rev_dr_r_joaquin_willis_web.jpgAt His baptism, Christ elected to clean-up and live on higher moral ground, a day of decision, the moment God chose to launch His earthly ministry and mission. Then, for 40 days He was sent into the wilderness to be tempted.

Living on higher moral ground means finding God’s loving paths, keeping in step with God and maintaining obedience to His Word. Jesus’ baptism was submission to God. Through John’s preaching it was the starting point of His ministry.

For us, a good time to fast and clean out the body and spirit is the Lenten season, which began last week.

John Oxenham said it best:

 “O every man there open, a way and ways, the high soul treads the highway, and the low soul gropes the low, and in between on the misty flats, the rest drifts to and fro.”

Today many leaders are adrift “to and fro,” thinking they are on higher moral ground using principle-based arguments, only to learn later the principles used may be important but God has even higher principles at stake which should also be obeyed. In their stubbornness, they miss them and thereby violate higher principles and later find themselves groping in the mud of low ground.

For instance, when Jesus came to John for baptism, according to Matthew 3:14, John challenged Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you and do you come to me?”

Christ responded, “Let it be so now, it is proper for us to do this.”

John understood the importance of baptism but missed the important principle of his historical role in the process.

I am encouraged listening to principle-centered men like Warren Buffet, a rich man, who, in my opinion, is “living on higher moral ground” as he expounds on the need for the rich to pay more in taxes. At the same time, I am disturbed by rich men like Mitt Romney who, while mocking Mr. Buffett, pays half the taxes most Americans pay. It is disturbing to many how some rich and privileged people remain so, while so many others watch as their net worth declines.

These thoughts raise a question about Jesus’ baptism. Why did Jesus need to be baptized, in the first place? He certainly didn’t need to admit any sin, because He was sinless. He didn’t need forgiveness or repentance either. So why get baptized?

I believe He did so to keep in step with God and to continue “living on higher moral ground.” The Psalmist (51:5) says, “I’ve been out of step with You [God] for a long time, in the wrong since before I was born.”  This is the context of my Lenten meditations through prayer and fasting.  My hope is for the world to get in better step with God.  Christ’s baptism was a moment of identification with human sin, mankind, John the Baptist’s movement and it was the beginning of the Good News.

It was a moment of Divine approval evidenced by the decent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus, the sign of God’s approval. In this passage, we see for the first time in scripture all three members of the Trinity together, “God the father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.”

Immediately afterwards Jesus is sent into the wilderness to be tempted and tested for 40 days by Satan. Temptation is not necessarily bad; it is only when we give in to it. We should not hate temptation because these are instances of inner testing through which God strengthens and builds character and teaches valuable lessons.

The beginning of Christ’s Good News is found in the power of His teaching and beliefs which give us “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen.” This is the essence of all inter-faith belief.

All great leaders figure this inter-faith essence out. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi did, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did, President Barack Obama has done it and apparently Warren Buffet is doing it. Faith releases trust, which is the key to “living on higher moral ground.” Such knowledge releases our ability to submit and surrender to God and righteous thinking. When we do this regardless of our religion, we are led by the power of The Spirit to live on higher moral ground.

The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door in Miami’s Liberty City community. He may be reached at 305-759-0373 or