byFaith | 4.15.15
By Alan Dowd

“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression,” humorist Will Rogers once observed.

A recent study reveals that lasting judgments about a person—whether fair or unfair—can be cemented within a hundred milliseconds of meeting him or her. That’s a tenth of a second.

In short, first impressions mean a lot. What is true in our day was true in Christ’s day as well. And the good news is that the first impression Jesus made—and makes—tells us everything we need to know about Him. Just consider His first words from each gospel.

His first words in Matthew are, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” 

He said these words in response to John the Baptist, who “tried to deter him” from being baptized. But Jesus would not be deterred or distracted. His first words in Matthew tell us that he is obedient and humble and good.

Jesus is obedient to the Father, so obedient that he divests himself of heaven and steps into the box of time and space, so obedient that he will take part in a ceremonial cleansing—a cleansing he does not need—so obedient that he will walk the road to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, to the cross.

Jesus is humble enough to become like us, to take on our flesh, to wash our filthy feet and filthier hearts, to live like a servant, to die in our place. Jesus is not a preacher who says, “Do as I say.” Jesus is a savior who says, “Do as I do. Do what is proper and right and righteous.”

And because he is obedient and humble and good, the rest of the passage tells us, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”

Put another way, this is a moment when the Father, Spirit and Son are manifest together and as one.

As we imitate the Son, as we learn from him, as we become more like him, as we accept him, we can be confident that the Holy Spirit is living in us, too—and that the Father is proud of us.

His first words in Mark are, “The time has come…The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Jesus has a world-changing, life-changing message to share. And it is good news. The timeless words of action and urgency cry out to us as believers no matter how many times we read them—and to seekers who stumble upon them at dark and desperate hours.

“The time has come,” Jesus says. “The kingdom is near. I am near. Act, move, believe, change, grow.”

The good news is that God is near. God is with us. God knows us not from a distance, but from the inside. Jesus, as the author of Hebrewswrites, “had to enter into every detail of human life.”

Every detail: Jesus laughed and cried and sighed. He worked and studied and worshipped. He thirsted and hungered and bled. He got angry and sad and tired. He went to parties and rode donkeys. He ate and drank. He had friends and enemies. He was tempted. He suffered. He even died.

So, he knows what it’s like to feel homesick and lonely and out of place. He knows what it’s like to be hated for no good reason. He knows what it’s like to be tempted to the breaking point. He knows what it’s like when a loved-one dies. He knows what it’s like when people laugh at you for what you believe. He knows what it’s like when it seems that God has hidden His face. He knows what it’s like when a friend betrays you. He knows what it’s like to be hungry and thirsty.He knows what it’s like to cry out for Daddy—to scream, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—and yet hear only silence. But just as important for us, he knows what it’s like to hear the “Well done!” that comes after the silence—and to trust that the Father will answer every prayer according to his perfect plan.

His first words in Luke are from his youth: “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

These are words of assurance and steadiness. These are the words of the Great I Am. Indeed, we can even hear an echo of God’s questions to Job in these words.

These questions may be directed initially to Mary and Joseph, but they are timeless. “Why are you searching for me?” he asks the seeker. “Why have you come to this place, to this moment, to this crossroads, to this passage?”

And to the one who has drifted away, “Why did you stop visiting my Father’s house? Why did you wander off into the far country? Didn’t you know I would always be here, waiting patiently for you to return?”

The Great I Am is not hard to find. The Great I Am is waiting. The Great I Am is here. The Great I Am is.

And finally, Jesus’s first words in John are, “What do you want?”

He is talking to John’s disciples, but again, he is addressing all of us with a timeless question.

It beckons and invites the seeker: “What do you want from me? What do you want me to do for you? What do you want to be? What do you want to become? What do you want to change about your life? Do you really want me to be in your life?”

And his question challenges the believer: “What do you want now, after all the trials and storms I have carried you through, all the blessings I have given you, all the burdens I have lifted? I still want to bless you. Where are you going today? I still want to walk with you and carry you. Are you still following me? I still want to lead you.”

His question reminds us that we have an open, standing invitation to ask the Lord of all creation for help and hope, for what we need, for answers, for peace when the answer is “No.” He wants us to ask, to seek, to knock—because he still wants fellowship with his children.

Dowd writes a monthly column exploring the crossroads of faith and public policy for byFaith.