The superpowers of Jesus
Isaiah 64: 1-3
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
2 as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— 7 altogether there were about twelve of them.
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
I have a very good friend who is a cartoonist or an animator. He works for a living drawing animated cartoons. He has worked on such things as Care Bears, Mutant Ninja Turtles and that great animated Canadian classic, The Raccoons.
He developed this love of cartoons from watching tv cartoons and reading cartoon comics.
I remember telling him about one of my favourite Bugs Bunny cartoons where a man finds a singing frog and spends all his money, time and life trying to market the frog, and the frog sings all the time.
“Hello, my baby, hello, my honey, hello my ragtime gal…send me a line by wire, honey my heart’s on fire.”
But the frog will never sing in front of a producer, or a talent agent and eventually the man ends up homeless and decides to get rid of the frog, which kind of destroyed his life. So he puts him in the cornerstone of a new building, entombing the frog forever. The cartoon ends up with a man in a space suit in the future finding the singing frog, and he tucks it under his arm thinking that he was going to make his fortune.
And my buddy Ron said that it was that cartoon called “One Froggy Evening” that made him want to draw cartoons.
Ron was and is big into Batman and Superman and the Marvel Comics, and so pretty much every Superhero movie that comes along, he goes to, and I often go with him.
Recently at the Justice League movie I found out that Batman’s superpower is that he is rich.
Superheroes are interesting, because they are the result of us asking the question: “What if?”
What if I could fly? What if I could swim like a fish? What if I was invulnerable? What if I had a magic hammer, or a magic lasso? What if I were faster than a speeding bullet?
But interestingly enough, there is something to me that is even more interesting than their superpowers, and it is their identity.
Superman is an orphan, sent to earth to grow up with adopted parents.
Batman is an orphan.
Spiderman is an orphan.
Changing genres, Luke Skywalker is an orphan. Harry Potter is an orphan.
There is an Indigenous Canadian Filmmaker by the name of Sonya Ballantyne who was drawn to the stories of Superheroes because she identified with them, because she as saw parallels between them and Indigenous people.
Superman for instance came from another place and was always different and didn’t fit in.
Superheroes by virtue of being orphaned and having superpowers were different and not always accepted.
And so she started to make movies where female First Nations people had super powers.
Lemn Sissay, British poet, author and broadcaster in a Ted Talk, narrated his story of being given up as a child, temporarily by his mother, who was then unable to get him back, and he was adopted by a religious family who changed his name to Mark, and then got rid of him, by sending him into foster care when he was twelve, because he had the devil in him. Coincidently they now had three children of their own.
In his talk, he mentions all the superheroes and literary heroes who are orphans…
…and suggests that those of us who have families kind of take our families for granted, and think we understand family… But…. all the literary orphans and superhero orphans help us to think more meaningfully and more deeply about what it means to have family, for good or for bad.
Now where do you think all these common stories come from originally. Stories of people who are orphaned and in a strange land, fighting evil, sticking up for justice, often, misunderstood, often alone.
There are those who say that the genesis of many of these stories is the bible.
One of the greatest of the biblical figures is a man by the name of Moses, saved from the water, who grows up adopted by a princess, and finally learns his own identity, is exiled and comes back to rescue his oppressed people from an evil overlord.
Seems to me that the movie Star Wars had a princess and a young man brought up not by his parents, who ends up fighting against an oppressive power led by an evil overlord that was committing genocide
There are those who think that the animated film the Lion King is based on biblical themes. The story of the lion whose father has died and he, Simba is the rightful king, but runs away, and yet hears the Spirit of Rafiki and his father telling him to come and claim his rightful throne, away from the oppressive overlord, Scar.
There are those that think that Superman is based on someone we know very well. Superman’s real name is Kal-El which translates from Hebrew into “voice of God.” Superman’s real father is Jor-El which translates from Hebrew into “light of God”
His father says to him “Even though you’ve been raised as a human being, you are not one of them. They could be a great people Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you….my only son.”
And when Superman comes to earth as a tiny baby, he is adopted by Martha and Jonathan who have the same initials as Mary and Joseph and he spends a lot of time in a barn learning to use his superpowers.
I wonder what person that story is based on?
Well Jesus isn’t an orphan is he?
Well maybe not.
But the father he grew up with was not his biological father, or so the story goes, and actually you never hear of Joseph again after Jesus is the age of twelve. You hear of his mother and brothers.
It is very possible, even probable, that Joseph was quite a bit older than Mary and had died by the time Jesus started his ministry.
So Jesus’ adoptive father is dead.
Jesus has had to deal with the story of his birth and that his earth father may not be his real father.
Jesus has had to deal with the fact that the one who raised him as father is now dead, and believe me for boys or young men, losing a father is a very big deal.
So many troubled men in this world are troubled because their father was absent, physically or emotionally
And that is what makes these few lines about the baptism so significant.
