Let It Be
The first time I was introduced to the Beatles was through the song, “Let It Be.” As a kid, I love the tune, but I didn’t know what it really meant. It was too profound for me.
Why is “Let It Be” a word of wisdom? As I grew older, I learned that much of human destruction, frustration, and anxiety comes from trying to control the uncontrollable. You need to learn to let it be.
When did Mother Mary ever say that? Later, I found it in the Bible, where Mary responded to the angel Gabriel when he came to announce that she would bear a child.
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). The Angel explained to her that nothing is impossible with God. Then Mary said,
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:38).
It’s the wisdom of surrendering her will and submitting to the will of God. Many great men and women past and present have made that decision at some point in their lives.
In fact, all major religions have this teaching. The word “Islam” means “submitting” to the will of God, and “Muslim” means the “Summiter” or “the person who submit” to God. Buddhism, while not theism, requires you to let go of everything to find enlightenment. Taoism asks you to go with the flow of the Tao.
I am not talking about religious syncretism, which indicates all roads lead to Rome. Instead, I believe all roads lead to Christ because, ultimately, you need the grace of Christ to let it be. Even though it’s a universal word of wisdom, without a gracious God, you feel you are ruled by a totalitarian God, as if God is saying, “my way or highway.”
Last week we looked at Jesus as the embodiment of grace upon grace—the God of grace. Using the same theme, we can look at how Jesus manifested the grace of God at his baptism.
Today is the Sunday commemorating the Baptism of the Lord. It brings us a lot of questions? Why did Jesus have to be baptized? As the Son of God, wasn’t he sinless? John the Baptist had that question too, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” If anyone among them needed to be baptized, it would have been John because he was a sinner like all human beings.
Jesus’ answer triggers a theological debate over the two thousand years. He said,
“Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” (Mat 3:15).
Do you know that it was the first word Jesus ever uttered, according to Matthew? Jesus started his ministry with “let it be so.” His life is all about, “let it be.” When the disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, he said we are supposed to pray from the beginning, after addressing to God, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.” It was another word for let it be.
On the night of his arrest, he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking God to spare him from going to the cross, but he said, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).
Now, John was standing in Jordan River baptizing people one after another who came to him. Suddenly he saw his cousin, Jesus, standing in front of him. He felt intimidated and humbled saying to Jesus “Maybe we need to reverse our roles here. I should be baptized by you.” John knew who Jesus was.
Jesus said, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” (Mat 3:15).
The word proper is loaded with meaning. It’s proper for him to identify with the sinners. Since I am here to save them why don’t I join them where they are. Baptism lowered his status to equal with humankind. From the very beginning, he decided to carry the sin of humanity, which he later paid for it on the cross.
It is proper also implies grace. It tells us that God is not a totalitarian being up there but a God of grace down here.
According to the Buddhist legends, after Buddha achieved enlightenment, he came back to society to teach what he had learned. The crowd met him on the beach for the first time. He looked at him, amazed. Buddha kicked the sand on the beach to let the sand get into the people’s eyes, and they had to bow down, saying, “I am now the Buddha—the Enlighten One, you are not supposed to look straight at me, but you must all bow down in front of me.”
Even when you are in front of a Buddhist monk today, you are supposed to sit at a lower level and bow down in front of them. As a pastor, I am equivalent to a Buddhist monk, can you imagine doing that?
It draws a contrast to what Jesus did. He never demanded to be treated as the Son of God but stoop down to the human level and even washed the disciples’ feet. That’s why servant leadership is the norm of Christianity.
Starting with the word “Let it be,” Jesus began his journey of showing people that God is the God of grace upon grace. “For it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
His goal is to fulfill all righteousness. We know that only the righteous can enter heaven. Since heaven is a perfect place, we cannot have imperfect people there, or it would not be heaven. Since no one is perfect, and we cannot achieve righteousness on our own, Jesus is here to fulfill all righteousness on behalf of us through his grace.
Jesus is saying, “Since I am here to save them, it is proper for me to identify with them starting with baptism.” Now, he had convinced John the Baptist, and he consented to baptize him. Then the Bible says,
“And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” (Mat 3:16).
As Christian, we are used to the concept of the Spirit of God being represented by a dove. Have you ever thought of how significant it is? Throughout history, human beings believed that if the Spirit of God did come down, it would come down a like a thunder zapping everyone on its path.
The fact that the Spirit of God came down as a dove contradicted all the traditional concepts of God. A dove is a symbol of peace.
Recently we have a swarm of doves gathering at our windows because Sophie put a bird-feeder there. I observed them, and they are very pure, gentle, and beautiful creatures.
Unlike the woodpeckers that would attack any other birds that come to the bird-feeder, unlike the blue jays that are sacred of anyone observing at them, the pigeons are just a bunch of peaceful birds and a perfect symbol of grace.
Have you ever imagined God as a dove? What a gamechanger for anyone who thinks God is out there to get them? It gives you totally a different perspective of life and relationship with God.
The fact that God came down as a dove means you can relax at the presence of God.
This verse gives us a scene of “God and sinner reconciled” as the Christmas hymn depicted. As Jesus identified with humankind and submitted his will to God through baptism, the Spirit of God came down as a dove and rested on his shoulder.
It’s a picture-perfect of heaven and earth, once parted through sin, are united in a new way in the person of Jesus.
Now the first Person of the Trinity joined in with His voice,
And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mat 3:17).
This is the first time when all three Persons of the Trinity appeared together.
This scene tells us that baptism is not just a mere Christian ritual, but something the triune God takes it seriously.
For us it is receiving the gift of righteousness and being adopted as a child of God. As John said,
“To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12).
In other words, you become part of the heavenly royal family. Talking about the royal family, you have heard in the news that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are stepping down from the senior roles of the British royal family and planning to carve out a progressive new role within the royal family and honor the Queen in a different way.
We don’t know the background story of their decision, but wherever they go, they will always Prince Harry and Princess Meghan. Meghan was married into the British royal family. We are baptized into God’s royal family.
The point of this passage of the scripture is that baptism is not a mere ritual, but adoption by the gracious God. No matter what we do from that point on, our role is no longer the same.
This adoption begins with one decision—let it be. It’s the word of wisdom and the act of embracing God’s grace. It doesn’t mean the rest of the journey is all smooth, as you see that Jesus was led into temptation in the wilderness right after the baptism.
The devil doesn’t want you to let it be. He wants you to build your own kingdom. (That’s another sermon for another time.)
For this week, think about the wisdom of “let it be.” Meditate on Jesus' very first word, “Let it be so now.” You will discover that, when you can let it be, God has a better plan for your life to enjoy.
It’s like surfing the wave. You can’t control the wave, but you can learn to let it be and use its current to enjoy the surf. “Let it be” doesn’t mean you are totally passive, but actively partnering with God’s plan, surfing God’s wave.
Let us all have fun with, “let it be.” God bless you all. Amen!