John the Baptist

Water Baptism: the Personal Baptism

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on water baptism.  For the rest of the series, go here.

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This week we’ll be thinking about how the coming of Jesus altered baptism to become personal when he submitted to John’s baptism in the Gospel. Three aspects of water help us to understand significance of Jesus’ baptism for us in the gospel narrative: water removes what is corruptrefills what is empty, and revitalizes what is dead.

After addressing the Global Baptism in the Flood of Noah and the National Baptism in the Red Sea of Moses, we finally arrive at the baptism most pertinent to the Christian’s life. If the first baptism taught us the destructive powers of sin and the second baptism taught us the oppressive powers of sin, the final baptism teaches us about the deception of sin. However, it also teaches us the abounding glory to be found in the final baptism in the name of Jesus Christ and what that means for the individual.

Removes what is corrupt

In the final baptism, we find Jesus entering the Jordan River in Palestine to be baptized by his relative, John the Baptist. While there is an entirely different discussion about what the purpose of the baptism was for Jesus himself, this section will focus much more on what his baptism means for the individual believer.

The baptism of Jesus came to a world convinced of its self-righteousness. The greatest enemy to God’s righteousness is the self-perceived righteousness of man. While the corruption of the human heart in the time of Noah and Moses were physically apparent and offensive, the world in our present time has mastered the art of concealing sin, harboring it in the heart and mind without the danger of publicly displaying its destruction, thus avoiding direct conviction or condemnation. The corruption of sin in our present age is corruption masked with righteousness. At times, like air, it is impossible to grab ahold of. However, while the corruption of the human heart can be effectively hidden from those around us, it is glaringly obvious to us in our heart of hearts.

While we can acknowledge and at times hate the sin in our own hearts, we hide beneath layers and layers of deception, the effect of which is to feel the potency of sin less and less. It becomes a matter of turning the volume on the stereo up louder and louder until the crying of the cat in the street can no longer be heard. In the hands of sin, these speakers can get loud and they continuously play songs that sing our own praises and righteousness, until after a while, we know every word to our own song and hear nothing else. However, in the Word of God, with a sincere search for truth in the Word, the figurative speakers begin to malfunction, and all that can be heard is that dreadful cat outside. In other words, in the presence of a holy and righteous Jesus Christ, our sin and its corruption is magnified and amplified to a point where we are crying for rescue from its presence and power. In the presence of Jesus one cannot even begin to feel righteous or clean. In the presence of Jesus, one feels nothing but disgust and offense at the sight of one’s own sin.

The beauty of the baptism of Jesus Christ is that while the other baptisms were not final and were not revealed as the washing of sin directly, the baptism of Jesus presents us with the hope and promise that upon being baptized by the water, its cleansing power can finally end our helpless struggle with sin and give us a new birth in the spirit of Christ, with a daily invitation to become a new creation by the spirit of God residing in our hearts, not the spirit of sin. In the final baptism, the cleansing power of the water is most effective in cleansing the corruption of sin from our hearts and most powerful in what it reveals after the corruption has been washed away.

Refills what is empty

Not only does sin convince us that righteousness reigns in our lives, sin also has the power to deceive us by convincing us that what we strive for in this material world is actually satisfying the internal void that we so desperately try to fill. Away from the presence of God, sin convinces us that a job, a relationship, or money fill the void left empty by the Fall. As the deception of righteousness convinces us only partway, leaving us to privately question the extent of sin’s corruption, the deception of satisfaction inflates what we use to fill ourselves, exaggerating the pleasure we feel upon filling it. However, in the presence of the Word of God, it doesn’t take long for us to realize that all our efforts to fill ourselves are unsuccessful, and more importantly, that they always will be without the presence of God. In the presence of God we are painfully aware that the strife and toil felt by this “chasing the wind” leaves our hearts as empty as they were when we made our first deposits into the gloomy abyss. Thus, upon the realization that the void remains empty and that sin only pretends to fill it at the expense of our energy, pain and sorrow, we then have the option to engage in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and receive the water baptism of Jesus in the River of Life.

Upon receiving the baptism from Jesus Christ, one experiences a fullness of life and a fullness of spirit that has until that point been unparalleled. The realness of the baptism of Jesus Christ suddenly exposes all of the things that we had previously been convinced were solid, but were simply illusions all along. For the first time, we experience life as it was intended to be lived. While we continue to battle sin until the end of life on Earth, the revelation of the kingdom of God and all of its glory as a result of the baptism of Christ remains alive and ablaze in the heart of the believer, daily supplying encouragement, hope and power to live a life designed by the creator God. The baptism of Jesus Christ also fills the believer with a new way of living in this world.

Where previously we possessed only the meager powers of the sinner’s heart to obtain what Eden programmed us to desire, the baptism of Jesus Christ gives us a new way and a new formula for experiencing the life we were designed for. The Gospel of Jesus and his words replace the false hopes, promises and truths we were taught by the world, and lead us into a life of righteousness that can and will be attained in his power and for his glory. For the first time, the void begins to fill and our cup overflows.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23:5-6

Revitalizes what is dead

A life born in sin, untouched by the healing power of Jesus Christ, is destined to die in sin. Without the revitalizing power of Jesus Christ and his Gospel there is no hope beyond the limits we see daily in this earthly life. The tragedy is that without a willingness to look beyond the delusional perception of our own power to rescue ourselves and fill our own lives, the fantasy of finding true meaning and satisfaction in this life, on our own, will never seem ludicrous. In fact, for many people, this is a very real, very achievable and very reasonable thing to chase. But the truth is without the intervening power of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit, the life believed salvageable by the individual will continue on the destructive path predicted by the Word of God. Apart from Jesus we are caught in a cycle of temporary successes and victories: they give us temporary hope for more in the face of failures and suffering that tend to destroy hope. Apart from Jesus we have only dreams and visions of a life worth living, life filled with true joy, true peace and true strength.

