Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message on Jesus the Baptist; Date: 6 December 09

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The Baptist

 

One man – more than anyone else – prepared people for the dawn of God’s kingdom and the coming of Jesus Christ. Two thousand years ago – in fulfillment of an old prophecy – one man – his name was John – focused on the most important aspect of anyone entering the kingdom of God, that is: repentance – the turning away from sin – and as people repented, he baptized them – submerged them in water – for the washing away of sins. John baptized so many people – with such enthusiasm – that he soon became known by this one – singular – action. It summed up his work. Even today we call him John – the Baptist (cf. Matthew 3:1; 11:1). Yet, this is where we are on dangerous grounds. We tend to connect baptism with the wrong person (and then do not adequately connect baptism with the right person). John himself was at pains to clarify that the true Baptist was not himself but the one coming after him which means that – today – instead of saying John the Baptist we should be saying Jesus the Baptist.

I am going to unpack this slowly. From the beginning Jesus’ own work was defined as baptizing people. This was what mattered the most – even to John. I read from the Bible – Mark 1:1-8: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send a messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’ – ‘a voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. 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 this was John’s message: ‘After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you in water, but he will baptize you in holy Spirit.’”

John preached a baptism of repentance and then – as people owned up to their sins – he baptized them in the Jordan River, which was so significant that Jesus himself said about him – Matthew 11:11: “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist … ” Yet, John knew his shortcomings. His baptism could only do so much. It would save people – wash away their sins – but would not have the power to keep them clean. After God forgives our sin, we need power not to sin again. Otherwise there is no lasting change. John was so desperate about the limitations of his water baptism that he humbled himself in extreme words: “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the sandals of the one that is to come because of his powerThen he said: “I baptize you in water, but he will baptize you in holy Spirit[1]

Not everyone understood that something was lacking in John’s work. He was amazing – unconventional like a rock star – Mark 1:6: “John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honeyPeople came from everywhere to be under his preaching and the numbers were adding up – success – Luke 3:15: “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ [the promised Saviour King].” Even the king feared him – Mark 6:20: “ … Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man … ”

Many were caught up in the whirl-wind of what was happening and therefore did not share in John’s desperation. Had not God poured out his blessings: Powerful preaching – big crowds – repentance and forgiveness – mass baptisms – national recognition – royal protection. What more can anyone want? Yet, John was desperate. Maybe this is a lesson for us. One day we may have a big church and a growing profile and even mass baptisms (superbly successful with evangelism) but – like in the days of John – it may not be enough. It is one thing to bring people into the kingdom of God and it is another thing to retain them – to secure them – to have them abide – in the kingdom of God.

At the moment – here at Living Grace – what baffles me the most is how so many can be touched with the love of God and be rescued – from drugs and despair – into the kingdom of God but then the experience does not last. After a brief season of allowing God to heal their lives – after a brief season of hope and joy – people return to the misery of what they had before.

Why is that? This morning you may actually be in this position. You have experienced God. You know about his love. Bible words have burned in your heart and encouraged you. Yet (even right now), you are thinking about turning away again from the kingdom of heaven – God – faith – the church – everything. Why?

There may be a number of reasons – such as a half-hearted commitment to repentance from the beginning (you only turned to God because there was nowhere else to go but now that you are feeling better, you want to try again on your own – the discipline is too hard – you are hurting too much … ) – but – for John – the key reason why people fail to remain in the kingdom of God (despite the best intentions) was a lack of power to remain holy. He baptized thousands. The water washed away sin from thousands – forgiveness happened – but then this baptism had not enough power to keep anyone clean – to keep anyone from sin. Therefore he – when he was most popular – a national phenomenon – was looking for more and announced: “After me will come one more powerful than I … I baptize you in water, but he will baptize you in holy Spirit

This is practical. A preacher had grown up as the warlord of the most ferocious innercity gang in New York at the time … [Tell his testimony in your own words.] “In my heart I still see myself as a helpless and needy nineteen-year-old boy, kneeling before the altar, weeping in repentance and asking God to come into my heart and be my Savior. Like a baby longing for his mother’s milk, I drank deeply of God’s love and forgiveness. I could almost feel his gentle arms wrapping themselves around my cold body, comforting, warming, snuggling. For the first time in my life I felt loved. He became my Father, and I became his son. I literally felt the warmth of the Holy Spirit come into my soul and embrace my heart. It was as real as any experience I’ve ever had.

