children of God. And that’s an identity that can never be changed or taken away from us. No matter what happens to us in life. Other parts of our identity, you know, I’m a husband or I’m a businessman or I’m wealthy, or I’m popular, all of those things are external things. They don’t really define who we are and they can all be taken away. But what can’t be taken away is this fact that I am always and forever, unconditionally loved by God. Saint Paul says it best when he says, “There is nothing, nothing, nothing on earth or in heaven that can separate us from the love of God.” Paul knows himself to be up above a child of God. He says to the Philippians, “I once, I had it all in my previous life, I’ve had a good education, a top-notch education. I was from a fine family. I had status in the community. I was respected, I was looked up to, I was zealous for the faith. People admired me, they spoke about me.” And then a few verses later, he says, “And you know what? All of that I count as garbage. It’s just refuse. None of that matters to me anymore. What matters to me now is being found in Christ. What matters to me is that I belong to Christ.” And so he’s free from any kind of earning popularity or earning status from others. He’s free simply to be the person that God meant him to be. He’s not looking for approval or for, you know, a big salary or an important title. He simply wants to be found in Christ.

Now, Luke, after relaying that short description of Jesus’ baptism at the River Jordan from John the Baptist, then goes on to tell us in the next section at chapter four, beginning at the first verse, the very next thing that happens to Jesus, of course this experience of his baptism at Jordan is that he is driven into the wilderness. He’s led into the wilderness, he’s sent into the wilderness by God, in order to be tempted. And we’re familiar actually most of us with this story of the temptation, how the evil one comes to Jesus three different times and proposes something to him. The first proposal is knowing that Jesus was hungry and that he was fasting in the wilderness. The evil one comes to him, the tempter and says, “You know, you have the power to change this. And if you decide to, you can change these stones into loaves of bread.” And Jesus recognizes this as a temptation. A temptation to use the powers and the gifts that he’s been given in order to satisfy his own needs, in order to do get, or to do something that he wants. And he rejects it, says, “No, I’m not going to do that.” And then he’s led to a high place and shown all the kingdoms of the world, and the enemy says to Jesus, “All of this can be yours if you just bow down and worship me.” And Jesus recognizes this too as a temptation and rejects it. And then finally the enemy leads him to the pinnacle of the temple and said, “What would happen if you jumped off and the angels came to rescue you, as it says in the Psalms, you wouldn’t dash your foot on the stones that the angels would swoop in and save you.

Wouldn’t that be spectacular? Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Wouldn’t that get people’s attention? Wouldn’t you be popular and wouldn’t your following increase? Wouldn’t you be successful?” And Jesus recognizes this too as a temptation. Now, to us, maybe reading this story, it may seem to be disconnected from our own experience. Very few of us are tempted to turn stones into loaves of bread or to jump off a high place and to see if angels will rescue us. So his temptations don’t make sense to us on the surface, but if we go deeper in them and ask, what were they about? What do they represent? Maybe we can get some insight into why Jesus chooses to reject them. Before we do that, we’ll have to, first of all, be able to understand that Jesus is human and that he was, as Hebrew says, he was tempted in every way as we are. And there may be some of us who are doubting that. Many of us have a kind of stained glass image of Jesus. We can’t imagine that he was quite like us. He was Jesus after all, and he was the son of God after all, and he had a divine nature after all, but we fail to recognize his human nature, to recognize that he actually was like us and experienced life as we do.

The book of Hebrew says, “He was tempted in every way as we are.” Those temptations were real. So there were something in this temptation to turn stones into bread that appealed to him. Maybe it was the temptation to use his gifts and his powers, the things that God had given him in a way that would satisfy his own ego or his own needs or his own desires to turn it back in on himself. And rather than using these gifts to serve others, to make them primarily active for his own benefit, maybe that was a temptation for him. And that’s a temptation that we can relate to, isn’t it? We may not be tempted by turning stones into bread, but we can relate to the temptation to use the gifts that we’ve been given, to use our influence with people, to use our position or our status or our power or our influence in ways that satisfy our own egos. That’s a temptation that we can relate to. Or Jesus standing on the hillside, and the enemy offering him all of this, says, “It can all be yours if you simply bow down and worship me.” Maybe Jesus was tempted by this. Maybe he was tempted by having it all or being very popular or being very successful. There were points in his ministry where, it looked like the crowds were dwindling, and even his disciples weren’t understanding him. And I wonder if in those times he might’ve wished he were more powerful, more influential, and maybe that he were royalty or had some high position that people would look up to him.

