7. Appearance & Performance (2)

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 1 – Falling Short?

7. Appearance & Performance (2)

Mt 24:1 ‘Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple.

Jn 12:24 unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

Recap: In the previous study I have dared tread on hallowed ground, risking offending those who hold great store in history, tradition and education and, indeed, religious formality. I only dare do this because I know where this is going and detractors of what I have been saying can only do it if they ignore or reject the teaching of the New Testament.  In that previous study, I noted that appearance, self-confidence, performance, and unbelief are primary hindrances to Biblical faith. I maintained that religious performance should simply be the channel through which the presence of God can be manifest and promised to explain that in detail in later studies in this series. In considering unbelief in the life of a local church, I touched on worship and public prayer. Now I am going on to another vital aspect of church life that is so often a demonstration of unbelief, that of pastoral care.

Tolerating Pain: Many years ago, the first book I wrote was called ‘Creating a Secure Church’ and in the first chapter I imagined a typical congregation with people listening to their pastor, but with their minds filled with the worries of everyday living. Now nothing has changed. In a local church I know fairly well, a congregation of up to 150, the following are what I suspect are fairly typical anguishes: women with non-Christian husbands, men and women who are struggling to make ends meet financially, families with worries about their children and their teenagers, people wrestling with failures and guilts from the past, people with worries about their jobs, their finances and the future, young people worrying about study and/or exams and their futures. These are people with many and varied worries and concerns, hurts and anxieties, and so I have to ask the question, what do we do about them?

Ignore the Pain? This is the first expression of unbelief in respect of pastoral issues, and I believe it is true of so many churches. Pretend it is not there or if it is there, accept that this is what we all have to suffer, living in the Fallen World.  But Pastors may be aware of it and yet feel out of their depth in dealing with the scope and breadth of such issues, so simply try to cover some of these things in a surface way in twenty-five minutes of Sunday morning preaching. Some churches have house groups but what I so often find, is that they do such spiritually sounding things as Bible Study and ‘praying for the nations’ yet fail to create an atmosphere of security whereby people are put first, people who are anguishing and struggling with burdens that almost overwhelm them. In church, if God is to be our first focus, people should be a close second, because they were with Jesus. A damaged people cannot be a community-transforming people. Our transformation should start within the church, and then when we learn to do that, we can reach out to do it in the community.

When Jesus declared the Isaiah mandate as his mandate, “to proclaim good news to the poor.… to proclaim freedom for the prisoners,” (Lk 4:18) the reality is that those poor prisoners are in our congregations too, and it is only unbelief that continues to tolerate that state of affairs; Jesus wants to heal, deliver, transform and change such people with their threatening circumstances.

We can in our churches be the same as the synagogues in Jesus’ day, shown by the classic instance in Mark 1 when a demon possessed man was in the synagogue and when Jesus delivered him, the reaction was amazement by the people who considered this something new. Presumably this man existed in the synagogue on a weekly basis at least and it was only when Jesus turned up that he was delivered. I have a suspicion that many in our churches (including leaders) would be utterly shocked if our neat and orderly services were interrupted by Jesus turning up and healing and delivering people publicly.

Misguided Disciples: In the first verse of Matt 24, the first of our starter verses above, Jesus’ disciples are carried away by the grandeur of Herod’s Temple. And, of course, that was how it was always described, Herod’s Temple. Herod the Great added on to the old, smaller temple, and created this great and beautiful building. And here is the irony of those verses: the disciples were excited by the amazing building and missed the fact that God, in the form of His Son, was walking away from it.  Jesus, in his response to them, warns, “not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down,” (v.2) and of course that was exactly what happened within some forty years in AD70.

Now the example of the disciples in this instance is what is at the heart of the belief system of so many people and I only mention this in this study so that we will realise that this feeling of grandeur can never be at the heart of true faith. Please understand, I am not attacking great ecclesiastical buildings, or religious institutions or other institutions that support and strengthen our societies, but I am saying they have little place in creating biblical faith. Similarly, familiar religious practice and standard service formats are in no way an expression of the life of the church revealed in the New Testament and should in no way replace a vibrant life of the Spirit in the church.