The baptism of John is primarily about repentance. It is about turning around and going a new way. For the people John was baptizing it meant mostly being sorry for sin and doing things wrong, and then turning around and going a healthier way or doing things that are good and true.
But this baptism itself is a turning around, a new direction.
For Jesus doesn’t come to repent from sin, but to go a new direction, and that is to take up his true identity as child of God.
The heavens are opened. In fact the word is almost violent. The heavens are torn in two from top to bottom. The word is “schizo” from which we get the word schizophrenic meaning literally “the mind is torn apart.”
Interestingly enough the other time that Mark uses this word is when Jesus dies “and the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, God is there. There is a rending of the sky. A big sign, and then there is the voice of God. “You are my son and I love you.”
And God is there at the end of Jesus’ ministry affirming that the place of God is not in a temple but wherever Christ is and Christ is wherever people love.
And then at the Baptism the superpowers are bestowed. While Harry Potter can do magic, and Luke Skywalker is that Last Jedi with the Force. While Superman can fly and is super-strong and has super-vision and is invulnerable…
And while good old Batman is just rich so he can get all this technology.
Jesus’ superpowers are these:
One. He gains his identity. He knows that he is a child of God.
Two. He understands that he loved absolutely and unconditionally.
Three. He receives the Holy Spirit.
What is that?
The Spirit of God is the spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
These are things that the law or rules cannot produce.
And fourth. He receives his ministry. And what is that?
It is to baptize people with the Holy spirit. It is to baptize them into love, joy, peace patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control so that people turn around and repent and go a different way.
They go away from violence and hate and prejudice and conditional love and force and manipulation and selfishness and legalism.
And the beautiful thing, is that it is not just Jesus who gets these superpowers.
All of us do.
At times we are all orphans, because we were all created in the image of God as God’s children and we have lost our way.
And at time we all feel like orphans because we do not live like the children of God we were born to be.
We at times feel like orphans because we know that there is another way to live that isn’t so full of conflict and drama, and hurt feelings and bad thoughts, and selfishness, and trying to get more money and get more things.
We know there must be a peace that passes human understanding.
We know that there is an abundant life waiting.
We know we have a purpose and a destiny.
And it is simply this: to be doused or drenched in unconditional love and forgiveness. To be swamped with acceptance…
And to turn around a go a new way or loving others the way God has loved us.
It is to find your passion and live it.
It is to not let others keep you from being who you were made to be.
It is be the unique person that God loves and grant others the same opportunity to be the unique person that God loves.
You are a superhero like Jesus and your greatest superpower is love.
And all the Superhero movies…
and all the stories of heroes orphaned…
are all big metaphors based on the biblical story…
that you, even though you might not know it…
that you the orphan, have been found in Christ, and he has restored your identity and mission as child of God.
And that you have all the same superpowers of Jesus: You are a child of God. You are loved.
You have the Holy Spirit.
You have identity. You have a purpose. And it is to love one another.
I want you to know though, that these superpowers are not like the superpowers of Superman or Harry Potter.
To be baptized in the Holy Spirit, is to be baptized in God’s love, so much so, that we turn around and go the way of Jesus. And the way of Jesus leads to a cross.
To be baptized in the Holy Spirit is a baptism of the Cross.
“Can you be baptized with the same baptism, I am baptized with?” Jesus asks.
The answer is “yes” but Jesus is referring to his death on a cross.
And while that might not be a literal cross like Jesus, it means that if people hurt us, we will still love.
If people try to make us sad we will still have joy.
If people are violent to us, we will respond with peace.
If others are takers, we will be servants.
Other superpowers may save people from fires, flood, disaster or criminals, but the superpowers God gives changes hearts.
Brian McLaren, in a recent essay, spoke about a boy sitting next to him in church:
(Brian McLaren, “The Church and the Solution,” an essay at www.patheos.com)
“Based on the boy’s movements and the attentions given him by his mother and sister, the son seemed to have some form of autism, maybe Asperger’s syndrome…
The moment that really touched me came at the offering. He didn’t have money, but when I handed him the basket, he bowed toward it. At first I thought he was reverencing the basket as if it were an icon or some other holy thing. But then he leaned forward even more, placing the basket on his knees and nearly touching his forehead into the checks, bills, and envelopes inside. His family didn’t intervene, as if this were his normal routine. Then he sat up again and handed the basket to his mother.
Suddenly, it dawned upon me: he was putting himself in the offering basket, diving in head-first, if you will. And this must be what he does every week, his own self-made ritual. And at that moment, I was awash in a baptism of grace.” End quote.
I hope that there is day, or you have had a day, or will have a day, or that today is that day, that you feel the love of God, feel the Holy Spirit, understand that you are a child of God, and dive headfirst into giving your whole self into the ministry of loving one another.