Reflecting on Jesus’ baptism, Frederick Bruner writes, “The Spirit comes down like a dove. She does not come in a form that might have been suggested by John’s just preceding portraiture (fire, axe, shovel) – like an eagle, lion, or tiger. The remarkable office of the Spirit is to nuance strength, to modulate power, and to deliver what is deeply needed in common and public life – the way of gentleness. That the Christian Spirit is identified with a dove should have world–historical significance. When the church grasps even a portion of the gospel’s downward and dovelike message – theologically (the humility of God, grace) and ethically (gentleness, nonviolence) – the church will be in a stronger position than she now is under a frequently nationalistic and so inevitably militaristic spirit. Christians are given power by the gift of the Spirit in baptism. But it is dove power.” (Page110, Matthew a Commentary – the Christbook, Matthew 1 – 12 (revised & expanded), Frederick Dale Bruner, Eerdmans, 2004).
We are called to follow Jesus distinctively, to obey His commands rather than the dictates of society; to take up the Cross and not a flag; to turn the other cheek and bless those who persecute us, not to inflict pain on others and not to curse. Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” He does not say, “Blessed are the talking heads that stir up strife and enmity.” He does not say, “Blessed are you when you respond to vitriol and sarcasm and anger and meanness in kind.”
It is no great trick to be militant and strident in the midst of a militant and strident society; all one needs to do is to let the current of the times take him downstream to be emptied out into a polluted ocean. It requires submission to the Lamb to bear His image, it requires a conscious decision to be like Jesus. We cannot swim against the current, we have not the strength or the wisdom, and we will exhaust ourselves if we try – but Jesus Christ living in us and through us can do all things.
Paul writes the Philippians that their gentleness is to be known to all men, and he instructs Timothy that the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition. It is well to remind ourselves that while we are in the world that we are not of the world (John 17); we do not belong to the world nor do we belong to ourselves – we belong to our Father and to the Lord Jesus, we are not our own, we are bought with a price.
This does not mean that we do not stand firmly and articulately for the truth of the Gospel, it does not mean that we do not speak the truth but rather are silent – it does mean that when we speak we ourselves are submitted to the One who is True in life as well as in Word, it means that we are willing to suffer for the True One, the Gentle One, the Lamb, and that we follow Him wherever He goes…mindful that He leads us to the Cross.
It is the grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies that bears fruit, it is not the person who defends his own life and rights and agenda that produces life-giving fruit. Jesus Christ did not come to conquer Roman legions that held power over Israel, He came to conquer sin which held power over hearts; Jesus did not come to destroy the Roman Empire, He came to destroy the empire of self.
We can only know dove power as we surrender to Christ, we can only live by the life of Another as we say “no” to the spirit of this age and say “yes” to the Holy Spirit; the Spirit with whom we are sealed manifests Himself as a dove, our baptism should be a reminder of this – we are marked with the Dove and not a beast. Shall we serve the warlords (economic, political, military, racial, entertainment, sports, sexual, or otherwise) of this age or the Prince of Peace? Can others see which master we serve?