It seems the senior President Bush was touring a nursing home. As he walked down the hall with his entourage of aides and reporters, he came upon one old man who was slowly making his way in the opposite direction. The president reached out, took the patient’s hand, and asked gently, “Sir, do you know who I am?” The man stared back blankly for a moment; then his eyes focused. Slowly he shook his head from side to side. “No,” he admitted, “I don’t know who you are. But if you ask the nurses, they can tell you.”
When the voice from heaven spoke no one had to guess who Jesus might be. The Holy One of Heaven said “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” That statement demands a personal reflection for followers of Jesus Christ: If the life of Jesus was lived in a way that pleased the Heavenly Father, it ought to be our goal in life to live as He did. And so, we ask the question: What kind of life pleases God? There are many words with which we could frame an answer to that question. In the body of Christ we have a kind of shorthand that covers it…we could say that following Jesus in a way that is pleasing to God is living out our baptism. It is like the old saying, if you’re going to talk the talk, you’d better walk the walk. These shorthand statements are another way of saying that our life in Christ demands faithfulness; it’s the kind of faithfulness that’s 24hour/7day/52weeks a year kind of faithfulness, to the promises of our baptism.
The baptismal covenant of our church contains those promises that you and I made at our confirmation or adult baptism.
These are some of the identifying marks of a baptism lived-out. These are what separate the way God’s people live from those who live the unexamined life. This morning let’s examine these a little deeper. They can be separated into two pictures – the Servant of Christ and the Soldier of the Cross.
The Servant of Christ-Paul used this term to describe himself when he wrote to the church of Galatia (or Asia Minor, Turkey) and also the Christians at Colossae ; all believers are servants of Christ. You can tell the servant by the distinguishing marks of service:
Jesus exhibited the life of a humble servant. Living-out our baptism as a servant calls for humility, just as the Master was humble. There is not a task too great or small that we should not be willing to attempt in His name.
Obedience is certainly a characteristic of humility, but in Mark’s gospel there is a special significance. In verse 10 it says that as Jesus came up from the water of his baptism the heavens were “torn apart”. The word means a violent “rip”. The only other time Mark used the word was the crucifixion scene where the temple veil is “torn” from top to bottom at Christ’s death.
It is entirely possible that here Jesus sees the end of his mission, the cross; it’s not a pretty sight for Jesus as we imagine this inspiring scene to be. As we joke about Thanksgiving that it’s a wonderful meal, except for the one who provided the drumsticks, Jesus knows what’s ahead. The Father says words in heaven that have been spoken before in the Son’s presence:
Isaiah 42:1-(NRSVA) 1 Here is 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.
Above everyone in attendance that day, Jesus knew justice could only come with the shedding of blood – his blood – for man’s sins. Only by obedience, in sacrifice, would Jesus continue to delight the Father.
It is that way for us. Baptism is a matter of obedience, but if it ends at the baptismal font, with no ongoing obedience, where is the servant-hood? The Servant of Christ living-out his baptism is humble and obedient to his Master.
A second identifying mark of Christian baptism being lived-out is:
The Soldier of the Cross
In Disney’s “The Lion King” Timone and Pumba stumble across young Simba the lion who has a guilty conscience. They teach him their life’s “problem-free philosophy”, “Akuna matatta”. For Timone it meant (according to fantasyland language) “no responsibility, no work, no worry”. It is safe to say that if you want a lifetime of bliss and easy living, you’d better plan on living in Disneyworld’s cartoon studio, because in the real world, it just ain’t so! Baptism is not the beginning of irresponsibility; it is an enlistment in the army of the LORD!
Why an army? (I’m glad you asked!)
1. Because there’s temptation ahead
When Jesus came out of the baptismal waters the Spirit led him right into the wilderness to be tempted for forty days. There’s not much room for “acuna matatta” when you’re doing hand-to-hand combat with Satan.
God instructs us in Scripture to run from temptation the minute you see it. The reason is that the Lord knows we’re not very good at resisting it. You remember the account of the skinflint preacher who reluctantly agreed to let his wife take the credit card shopping. He warned her over and over to resist the temptation to buy things they couldn’t afford. She promised, and left for town. She came back with a red dress by Belenciaga and a charge slip for $2400. The husband hit the roof.
He yelled, “I told you to resist the temptation; you should have turned and run from that old devil!”
She replied, “Dear, I did just as you said. I heard Lucifer whispering in my ear how good that Belenciaga looked on me, and I turned and ran.”
“But you still bought it!” whined the preacher.
“ I couldn’t help myself!” she cried, “When I turned around to run he said, ‘sho’nuff looks good from this side too, darlin’’
The reason we are soldiers of the cross is that temptation is a spiritual battle. And, also…
2. Because there’s opposition and loneliness ahead
All you have to do is read a few verses past our text and you find that Jesus is not only tempted in the wilderness – his cousin, John the Baptist is arrested and thrown in prison. Eventually he is beheaded for preaching his message of repentance – the same message Jesus would later preach. Opposition and isolation are the twins you will know well if you will preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
People join churches every year and eventually drop-out, complaining that Christianity “doesn’t work” or isn’t worth the effort. Soldiers understand opposition – they were taught to fight because their main purpose is conflict. Many people join the church because they’re under the impression it is a safe haven from trouble, and then they find out they’re supposed to be a soldier in the middle of it; they go AWOL.
Friends, spiritual warfare is not for the faint-hearted. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die.
Opposition and loneliness are genuinely part of the Christian life, because that is what Christ experienced. Jesus said to his disciples…
20Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; John 15:20=(NRSVA)=We’re soldiers because of temptation, opposition and loneliness, and…(this is the good news)….
3. Because there’s a crown ahead
The words ringing in everyone’s ears that day, as they watched Jesus emerge from the water, were “with you I am well-pleased”. It is the same phrase in the teaching of Jesus’ parable, when he told about the coming kingdom – well done, good and faithful servant.
Jesus encouraged us all in the words of John the Revelator when he told the persecuted church at Smyrna to be faithful right up until death, and there would be a crown of life waiting .
I was asked a question by a teacher when I was in grade school. The question was: What are you going to do with your life? Now, like any other child, I began to respond in terms of job or career; most of us identify ourselves as that which we do, instead of who we’re called to be. He stopped me dead in my tracks….No…not how you’ll earn a living – what are you going to do with your LIFE?
That question haunted me until I made a decision about servant and soldier. The right decision (according to Scripture) is to serve God. But it’s much more than being baptized; much more than a ceremony. It’s like marriage. People get married at a point in time. The parson says “will you”? The couple says, “Yup”! And that’s it….right? Of course not; that was just the marriage ceremony. The marriage then begins to unfold day-to-day, week-to-week into decades (hopefully).
Marriage is much more than a ceremony on one given day. Marriage is a journey of faithful living, giving and loving. There is thoughtfulness and struggle, anger and joy. If it’s a Biblical marriage there’s servanthood and soldiering. There are times of plenty and times of scarcity.
I don’t think in terms of the fact that I got married; after nearly forty-two years it is today with my bride that Is on my mind – I am married! I am living-out this covenant called marriage.
Marriage is the metaphor Jesus chose to identify the relationship we have as baptized believers. We, the church, are the bride of Christ. And it isn’t so much that we were baptized, it is more that we are baptized.So, like the question my teacher posed, what are you going to do with your baptism? Have you messed it up? You can re-enlist as a soldier, come home as a servant. That’s what altars are for.