The Intimacy of Baptism

You know the Word which He sent to Israel, preaching Good News of peace by Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)   Acts 10:36

I think one of the realizations that most profoundly affects me is that God searches out intimacy with us.  So often you may have heard the question, “have you taken Jesus as your personal Savior?’  The idea behind this question is whether you have come to realize that you more than see Jesus as the Savior of the whole world, the Savior of humanity, you see Him as the Savior of you from the penalty of your rebellions and sins, the Savior of your life.  The question probes whether we have been willing to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus, so that He is more than just a figure in the Bible, but rather a present part of our lives.

But Baptism, and its precursor, Circumcision, actually make a different statement.  It really is the preamble, the harbinger, the trailblazer to the question “have you taken Jesus,”  its message is that Jesus has taken you.  What is so special about saying it that way?  It compels us to realize that the drive for intimacy begins with the Lord.

Look again at that special relationship with God called Circumcision, through which Abraham is uniquely called “the Covenant Friend of God” – God is the One Who initiates it, He is the One Who commands it.  Likewise with the New Testament Baptism which, as another unique relationship, offers becoming a Child of God, being a member of God’s Family, being participant in the eternal Beloved Bride of Christ, becoming the dwelling place of God by His Spirit,  All this is initiated by God – after all, it is impossible that we would have come up with these ideas on our own, and therefore we Baptize for the simple reasons that this is His idea and He commands us to do it.

That God is the One Who wants this is the outstanding feature of these Old Testament and New Testament connections to Him.  It is something that He very strong about.  He does not wait for us to finally get an idea; He does not wait until you decide that you are finally ready; He does not merely make a suggestion like one might tell you to wear brown instead of blue today; no, He is quite vehement about this relationship.  So strong was this fervent yearning that dire consequences befall those who neglect or just refuse this powerful bond.

In fact even His chosen deliverer Moses could not evade the parental responsibility of including his son under this special relationship.  Although Moses was God’s hand-picked deliverer of Israel, on his way back to Egypt to now do these very impressive work, God sought to kill him until the boy was circumcised [Exodus 4:24-26].  Why? So that Moses’ son, throughout his life and that of his generations, would be no “tag-along” among the Lord’s People, rather he would know for certain that the coming salvation event would be available specifically for him.

He also was to have the exceptionally intimate connection with Jehovah, he also would have personal involvement in the deliverance and blessings in store for God’s own People; he also would have God’s own guarantee of comfort, protection and blessed life as His People were about to be led to the Land of Promise.

Would God be so forceful about such a simple act as Baptism?  Yes, for the same reasons!  He powerfully seeks intimacy with us as well.  This is what Covenant is all about!  It is the remarkable conclusion that springs from what it means that the Holy Spirit comes to live within us.  God is not content with being our Savior.  He is not content with “wining us to His side.”  He is not content with bringing us into His Kingdom.  His compelling urge above all else is to bring us into such a fellowship with Himself that words fail in describing the closeness with us which motivated His march toward the Cross, the Resurrection, and the offer of salvation to each person in the world.

You catch sight of that in the Old Testament Covenant with Abraham, where the idea of the sharing of one Blood, one Life, one Soul – the very core of one’s being – is the focus.  Abraham his descendants are given the extraordinary position of touching on a oneness which God earnestly desired when He created Adam and Eve.  You have a glimpse of what had been intended when St Paul takes the marriage verse of Genesis 2: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” [v 24], and in Ephesians 5[:22-32] declares that it primarily is the description of Jesus with His Bride, the Church.

What Paul makes us realize is that the intimacy, the love, the self-giving, the working side-by-side, the delight, the enthusiasm, the excitement, and so much more of human marriage is merely a pale reflection of the closeness which Jesus is striving for which is to fill up our eternity with Him.

With even more strength is the evidence of Holy Baptism with the accompanying indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  What is hard for us to realize is how much this comes from the very heart of God.  It has nothing to do with our worthiness in however we conceive that worthiness to be, but it has everything to do with the heart of God.  You might say that these Covenants provide the open door for the Creator Himself to sweep into our lives, to build in us an indescribable relationship which will last literally forever.