Death to self: We have, in this study, been suggesting that it is so easy to look at status and size as means of gaining confidence in who we are, or of establishing a sense of security, and that regular format services can act as a means of creating a weekly comfort zone. However, there is a teaching in the New Testament that lays an axe to the particular belief that human effort and endeavour is the key to religion. It may be summarised as the need to die to self to become a follower of Jesus. The second of our starter verses today came from the lips of Jesus: “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  He was, of course, referring to himself and his impending death but he was also laying down a principle that applies to each of us, and indeed dare we suggest it, the way we go about ‘church’.

Baptism: Baptism of believers in the New Testament period involved total immersion and the act of immersion was a picture of the spiritual reality of what would happen to Jesus and what has to happen to us. Going down into the water is symbolic of him – and us – dying, and then being raised up out of the water is symbolic of his resurrection and ours, as we are raised to a new life.

The Message version puts it, “That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!” (Rom 6:2,3) It continues with the apostle Paul’s teaching, That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father.” (v.3-5) He explained the same thing to the Colossians: “Going under the water was a burial of your old life; coming up out of it was a resurrection, God raising you from the dead as he did Christ.” (Col 2:12 Message version)

This same concept comes up again and again in the New Testament, that in coming to Christ we have to die to our old life, i.e. we have to completely let go of it, we have to reject and leave that old self-centred life, the life of human endeavor, that is so often godless and which, so often, results in things going wrong  We have already described Sin as self-centred godlessness that leads to unrighteous acts. God has designed us to live in relationship with Him but before we come to Christ, we will not have known that experience, we will have led self-centred lives, lives that are in reality, godless.

Being nice, having status, relying upon traditions, buildings, institutions, regular religious formats etc., none of these things counts for anything with God. We could say so much more here, but we will let the teaching of the following Parts speak further as it becomes applicable. These are the things that I have found had motivated and challenged me to come to this point of starting afresh to consider what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be part of the Church.

Instead of diving straight in and making suggestions about what the New Testament says about ‘church’ we need to start before that by considering what a Christian is, what has happened to them to be able to claim this title, and yet before that we need to consider what went before, their need, and what brought about the transformation that the New Testament speaks about. That is where we will go in the next Part.

(If you have simply come to this series and not followed it each day, you may wish to know where it is going, and so here at the end of each Part is an overview of the series)

Part 1 – Falling Short?

  1. Wonderings about Church
  2. Concern for People
  3. Challenged by Scripture
  4. Wondering about ‘Fitness for Purpose’
  5. Problems with Religion and Revival
  6. Appearance & Performance (1)
  7. Appearance & Performance (2)

Part 2 – A Different People

  1. Different
  2. Believers
  3. Supernatural
  4. Repentance and Conviction
  5. Needing to be ‘Saved’?
  6. A People of Faith

Part 3 – Making of Believers

  1. A Guilt-Free People
  2. No Longer Orphans
  3. Growing in Sonship
  4. The Yeast of Humility
  5. Getting on a Learning Curve
  6. The Reality of Sacrifice
  7. No Add-ons
  8. Servant-hearted (1)
  9. Servant-hearted (2)

Part 4 – Pondering on Vision

  1. The Significance of Vision
  2. More on ‘Why Vision?’
  3. The God Focus
  4. Spiritual Expressions
  5. Building People

Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

  1. Clear your Mind
  2. A New Creation
  3. Life (1)
  4. Life (2)
  5. Being Together
  6. Fellowship

Part 6 – thinking about Leaders

  1. Led
  2. Local leaders – overseers
  3. Local leaders – shepherds
  4. Local leaders – elders
  5. Local Leaders – The Nature of the Church (1)
  6. Gifts of Ministries – Introduction
  7. Gifts of Ministries – to plant
  8. Gifts of Ministries – to build up
  9. The Servants – Deacons
  10. The Nature of the Church (2)

Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

  1. Uniqueness
  2. Another quick look at ‘Vision’
  3. Power – for Life Transformation
  4. Power – for Life Service
  5. Power – for Living
  6. The Need for Faith
  7. More on Faith.
  8. Obedience
  9. Finale – the Church on God’s heart

14. Raised?

Meditations in Colossians 2: 14:  Raised?

Col 2:12    having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

We sometimes try to get over complicated with the simple picture language that Paul often uses. In the previous meditation we commented that it was sometimes unfamiliar Jewish language that needed thinking out, but our verse above has simple and straight forward language so let’s see what it says.

