January 10, 2016
When Christian author John White was attending medical school, he missed a class’s practicum about venereal disease and had to make it up at the clinic. When he arrived at the clinic, he was told to stand in line with those who’d contracted VD; but he immediately strode to the front and announced, “I need to see the doctor.” “That’s what everybody says,” snorted a dismissive nurse, “now get in line.” “But I’m a medical student,” he protested. “Big deal,” the nurse retorted, “you still got it the same way everyone else did. So you can stand in line just like everybody else is.”
John White writes, “In the end I managed to explain to her why I was there, but I can still feel the sense of shame that made me balk at standing in line with the other men who had a venereal disease. Yet Jesus shunned shame as He was baptized in the Jordan with all those sinners. And the moral gap that separated Him from us was far greater than that separating me from the men at the clinic … But He crossed that gulf, joined our ranks, [and] embraced us …. He identified with those He came to save. He became like us.”
In the act that preceded the start of His three-year ministry, and in fact prepared Him for it, Jesus the Son of God emptied Himself of His glory and identified Himself with us sinners in two ways: in our need of mercy, and in our need of help from outside of ourselves.
In submitting to John’s “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”, Jesus – who never committed a sin – was immersed in (the literal meaning of being “baptized with”) the waters of grace that cleanse sinners of their guilt. At the same time, Jesus – who came to baptize others “with the Holy Spirit” – was Himself baptized with, or immersed in, what He would later call the “living waters”, the life force of the Spirit that all of us broken human beings need desperately.
I don’t pretend to understand all this. The mysteries of the Trinity surpass my capacity to comprehend. But we can live by what we do not fully understand. I do it every time I use a computer or drive my car.
Thus, I can implement what Jesus underwent. I can follow His example, and get my game on in the same way He got His game on. I can seek to immerse my life in the life of the Spirit.
By the Spirit I can be more than myself! By the Spirit I can be energized and made effective for God’s purposes beyond the bounds of my limited ability. By the Spirit I can be useful to God for the achieving of His beautiful and beneficent designs.
For God is like a master glassmith, an artist who creates magnificent things by means of humble things.
A glassmith employs several tools to shape molten glass into masterpieces of both beauty and utility.
The best-known tool is the blowpipe, the tube through which the glassmith breathes air into the liquefied glass to give it the desired size, thickness, configuration and contours.
Another essential tool is what is called the “block”. A block looks like a long, wooden soup ladle. At the end of the handle is a bowl, in the shape of a perfect half- sphere, in which the glassmith smooths the molten material into curves and other shapes.
What, however, is crucial to our concern right now is not so much how the tool works as how it maintains its capacity to work well.
When a glassmith orders a block, it is shipped in a container of water; for the block is meant to spend its entire life immersed in water (except, of course, when it is being used). This keeps the wood from drying out and possibly catching fire while shaping molten glass. It also keeps the wood from cracking, warping and losing its ability to produce smooth and lovely surfaces.
In others words, the block’s staying saturated with water enables it to fulfill the purpose for which it was made.
In the same way, for us to fulfill our purpose, we have to be baptized with, immersed in, saturated with the “living waters” of the Holy Spirit, the life force of God. He makes it possible for us to achieve spiritual things beyond the capabilities of our natural potential.
So how do we become – and stay – baptized with the Holy Spirit?
We practice the spiritual disciplines that those full of the life of God have always practiced. We pray, study scripture, worship with the church, serve the needy, and the like. But more importantly, we do what we do with the right understanding and the right attitude.
First, we face the fact that we are not in ourselves sufficient to make the contribution God is looking to us to make.
Second, we dare to believe that God will gladly condescend to put His very self inside the likes of us, people who are often no more remarkable than a block of wood.
Third, we keep choosing to turn first and foremost, not to our own resources, but to this power beyond us – a power which we can trust more than ourselves and from which we can expect a
whole heaven of a lot more!
I believe that one of the reasons we are here is to help others, who have not yet trusted Jesus, to come to believe in Him and experience His blessings.
I have seen often enough that I don’t have the eloquence or persuasive power to talk someone into giving Jesus a chance, that I don’t have the charisma or telling testimony to convince someone that He is really there for them, and that I don’t have the sensitivity or wisdom to make His teachings pertinent and promising to the point that they will want to open their heart to Him. But I have learned that I can faithfully do the modest things anyone can do – give them my genuine interest and concern, ask questions and really listen, tell my story when invited and tell it plain and simple and true, and give others the patience and grace to come to Him in their own way and in their own time. I can make a small start in a big process that the Spirit must soon take over – and, when that happens, all I have to do is to stand back and watch in wonder as God works a miracle all on His own.
It is never a matter of my planning, preparedness or proficiency. It’s just my priming the pump with little well-intentioned acts of love and then getting out of the Spirit’s way. It’s more trusting than trying, more dependence than diligence, more praying than pressing, more giving over than putting out, more Spirit than me.
For all of us want to serve God, it’s our following the example of Jesus: emptying ourselves and being baptized with water and the Spirit.