Thursday, 14 July 2011

Baptised in His Name

Matt 28.18 is a record of the last words of Jesus to His disciples before His ascension into Heaven.

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.

This is called the great commission. It is rooted in His authority, the undisputed authority that Jesus now has in heaven and on earth. With this authority He commissions His disciples and all future generations of believers to go and make disciples, the primary purpose for why we are here. The process begins with Baptism. This word means to submerge, to dunk, to immerse, to plunge or to put into. Tanners used the word to describe how they dyed material.

It was practised by John and Jesus and the early church in Acts. It became a prophetic symbol of passing from an old life into a new one. In that sense it represented both a bath and a burial. As a bath it washes away the sins of the past and brings cleansing so that we can go on to serve God. As a burial it lays to rest the old crucified life that has no power to please God or do His will. Finally it celebrates the resurrection. Just as we are buried with Christ we are raised with Him in newness of life, Rom 6.4-5. Baptism marks the entrance into that new life, which is why the early church did this as close to a persons profession of faith as possible.

The general rule was, believe and be baptised. But Jesus says this baptism is into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Now in the Bible to do something in the name of someone else is to act on their behalf, to use their authority so to speak. Jesus is commanding His disciples to get people fully immersed and put into God's authority, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I'd like to unpack that a little and take it in reverse order.

1. Put into the authority of the Holy Spirit

In Acts 1.8 Jesus said, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
Jesus is clear. The Holy Spirit was given to empower us to witness. He is a missional Spirit, testifying to the world of Jesus' beauty, His glory, His majesty, His supremacy, His power to forgive, save and heal.

As we see this played out in the book of Acts it is clear that this empowerment gave the early disciples an amazing confidence in the face of extreme opposition. These people were fearless. So being filled with the Spirit became an important criteria for choosing future leaders in the church, Acts 6.3. The apostles knew that the church must be led by people who had experienced this empowering presence to witness to the name of Jesus.

When the church is filled with the Spirit we should expect to see an increase in mission through personal testimony, prophecy and preaching that gets results. Confidence to share our personal journey with others is crucial. But this immersion into the Spirit also opens the door to move in the gifts of the Spirit. So we should also expect to see signs and wonders too.

1Cor 12 gives us a list of nine manifestation gifts. My experience leads me to believe these are available situationally to all the saints. In other words all can be sent but not all are apostles. All can prophecy but not all are prophets. All can testify and share their testimony but not all are evangelists.

There is a difference between gift, ministry and office. Those who regularly move in a gift can develop, over time, that gift into a ministry. Over time this too can establish them in an office. But it all begins with the exercise of a gift. The first gift manifested in Acts 2 was prophecy. Pentecostals may take issue with me here and argue it was the gift of tongues. Consider this:

a) Peter's explanation to those listening and wondering what what was going on was to quote Joel 2 - Your sons and your daughters shall prophecy.

b) The men who heard the disciples speak heard them speak in fifteen known languages. The disciples spoke languages they had never learned, declaring to these visitors in Jerusalem the wonderful works of God - that's prophecy.

c) Prophecy is the primary gift that Paul exhorts the church in Corinth to go after because it speaks directly into the hearts of people bringing conviction and conversion, 1Cor 14.1; 24-25.

d) No interpretation was needed in Acts 2. Each man heard his own language and understood what was said.

When Paul speaks of the gift of tongues he says it a number of things:

a) It is for personal edification unless interpreted, 1Cor 14.4

b) It is not directed primarily to men but to God, 1Cor 14.2

c) God understands the mysteries he speaks but men don't, 1Cor 14.2

d) The one who speaks in tongues does not understand what he says but he is still edified because unlike those who may hear him, his spirit is connected to what he says, 1Cor 14.14-15

We tend to think that tongues plus interpretation equals prophecy. I think we have made a mistake. Paul indicates that prayer in tongues is directed to God. So when it is interpreted we get an understanding of what a person is saying to God. We normally call that prayer, not prophecy.

But my point is that the Holy Spirit is a missional Spirit who empowers us to witness and gives us gifts to do this effectively. Too often we have used these as a test of how good or spiritual a meeting was rather than seeing that Jesus moved in gifts of the Spirit to speak into the heart of Nathanial, the Samaritan woman, Peter and Judas, none of which were in formal meetings!

When we give a greater emphasis to gifts being exercised in meetings rather than as a natural part of life then, over time, we become inward looking. Like John Wimber used to say, the meeting place is the training place for the market place. But he was careful to do most of his training of the saints at specific conferences rather than Sunday gatherings.

Finally the Holy Spirit is given to transform our character into Christ likeness. He wars against the flesh, Gal 5.16-18. It is not enough to have gifts, we need fruit. And fruit takes more time to develop, but we should expect it and look for it. Jesus ordained us to bring forth fruit, John 15.5. The more we are immersed into the Holy Spirit the more His fruit will develop in us. This immersion comes through the daily choices we make to respond to His conviction. Each positive response takes us deeper into God. And so we are transformed, from glory to glory, 1Cor 3.18.

2. Put into the authority of the Son

To be put into Jesus is to recognise that we now have a new boss. Our lives are no longer self directed. Jesus Christ is Lord is a declaration of a new King. And His kingdom reign begins in the lives of His followers - you and me. Discipleship is about trusting Jesus more and more with all your major life decisions. We cannot truly pray, "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done", Matt 6.10, unless we are surrendered in our hearts to the Lordship of Jesus.

