Without fanfare or publicity or the work of an advance team, Jesus showed up at the Jordan to be baptized by John. This wasn’t so strange really. The entire region of Judea and most of the population of Jerusalem were going out to see the charismatic figure who dressed and preached like Elijah (Mark 1:5-7). That Jesus would also make his way there fits perfectly with what was happening at the time.
Except for this: all who went to be baptized by John were confessing their sin. In that regard Jesus had no business there. Matthew tells us that when Jesus came to be baptized John tried to deter him. John put him off and didn’t want to do it. But Jesus would not be deterred. He was baptized in the Jordan, a place of confession and repentance.
And then Jesus appeared in the wilderness. As Mark tells the story, he was scarcely dry from the Jordan’s waters. The sand is stained wet where Jesus walked with intent and urgency to the desert. There Satan would have at him for forty days – tempting him to indulge his appetites, exalt himself, take shortcuts, lay claim to power and wealth.
Jesus shows up in a scene of confession of sin. And Jesus shows up in a place of temptation to sin. And between the place of confession (Jordan) and the site of temptation (desert) there is the Father’s voice speaking the word that confirms Jesus’ identity. Between confession and temptation there is the descent of the Spirit.
There is a well worn path between confession and temptation. The path is walked frequently and in both directions. We’re either confessing the sins we’ve done and regret, or we’re fighting temptations to sins we promised we’d never do. When we lose the desert struggle, we go back to the place of confession. And no sooner do we come from that place of confession and repentance than we find ourselves headed back to the place of temptation. Two-way traffic, all lanes open.
Sometimes finding God in the everyday means recognizing that Jesus stands with us in the shadow places of our living. He wades into the waters where confession is made and stands with us there, not out of his need but out of his grace. And Jesus walks with us to desert places where we fight the lure and power of sin. Jesus shows up at the river and in the desert.
The truly good news in all of this is that we are not defined by the things we’ve done and regret. And we are not defined by the things we try so hard to keep from doing. Between the river and the desert, between the confession and temptation, there is the voice of the one who loves us and claims us and gives us the gift of his very life.
Perhaps you’re on that path today. You’re in a shadow place: a place where you feel the weight of something that needs to be named and confessed, a place where you’re feeling the pull of something that you know you’ll need to confess later. Jesus stands with you there. Between confession and temptation, Jesus calls you the beloved. That is who you truly are.
We give you thanks, Lord Jesus, for the way you show up in the shadow places of our lives. Confession and temptation are not wedges that drive us from you, but windows to your presence with us. Remind us that you have claimed us, that we belong to you as your beloved children. Let that truth anchor us, removing regret over what has been done in the past and fear of what we might face in the future. Amen.