The Five Baptismal Promises
Temple School Lesson: Sunday 13 August 2000
"...the word of God came to John...in the desert. He went into all the country around Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: 'A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation''" (Lk.3:2-6, NIV, cp. Is.40:3-5).
Brethren and sisters, today we shall be looking at the esoteric or hidden meaning behind the well-known Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 40 which exoterically summarises the work of John the Baptist. In it, you will discover some improtant keys for the spiritual life as well as some very clear indicators of your spiritual progression in Christ.
The first thing we must realise is that the baptism being spoken of here is the baptism of John, or baptism of repentance, and not the Messianic baptism of the apostles which has a double content, namely, John's baptism of repentance as well as baptism into the atonement of Christ.
What do we mean by a baptism of repentance? We mean by it a change of heart which includes sorrow for wrong-doing (sin) and a dermination to lead a pure and holy life. This change of heart - this determination to be holy - will, if based on trusting the blood of the Messiah, lead to the actual forgiveness of sins. The result of this is a spiritual rebirth and an awakening of the Christ-like nature in man which is otherwise asleep in carnality. This Christ-like nature is, prior to the spiritual rebirth, like a voice crying out in the wilderness - the spiritually lifeless desert of our own souls which is the result of being centred in the flesh. John the Baptist is, in this prophecy, a type of the Spirit of Christ crying out from the flesh nature to be heard. That voice, which comes from the deepest part of our soul, is an invitation to come out of the desert of sin and into a luxuriant spiritual life, where mind, heart and body enter into a new dimension of joy. How this happens we shall now see.
This remarkable prophecy of Isaiah contains a spiritual plan - a map, if you like - of the road of Christian discipleship. It begins, as we have seen, by the voice of the Master being heard. It is our call from God to prepare for rebirth. In the same way that John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ, spiritually preparing the way for His ministry, so the Light of Christ within us is preparing the way for us, who hitherto have been cut off because of sin, to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father. In ancient times, the roads a king travelled would have to be improved before he could actually make a journey on them. John's ministry was to make spiritual and moral preparation for the ministry of Christ by teaching repentance and forgiveness of sin through the coming Saviour.
Of what does this spiritual journey consist? Isaiah tells us. It consists of (1) filling in valleys, (2) lowering mountains and hills, (3) straightening crooked paths, and (4) smoothing out rough paths. The result, (5) is that we shall see Yahweh's salvation.
You will know, by now, that nothing Yahweh says through His prophets is accidental. What we are reading in this prophecy is not flowery poetry, though poetic it most certainly is, and it is certainly not padding. The concepts all have meaning. To see God's salvation involves filling in valleys, loweing mountains and hills, straightening crooked roads, and smoothing out rough spots. We are, in short, looking at a manual for spiritual perfection - a guide to discipleship. The result, after all the roadworks have been completed, is a smooth and pleasant journey to heaven.
It is not my purpose today to give a long discourse about baptism which I have done many times before, for the elements of death and resurrection, which baptism symbolises, are well known to you. Rather, I want to look at an aspect of baptism which you may not have previously considered. To do that, I want to ask the question: why was the element of water used to represent rebirth? Why not depict the death of the carnal man and his resurrection in Christ by, say, symbolically putting a man in a coffin and then bringing him out again as many of the occultists do? Why immerse him in water? What, from a biblical point-of-view does water symbolise?
To do this, we must temporarily abandon some of the modern translations of the Bible which do alot of "interpreting" and use a translation which is a literal rendition of the Hebrew text. The first passage is this: "Save me, O God, for the waters are come into my soul" (Ps.69:1, KJV). Modern versions like the New International Version obscure this by saying, "Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck" (Ibid., NIV). Yet the Hebrew word is nephesh, meaning "soul", not "neck". Having establised the correct translation, we can then ask ourselves: what did King David mean when he said that "the waters are come into my soul"? What did he mean by "waters"? The King is not speaking literally, as the rest of the Psalm shows, but is describing his spiritual state, which is one of being desperate over his situation. The "waters" are something that have flooded into his being because of desperation, and they are quite clearly strong emotions. He goes onto to say: "I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help..." (vv.2-3, NIV) Or as the KJV puts it, "..the floods overflow me." He has been overwhelmed by feelings caused by his desperate plight.