When I speak I often search my vocabulary for ways to express this supernatural sensation, the moment when Jesus stepped in and changed my life, but I’ve yet to find a way to do it justice. The best way I’ve found is through a simple analogy.

I tell people that I felt as if I were on an operating table, cold and angry and confused, and Jesus was the surgeon standing over me. My heart was broken. He gently reached over and closed my eyes, then he opened up my chest and reached deep inside of me and pulled my heart out. He held it in his hands, a heart filled with the hatred and anger and bitterness that consumed me – the brokenness of my past and the curse that was destroying my life and soul. Then Jesus slowly took my heart, brought it to his lips and kissed it. He caressed it and mended the wounds. Then he placed it back in my chest and closed me up. I knew in an instant that I was better, that my heart was no longer broken. At that moment I knew I was a new creation. I had a new heart – a heart of love and compassion and repentance. All the feelings of hate and resentment were gone. My sins were forgiven. At long last I was free!

I still fight back tears every time I use this analogy. The moment Jesus came into my heart and saved me is the most cherished experience of my life. Before that time no one had ever kissed my heart. It was what I needed most from my new Father. Thank you, precious Jesus” (Nicky Cruz: One Holy Fire, Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press 2003, p82-83).

When this preacher repented – turned away from the stealing and violence and drugs of his gang – God gave him a new heart which was an amazing experience and is still bringing tears to his eyes – today. God kissed him with forgiveness. God kissed him with love. God kissed him with joy. God set him free from all of his hate and resentment. He had a new heart. Yet, this is what happened some time later.

[Tell his testimony in your own words.] “ … my firstborn child, Alicia, arrived at Presbyterian Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. I was only twenty-three at the time, a young married man with a horrible past and a relatively new faith in the Lord [].[2] I was still trying to figure out how to be a decent husband to my beautiful bride, Gloria, and suddenly I found myself faced with the task of being a father to a precious little girl, as well. How could I possibly measure up?

Just a few years earlier a court-appointed psychologist had told me that I would never be normal. Five times he looked me in the eyes, point blank, and said, ‘Nicky, there is no way you can ever have a normal family, With a past like yours you’ll never be able to make a marriage last. You’ll be a wife beater, and you’ll abuse your kids if you ever have any.’ He also told me the reason: ‘You have a dark side in your life – a side that’s killing you, slowly but surely. You don’t know how to love, and you don’t know how to be loved.’

Now here I was, a new husband and father, and those words haunted me at every turn. From the moment we brought Alicia home from the hospital, Gloria could tell something was wrong. Several times I caught her watching me from across the room as I would bend over our daughter’s crib and make faces. I’d tickle her under her tiny arms and brush her face with my hands, but I never picked her up. I didn’t know how.

One evening, when Alicia was four weeks old, Gloria decided to confront me about this. I had just taken a shower and was leaning over our baby’s crib, making gestures with my mouth and laughing at her reactions. Gloria could no longer keep silent. ‘What’s the matter, Nicky?’ she said. ‘What are you afraid of? Why don’t you ever hold our baby?’ I didn’t know what to say. I was too proud to admit my fears, so I just stood looking at her, speechless.

There was a lot of my background that I’d kept hidden from Gloria. She knew that I had a sordid past – much more brutal than most – but I’d never told her just how painful and abusive my childhood had been. I was convinced that she never would have married me if she’d known about the horrible things I had experienced – and done. So I never told her anything.

‘Tell me, Nicky,’ Gloria persisted. ‘Why don’t you ever want to hold Alicia?’ Finally I said to her, ‘I don’t know how.’ She seemed surprised by my answer. ‘Then let me show you,’ she said. Gently she scooped Alicia into her arms and instructed me to extend my hands towards her. She slowly placed Alicia into my arms and told me to bend my elbows and let her roll toward my chest. I did as she said, as slowly and gently as I knew how. I’d never held a baby, and I was afraid I might hurt her.

