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A: There are three areas here. To introduce it, let us take the last first, together with a word of orientation. On the next two days, we may take the rest. For today, we'll call this -
Baptism, in the Bible, is about showing that God is your Lord and Saviour, in the Person of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ; and that HE ONLY according to His covenant, can fill that place in any life; and hence that this is the place He has reserved for Him in your household.
It is a specific way, through a form that teaches; it is called a sacrament, an illustration of inner meaning and divine approval, which conveys divine desire, readiness and covenant dealings.
Q: What then is a covenant?
A: It is a solemn and binding agreement between two parties, and when one is divine, the covenant has His sovereign imprint, is not a subject to bargaining, but may be rejected on earth with assigned consequences.
Q: Why should I deal with the Almighty at all?
a) He made you
b) you would have no meaning at all to play with, no will to utilise, no bodily powers to display your will - if He did not sustain you and keep you in a world given meaning only by Him.
c) His is the most marvellous mercy ever to be, the most excellent care and concern imaginable, and then more; He has provided even for your evils, errors yes, and even your pride, if you prefer to imagine yourself something great (though, goodness knows, HE made you - so what is that!).
Q: I don't find these reasons irresistible. Why then should I bother?
A: Because, in addition, the world as you see, is going to blazes fast, the races are becoming mad in their independence of ANYTHING and ANYONE who is found to be there, and their DEPENDENCE on what is not there, so that the independence fever is grasping the human race, which has never been further from being the humane race.
Individual, racial, national autonomy is close to becoming a ritual. However, as we see reported in Time magazine (September 1, 1997, p. 57), there is coming to some a realisation of the obverse side of liberty. In fact, many of the generation that tried to enjoy its flush of bloom in the 1960s, to step out and on to whatever, with indifference to the cost and the precise character of the quest, to diverge into existential innovation, often finds that now, with peace and freedom grasped, there "comes the monotonous undertone of the entirety of a life, you know? What is there to do? There's nothing to stand for, there's nothing even to look at."
Experimenting with many liberties, the world is in irons, ready to be cut at any time, and minds are failing as more seek drugs, authorised and other, to control themselves; wars are like a thick blanket of smog, while atrocities are becoming the work of grown men, with serious faces, pulverising opposition because of - well, as to its formulation, you name it, they'll think of it! It may take them a little while.
Q: That is a significant reason to think. But it does not motivate me. Show me why I should be motivated to relate to the Almighty at all! Why!
A: Because, 5thly - isn't that abbreviation ghastly, but so is sin, which is an abbreviation of our functions, like a Jaguar car being used to draw a plough, possible but absurd! Fifthly, then, because sin against the Maker's specifications is degraded, debasing, ruinous and irrational.
Q: That has weight. But what if He does not stir me?
A: Do you want that written with a capital 'M'? and God with a small 'g'?
Q: No thank you. I do see the relationship, believe me. However, I ask you this: WHY should I feel it right to regard Him - not just what is convenient, or appropriate, or fitting or functional or something else, more than all!
A: That is quite a good point. It is for this reason: THAT if He makes you and you ruin it, you should have a good reason ... or else quite simply be a ruinous, a degraded and degrading person whose fit end - to represent the nature of your life's work, and activities - would really quite justly be hell.
Q: This is shameful, I grant. Maybe I have existential inertia, maybe its reaction against an earlier generation's existential frenzies. I have no good reason. But then shame just does not drive me - not enough anyway. What else?
A: This then: this GOD whose name is great, whose works speak (as in your own case, literally, just now!) for themselves, has acted. HE for HIS part did something. He made a choice if you like. He decided to satisfy His justice by enduring the shame sinners deserve, but to do so selectively, for just those sinners who would receive this gift: it is called eternal life. The offer is to all, the cost-coverage is for those relevant, and relevance is NOT for the wounded who refuse hospital!
