The Burdens of Life

Behold My Servant, Whom I uphold, My Chosen, in Whom My Soul delights;  I have put My Spirit upon Him, He will bring forth justice to the nations.    Isaiah 42:1

Bruce Larson, in Believe and Belong, tells how he helped people struggling to surrender  their lives to Christ:

For many years I worked in New York City and counseled at my office any number of people who were wrestling with this yes-or-no decision.  Often I would suggest they walk with me from my office down to the RCA Building on Fifth Avenue.  In the entrance of that building is a gigantic statue of Atlas, a beautifully proportioned man who, with all his muscles straining, is holding the world upon his shoulders.  There he is, the most powerfully built man in the world, and he can barely stand up under this burden.

Now that’s one way to live, I would point out to my companion, trying to carry the world on your shoulders.  But now come across the street with me.

On the other side of Fifth Avenue is Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and there behind the high altar is a little shrine of the boy Jesus, perhaps eight or nine years old, and with no effort He is holding the world in one hand.  My point was illustrated graphically.

We have a choice.  We can carry the world on our shoulders, or we can say, ‘I give up, Lord; here’s my life – I give You my world, the whole world.’

Today, the first Sunday in the Epiphany Season, accents Jesus’ Baptism.  It seems that many times we aren’t quite sure what to do with this topic of Jesus’ Baptism.  We realize that our Baptism is radically different from His.  After all He was sinless, He had nothing to repent; He didn’t need to enter into a new relationship with God the Father — He had this relationship from eternity.

Therefore we end up treating the Baptism of Jesus as a mechanical necessity — just as if it were something that Jesus had to do in order to fulfill prophesy, something he had to do to identify with us, like wearing a certain style of clothing to fit in with the crowd.

But there is a great deal of importance to this occasion in Jesus’ life!  I have often characterized John’s Baptism for repentance as if everybody washed off their sins into the River Jordan, filling it with the sludge and sewage of sin.  Then the superclean Jesus, having no sin for which to repent, entered this sewage treatment plant and all the sludge of sin stuck to Him, leaving the water spotlessly clean.  From that moment in Jesus’ ministry He became the sinbearer of mankind, taking the murk and grunge of human life upon Himself to the cross.

This Baptism by John was by no means a minor incident for Jesus because it set the purpose of His coming ministry.  But then God the Father also stepped in with the Holy Spirit and turned it into an ordination.  The Holy Spirit was given, the Voice from heaven proclaimed that this was His Son, His Beloved, and that the Father was thoroughly pleased in Him.

It was only now that Jesus begins His ministry – the ministry of taking sin and giving life in return.  The radical difference between John’s Baptism and Jesus’ Baptism is that all John could do was to use this washing as a sign of turning away from sin, a washing off of sin.

But Jesus made His Baptism into much more: this was the beginning of His service of life to mankind.  From now on, He was the Christ, the Messiah, demonstrating His power to heal, to feed, to calm the storm, to lift up the broken hearted, to give life.  It would be a service of life that would continue with every subsequent Baptism into the Name of Jesus, as He does the same things right now in OUR lives.

The contrast of Atlas struggling with the world and of Jesus, even as a child, upholding the world reminds us that the ministry Jesus began here at His Baptism was to lift the world with its burden of sin and failure from the shoulders of mankind and put it back into the hands of God.

Now when the Holy Spirit comes upon us in our Baptism, we too are found in a totally new relationship with the Father: through Jesus, the Father now says of US, “My Child, My Beloved, in whom is My greatest delight!”  But this is not a static relationship, in which we might sit down in some easy chair with the expectation of being served.

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That’s one reason why the Baptismal service that we follow has the anointing of oil – remember the words?  “Receive this oil as a token of the bestowing of the Holy Spirit, to keep you in your Baptismal grace, and to equip you on your lifelong ministry of prophet, priest, and royal child in God’s Kingdom.”  As what happened to Jesus, so also with everyone of us, Baptism brings us into ministry in the work and among the People of God’s Kingdom.

The task is the same: helping to shift the burden of the world from the backs of the people we meet who struggle under the sheer weight of life, sin, hopelessness, fear, grief and all the rest of what life brings, and to put it all into the hands of Jesus.  Jesus can handle that burden because He is God.

We can’t be like Him, trying to take other people’s burdens and lives upon our shoulders because we struggle enough with our own world.  Instead we bring others to the throne of Jesus – bringing them with us – so that Jesus might lift both of our burdens from us.

Part of our ministry is to help ourselves and others see the ministry of Jesus.  Over the next weeks we will watch Jesus call men strong and weak to Himself, men proud and humble, men desperate and confident; serving them, washing their feet.  Here is Jesus healing, forgiving, with authority casting aside the satanic powers that inflict man.  And then in Baptism, Jesus turns to us and says, “Go out into the highways and alley-ways, and compel them to come in – you have a ministry to perform.  The methods and the individual is different, but the work is the same.”

What a wonderful joy this is!  To watch a person become free from the fears that immobilizes him, from the sins that sit heavily upon the conscience, from the worries that preoccupy and fill the mind, from the sadness and pain that swirls around inside and makes us lose our orientation – what a joy it is to be a participant of such a mission! What a marvelous ministry we have, to be able to bring someone to Jesus, to see the world lift from their shoulders, and to watch as they take a deep spiritual breath and truly live.

But there are times when we too fail.  How often have we not lived up to our ministries.  For various reasons we have allowed people to wallow in their need – and we never even thought to raise them before the Lord in prayer!  How often have we added to their burden, making it heavier, loading guilt in unnecessary proportions, not because they needed it but because we had to clean out our own guts, and we used them as our dumping grounds?

How often have we been so preoccupied with struggling with our own burdens, sorting out our own financial problems, or whatever it is that loads our worlds down with weight; so that we cannot spare the considerations, the uplift, the joy that another person needs?

True, we are human, and sometimes it just isn’t in us.  But that’s precisely the point — we also need the Lord just as much as the people around us.  We also need our weights lifted from our shoulders and to discover and re-discover again the freedom and life that Jesus gives.

And He does give it.  He comes even today with the same ministry that began 2,000 years ago. Today He comes to let us know again that He is the same One who reaches out serving us, washing our feet, forgiving, healing, casting aside the satanic powers that inflict us.

And how amazing His love and patience is!  Even when we insist on holding tightly to this burden of our worlds, Jesus still lifts it – and lifts us up, even in spite of ourselves.  How many times in your life have you discovered that in spite of your worries and your fears, suddenly you find your feet have left the floor and you realize that you are chuckling to yourself in spite of yourself!  Jesus has already taken our worlds into His hands – its just that we need days like today to remind us how He is exercising His Lordship, His ministry, among us even right now.

This is what Holy Communion reassures us of.  Here is Jesus again, in person, “in the flesh” – His strongest proof that this is not all theory or mental self-improvement.  Instead here is a concrete reality: JESUS IS RIGHT HERE!!  Watch as He gives Himself to you, that He now puts His shoulder under your world, changing everything simply because He is HERE – HERE because YOU mean that much to Him, because He is giving Himself in a very real way to you.

The Baptism of Jesus is a most wonderful time in which God reminds of His ministry to us, of His taking our sins upon Himself, and of how He begins His ministry of giving life, giving HIMSELF, to you and me – and this occasion also reminds us of OUR Baptism, of our ministry now to Him and His world.  What a time of great joy is to be found in this celebration!

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