One of the things water symbolically represents is therefore emotions or feelings. When the waters are deep, like a flood, the emotions or feelings are intense, perhaps out of control, as when one is depressed or desperate.With this particular key we are unable to unlock many scriptural passages, at least on one level. Thus when Isaiah says, "Thou makest a path through the mighty waters" (Is.43:16, KJV) we understand that the prophet is not only talking about the literal deliverance of Israel through the Red Sea but we can understand that Yahweh is able to cut through our emotional turbulence as, when for example, trouble confronts us, bringing us peace and confidence. Thus we have seen two scriptures where troubled feelings are indicated and how the Almighty God is able create a path of peace straight through disturbed emotions.
Water also has a positive meaning when referring to the emotions for the purpose of the Gospel life is not to eliminate the emotions as in Buddhism and other occult traditions but to purify and enhance them. We see the positive aspects of redeemed feelings in Job's discourse but, as in our first passage in the Psalms, we must go to a literal translation to get the true meaning. First, let us see how the New International Version obscures the passage when it says: "My roots will reach to the water, and the dew will lie all night on my branches" (Job 29:19, NIV) when in fact Job said: "My root was spread out by the waters, and the dew lay all night upon my branch" (Ibid., KJV). The difference is one of tense for here Job is telling us because the Lord Yahweh was with him, he was nourished by pleasant feelings, expressed in two different ways as water deep in the ground of his subconscious which was always plentiful and nourishing, and dew by night upon his branch, so that when he awoke each morning from night sleep there were sweet and gentle feelings of peace and contentment.
Finallally, let us examine an even more dramatic passage where Yahweh manifests Himself in a spectacular way thus: "His voice was like the sound of many waters" (Ezek.43:2, KJV). Here we see that the voice of God is like many waters, that is, many emotions which work together as a harmonious whole. The voice of God is both powerful and gentle at the same time, as those of us who have experienced this will tell you. It is like an orchestra of sound where all that has to do with feelings and emotions are manfiested in their wholeness and completeness.
Thus in these four passages of scriptures we see how man in his own strength is a deep current of uncontrollable emotions from which fear, depression and other negative emotions emerge to trouble him. We see how the power of Yahweh can cut a highway straight through these troubled waters to anoint him with peaceable and sweet feelings which, as the disciple matures, converge and harmonise in the wholeness which is Yahweh's own Voice.
Baptism is, of course, about the purification of the whole soul and concerns more than just feelings. Redemption comes in our thoughts and feelings, and, ultimately, in our physical body in the resurrection, though the physical body may be purified in mortality also. Thus purificatiion by the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), having fully worked upon a soul, leads to the mind and heart of Christ, and to the perfection to which the Messiah has called us (Mt.5:48) where everything is in balance with the Spirit of Christ at the centre of all.
