It’s been awkward for me to live up to all my identities. That’s a bit of a weird line, I know, so let me explain what I mean. Although my mom will quickly tell you she named me Daniel, I’ve found myself at a place in life where I get called a lot of different names.
When I was first called to serve as pastor, it took quite a while until I was comfortable introducing myself as “Pastor Berge” or “Pastor Daniel.” Other pastors have shared that same experience with me. When we’re called to be a pastor somewhere, we don’t feel different, so it seems weird to suddenly be called something different—especially something as special as “pastor.”
Now I’m serving as a young professor at our seminary. Sometimes I have students who I could’ve grown up in school with, and sometimes students who I would’ve looked up to as the “big kids” growing up! It’s taken a while for “Dr. Berge” to feel anything close to normal.
But surprisingly it can feel even weirder when I leave Seminary and serve as the assistant basketball coach at our local community college. Suddenly these young athletes are calling me “coach.” This is my first time helping out with a team like this, and it can feel weird to have the title “coach” directed at me. Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing there.
Finally, I go home and this mob of little people grab onto me and call me “daddy.” Although I’m most comfortable with that name now, when I sit back and think about this identity, it might be the most important one I hear. It’s the only identity out of these that I can’t lose. “Dad” is who I am and who I will always be to my kids.
Every now and then I get asked to speak somewhere. And as I get up in front of a group, with all these identities I’ve been given, I’m not really sure how to introduce myself anymore. Pastor? Mister? Doctor? Coach?… Dad? What I’m called really depends on what context I’m in.
Same thing with Jesus (well, kind of). Jesus gets called a lot of different things.
As I teach on the New Testament, I try to help people pay attention to what Jesus is called, and when. Matthew starts out his gospel calling Jesus “the Christ, the Son of David,” and then in that context he works through a list of names that supports this genealogical identity.
However, as we continue through Matthew, we see Jesus with a new name in a different context. It’s mentioned in 2:15, and made as explicit as can be at his baptism in 3:17. There, heaven was opened and “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”
Sure, Jesus is the Son of David, but so was a guy like Solomon. Now Matthew is saying something even bigger: Jesus is also the Son of God!
Of course, if we’ve been paying attention in the Old Testament, this isn’t the first time someone’s been called the son of God. In places like Exodus 4:22 and Hosea 11:1, God actually called an entire people group his singular “son.” But that group, Israel, was always a rebellious child and often rejected that identity.
The way Matthew has written this section, it seems he’s going out of his way to show that the question “Who is really God’s son?” was left unfulfilled in the Old Testament. Israel had been called God’s son, but they never fulfilled the high demands of that identity. So Matthew is stressing for us that the true Son of God, the one with whom God is well pleased, is really this Jesus.
In a way, as Jesus is given the identity Son of God, he takes Israel’s story onto himself. Matthew tells us Jesus was called out of Egypt, passed through the waters (at his baptism), and then was led into the wilderness to be tested. I hope that sounds to you a lot like Israel’s story. Some have said that Matthew is telling us that Jesus is Israel reduced to one—I love that. And importantly, at his baptism we hear that God is finally well pleased with his beloved Son.
People have often wondered why Jesus was baptized. John the Baptist himself wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do! But there’s an identity exchange that happens through this baptism, and it’s important to catch this. Although John resisted, Jesus knew it was right and said it should happen to “fulfill all righteousness” (3:15).
This is important because this fulfillment works two directions. Looking back, Jesus is baptized into the identity of Israel. But looking forward, he’s joined with those who will later be baptized into his name—people like you and me. Just as Jesus took on Israel’s identity, he also takes on our identity and now we get called a new name!
This is such good news if we’re too often more like Israel; if we grumble, if we complain, if we’re self-centered, if we’re self-righteous, if we fail to trust in God completely above all else, if we fail to live up to the identity of a true child of God. For all these things and more, we need a better identity. So we are linked to Jesus through baptism. As Paul says, Jesus’ death is now our death, and his life is now our life (Romans 6:4). We now have Christ’s identity.
The awkwardness of all my mixed identities can be settled if I focus on this ultimate life-giving identity. Out of all the identities any of us might be given in the world, this is the most important identity we can ever receive. How great it is that we can now look to God and call him “Dad,” and he can look at us and say, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased!”
Dr. Daniel Berge Ph.D. serves the Church of the Lutheran Brethren as professor of New Testament at Lutheran Brethren Seminary.