When he starts out “having been” it infers that what we now have before us actually happens before the things we considered in the previous verse.  The “putting off of the sinful nature,” (v.11) takes place after you have died and been raised again. It is something that took place at conversion but needs working out through the rest of our lives. So let’s take this verse bit by bit.

“having been buried with him in baptism.” Let’s paraphrase that: when we were baptized it was a picture of our old self dying and being buried, just like Christ died and was buried, so just as his body needed the power from the Father to be raised to a new life, so did we. He was dead, and we were dead.

“and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”  Similarly, just as the Father’s power raised Jesus’ body from the dead, as we responded to Him in faith, so He imparts and gives us that same power, the power of His Holy Spirit, to enable us to live new lives. Paul taught the same thing to the Romans: if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:11)

To summarise, we died to our old life and God has now imparted His Spirit to us to raise up new lives in the likeness of Jesus with the same power that raised Jesus. Because this has happened the life we now live involves that “putting off of the sinful nature,” that we saw in v.11. There is a combination here of the work of God and our own activities. He provides the power but we have to exercise the will to purposefully put off self-centeredness and godlessness. When we purpose to fill and operate our lives with love and grace and truth, as we rely upon Him, so He enables us to do that. On a day when we may be feeling weak and incapable, as we turn to Him and ask for His supply, suddenly we find that we are coping, no, we are more than coping, we are being a blessing to others. This being raised to new life is enabled by Him but must be acted upon by acts of will as we work out our day by day lives. We have to determine not to lie, not to cheat, not to cut corners off integrity, not to look wrongly at a member of the opposite sex, not to speak wrong words that demean or put down, words that deceive or distort the truth. These are all ways of the ‘old life’, the ‘old nature’, ‘the sinful nature’ and they have no place in our lives today but it needs constant acts of will, and constant relying upon Him for this to be achieved.

We would do well to link in the next verse with all of this: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.” (v.13) Ah, there we have that Jewish flavour again.  The difficult phrase is “the uncircumcision of your sinful nature”.  For Paul there were Jews and Gentiles, the circumcised covenant people of God and the uncircumcised godless people of the rest of the world.

He is referring back there to how we were before we came to Christ and says that we were “dead in your sins,” meaning lifeless as far as God and true spiritual issues are concerned. We were living self-centred and godless lives that lead to unrighteous or sinful behaviour. That sinful lifestyle cut us off from God. When you are self-centred you cannot be God-centred at the same time. No, God seems a million miles away. If your life is a life being lived contrary to God’s design for us, then it is a sin life.

But when he says we were living in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature,” he simply means we used to be like Gentiles with no covenant relationship with God, still living in our old sinful ways – that is how it used to be!  But now? “God made you alive with Christ.”  We are what we are today – because God has put His Spirit in us and made us spiritually alive. The power is there, all we have to do is use it! And that is a matter of your will.

14. Jesus, the Ultimate Gem

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  14. Jesus the ultimate gem

Mat 1:20,21  “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

The name Jesus or Jeshua was fairly common and is akin to Joshua of the Old Testament and it means deliverer. The thing about this particular baby, this particular Jesus, was that he would not deliver people in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense. The claim of the angel speaking to Joseph in a dream was that this Jesus would come and do something that no other person on earth could do, he would deliver people from their sins. Now when we think about that we realise that it must mean that he will deliver them from the guilt and punishment that their sins deserve AND he will deliver them from the actual sins, from continuing to do them. That is what salvation through Christ does, and just in case you have never seen it like that before, let’s repeat it: he delivers form the guilt and punishment of sins AND from the ongoing having to continue to sin. The first is what puts us right with God and the second is the life we live out subsequently with Him. This, as briefly as possible, is what Jesus has come to achieve, and he has done it for millions and millions of people.

How, again as briefly as possible, did he go on to do it, this? There were two parts to his ministry. First of all, for three years he lived out a period of ministry from about the age of thirty, revealing his Heavenly Father’s nature. In the words of the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost, he was revealed as a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him,” (Acts 2:22)  Later on, to Cornelius and his Gentile family and friends Peter declared, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)  Jesus himself had declared to John’s disciples, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) In the things he did he revealed Himself as a unique being.