Q: What is so wonderful about that? Oh, I grant you it is generous, loving too, and marvellously perceptive. But then, HE did make me! Is it not just about the ticket for me, then, that He would do that - a sort of customer service situation?
A: No! Customers do not expect service when they use a carving knife to shape cement on bricks, do they? That would be extortion.
Q: Good point! Well, it still just does not reach me. What can I do?
A: Listen then to this. He, as Christ Jesus the Lord, became a man - that is the advantage of being a Trinity with sending and sent ones. That person, God-as-man, SHOWED what it is to be poor in spirit. HE COULD have called legions, armies of angels; but He CHOSE to meet the case as man would have (and should have) met it, by becoming 'vulnerable' without falling. Indeed He chose this fragility of form as a man, while remaining holy with a heavenliness both immovable and intangible, impenetrable and alert with unimpugnable purity.
With this, His eternal reality of spirit unchanged, yet He exposed His inward wonder and grandeur to the littleness of flesh, by allowing ecclesiastical riff-raff, cheap, hypocritical church-goers, church-engineers if you like, the spiritual scum to assault Him in word and with nails, laughing, despising Him, even inviting Him to come down from the Cross where they pierced Him in a slow death. It was just as atrocious, despite the fact that it had long been prophesied that THIS was to be the very substitutionary death, in the place of repentant sinners, that would be the expression of His love, care, concern and ...
Q: You interest me, now. Of His what?
A: Of His satisfaction of justice (Romans 3:23ff., Galatians 3:10ff.).
God is just, and thank goodness for that, for if He were not, it would be an arbitrary and scatty universe. As it is, sin makes it rough enough; but the grace of God brings peace, blessing and godly power to those who accept this offering of the Father's Son, Jesus Christ as sin-bearer, to remove that barrier between them and their God.
Q: I hate to say this. You are making me feel embarrassed. The fact, however is this: I still do not find it in my heart to repent - least of all of being myself. I just want to me myself. Why not? What's wrong with me?
A: You just said you were becoming embarrassed. Small wonder. You seriously ask me what is wrong with you when the offer of infinite power for your puny sinful and sick soul is not enough to stir you! You ask me what is wrong with being yourself, merely. What if HE had been satisfied with that? YOU would JUSTLY be in hell.
Q: I think the missing word is love. WHY did HE do this? To get more workers for heaven, or something like that, or because of some personal attraction to us?
A: You are inventing a dilemma. NEITHER. HE has enough power to work anything; HE is self-sufficient and can have no necessity for us. HE WILLS to give us delight in His presence, because HE IS delightful, IS loving (I John 4:7-10, John 3:16). And you are not stirred by that; even when the cost to Him was infinite in this, that an infinite Being cast His resources to such a pittance, a pitiable and pitiful pittance as we are as sinners, to redeem us from the power and penalty and scope and destiny and folly and narrowness of sin!
Q: I am beginning to be stirred. But DOES He love? If it is not pragmatic, and it is not a matter of our being irresistibly lovely (and I confess to more than a little doubt about that) - is it REALLY love! I respond to love, it is a fine thing, nothing finer, especially when it is inextricably bound to truth; I loathe pretence.
A: We are, realistically, NOT irresistibly lovely; and ONLY in the immovable God is there any loveliness, where our harbour and marina is. HIS waters make loveliness in the sheer peace and joy of it (read Isaiah 32). in the sheer peace and joy of it (read Isaiah 32). It is quite simply, love.
Q: Then can I love Him back ? I would like to do that.
A: You CANNOT, but you MAY. Let me explain. In sin, and without God, you cannot love. You can be fine, impressive, but without the basis of love, you are a spiritual bonzai, at best, and your outlook is fluted with sin, self and admirations of various lesser kinds. In ignoring God to start with, you show hate, not love. And if you do not FEEL hate to Him, then you SHOW it by so treating Him and yourself without His care, who made you and did so much for your deliverance from trashy stuntedness and flashy sin.
Q: I INSIST on loving Him! Why not ?
