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First and lasting impressions

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“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This advice is often given before job interviews, meeting that special “someone,” or attending the first day at a new school or workplace.

First impressions are also important to preachers, who seek to craft exceptional sermon openings that will attract and hold listeners’ attention. Prime ministers know the importance of inaugural speeches that inspire confidence and set the tone for their public service. New executive directors are told their first 100 days will set the direction for their ministry. First impressions matter.

As I was reflecting on this idea, I wondered what Jesus thought of making a proper first impression. Jesus chose his words and actions carefully. A quick look at his first recorded conversations reveals the things he wanted to emphasize as he made his first public appearances.

First words

Jesus’ first words recorded in the Gospel of Matthew are presented in the context of his commissioning as messianic king who holds all authority. Matthew 3:13–15 (NLT) reads: “Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. ‘I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,’ he said, ‘so why are you coming to me?’

“But Jesus said, ‘It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.’ So John agreed to baptize him.”

Jesus redirected John’s thinking from human ideas of authority, hierarchy, and power, and focused it on obedience and submission to God the Father. Jesus was baptized because that is what his father wanted. Jesus’ first action – his “first impression” – was to place himself under his father’s authority.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ first recorded words present us with Public Relations Disaster 101. ‘“The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!’” (Mark 1:15, NLT).

We’re so politically correct that the words of Jesus spoken by contemporary voices make us cringe. But Jesus was more concerned with a truthful first impression than a palatable one. We’re embarrassed by the truth of the gospel: we are sinners in need of a saviour. Jesus’ life declared and demonstrated the in-breaking of the kingdom – the reign of God – which offended the religious but won the hearts of the lost, marginalized, and broken because they recognized good news when they heard it.

Intimacy with the Father

I was struck here by Jesus’ preoccupation with the Father, both relationally and missionally. Jesus’s first concern was to submit his life and will to his father through teaching and baptism.

What does this have to do with us today? While I’m concerned we teach and lead people to lives of mission, I’m even more concerned we submit our lives to Christ – just as Jesus submitted his life to the Father. We can’t give a good first impression if we’re not first “impressed” with the presence and reality of Christ in our lives.

To embody the words and works of Jesus, we must first know him intimately. To give people a foretaste of the fulfillment of God’s kingdom, we must intentionally develop a holy preoccupation with Jesus. Our identity is not in position, nationality, degrees earned, etc., it’s in Jesus.

When we’re focused on Jesus, we will become passionate about the things he is passionate about – preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. We’ll become gripped by the good news, applying it to every area of our lives and sharing it with others. We’ll be so filled and led by the Spirit that Jesus oozes out of us into the lives of others.

We may not get a second chance to make a first impression, so I pray that our lives and churches will be so shaped by the person and work of Jesus that he is the first and lasting impression we make!

Willy Reimer is executive director of the Canadian conference. He lives in Calgary.
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