I wasn’t wearing a shirt, and as I held her tiny body against my chest, I could feel the warmth of her soft skin against mine. Her eyes were open, and she was looking up at me, smiling, cooing. At that instant a wave of emotion began to well up within me. It wasn’t what I expected. The feeling was like nothing I had ever experienced. As I held my precious daughter tightly against my chest, I could literally feel the tenderness and love running through my heart, right down to my soul. It was overwhelming. Tears began forming in my eyes. Such emotion. How could I have possibly prepared myself for such a moment of pure and innocent love?

For the first time in my life I understood what it meant to be a father – to be part of a family. It was as if God was telling me, Nicky, this is my gift to you. You’ve trusted me with your soul and now I entrust you with this beautiful child. Never forget that she belongs to me. Take care of her. Protect her. Teach her. Love her as I have loved you … ” (Nicky Cruz: One Holy Fire, Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press 2003, p1-3).

The day of his salvation was still bringing tears to his eyes but his newborn daughter confronted him with a problem. How could he be a father? How could he possible measure up? Old words from a court-appointed psychologist haunted him: “Nicky, there is no way you can ever have a normal family, With a past like yours you’ll never be able to make a marriage last. You’ll be a wife beater, and you’ll abuse your kids if you ever have any. You have a dark side in your life – a side that’s killing you, slowly but surely. You don’t know how to love, and you don’t know how to be lovedWhere would the power come from to be a good father? If you come from a similar broken background – or even a healthier background – the same fears and doubts may haunt you. Will you measure up? Can you see yourself as a father or a mother – a reliable friend even – holding a job – adding value to the community – making a difference – serving God with integrity and honour?

The young man – a preacher today – did not even dare to pick up his daughter and hold her. Yet, he learned and he discovered that God had made provisions for him to succeed as a father. He writes in his book: “If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, then you, too, have been given an incomparable gift by God – the gift of the Holy Spirit. God has entrusted to each one of his followers a measure of his power … ” (Nicky Cruz: One Holy Fire, Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press 2003, p3). God had given him the gift of the Holy Spirit and with him came power to be a good dad.

This is what John the Baptist was waiting for. He knew with absolute clarity that the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins was not enough. You can have a glorious day of washing away your sin –you can have the most remarkable conversion experience – but if there is no power to stay clean, that is: to sin no more, it is not of much use. Therefore, John was desperate and cried out: “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the sandals of the one that is to come after me because of his power. I baptize you in water, but he will baptize you in holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is making the difference and – when Jesus finally came – he did begin baptizing people in holy Spirit with the consequence that a completely new era in the history of God with his people began. The baptism in holy Spirit represented something so radical new and wonderful that even John’s greatness was no match for the new reality. Jesus put it in these words and we heard the opening statement before – Matthew 11:11: “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he[What a statement this is in the light of John’s national impact and success.]

As people are baptized in – dipped into – soaked in – submerged in – holy Spirit, they are so “marinated” in God’s holy presence that the holy power of God overcomes any temptation and sin. Wherever there is this drenching with God’s holy Spirit, there is the power to keep away any sin, which makes the least in the kingdom of heaven greater than even John the Baptist. He baptized in water but Jesus baptized – and is still baptizing (you can receive this today) – in holy Spirit.

It took Jesus everything to be the Baptist and the baptism only came after he had completed his work on earth – after he suffered and died, rose again and ascended back into heaven. In the time between his resurrection and ascension Jesus stressed again the importance of being baptized in holy Spirit, saying to his disciples – Acts 1:4-5: “ … you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 1:8: “ . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you …” Later – when people were wondering about the first actual Spirit baptism on the day of Pentecost, the disciple Peter explained the event and the practical outcome for everyone. This is what he preached – Acts 2:17-39: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people … People, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs … and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him … God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear … be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ … Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and … for all whom the Lord our God will call

After the dead body of Jesus was taken from the cross and was buried in the ground, God the Father raised him from the dead, exalted him and then gave him the promised Holy Spirit which he now pours out on us from heaven. God says: “I will pour out my Spirit on all peopleFrom heaven Jesus immerses us in holy Spirit.

Now when and how does this happen for you and how can we illustrate this? At the end of his preaching Peter gave specific instructions and a promise: “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit

The instruction is simple: Repent and be baptized, which in a manner takes us back to John the Baptist. John’s work continues. There is still a baptism of repentance in water for the forgiveness of sins. The only but all-important difference is that now the baptism in water happens in Jesus’ name – in the name and authority of the one who suffered and died for us – forgiveness of sins is not available in any other name – and then only this baptism comes with the promise of the Spirit. When we baptize in water – in the name of Jesus – for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus baptizes us in holy Spirit for power.

