Baptized with Words

by DanWolgemuth on February 18, 2022

As the light dimmed over a day in late January in downtown Kansas City, I held my cellphone tightly to my ear. It was 2002, and I don’t remember precisely what kind of phone I was using, but I know that it afforded me the opportunity to hear the voice of my father for the last time.

I was standing outside the front door of Morton’s Steakhouse in Crown Center. In a matter of minutes I would be eating with some business colleagues from General Electric. I don’t remember anything about the corporate business that got accomplished over a brilliantly prepared meal, but what I do remember are the timeless final words that I heard my Dad say to me… softly. Profoundly. Urgently. “I love you.”

On February 5th, 2002, now twenty years ago, Sam Wolgemuth was gone. But not without planting a life propelling message deep in the soul of his youngest son.

In that moment he could have dusted off a catalog of reminders or warnings or admonitions or instructions or insights… but no. The primary message that he wanted me to know was that I was loved. By him. By my father.

Sound familiar?

Jesus, at the Jordan River.

As He emerged from the waters of baptism at the hand of John, the heavens were opened and He heard the voice of His Father say, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”

A message to a son, from a father. And a message to the Son, from the Father.

Put this story of Jesus in context. In short order, He would be ushered into the Wilderness. Not by demons, but by the Holy Spirit of God. A showdown was coming. With Satan. A grudge match with good and evil. The redemption of the human race hung in the balance…

With all this at stake, God may well have pulled back the curtain of heaven and given very specific instructions on how to face this formidable enemy. A pop quiz on the Covenant Laws… all 613 of them. Perhaps a pep talk on standing strong. God could have assigned Jesus to an accountability group. But, no. Emphatically, no.

Instead of caution or warning, God declares His undying love. “My beloved son.”

Jesus was baptized with water, and He was baptized with words. Yes, words that would sustain, anchor, inspire, and galvanize His resolve. Not a process to follow, but a love to steward.

During my tenure with Youth For Christ, I’ve visited many young men in juvenile detention centers. Prison. I have yet to have one of those men declare to me that he didn’t know the law. Instead, what I hear is that most of them did not know authentic human love, and consequently the fact that they were beloved by God was beyond their comprehension. Discarded by society, friends, and often family. But loved unconditionally by God. What is always clear is that laws don’t transform these young men… love does. Only love does.

For any of us who have raised a family, words of instruction, correction and consequence are much easier to access than words of love. But God shows us a different way. Not an elimination of the rules, but an elevation of the motivation for righteous behavior. Love changes everything.

My dad knew that on his deathbed. God knew that at the baptism of His only Begotten…

Love is what emboldens us against the enemies of our soul. Love is what transforms us. Love is what lingers through the wilderness, and in the twenty years since my father uttered those anchoring words.

Indeed, the greatest of these is love. Practice it. Proclaim it. Invest it.

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