We don’t know what went on in Jesus’ mind, but to imagine how this could have resonated with him and reveal to him something that was a temptation for him or this temptation to jump off the temple towers and to see if angels would catch him. I think I like to call this a temptation to be spectacular, a temptation to be, to different and to stick out, if this were to happen, if he were to jump off and if the angels were indeed able to rescue him and he wasn’t hurt in the fall, he would have something spectacular to point to, and word would spread around him and people would come because they were curious. And so the temptation to be spectacular in a way that would lead to his own popularity and success may have been a temptation for him, as it is sometimes for us. We do something, and not because we are intent on doing good, but rather to be seen by others and to be praised by others and to be honored by others and to be recognized as holy or special or unselfish or whatever it is, but we’re serving our own needs rather than the needs of the one that we’re ministering to. So Jesus has these things that, to which he has to say no, which are incongruent with the purpose, for which he’s been caught, this vocation that he has, his purpose for being in the world, that is related to the purposes of God. He has to say no and no and no to these different ways of being in the world in order to realize his true vocation.

And that true vocation is revealed in the next story, we’ve pickup again, in Luke chapter four and beginning at verse 16, we read that after this time of temptation in the wilderness, Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth and he entered the synagogue and he was allowed to take the position of a teacher and to comment on the scriptures. And he’s given the role, the scroll of the book of Isaiah. And he turns to a specific passage in that book of Isaiah and quotes it for the people he says, he reads this from Isaiah. “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And then he rolled up the scroll and handed it back to the attendant, and he said to the people gathered, “This has been made true in your own hearing. And right now I am declaring that this is who I am, that this is why I’ve come. That this is my purpose for being in the world that is related to the purposes of God, that this is my calling, this is my true vocation. Is that I’m called not to be popular, not to be successful in the way that the world measures success, and not to be tempted by my own needs and my ego, but I am called instead to be one who proclaims good news. One who sets people free from whatever binds them or limits them. I’m one who has come to help people recover their sight.” And not just people that are literally blind, but all of us who are blind in some ways, he’s come to help us to see the truth and the reality of the world in which we live in and of ourselves and of God. So here we see Jesus saying yes to a particular purpose. This is like his mission statement. This is his, a summary of his vocation. “I’ve been called to release captives and to help blind people to see again, and to proclaim good news to the poor.” Those are the reasons that I’ve come. That’s my purpose for being in the world that is related to purposes of God. And just like the other two things that we mentioned, if this was true for Jesus, this is also true for us. Just as we have to say no to certain ways of being and doing in the world, in order to fulfill God’s purpose for us, so we have to be able to say yes to that purpose, to identify that purpose and to claim it and to live into it and to say, “This is why I believe that I’m in the world. And this is my purpose for being in the world.

That is part of the purposes of God. I am meant to be this kind of a person, I’m meant to do this kind of work, I’m meant to help these kinds of people. This is why I’ve been given life. I sense this is my vocation in life. This is my true calling.” So just like Jesus, we need, first of all, to know ourselves to be loved. First John tells us, “We love because he first loved us.” So we need to receive that love first, before we can be channels of that love to others. It’s only when we know ourselves to be loved, that we can give away love. It’s only when we know ourselves to be forgiven, that we can freely forgive others. It’s only when we know that we haven’t been judged, that we can be, withhold our judgment of others. So we love as we’ve been loved. So that first of all, to know ourselves to be loved. And then second of all, to identify those things that are in congruent with the purposes for which God has called us, and then to identify those things that are integral to the purpose for which God has called us. To say no to these things, to say yes to this calling. So our next video, our fourth video in this series, we’ll look at that call. How do we find that call? How do we identify that purpose for which we have been given in life in the world? How do we identify what God’s purposes for us might be and how do we know what that is and respond to it and choose it. Thank you for joining us in this series, and we hope that you’ll continue to join us and think about these things.

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