It happened to Jesus himself and his experience foreshadows our experience. I read from the Bible – Luke 3:21-22: “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too [even though he was without sin – he identified with us – at this point he had not yet begun his work of preaching and healing]. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him … And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ … ”

Then, his very next experience was a forty-day battle with Satan and temptation which he was now able to win on account of the Spirit – Luke 4:1-13: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil … When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him … ”

This was the experience of Jesus which illustrates our own. We repent and then someone baptizes us in water for the forgiveness of our sins. As we emerge again from the water – like Jesus – we may be praying, when – like it happened for Jesus – heaven opens and the Holy Spirit descends on us – we get immersed in him – and a voice comes from heaven – an experience comes from God, the Father – saying: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleasedThen, we are ready for the battle with temptations. Romans 8:13: “ … by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body … ” Galatians 5:16: “ … live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” [Cf. With the Spirit comes not only power over sin but also power for mission. Luke 4ff; 24; Acts 1.]

Therefore – again – this is what we are to do: Repent, be baptized, pray (and do all of this in faith – trusting in the name of Jesus) and then – with your baptism in water – expect the baptism in holy Spirit. When the church leader Paul encountered some Christians that had not yet experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit, he immediately enquired about the water baptism which they had received – Acts 19:1-7: “ … Paul … found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’ ‘John’s baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus. On hearing this they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied … ” This confirms what we have said. Repent, be baptized, pray (and do all of this in faith – trusting in the name of Jesus) and then – with your baptism in water – expect the baptism in holy Spirit. When you are baptized in water – in Jesus’ name – Jesus will baptize you in the Holy Spirit. [Sometimes there are delays because of unbelief or even God’s sovereign timing but the experience of being baptized in water and the Spirit belong together.]

The Spirit of God is holy and our holiness is the outcome of being immersed in him. We now have power to overcome sin. However – in closing – how does the word “holiness” sound to you? How excited can we be about the holy Spirit of God coming upon us? On the one hand, we want to be holy – it is good to be free and remain free from lying, swearing, anger, addiction, lust and any further darkness that we can imagine – but, on the other hand, the word “holiness” also sounds quite serious. God is holy and if he is the standard of “holiness”, then this standard is a standard of intimidating perfection. Do not lust! Do not be slack! Do not gossip! Do not give in to greed! Be like God! What nerve wracking commands!

This morning can I encourage you not to go down this track. The holiness of God is free from any sin – there is only perfection – but the holiness of God is nothing more than an expression of his nature and his nature is love. The reason why there is no sin in God is his love that is perfect – unconditional – loving you and me with a purity and intensity (not known in humans). If you are prepared to even die for the ones you love – as Jesus died on the cross for us – then you are not having it in your heart to harm anyone out of selfishness. God is holy because he is love and therefore the baptism in the holy Spirit is an experience of love. When it happened to Jesus, he was showered in the love of God – Luke 3:21-22: “ … heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him … And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ … ” Three weeks ago we heard a similar testimony from Stephen. He was praying, when he also heard the voice of God audibly: “My dear son, I love to help youAnd then he felt a warm rush – in his words: greater than any drug rush he ever experienced. The love of God filled him. It is not often that it happens in this precise way – I have not yet heard the voice of God audibly – but the experience of love and joy is for everyone. The Bible says – Romans 5:5: “ … God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit … ”

When Jesus baptizes us in the Holy Spirit, the power for holiness comes with love and much affirmation. [Love is power and when we are absolutely in love with God, there is no place of sin because it is love that consumes us.] An old illustration describes the experience well [abbreviate and tell in your own words]: “There is a very beautiful illustration of this aspect in the works of … Dr Richard Sibbes, another of the great Puritans of 300 years ago. Dr Sibbes says that the difference between the conversion experience and the ‘sealing’ can be stated thus. It is like a child who has been a little mischievous and disobedient, who has a sense of guilt and is unhappy, and who keeps on running back to his father. The father receives him but he does not smile much at him. This is the father’s way of reprimanding him and of punishing him for his disobedience; but the child by running back gets a certain satisfaction when he is with his father. This may go on for some time. Then one day as they are walking along a road together the child presses near to his father and touches him. The father continues just to look at him; but then after a while takes hold of the child, lifts him up and fondles him in his arms and showers his love upon him. That is the difference! Without the sealing of the Spirit you can know that your sins are forgiven; but not in this special and certain manner. This goes beyond the initial experience of forgiveness; this is God, if I may so express it, endearing us and showering his love upon us, overwhelming us … ” (Martin Lloyd-Jones: God’s Ultimate Purpose. An Exposition Of Ephesians 1:1 to 23, Edinburgh: The Banner Of Truth Trust 1978, p283-284).

