Monday, March 26, 2012

Lenten devotion: Baptism

They were two very special cousins, Jesus and John the Baptist. It seems inconceivable they would have grown up unaware of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth some three decades earlier, and the miraculous nature of their births. Now, a crucial meeting between them occurs. Matthew writes in his gospel:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John to be baptized by him in the Jordan River. But John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?” So Jesus replied to him, “Let it happen now, for it is right for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John yielded to him. After Jesus was baptized, just as he was coming up out of the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my [beloved] Son; in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:13-17)

Many of us know what it’s like to be buried with work and some of us also know what it’s like to be buried under a mountain of grief. There’s another kind of burial that isn’t burdensome, though. In fact, it’s life-giving: the Bible calls it being buried with Christ in baptism.

One writer paraphrases Romans 6:3-11 this way:

[This is] 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 so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.

Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did. (Peterson, 2002)

“Righteousness” means living in harmony with the will of God. At baptism, the Holy Spirit wonderfully moves, much like Paul writes: “testifying with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom. 8:16). And the Lord is surely pleased!

Lent has been traditionally linked to preparing people for baptism. These are services when we can celebrate with those who publically declare “passing over” with Jesus from death to sin into a new life in Christ. Let us do this as well, that we may fulfil all righteousness.


Peterson, E. H. (2002). The Message: The Bible in contemporary language (Rom 6:3–11). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Lenten devotion: Self-denial

As the Lord first taught, so it is to this day, that life in the Kingdom of God often contrasts the ways of the world. For all the talk of leadership in our day we might overlook that the primary emphasis in the Kingdom is actually on followership. While leadership serves as a spiritual gift to the Church, which not everyone enacts, followership is a practice expected from all of us and will be so for eternity.

Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. (Matt. 16:24-27)

A portion of The Book of Common Prayer appoints specific days in which we ask God to “mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace” (BCP, p. 99). A hasty resistance to Jesus’ way of self-denial is often a struggle to set aside the ambitions to lead ourselves and grasp the life of following.

Thousands wanted something from Jesus – in so far as it suited their interests; few wanted his Kingdom according to his interests. To these John says that Jesus would not entrust himself to them for he knew the hearts of men.

Biblical self-denial is less about withholding pleasure or causing discomfort and more about daily placing the interests of God before the interests of self. Of course, this requires us to face the question: Do we trust God to know what is in our best interests even better than we do?

By faith a person receives Christ into their innermost being. And Christ, as a transforming presence reverses the course of that life from self-assertion to self-denial; from self-trust to trust in God.

Paul commends his co-worker Timothy for living such a life, saying, “I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself… (Phil. 2:20–22).

Perhaps Paul was contrasting him to those referred to earlier in his letter; those who preached Christ out of selfish ambition (Phil. 1:17); once again, following in so far as it suited their own interests. These are surely like the seed Jesus taught falls among thorns; “They hear but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop (Luke 8:14–15).

The good and noble heart will learn to deny the worries of life, the allure of riches, and the distraction of pleasures for the sake of following Christ. He is no fool who gives up these to preserve his soul. Walking in the way of cross, may we also learn to say “For me, to live is Christ. And to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lenten devotion: Cleansing

When God speaks his Word creates what it commands. So when Christ says, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (John 15:3), we are truly clean. When the Word says “There is no condemnation” (Romans 8:1) there is truly none. This we live in and trust by faith.

God speaks through the prophet Ezekiel saying:

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness…”(Eze. 36:25–29).

The Old Testament picture of purity vividly portrays the need for cleansing and atonement to approach God. In his teaching and actions, Jesus reached across barriers to approach those who were unclean, outcasts and marginalized: a leper, a suffering woman and even a dead child receive the touch of cleansing and a new life. Yet to those who thought of themselves clean by their external life, he reminds that it is not that which goes into the body that makes one unclean but rather it is that which comes out of the heart (cf. Matt. 15:18).

After careful examination which leads to repentance, a believer gains nothing by continuing in a guilty conscience. As John puts it, to say that we have not sinned when we have “shows God’s word has no place in our hearts” (1 John 1:10). Likewise, to insist that we are filthy when we have been cleansed is equally false. There comes a time when the most spiritual thing we can do is to accept cleansing from all sin as an accomplished fact and stop calling unclean that which God has made clean.

The final book of the Bible proclaims that the cleansed will live in the new heaven and new earth. There, disease, death, tears and brokenness are gone forever. The Lord and his people are at last together, thanks to the cleansing brought about for the entire creation by the sacrifice of Christ.

Of that place, Revelation says “Nothing impure will ever enter it…Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city…He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus (Rev. 21:7; 22:14, 20).

Come soon.