Friday, July 26, 2013

Lessons Learned from Jesus' Baptism


Here at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, we have the most important introduction in the history of the world (3:1-17).  It may not seem like it, but thirty years pass between chapters 2 and 3, during which Jesus lives in Nazareth and “grows in wisdom and in stature” (Luke 2:52).  For over 400 years, the nation of Israel has not heard the voice of a prophet…until now.  John appears on the scene and a great revival takes place (which is the fulfillment of prophecy, Isaiah 40:3).  John is called “John the Baptist,” because he is baptizing people and his message centers on repentance and the kingdom of heaven.  Now concerning his diet and dress, I really don’t know what to say…except that today, he would be a great candidate for some television show like Survivor or maybe the old Fear Factor.  But, John the Baptist is not satisfied with regret or remorse, but truly desires to see “the fruit of repentance”…evidence of a changed mind and a changed life.  Many people come to hear John preach and conduct baptisms for repentance.

Israel had sinned and needed to repent, and the religious leaders ought to have led the way, yet we know how the story goes.  Still, if the nation repents, the way will be prepared for the Messiah.  Instead, John calls the Pharisees and Scribes “a brood of vipers,” for their self-righteousness…not exactly a complimentary description.  They see no need for repentance and baptism, for they believe they are good enough to please God.  It is ironic how often people have the same mindset today. But, goodness is not good enough…it will not cut it.  Self-sufficiency has been the bane of humanity since Adam and Eve in the Garden.  John’s baptism is not something devised or borrowed, it is authorized from heaven (Matthew 21:23-27).  His baptism of repentance is a looking forward to the Messiah’s coming (Acts 19:1-7).  This event not only prepares the nation for Christ, it also presents Christ to the nation (John 1:31).  John mentions another baptism – one of the Spirit and fire, a reference to the future baptism provided by Jesus Christ.  This is “Christian baptism”…of water and Spirit…where a cleansing, as if by fire, takes place.  Jesus shares concerning this with Nicodemus in John 3, and it is also spoken of by Peter, Paul, John and Luke. It is the “one” baptism, mentioned by Paul in Ephesians 4:1ff.  Baptism is also about judgment (another allusion to fire, perhaps), because Jesus, while He comes to bring unity, also brings the sword…and baptism is a signifier of allegiance or lack thereof.

Jesus comes to John to be baptized, not because He is a penitent sinner, because He had no sin.  John even tries to stop Jesus, but the Lord knows it is His Father’s will.  Yet, why is Jesus baptized?  For one – it gives approval to John the Baptist’s ministry, and to doing God’s will.  Two – Jesus identifies Himself with all mankind…publicans and sinners…the people He came to save.  He sets the example for all of us.  Three – it is the initiation of His ministry with the presence of the dove…the Holy Spirit…and ultimately, a looking ahead toward His three year ministry, culminating is His death on the cross (Matthew 20:22).  The dove is a symbol for purity and peace (although I might argue that, given the current state of warfare that they make against our vehicles)…nonetheless, it indicates that the ministry of Jesus is the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  So, John the Baptist comes to prepare the way for the Lord, bearing witness to Him as the Lamb of God and the Son of God.  Because of John’s witness, many sinners trust in Jesus Christ. Finally, a thunderous exclamation comes from the Father, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (3:17).  It is the first of three that He will give, which also occurs at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17), and as He would approach the cross (John 12:27-30).  The Father’s statement rings out approval of all that Jesus has done up to this point, which has to be a great encouragement to Him.

One time, Kim’s dad, John, was traveling for work in Germany.  One day, he discovered that he did not have his passport.  Problem!  No passport…no I.D; no I.D….big problem – you are no one!  Fortunately, it was recovered quickly and he was able to go his way, but not without some significant stress.  Spiritually, we do not want to get caught without our I.D. papers.  As we read in the N.T., it is clear that baptism is our identification with Christ in His life, death, burial and Resurrection…as indicated by Paul in Romans 6.  It is through baptism that the Holy Spirit came and identified with Jesus and His ministry.  He does the same for us.  John came to bring a baptism of repentance in water…Jesus brings a baptism of water and Spirit.  Like our Savior, we should all want to grow in wisdom as we walk the Christian walk.  And one day, the Lord will say concerning us – “this is my child in whom I am well-pleased!”