We seek to find this life in our family. We seek it in our jobs. We seek it in ourselves. All the while, we are still as dead and lifeless as we were when we decided to chase this fantasy. But Jesus offers us true life. In total submission to him, just as a body submits to the immersing power of water, we are finally made clean and prepared for the life he originally intended for us. Then, and only then, can we truly live. Jesus Christ has defeated sin and death on the cross. Baptized in him, we are resurrected from death and are given life propelled by the hope of living eternally with the creator and author of life.

Born Again: Success (John 3)

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Welcome to Week 4 of our reflection series “Born Again.” The born again life is focused on Christ’s power and nothing else. Through this reflection series, we’re looking at the things that try to take center stage in our lives. This week, we’re studying what John 3 has to say about “Success.”

Read John 3.

At the heart of every sin, since the original fall, is our inclination to look God in the face and say, “I know better. I can do it without you.” In the third chapter of John’s Gospel we have two individuals, and two differing approaches to Christ. The stories of both provide us direction and warning in becoming too aware of our knowledge and success, and how that relates to the process of spiritual rebirth.

Nicodemus

It is no secret that Nicodemus had a sincere interest in Jesus and continued to take an interest in Jesus even following the Crucifixion.  For a man to step onto the unpopular side of the line in the face of mounting criticism is commendable, and Nicodemus is honored by being included in the Gospel of John as the Pharisee quite unlike the rest. However, as one looks at this discourse between the Pharisee and Jesus, we see two things that we must become aware of when we look at being born again, in both his physical and spiritual approach to Jesus.

The first thing we see is that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. This is not a trivial piece of information. In fact, it says volumes about what is going through Nicodemus’ mind. The word is “secrecy.” Nicodemus does not want to be seen conversing with Jesus. His interest in Jesus, although sincere and genuine, is still enslaved by the potential judgment of his fellow colleagues, were they to hear that he met, “the teacher.”  Likewise, as we approach the Gospel, it is easy to be concerned about how your new interest in life with Jesus will meet the ears of those close to you who, unlike you, have no interest in the Gospel.

Our place among friends, co-workers and family is important to all of us, and to do something that we know will jeopardize those delicate relationships is difficult, to say the least. In many ways, our identities are inextricably linked to these relationships, so to choose to do something that might threaten this bond or connection is like choosing to commit identity suicide.  To do something so risky as to threaten these bonds is like losing your life. This is serious business in which not many are willing to engage. This is where we see Nicodemus. Although his interest is enough to get him in front of Jesus, the fear of committing identity suicide is far too great, and so he seeks Jesus in the dark.

One of the many things that happens upon being “reborn” is an inner augmentation of perspective. The more one starts to see Jesus as “the way, the truth, the life” the more we start to see all other things in this world as “a way, a truth, a life.”  The larger Jesus gets in our hearts and minds, the smaller everything else gets. Or, to use his example, Jesus always refers to himself and his disciples by using the contrast of light and dark.  So, in the area of spiritual rebirth, the more one steps into the light with Jesus, the more one wants to remain in the light with him.

The second thing we see with Nicodemus is a mental and spiritual barrier preventing him from understanding Jesus’ explanation about being “born again.” Nicodemus has been trained so effectively in one train of thought that it seems nearly impossible for the logic of Jesus to find any room in his reasoning.  His mind was fixated on literal possibilities, while Jesus is speaking from a standpoint of Godly potential. But this aspect of rebirth is the most exciting part.

For most people, scripture is bland and two dimensional, and at times, life itself feels rather two-dimensional.  However, when we are born again, we encounter “the Counselor,” the Holy Spirit, who testifies to the truth Jesus spoke to Nicodemus. Upon his arrival in our lives, we move from two-dimensional perspectives into multidimensional realities with endless possibilities. To be born again is to become privy to the endless possibilities of God’s plans, wisdom and presence that, in a world where impossible is impossible, suddenly all things are possible through Christ.

John the Baptist

The second character we read about in this selection of scripture is John the Baptist. In many ways, John is an excellent representation of the born again spirit. During his preaching years he gathered a large and adoring crowd of followers. We learn many things from the life of John the Baptist, but no trait is better exemplified by his life than humility.

John had every right, according to the world, to think that he was something special. He had every right to think that he had unparalleled authority and power to do whatever he desired. But his behavior shows us the opposite. The portrait we see of John the Baptist is a humble servant who looks at Jesus “the Christ” and says, “He must become greater, and I must become less.Being reborn means arriving at a critical point of restructuring. The born again life gets restructured internally and externally. Internally, we realize that in the presence of God we are nothing. We realize that without God we are nothing. We realize that because he is everything, with him we can finally be something.

Upon being reborn we lose our right to the throne, because it is forever occupied by Christ. This not only gives us profound respect and admiration for God, but it provides increasing confidence in his voice and character, and reveals our temporal and shake-able selves.  Externally, we no longer expect our well-deserved and long overdue adulation from the world. We realize that, without the servant who suffered for us, we would be left with nothing real. Finally, we  realize, in our awareness of our forgiven and sinful state, that our place among men is simply a sinner among sinners.  With this yoke of pride and superiority removed from our necks, we are then free to give of ourselves in a way that puts us on an increasingly solid footing with our Friend and Savior Jesus Christ. The opportunity to experience him becomes our life’s desire and, rather than clinging to our old identities, we come into a shared existence with Jesus that overpowers our lust for worldly praise.