Three times his Father testified to the wonder of who he was. First at his own baptism, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16,17)  The second was on the Mount of Transfiguration: “Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mk 9:7) The third time appears to have been on Palm Sunday, as recorded by John, “Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.” (Jn 12:28,29)

The second part of his ministry was dying on the Cross to take the punishment for our sins. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he allowed this to happen: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) Also “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:18,19) He spelled out the purpose of this at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28) The apostle Peter also spelled this out: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.” (Acts 5:30,31) God raised Jesus from the dead and then took him back to heaven with him, confirming who he was and his purpose.

This is the unique ministry of Jesus Christ, the revealed Son of God. After he ascended and returned to sit next to his Father in heaven, ruling at His side, we find there are three people who saw him there. First there was Stephen just before he was stoned to death as the first Christian martyr (see Acts 7:56). The second was Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6) and the third was the apostle John in his revelation on the isle of Patmos. In the first part of the vision he saw Jesus as the one holding the seven churches of Asia Minor in his hands – the Lord of the Church (Rev 1:12-18). In the next part of the vision he saw him before the throne of heaven, as the Lamb of God, the Saviour of the world (Rev 5:5-10).  In the latter part of Revelation he saw him as the returning conquering king (Rev 19:11-16).

So when Joseph gets this message from the angel in a dream, we have all this wrapped up in a short description. The wonder of the New Testament is that being opened up and revealed to us in much greater detail. Of all of the gems we might find in the Bible, this surely has to shine the brightest.

17. Baptised into Death

17:  Baptised into Death

Rom 6:3,4   Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

The apostle Peter once wrote of Paul, His letters contain some things that are hard to understand,” (2 Pet 3:16) and I think that would apply to these present verses. When the wording is difficult the immature give up and the mature pray for revelation and insight. So let’s take this bit by bit and see what we can see.

When he starts the sentence, “Or don’t you know…..” he is flowing on from “We died to sin,” in verse 2, and so what is now going to follow expands on that simple sentence. We did cover it in large measure in the previous meditation but let’s see Paul’s argument or explanation now. His primary point that follows is that we “were baptized into Christ Jesus.”

Now there are several baptisms referred to in the New Testament. First of all there is baptism in water which John the Baptist did (e.g. Mt 3:6) and then Jesus and his followers did and the Church has continued to do since. Then there is being baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). But then Jesus also used baptism to simply refer to entering into the same experience as him – “Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mt 10:38) Yet again there is also Paul’s reference to being baptized into Christ: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Gal 3:26,27) or being baptized into Christ’s ‘body’: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.” (1 Cor 12:13)

The Greek word for ‘baptise’ was used when referring to something being immersed in something (e.g. a cloth in dye), or being submerged in (as with a sinking ship). The concept of baptism when used as an analogy simply means to be put into something, so in the examples above we are put into water, put into the Holy Spirit and put into the body of Christ, the church.

The difficult bit of our verses above then follows: “were baptized into his death.”  What Paul is saying is that if we were put into Christ we were put into a body or Being that has already experienced death. The head of this body (Christ – Col 1:18) knows death because it has been through death. Christ knows that the way to life for mankind was by giving his life, i.e. his death. This body works on the principle of giving up the old life to release new life.

Then Paul comes up with another declaration that needs some thought: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death.”   When we were physically baptized, it was a sign of what had already happened – we had died to our old life. Thus baptism by immersion (which it was in the New Testament period and still is in churches wishing to maintain the Biblical imagery) is a picture of being buried – the old life dead and gone (as you go down under the water) – and of being raised from the dead to new life by Christ (as the pastor lifts you up from under the water.)

But to take another of the baptism pictures – of being baptized into Christ’s body – you only became part of that body by dying to self and to the old life, and surrendering to God, letting Him raise a new life in you as you are born again by His Spirit. The qualification for the kingdom of God is death to self and surrender to God, accounting the old life as worthless, dead and gone.

Even within what we have just said, we have covered Paul’s closing words in these verses. Baptism portrays two things: death and resurrection. Every time someone is baptized in this way they are indirectly declaring Christ’s death and resurrection and then, secondly, their own death and resurrection.