There is a paradox here. You might think that to surrender your will to that of another is to loose yourself. Your identity becomes subsumed. You become a pushover for every manipulating control freak. Given the events of history there is some legitimacy for this concern. Jim Jones and the Jonestown community along with David Koresh are just two examples of recent history that should give cause for concern.

I find it helpful to look at Jesus and His relationship with the Father. Consider this:

a) Jesus prayed, "Let this cup pass from Me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will", Matt 26.39
The surrender of His will was very specific. It was a surrender to the purpose and plan of the Father. In saying yes to this He was strengthened to fulfil that purpose. It is the same for us. To accept that Jesus is now Lord means we surrender to His plan and purpose. It actually empowers us to be all that God intended. We become more ourselves, not less.

b) When the enemy tried to temp Jesus to act outside of the will of the Father He fought back with scripture, Matt 4.4. We never surrender the right to test things by God's word. The Bereans tested everything Paul said and Luke commends them for it, Acts 17.11. We don't blindly follow leaders. We examine the fruit of their life and ministry. We test their words against God's word. If it conforms then like the Thessalonians we can say we have heard God speak through them, 1Thess 2.13.

c) Surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus is an act of trust. It is believing that He will only bring into our life what has been filtered through His love. Things may touch us that bring pain but God is bigger than all of that and His ultimate goal is to do us good. Unless we can embrace this truth we will hold back and try to maintain control in some way. It never works out well.

When we are baptised into Christ we are baptised into His body. We can't be part of Jesus and not be part of His church. I now find myself part of a community, the community of the King. In that community I learn what it means to serve others. Jesus the Lord shows us that washing feet has value. We don't need to be status driven. We can be Spirit led.

In this community we learn to practice unselfish living. Notice that Jesus called twelve men to 'be with Him'. It was life related, not just meetings. Jesus wants to teach us how to do life together. This is where our attitudes are challenged and shaped. This is where we learn what servant leadership looks like. It all takes place in the body.

Here too I can learn my role, the part that I need to play. Eph 4.16 says that the body grows as 'every joint supplies'. To be put into the authority of the Son is to learn that I am called and unique. I have a part to share that helps to build the body. 1Cor 12.12 says that the body is made up of many members. There is a unity and a diversity. Unity of Spirit and diversity of ministry.

In Him I can fully know my call and through His grace I can fulfil that call.

3. Put into the authority of the Father

When Jesus was baptised a number of significant things happened. A dove descended from Heaven, symbolising the presence of the Spirit. Heaven opened. Then a voice came saying, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased", Matt 3.17.

Think about that. Before Jesus had preached one message, done any miracles, spoken forgiveness to people, trained disciples or driven out any demons He received this validation from the Father in Heaven. Amazing! We tend to commend people for what they accomplish. The Father commended Jesus for who He was first. That's how it should be.

Have you ever watched a parent with a new born? The words, the smiles the look give it all away. This child is loved because it is theirs. The Father loves us because we love His son. Through Jesus we are now part of the family. We must get this right. Ministry must flow from a deep conviction that we are loved, before we do anything. Without that we end up trying hard to prove our worth. It corrupts the gospel into a works program.

There has been much teaching in the past twenty five years on the subject of God's Father heart. And rightly so. I grew up with a father who was never able to look at me and say 'I love you'. It's not that he didn't. It's that he came from a generation that didn't know how. It wasn't considered manly. But that lack of affirmation left a hole in me. It left me striving to accomplish things. This did indeed get his attention and commendation but left an inprint in me, "My value lies in what I do more than who I am". This fundamental insecurity can then be transfered to our image of God. It is hard to overcome.

"What if I fail?" What if I don't do enough?" And so we can get caught up with striving to be accepted, by God, by others, by ourselves. To be immersed into the Father is to know that you are beloved, period. It's not about what you do. It's about who you are - in Him. Fully accepted, fully loved, dignified to bear the family name - son of God.

In John 20.17 Jesus gave Mary a message to speak to His disciples. "I am ascending to My Father and your Father and to My God and your God".
This was a radical change of status for them. Now they had access to the Father, their Father, our Father.

John 16.26-27, "In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God".

We can come to the Father and know that He hears us in the same way He hears Jesus. My prayers count. They matter. They have impact. My life counts. He watches over me delighting in who I am, not just what I do.

Finally in John 14.7-9 we read: "If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him." Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?

Jesus points out a reality that Philip and the other disciples seem to have missed. To know Jesus is to know the Father. He is the full expression of the Father. To use Paul's language, For in Him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, Col 1.19; 2.9.

But this is true of us too. Not as individuals but as His body - together, Eph 1.23. The body is the fullness of Christ. Just as He reflected the heart of the Father so we too, in the body, can reflect the heart of God. They are one! To be immersed in the Father increases our capacity to reflect His heart to the world. And this is how we make disciples. We must immerse people from every tribe, tongue and ethnic group into the authority of the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

People who are filled with God are easier to teach and lead. Think of your life and ask yourself which areas do you need a fresh immersion. You see baptism is an event. Water is used. The symbolism is powerful. Grace can be imparted through this. But it is also a process where we can go deeper into God. Where do you need to go deeper in God?