Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
January 9, 2022
A.W. Tozer, that astute theologian and observer of culture, noted decades ago: “If the Holy Spirit were withdrawn from most churches, 95% of what they do would go on, and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95% of what they did would have stopped, and everyone would’ve known the difference.”
Does Tozer’s sad comment still apply?
John the Baptist brought a demand and a promise. The demand was that we seek to meet the requirements of righteousness; the promise, that the Messiah who comes to seek and save us was soon to arrive.
If all we had from John was his exacting exhortation to moral excellence, the heavy weight of seeking to meet it would crush our spirits and drive us to despair. But, thanks be to God: John’s main message was the coming of this grace-giving, life-elevating Person so much greater than John that John deemed himself unworthy of even untying His sandals.
And why was this Person so much greater than John? Though John could administer a water baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin, the One to come could make it a baptism with “the Holy Spirit and fire”, for the pouring into mere mortals the very life force of God Himself and the burning away of human evil.
It is significant that, of all the ways John might have defined Jesus’ superiority, John defined it first and foremost in terms of His unique capacity to immerse our lives in the higher life of the Spirit, and thereby saturate us with a supernatural power for moral and spiritual development. It is also significant that, while each of the four Gospel-writers described Jesus’ baptism in a unique way, they all quoted John’s distinguishing Jesus’ superiority in terms of the superiority of His baptism.
Jesus’ baptism submerges our life into God’s, that we might be permeated with an inner strength we didn’t have before and start living beyond our humanity.
Being baptized with the Spirit improves us because it infuses us with God’s own energy. Thus, the Spirit’s inhabitation of us is more valuable than any intensity of effort to better ourselves and do more good. For, if we’re immersed in the Spirit, we absorb an empowerment that surpasses human potential and enables us to accomplish God’s purposes in this wayward world.
Being baptized with this supernatural power is so crucial that Jesus modeled it, though He and the Spirit had always lived in one another – just as He modeled being baptized for the forgiveness of sin, though He’d never sinned. If we want to live our best life, we need to follow in His steps and be ourselves baptized in both ways – like Dr. Ben Carson.
Dr. Carson, after successfully separating numerous Siamese twins and refining techniques for that and other complicated surgeries, became known throughout the world as a premiere brain surgeon. What many do not know is that, because of an uncontrollable temper as a child, his career was almost over before it began.
In his book Take the Risk, Carson tells of the day he let God baptize Him with Holy Spirit and get his critical character flaw under control. That day, 14-year-old Ben and his buddy Bob were listening together to a transistor radio, when Bob suddenly leaned over and switched to another station. The first station had been playing a song Ben really liked, so he reached over and flipped it back. Bob then switched stations again. And a rage suddenly exploded inside of Ben; and he, without thought, pulled out his pocketknife, flicked open its blade and stabbed at Bob’s belly. Incredibly, the point of the knife struck Bob’s belt buckle and broke in half.
Bob’s eyes bulged out in terror. In horror over what he’d done, Ben sputtered a quick “I’m sorry” and ran home. He burst through his front door, sprinted to the bathroom, locked himself in it and slumped to the floor in misery and fright. He took a hard look at his anger problem and realized his temper endangered his dream of becoming a doctor.
Ben saw he couldn’t fix it. So, as his only hope, he then and there turned his life over to God’s Spirit, latching on to several scriptures and hoping in the Spirit’s help. In his book, Dr. Carson describes what next happened: “I stopped crying, my hands quit shaking, and I was filled with the assurance that God had answered my prayer. Uncontrollable anger has never again been a threat to me or those around me.” Carson to this day still relies on the Spirit and seeks to stay baptized with that supernatural power.
To stay submerged in the supernatural life of the Spirit, we must stay submitted to the Father’s will and the Spirit’s control. That requires our staying steadfast in the disciplines of the Christian life: praying, reading the word, attending church worship, giving, serving, reaching out to neighbors. Our availing of the Spirit’s superior strength requires our applying our modest strength to keep faithful in these practices. Though our carrying out these practices may be no more impressive than our, say, letting someone dunk us underwater, simple faithfulness puts us in a position to live above and beyond our humanity – that is, immersed in the divine Spirit and lifted up with God’s own life force!