A: Because you must be clean.
Q: I acknowledge that. It is better to be prepared for love; and I am certainly no angel. But how to love my Maker, tell me - how ?
A: THANK Him for His grace, His love, His gift, for His Son, His sacrifice, His concern, His planning it all, His DOING it all, His dying that you might have redemption from sin and death, His resurrection from the dead, for His concern to demonstrate His power in so many ways, and so personally: and then COME.
Just COME to Him with your sins, unload, and tell Him, with those gone on the Cross garbage collection unit, that this is why you love Him (II Corinthians 5:19-21). HE DID IT; YOU NEEDED IT: and for this above all, He has granted you to join HIM, who IS love, with sins pardoned, power granted and life abundant like a mountain stream, WITHIN YOU (John 14:6, I John 4:7,10).
Q: Good! But weren't we going to talk about baptism and covenants?
A: We were. However, that can wait. In the meantime, there are two points we need just now.
1st: THIS IS A COVENANT. Christ said that the blood He shed in covering the sin which deserves death and claims life (His because of love for those who receive it - John 1:12-14, Romans 8:32, Isaiah 53:1-6, II Corinthians 5:19-21) - is what?
Q: I seem to remember that from a church I once attended - is it THE BLOOD OF THE NEW COVENANT or testament ? Didn't He show that in the Last Supper - isn't that where He broke the bread, but simultaneously stayed intact till much later, on the Cross - providing in this preliminary ceremony, a symbol of reality to come ?
A: It is. There is a signature if you like. It is in blood. It is by blood. What it signifies IS blood, blood and life shed, granted in abundant pain and yet more abundant desire to rescue you. There is the solemn agreement you most need: Christ has given HIMSELF and signed it with His blood, which is pictured in the grape juice in the Lord's Supper, which is a sacrament like baptism - that juice does not save, nor does baptism; but it shows you in no uncertain terms, WHAT DOES: and HIM WHO DOES SAVE (Isaiah 63:1, Titus 2:14)..
Q: But what was the other thing you had in mind ?
A: The 2nd ? It is this. Being poor in spirit. Do you realise that it says: BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT! HE said THAT!
Not - Blessed are the rough-necks, those extortioners who get away with it, the proud leaders whose word is accompanied by shuddering, the manipulators, the strutting lords of the earth, the self-importantly rich, the gunmen, the social engineers... No: BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT. NOT, blessed are the self-esteeming, the libido experts, the self-confident, the self-assured! BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT. Do you realise that this is one of the beatitudes, or statements of the way of intense divine blessing ?
Q: No. Should I ? I never hear about it. They told me in school to look after number one, to be nice because it helps others to be nice, and to make sure I got what I wanted. Is that being rich in spirit ?
A: Millionaire class, hot air class, no CLASS! HE, though He was rich, became poor for our sakes, so that "we through His poverty, should be rich." That is in II Corinthians 8:9. That is poverty of spirit. HE made HIMSELF poor (lowly in form, acting as a servant to perform what it took to do what love proclaimed necessary). HE DID NOT CARE what He looked like, in the end, even on the Cross. He did not mind (though it HURT! Hebrews 5:7), what it felt like: He wanted to serve, and if it meant being a servant instead of appearing as a King, so be it! THAT is being poor in spirit.
Q: It surely is. How can I be poor in spirit ?
A: By likewise not CARING what you look like, not minding what you feel like, provided you PLEASE GOD and satisfy His loving heart. Then it is no more a matter of your rich self doing what it will for its own purposes, but lovingly doing what it may, for HIS loving purposes. You are subordinated willingly and voluntarily to HIM, but as a friend; and He, being so friendly, He raises you to His face, blessing and dealing with you as His own poverty of Spirit shows.