Remember this is all part of Paul slowly working in to the thoughts about the nature of the lives we now live. In chapter 5 he had declared that God’s grace was big enough to bring change to every single person who came to Him and now, here in chapter 6 he is pointing out that the doorway to this new life and the power that goes with it is pictured in baptism – our own water baptism and being baptized into Christ. If all this is true – and it is – then there is no room for sin to prevail in our lives, for our old sin lives are dead and buried and the lives we are now living are empowered by God’s own Holy Spirit. This is going to come through Paul’s teaching again and again in the next three chapters, but we need to hear it again and again, until we take in the wonder of what has happened.

48. Resurrected

Meditations in 1 Peter : 48: Resurrected & Reigning

1 Pet 3:21,22 It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand–with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him

I have to acknowledge here the danger of examining verses all alone for meditation purposes, because whatever else we do in meditation, we need to see the meaning of the verse as the writer originally intended it, and it is probable that the verse will be part of a larger or longer flow of thinking. Thus when we come to these verses above, the ‘It’ that they start with refers to baptism that Peter has just been thinking about.

So how does baptism save you “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”? We dealt with the ‘save’ bit in the previous meditation, suggesting it referred to the ongoing process of salvation in the remainder of our lives on this earth, and specifically how it helped our consciences, or our sense of being at peace before God because of what Jesus has done.

Ah! Now we can see how this fits. If Peter is saying that our conscience, or our thinking and feeling in respect of our position before God, is determined by our knowledge of what Jesus has done for us on the Cross, it should not only include his death but also his resurrection and his ascension, and that is what Peter goes on to refer to.  Why is the resurrection so important? Well, suppose Jesus had simply died and that was it, all his disciples and subsequent followers might be left wondering about the whole thing. Was he really who he said he was? Admittedly he had performed wonderful miracles but was that all he was, a great miracle worker? How about his various claims to be dying to take our sins? How can we know the truth of those claims?  We know they are true, because of the resurrection.

The apostle Paul declared about Jesus that he, was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 1:4), i.e. by the power that raised him from the dead he was shown to be the Son of God he had said he was. Earlier in this letter Peter had said that he had given us “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Pet 1:3). Yes, we now have a hope for the future (a strong assurance) because Jesus rose from the dead and proved who he was and proved that there more after death. So the fact of the resurrection adds to our knowledge and that in turn strengthens our conscience or our conviction about the Gospel and about our standing before God.

But there is more because that wasn’t the end of the story because the apostles were not only witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, but also to his ascension: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9). “While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” (Lk 24:51) “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.” (Mk 16:19) Now these are the three historical accounts of Jesus ascension but the New Testament has many other further references: “his mighty strength”, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 1:19,20   see also Acts 5:31, Rom 8:34, Col. 3:1, Heb 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2 etc.)

What all these verses tell us is that Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand and there he is reigning. Indeed the apostle Paul tells us that he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:25) Now Peter has told us in today’s verse that Jesus today is next to the Father with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” Thus today he is already over all spiritual authorities and therefore they only have the freedom to act that he gives it to them. These powers therefore do not constitute Jesus ‘enemies’ because they are already subject to him. A careful study of Scripture indicates that God uses Satan and the demonic powers. He has absolute control over them and they operate only by concession according to how it fits in with His purposes. The only parts of creation that are not under His total call are human beings for he has given us free will and He allows us that freedom so that we may make a free choice to follow Him or not. There will come a time when at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” (Phil 2:10,11) but until that time that is not so.

Today our confidence and our assurance is not only in the facts of Jesus death for our sins, but is also in the fact of his resurrection confirming and validating his prior claims to be the son of God and the one who died for our sins, AND also the fact that Jesus is ruling at the Father’s right hand with all spiritual authorities under his control. There is so much more one could say about this, but we’ll leave it for now with that. That should be sufficient to encourage and reassure us and provide much fuel for us to worship Him.

47. Through the Water

Meditations in 1 Peter : 47: Through the Water

1 Pet 3:20-21 God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.

Baptism, I have observed over the years, is often a contentious thing in parts of the church. Some want to sprinkle as a symbolic gesture, others use deeper water. Some sprinkle children as a symbol; others wait until the adult is a believer. Peter says some interesting things about it.

He starts by referring to Noah as we have seen in the previous meditation. Note in passing, for the doubters among us, that in the apostle Peter’s eyes, Noah is an historical figure and the Flood a real event in history. Some of us are not so sure, but Peter is. In this he was following in the steps of his master. Jesus said, Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.” (Lk 17:26,27) Clearly the all-knowing Son of God is referring to an historical event.