Are we ready to receive? Jesus promised to baptize you in the Holy Spirit – submerge and soak you in his holy presence – and he promised that this would be an ongoing experience – again and again – as much as you need the Spirit to overcome sin. Therefore, are you ready to receive this morning? John the Baptist was desperate for Jesus the Baptist to come and he announced him with these words: “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the sandals of the one that is to come after me because of his power. I baptize you in water, but he will baptize you in holy SpiritJesus has come and this morning – if you want – he will baptize you in holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Ministry time: Focus on repentance and the free gift of forgiveness and the promise of the Spirit. Then, pray for people with the laying on of hands. Encourage faith.



[1] David Pawson: Jesus Baptises In One Holy Spirit, London: Hodder & Stoughton 1997, p5: “ … To be ‘baptised’ in Spirit would be a new idea. But the concept of being ‘plunged’ was now familiar through John’s actions in the River Jordan. In some way the two baptisms would be analogous – an ‘overwhelming’ experience of being completely submerged in a fresh medium. But the main emphasis in John’s statement is on the adjective ‘holy’. English translations mistakenly insert the definite article (‘the’), turning a description into a name … John was promising that they would be ‘plunged in holy Spirit’ – the real antidote to their sinful condition. The same person who took their sin away would soak them in holiness.”

 

 

[2]  Nicky was only 3-1/2 years old when his heart turned to stone. As one of 18 children born to witchcraft-practicing parents from Puerto Rico, bloodshed and mayhem were common occurrences in his life. He suffered severe physical and mental abuse at their hands, at one time being declared the "Son of Satan" by his mother while she was in a spiritual trance.

When he was 15, Nicky's father sent him to visit an older brother in New York. Nicky didn't stay with his brother long. Instead, full of anger and rage, he chose to make it on his own. Tough, but lonely, by age 16 he became a member of the notorious Brooklyn street gang known as the Mau Maus (named after a bloodthirsty African tribe). Within six months he became their president. Cruz fearlessly ruled the streets as warlord of one of the gangs most dreaded by rivals and police. Lost in the cycle of drugs, alcohol, and brutal violence, his life took a tragic turn for the worse after a friend and fellow gang member was horribly stabbed and beaten and died in Nicky's arms.

As Cruz' reputation grew, so did his haunting nightmares. Arrested countless times, a court-ordered psychiatrist pronounced Nicky's fate as "headed to prison, the electric chair, and hell." No authority figure could reach Cruz - until he met a skinny street-preacher named David Wilkerson. He disarmed Nicky - showing him something he'd never known before: Relentless love. His interest in the young thug was persistent. Nicky beat him up, spit on him and, on one occasion, seriously threatened his life, yet the love of God remained - stronger than any adversary Nicky had ever encountered.

Finally, Wilkerson's presentation of the gospel message and the love of Jesus melted the thick walls of his heart. Nicky received the forgiveness, love and new life that can only come through Jesus. Since then, he has dedicated that life to helping others find the same freedom. He reaches today's youth because they relate to his background, trust his peer authority, and respond to the message of hope he delivers with both passion and conviction. As one kid said after an outreach into his neighborhood, "All I knew was he was an O.G. (original gangster) and he was having this big meeting tonight."

"These kids are young, hardened criminals who don't respond to parents, teachers, or the jail system. They receive a glorified message of gang activity everyday in rap music, television, and films. They need to hear a different message - and they need to hear it now! They come to our 'invasions' looking for an alternative to the hopeless cycle of drug abuse, alcoholism, and violence. We must offer them an alternative source of security than the one they find in the gangs. They won't surrender to authority figures that have let them down all their lives. But, believe it or not, they will respond to a message about God if it comes from others who have survived their same living hell." - Cruz