Make Decisions That Make The Difference
God called John the Baptist for a specific task. It wasn't an easy task but he did it. This we know. What if God called one of us to go through a public park and tell the people to wake up, live right--the Great One is coming? Now, that might just take a little bit of preparation on our part.
Is there even one of us who would hesitate at the thought of walking through a park and calling for people to be baptized? What would it be like for you to do that? Put yourself in John's shoes. Surely he was anxious and fearful. God asked him to go face people who had spent the last 400 years steeped in sin.
God said, "Go." So, John went into the desert to prepare. In the wilderness of baked soil and naked rocks, John prayed, fasted and listened to God. Empowered by the Spirit, he was ready for the task.
He was a human earthquake. Everything shook. He used the "R" word. Speaking much like the prophet Isaiah, no one was left untouched by his preaching. People coming to the River Jordan for John's baptism had the greatest thirst for God in the history of the Jews. Thousands of Jews were baptized for the first time. Prior to this, only the defiled heathens needed such a thing! But, John said, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near." He demanded this of every Jew: Change your mind, your heart, your life.
He was wild-looking--surely he looked like a first-century street person; he was gruff-sounding--a voice like an air raid siren; but his message met its mark. He was right and people knew it. Picture this: People bursting up out of the water, washed clean inside and out! Isn't there some part of you that would have liked to have been there? Sometimes, we look at John with disgust. We think he's the kind of person who turns us off. But I like what John did. I wish he'd show up for coffee in the forecourt today and then march through Los Angeles, starting with Lafayette Park. What a sight that would be.
I like John because he dares to speak up for Jesus. He's so straight-forward. Earthy. What you see is what you get. I like those qualities. John is our friend. He comes as one who cares about us. Do you feel yourself being drawn a little closer to John? Okay, let's leave John right here for a moment. We'll come back.
Have you made any New Year's resolutions? This is the time of year when we traditionally make some big decisions. We acknowledge that our lives could be better, and so we resolve to make some changes. We earnestly try to make decisions that make the difference. I call these "lifegiving" decisions because they lead us to more vibrant, healthy and meaningful lives. Decisions. In our lifetimes, we make billions of decisions; however, most of them don't make that much difference: chocolate or vanilla? --coffee, tea or milk?--Camry or Camaro?--cash or charge? A lot of our decisions are not too important because they are not life-giving. Ultimately, they are not going to move us one step toward the Kingdom of Heaven.
That's the way life is sometimes-we tend to focus on the unimportant at the expense of the important. But Jesus didn't do this. He could focus and sort things out. The decisions he made shook people and changed them. Some people are surprised to hear that Jesus had to make decisions. They think of him as the baby that never cried; the young man who never faced any problems; the man who had it all figured out. We always have to remember it wasn't a pre-programmed robot that Mary wrapped in swaddling cloths on Christmas day. Jesus had to face problems; he had to make decisions. Let's keep this in mind and return to our friend John.
John is really moving. His first fears were not realized. Even the leaders of the Jews reeled as he spit out his anger at them. He preached repentance, and miraculously, people responded. He had great success. He waves his hands and points to the coming of Jesus. He expects Jesus to be like a volcano and bathe all sinners in the fires of damnation. So, when Jesus comes to the River Jordan, John expects that the time of judgment is at hand. But, the expected one does the unexpected. Jesus comes with the crowd. He looks at John and the River Jordan, and he decides to be baptized.
By now, John is full of confidence. He has the momentum. However, Jesus knows who he is and what he is about, too. He has waited. Now that John has arrived, the moment is pregnant. This is his opportunity. Verse 13 begins with the word "then"--"Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, ...." the word "then" is a clue. It means that all that has gone on before is readiness for what is about to happen. Matthew reports it so matter-of-factly; but something critical is about to happen! Two forces are about to collide. On TV, the newscasters really get excited when they see a cold front moving toward a warm front. They know something is going to happen. It is a law of nature. The energy is shocking. Well, the cosmic energy of Jesus encountering John is about to be unleashed. Jesus and John stand face-to-face. John is shocked. "I need to be baptized by you, and you came to me?"
Jesus responds, "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Still, John stalls and deters Jesus. He's dragging his feet. But finally, he decides to yield. As Jesus comes up out of the water, the heavens open, the spirit of God descends on him, and we hear God: "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased."
Why is God so pleased? Jesus comes humbly with the crowd. Why does God glorify him for doing this? I think there are at least three reasons: 1) God is pleased because Jesus identifies himself with the people he's come to help - people like you and me. He comes right to us at the river and validates John's baptism of repentance. 2) God is pleased because Jesus comes gently and humbly. His divineness glistens across the Jordan. There is no question--He is the Son of God. 3) God is pleased because the Kingdom of Heaven is near--it is in the hands of Jesus. God is pleased.
Since the beginning of the Christian church, baptism has been practiced. Baptism is an unquestioned event. Jesus' baptism graphically reveals that he is the Son of God. This means he is 100% human and 100% God. The scriptures say it this way: "One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning." But this leaves us with a key question: if Jesus is without sin, then why does he choose to be baptized with sinners? This question has baffled theologians and the church for centuries. How would you answer it? Maybe you agree with the person who said Jesus did it to please his mother. Here's my answer. It's a partial one.
I think he did it for ordinary, struggling people like you and me. He humbly leads us to meet God. He did it to show us how to tap into the power of God's gift of salvation. In this one time, historical act, Jesus says, "This is the way--follow me."
Our baptism means blessing and power. God is pleased. Too often, though, we don't claim the blessing and power of our baptism. We overlook it or forget about it. I wonder to what extent we have done this? Our baptism is no less efficacious than Christ's baptism. If something is efficacious, it means it can get the job done. Your baptism is efficacious. There is power for living in it.
Baptism is a christological event. Did you know that at your baptism, the heavens rejoiced and Christ said, "This is my beloved disciple with whom I am well pleased"? I think that's what's happening at every baptism.
But some people think baptism is a vaccination of some sort. They don't see the power in it. They don't fully claim God's blessings. It is through our baptism that God wants to bless us. First of all, God wants us to have a place in the family. We all know how important it is to belong.
Our baptism is our entry into God's family, God's household. As we are baptized, we join the community of all who have been baptized into Christ. Our friends or relatives may move away or die, but we always have family. We belong to the greatest family ever.
The second blessing we receive is God's help. Our baptism connects us with God's help--the Spirit. The Spirit comes to us as our helper, our friend. We are not alone, even when we are alone.
The third blessing, our baptism, gives us is a supreme purpose. We are marked and empowered to love as Christ loves.
A few days ago a man smuggled a pistol into a hospital, put a bullet through the head of his dying friend, and then did the same to himself--the ultimate act of hopelessness. If only one of us could have put our arms around these men, loved them, and shared God's love with them. The world needs us. Most of the decisions we make don't make that much difference. Baptism does. It makes all the difference. Lay claim to the blessings that God put in your reserve account the day you were baptized - they are there for you to draw upon. You can use them: 1) Rejoice in belonging to God's family. 2) Let yourself be guided and comforted by the Spirit. You are the temple of God's Spirit. Gcd is with you. 3) Reach outside yourself. Decide to put your love into action - get more involved in loving the hurting and loving the unlovable. You are needed. Friends, it is time for us to appropriate God's blessings of baptism and use them.
Baptism? This decision is so important that it is the last command Jesus gave his disciples: "Make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...."
David L. Brenchl