When John the Baptist baptised people in the Jordan he said, “I baptize you with water for repentance,” (Mt 3:11) indicating that baptism was a form of cleansing from the sin from which they turned away. The apostle Paul spoke of us “having been buried with him in baptism,” (Col 2:12 – also Rom 6:4) indicating the baptism is a picture of us dying to our old life and being buried, and then raised to new life.

Peter now comes with a bigger picture, an all-embracing picture. He refers to Noah building the ark, many dying in the flood with only Noah and his family being saved. Thus, he says, “this water symbolises baptism.” i.e. the Flood waters destroyed the world but the ark saved the faithful. The water symbolises the judgment of God which we all face but (implied) the ark symbolises Jesus who saves us from the judgment.

But then he says something that seems even more contentious:this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also.” Baptism, he says, saves us. How can that be? Didn’t the apostle Paul teach that salvation comes by faith alone? Yes certainly, but perhaps Peter has the ongoing work of salvation in his mind. Remember the illustration that we have used more than once in these meditations – saved from the sinking ship, saved as we go across the sea and saved once we land. We have been saved and we are being saved. It is also an ongoing thing – our living out our lives ‘in Christ’ until the day when we are called home and we die on this earth and go to heaven, our eternal destination. So why do I suggest that Peter is speaking of our salvation in an ongoing sense? Well, see what follows.

not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. The point of this picture – being saved through the Flood – is that it is not about cleansing or washing away dirt, but it about how we can now feel about ourselves and God. It is in fact about us being saved from our sins (being washed clean) and from the judgment of God, and it is all because we have an ark – Jesus, who died to save us from that judgment, as we have seen already a number of times in these meditations. Baptism is thus to be an outward act (and there aren’t many of them) that we do that contribute to our salvation, the onward walk with God.

How does it contribute to our salvation? It does it by being a continual reminder to us that we came to a crisis point in our life when we surrendered to God and jumped ship, from the ship of destruction, and are now being carried in Christ to our eternal destination. Christ is God’s provision for us and as we look back we are reminded that there was a time when we changed from a sinking ship to a saving lifeboat and it was all his work. All we had to do was jump into his provision and that was enough. Jesus, the ark, had done everything possible to be done and he qualifies as our ark, our means of salvation, our ongoing salvation.

We are what we are because we are being carried to shore by him and thus our conscience can be clear before God. No longer am I under fear of judgment. Now I am being carried to my eternal destiny by God’s provision, God’s ark, His own Son, Jesus Christ. My being baptized was a visual affirmation of all of this and it is something that I can look back on and know is a real expression of what has happened. It confirms and affirms my salvation and it strengthens my faith and reassures my conscience. There is nothing more I can do except let him take me through the choppy waters of the life in this world until we eventually reach the destination he has in store for me. Hallelujah!

8. Baptism

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 8. Baptism

Mk 1:9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan

As far as the public were concerned this was the first recorded appearance of Jesus as an adult. John is baptizing people in the Jordan in Judea and Jesus travels down from Galilee in the north to be baptized.  Luke records that Jesus was about thirty years old (Lk 3:23). Matthew who records the most about John’s ministry, records John as objecting to Jesus to baptizing him: “John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.” (Mt 3:14,15)  John was Jesus’ cousin and so John would know him and had drawn his own conclusions. He knew something of who Jesus was and his conclusion was a) Jesus didn’t need baptizing and washing free from sin and, b) he John needed the baptism that Jesus came to bring.

Yet Jesus insists and is baptized. In the next meditation we’ll see what happened, but for now we simply note that, for the sake of appearances, to appear to do the right thing, Jesus was baptized. The Greek word for baptism is the same word used for a ship sinking into the sea or a cloth being immersed in liquid. It is all about being immersed completely, being washed completely. But the apostle Paul also used it to suggest a picture of dying and being buried. It is an act of dying to self and then of being raised to a new life. It is a very powerful picture and is often accompanied by a powerful change in the believer when they are baptised.