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Final Message


The final message that Jesus shares with His disciples before His death, burial and resurrection focuses on prayer and overcoming (John 16:23-33).  The Lord mentions prayer many times in His ministry, and He sets the example for prayer in His own life.  He has spoken to them in parables, and has used other metaphors to make necessary points to them concerning matters of spirituality.  Now, He speaks plainly concerning the fact that there will be a new situation because of His resurrection and ascension…and because of the coming Holy Spirit.  He is speaking to them plainly in order to reveal the Father to them (John 14:6ff).  Jesus will return to the Father in heaven, and there minister as our High Priest, making intercession for us (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25).  Jesus’ ministry in heaven makes possible our ministry of witnessing on the earth, through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the promise that they desperately need to believe.  He knows that the disciples want to ask Him a question.  He does tell them that a day is coming when they will not be able to ask Him questions (following His ascension).  Instead, they will pray to the Father and He will meet their needs, and provide direction through the Holy Spirit.  When we read the book of Acts, we do see that the early church was dependent upon prayer.  They believed the promises of God and asked God for what they needed.

In v.29, the light appears to go on for the disciples, as they make a significant affirmation of faith.  They apparently had been unable to grasp the meaning of the promised resurrection…which is entirely understandable.   Now, they not only affirm their understanding, but affirm their faith and assurance.  Jesus seems to accept it, as well…even as He understands their weaknesses.  He reports concerning the spiritual condition of the disciples to His Father in the High Priestly prayer in the next chapter (17:6-8).  Jesus goes on to explain that it is possible to have faith, understanding and assurance, and still fail the Lord.  Jesus has already warned Peter concerning His forthcoming denials, but now He warns that nearly all of them are going to forsake Him.

16:33 is the summary and powerful climax of the Upper Room message.  Why does he share it?  It is in order that they…and disciples of all generations…might understand that they can have peace in a world of tribulation.  This is a great message of hope.  In Christ, there is peace…in the world, there is trouble.  The position we need to claim is – we are in Christ…and therefore, we can overcome the world and all of its hatred.  Every believer is either overcome or is an overcomer.  As Paul tells the Romans, the world wants us to conform, but Jesus wants us to be transformed, changed to new spiritual beings (Romans 12:1-2).  Finally, He announces, “Be of Good Cheer.”  Jesus has victory over the world – that is Good News (not bad news), in fact, it is the best news of all-time.  There is joy in our lives when God answers prayer…and when we permit God to transform us and to transform our sorrows into joy.

Tim Raines wasn’t prepared for the deafening cheers from the usually quiet crowd when he stepped to the plate in his first game back with the old Montreal Expos.  For Raines, it was like being in the World Series and batting with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the winning run on base.  ``It was that type of ovation,’’ said Raines, who spent his first 12 seasons with the Expos before returning at age 41.  Raines had been in the World Series, winning it twice with the New York Yankees. But his comeback from lupus might have been an even more impressive feat for one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball history. Raines’ career appeared to have ended on July 19, 1999, when the Oakland Athletics placed him on the disabled list with kidney inflammation. He was subsequently diagnosed with lupus. ``Lupus took me away from the game, and I wasn’t ready to give it up,’’ Raines said. ``That drove me back.’’ Nobody, other than Raines, understood the odds against him better than his wife.  ``He didn’t have any muscle and he was up to about 225 pounds from the lupus,’’ Virginia Raines said. ``With all the medication he was taking, his body was so weak that he couldn’t do much.’’  Gradually, Raines was able to reduce his medication to the point where he was just taking three pills a day, along with vitamin supplements. And so there was a thunderous reception in Montreal that week. It might have been the most gratifying moment for the man known as “The Rock” and “Purple”.  ``I had tears in my eyes,’’ said his wife, Virginia. ``I knew I was going to get goose-bumps, I had those, but then I started crying. It was unbelievable. It was fantastic.’’ The cheers continued throughout Raines’ first at-bat. This was just one human being playing baseball, coming back as if from the dead. 

As tremendous as Tim Raines’ comeback story is, there are many others that are just as wonderful.   Of course, the greatest comeback…the greatest overcomer of all time…is Jesus.  We can always be of good cheer, because we are connected to the greatest story in history…told about God who became a man in order to bring salvation to His people.  As Phil Robertson says, ”I haven’t heard of a story to beat that one yet.”

Blessings, Don