The Cross then becomes the vivid display of His yearning for intimacy which gives us the foundation for understanding what is involved in this significant bond.  Jesus came not because we had demonstrated our eager desire to follow God’s law.  He died not because of our forceful even emotional confessions of our sins.  Jesus rose from the dead not because we had shown ourselves to be good enough material to inhabit heaven.  In fact Romans 5[:6-11] declares that it was when we were in the midst of rebellion, enmity, and helplessness that Jesus created the door where unrestricted access to the Father was burst open for any who would repent and seek to discover in this Creator God mercy and steadfast love.
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Although applying to us, Christmas, the cross, the resurrection, even the ascension are not about us – these events are about God and His earnest, heartfelt desire to get close to us – to literally be Immanuel, “God with us.”

And really, it is a good thing, too.  After all, we aren’t impressive enough to compel God to do anything.  Oh, sure, we might be able to trot out something which seems impressive enough to ourselves – maybe we have really learned the Bible more than most people, or we have consistently and unfailingly attended Church when possible, perhaps even have gotten more than averagely involved in activities for the Church.

Yet, St Paul, especially in the opening chapters of Romans, reminds us that we have woefully fallen short of the perfection that God looks for, that God created us to have.  We are rebellious and fearful of the intimacy that He so earnestly desires.

How rebellious our human natures are!  For instance, how many people have fought wearing seatbelts – despite the many good reasons for wearing them, and no sound reason against them, some arrogantly and obstinately resist the idea because they will not be told what they are to do.  Speed limits are another example – we have our own desires, our own needs, our own interpretations as to what is important, and so we override what the law says.  God’s fences around sexuality are triumphantly discarded in a society focused on pleasure, no longer on responsibility.

We question this requirement or that demand on us.  We complain and argue.  We simply refuse to do what is decent and kind especially toward certain people – you know, those who are manipulative, or grouchy, or mean, or greedy or whatever offends us – those are not worthy of our best – which of course boils down to that we disagree and rebel against God’s will.  We really do fall short of God’s will, or as Paul put it, short of God’s Glory [Romans 3:23].  Often we try to justify or excuse what we do; or ignore what God looks for.

Actually, we really don’t want to be too close to God.  Every one of us has areas in our personalities, areas in our lives where we really are uncomfortable should God get too close.  Yet oddly enough despite our resistance to His will, we also fiercely try to prove that we are good enough, that we are valuable to God, that God has no right to withhold intimacy from us.  Perhaps we have prayed hard enough, or studying the Bible enough, or have shaped up enough, or have somehow we have achieved or have arrived at the place where we are now worthy enough.

It’s an attitude which lies close the surface of our personalities.  All it takes is a sickness or even a string of “bad luck” – or even sometimes a bad day –, and we ask, perhaps even demand, “why me, Lord?   After all, we of all people don’t deserve being treated this way!”

Therefore it is with stunned humility that we discover we are not really something with whom God should be so eager to be intimate.  And that is why with wonder and awe that we find that God commands us to do an act which brings such intimacy.  If it were left to us as a suggestion, likely many people would be most reluctant to do something so bold and audacious on their own initiative.  Either they are scared of such closeness, or scared that they will be condemned, or are despairing that God would really want to get that close after all.  Yet our Lord cuts through all our uncertainty with a definite and unequivocal command.

So we learn by such a remarkable act, as well as through Holy Communion, that where we might be hesitant, where we might be discouraged by compelling reasons why God should not even want this closeness, we find that He has no such qualms.  Again and again, there is the affirmation of the eagerness, the earnestness, the compelling steadfastness of His desire for intimacy: His Holy Spirit resides in us; Jesus is wherever two or three are gathered together, and He pours into our lives, hearts, and souls His LifeBlood, His Soul, the core of His being.

By His command for intimacy based not on us but on His heart, we find convincing proof that in all His salvation events past and future, there is an unmistakable message where we are to be personally included; where we are not to be merely outsiders looking in, but rather are deliberate and chosen participants; where, with Holy Communion, we have comfort, protection and participation in a “salvation” history within which we stand with the disciples on Good Friday and on Easter morning, and then can look forward to victories along the way in our lives and especially to the grand climax to come.

Today pass by the Baptismal font and then come up to the Altar, there to be plunged again into the great intimacy the Lord seeks to have with you.

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