Not only was Jesus baptized and not only were his disciples baptized but both he and they taught baptism. It is an outward sign of commitment and of what has already taken place at conversion – a washing clean of sin, a dying to self, and being raised to a new life. No wonder it has often been a point of contention in some Christian circles and been replaced by sprinkling of infants which in no way conveys the same things as what has happened to an adult believer.

Lord, please forgive us that we have watered down this amazing picture that is conveyed through baptism – of commitment of an adult, of being washed clean, of dying to self and the old life, and of being raised to a new resurrection life, empowered by your Holy Spirit. Thank you for these wonderful truths that are conveyed in baptism, realities of what has happened and is happening in our lives as believers.

5. Repentance

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 5. Repentance

Mk 1:4,5 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

And so we arrive at the first historical facts of this Gospel. At a particular place in time-space history a strange prophet appears in the wilderness of Judea and starts preaching. He tells anyone who will listen that they need to repent. Talk of repentance always implies there is something wrong in our lives and we need to turn away from it. Now this is all very strange because if you were a preacher wanting to turn the hearts of your people back to God, the obvious place you would go would be to towns where there are people – for this is exactly what Jesus did when he came. But John doesn’t; he operates in the desert where people don’t reside.

Presumably he stops passing travellers and challenges them. Soon people hear there is a prophet in the wilderness and they start going out to listen to him. There is clearly a hunger in people’s hearts and people flock out to hear him. He has an uncompromising message: repent! So they do! This tells us two things: first that the nation was in spiritual decline that this needed to happen; second, that there was a hunger in people’s hearts. It had been centuries since there had been a prophet from God in the land. Over four centuries had passed since God had spoken to this people. That is a long time. Perhaps many thought that God had utterly given up on them. Where were the days of their history when God spoke and acted into the life of this nation? Is this a sign that God is coming and speaking again?

But he also baptises them. Baptism is first and foremost a sign of being washed clean. If you have truly repented then show the sign of it by being washed clean in the River Jordan.  So the crowds came, listened to him and, one by one, confessed their sins to him and were baptised by him. God is surely at work in all this for this seems just like a revival where God sovereignly moves on the hearts of people and brings them to repentance.

Lord, please have mercy on our nation. Come and speak and convict and turn the hearts of people back to yourself. Bring about a national repentance that moves people to confess and forsake their sins and turn back to you!

Raised

EFFECTS OF THE CROSS 5 of 7

Col 2:11,12 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

Yesterday we considered Paul’s comment to the Galatians, about us putting to death our old sinful nature. We observed that that ‘old nature’ was self-centred and godless but that when we came to Christ we died to that life. Now that is the negative expression of what happened to us when we came to Christ: we walked away from that old life. Now today we consider the positive aspect of that same thing. We died to the old life but we were also raised to a new life.

Paul is talking about this same thing to the Colossians now, and instead of characterising that putting away of the old life as ‘crucifying’ it, he speaks about ‘circumcising’ it. It’s the same concept, just a different picture. The reason he does that, is that he has been warning against those who demanded circumcision, who demanded ongoing human rituals as part of salvation. Oh no, he says, you don’t have to worry about cutting bits off you, you’ve had the whole of your old life cut away. You pictured that by going down in the death-picture of baptism but the positive side of that was when you came up out of the water that pictured you being raised up to a new life. Just as God raised Christ from the dead, so He now raised you up and gives you a completely new life. Jesus’ body, in the tomb was utterly dead. It had no means of movement, there was no life in it. Then God came and raised it up, so it was the very power and presence of God that was now energising it. This, says Paul, is how you are to see your lives now, raised up by and energised by God.

THIS is what makes the Christian life so dynamic. It’s not a matter of following new rules or being religious. No, that’s what Paul was denouncing to the Colossians. It’s actually all about God coming and energising you with His powerful presence. It’s not about being nice, it’s about being godly because we are God-energised! We didn’t have the capability of being good or nice, or of keeping the rules. We proved that in our old life, characterised by failure and guilt, so God came and did what we weren’t capable of doing, He raised us up by His power and energised us to live new God-focused, God-directed lives. Every real Christian is a “resurrection-person”, a person walking and living after they have first died. This is an amazing concept that the Scriptures give us – of being bodies that are resurrected, living by the energising power of God. It’s not that we are ‘trying harder’ or ‘turning over a new leaf’; it’s that we are simply new people, raised up people, God-energised people!