This too means that you accept your place in His team, voluntarily, assured that such a Captain will show you how best to serve, with whom, when and how. You seek earnestly to find the best in your associates, help them develop it without fuss or intrusion, and hope for the utmost, considering others better than yourself, as an attitude, without personal vying for place and face (Philippians 2:3, II Corinthians 12:20, James 3:16). After all, HE is the judge. Let HIM do it! You wait upon Him for the best use of your talents to His glory, since He MADE them and REDEEMED you, that is your pleasure.
Q: I seem to remember another statement like that now!
It also says, "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth." What is that ?
A: Some want to GRAB the earth, and fight, killing millions. Or they want to INHABIT the earth with people who ALWAYS MUST believe what they do, as the Roman Catholics did in the Inquisition, seeking to break or bend the will that resisted, and the Moslems set about doing likewise for some hundreds of years, and as Hitler sought to do, and as Stalin and as Napoleon - and so on. THEY did not inherit the earth. (Cf, SMR pp. 809, 904ff., 924-929, 949-954, 968-972, 986-991, 1033-1041, 1077-1082.) Earth they inherited, but 6 feet under.
What pride and arrogance so to deal with the people God has made, and of whom Jesus Christ said: DO NOT BE CALLED RABBI, FOR ONE IS YOUR MASTER, EVEN CHRIST, AND YOU ARE ALL BROTHERS. AND He added: CALL NO MAN YOUR FATHER ON EARTH, FOR ONE IS YOUR FATHER, WHO IS IN HEAVEN (Matthew 23:8-10). Incidentally, that relates to God's people; for as to those who follow the adversary, Satan, Christ said to them: "YOU are of your father, the devil"(John 8:44).
Q: But tell me more HOW can I be poor in spirit? I want to be.
A: Do you remember what we said about ABIDING? THAT is poor in spirit because this is practical living in which CHRIST is your beloved LORD, and His desire is your delight. His grace, you wish not only to have, but to give; and His service, you not only appreciate now, but wish to apply in moving mountains if need be, so that your own life may be godly, and His mercies may reach others. Remember here also these five delightful verses - Colossians 1:18, 3:17, Philippians 1:20-21 and 3:9-10. They are poverty-in-spirit tonic par excellence! The first says -
THAT IN ALL THINGS, HE SHOULD HAVE THE PRE-EMINENCE!
The second -
WHATEVER YOU DO IN WORD OR DEED, DO ALL IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS, GIVING THANKS TO GOD THE FATHER THROUGH HIM.
ACCORDING TO MY EARNEST EXPECTATION AND MY HOPE THAT IN NOTHING I SHALL BE ASHAMED, BUT WITH ALL BOLDNESS, AS ALWAYS, SO NOW ALSO, CHRIST WILL BE MAGNIFIED IN MY BODY, WHETHER BY LIFE OR BY DEATH. FOR TO ME TO LIVE IS CHRIST, AND TO DIE IS GAIN.
Q: Is that good solid practice?
A: As to that, listen! Then? When you have done all, count yourself an unworthy servant (Luke 17:10) - that is, become complacent and self-congratulatory when? NEVER! Soar without affectation, like a glider, which without noise rises on the rising air currents, and moves aloft, where the view is superb, the air fresh, the outlook wonderful. The Bible refers to this as SITTING IN HEAVENLY PLACES (Ephesians 2:6). It is not only PLACE but GRACE, and in this we live and move and have our being. Consider Ephesians 2:8:
FOR BY GRACE YOU HAVE BEEN SAVED THROUGH FAITH, AND THAT NOT OF YOURSELF, IT IS THE GIFT OF GOD, NOT OF WORKS, LEST ANYONE SHOULD BOAST. FOR WE ARE HIS WORKMANSHIP, CREATED IN CHRIST JESUS FOR GOOD WORKS, WHICH GOD PREPARED BEFOREHAND THAT WE SHOULD WALK IN THEM.
For the rest,
there are two sorts of baptisms: baptism in the spirit and water baptism.
I suggest the former is more interesting and should be covered
first. The other
needs a close and watchful approach to the Bible, without
fuss and it would be better left to those who want it, later.