Now the reason I have chosen to look at the question of the emotions today is because this issue remains largely unsolved by the churches. In the charismatic movement, for example, the churches are trying to perpetuate the first born-again experience, the emotional high of coming to know that our sins are forgiven in Christ, without realising that a maturation process must take place thereafter. At the beginning of our spiritual journey there is often a deep stirring of the emotions - horror at the reality of sin followed by deep gratitude for the realisation that Christ has cleaned the problem all up for us. This is the beginning of our emotional journey, not its end as so many Pentecostals and others imagine. Worse are those Christians who have had no emotional stirrings at all, who seem to coast along in a sort of passive emotional faith, who have most likely never even begun their emotional journey, whose hearts remain as dry as the summer's dust. Around such emotional manifestations, or lack of, denominations have crystalised and wrecked their havoc, stiffling the Christian newborn, binding him to his cradle. We are, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, supposed to move on from the first or elementary principles of the Gospel (Heb.5:12) and advance to the fullness (Eph.3:19; 4:13). These crude, babyish, innocent, milky feelings of delight at a new-found deliverance and relationship with Deity must be transformed into celestial music, into rhythm and harmony. Instead of the harsh, strident and sometimes foolish noises we hear in the charismatic churches, it must become the beautiful accompaniment for other greater spiritual qualities that come into being as a result of a deeper communion with the Most High, which is itself the result of deeper committment to Christ, greater obedience to the commandments, and self-sacrifice to the saints and the Kingdom. There must be an advancement in the emotions, just as the human body itself naturally advances and unfolds from being a child to being an adult. Our childish noises must cease and we must grow up in the Lord, for as Paul said: "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me" (1 Cor.13:11, NIV). The vast majority of Christianity is either still in the crib or completely dead and fossilised.
Now I am sure you have met emotionally underdevelopped adults at some time in your life and perhaps even been embarrassed by their behaviour. They are very ego-centric, always trying to get attention, and often have great emotional outbursts when they are criticised, either crying or losing their temper. They fail to think deeply about issues, preferring to ride on the crest of the waves of their immature feelings. I knew one man, a Christian, who sincerely believed that we, as children of God, should always behave like innocent babies, exhibiting the kind of dependency such have on their parents towards our Heavenly Father. I disagreed strongly with him for everywhere in the scriptures there is a divine mandate to "go on to maturity" (Heb.6:1, NIV). To stunt one's spiritual growth in anyway by, for example, behaving like a baby and getting stuck in a spiritual rut, is a serious sin. The writer of Hebrews said: "Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted about the teaching of righteousness" (Heb.5:13. NIV). Mark that well - the spiritual infant cannot properly distinguish between right and wrong, between righteousness and sin. He goes on: "But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use, have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil" (Heb.5:14, NIV). The reason why the charismatic and many other churches are so full of false doctrine and practice is that they are controlled by a spirit which will not allow them to mature. And so, remaining as spiritual infants, they are unable to discern between truth and error and are at the mercy of their leaders who, in many instances, are demonised. Try to show the people some spiritual depth, and they will recoil like a small baby being offered a meat stake when all it can manage is soft fruit purée.
It is a sad fact that charismatic Christianity is emotionally immature and spiritually strangulated. Their doctrine is often so watery that it has no nouishment left at all. Accordingly, they feed off their impure and raw emotions which they mistakenly call the "spirit" or the "baptism of fire".
The emotions, just like the mind, need to be trained. You can no more expect the heart to teach itself than you can train the mind of a child without proper schooling. As the mind must be taught to think logicaly and rationally, so the heart must be trained to distinguish between the different types of emotion and to deal with them. This is what, on one level, Isaiah's prophecy teaches us. The Gospel is not just about the proposition that Christ died for our sins and we must trust in Him for our salvation by accepting Him as Lord and Saviour, vitally important and indispensible though this is, but about going into the inner truth concerning spiritual truths. We must understand, first, who we are and, second, what it is Christ wishes us to become. We must therefore deal not only with our thoughts but also our emotional side, remembering that Satan is well able to currupt both and lead us off the path to eternal life. It is not enough to say, "My mind is straight" if my heart is in a mess, because the heart will, by the by, corrupt the mind also. They are inextricably link. This also applies to the impulses of our physical bodies too, though this is again another subject, remembering that we are treated as a whole being - mind, heart and body, which the Bible calls the "soul".
And so we must face this side of us, the side which consists of intense feelings. We must absolutely not suppress them or try to silence them as the oriental religions attempt, but to allow them to be expressed down and through the channels which God has ordained, by which they are refined and purified into the harmonies of the "many waters" that Ezekiel and other prophets have heard. Our feelings represent the depth of sorrow and the height of joy, and everything else inbetween, the good and the bad, the upbuilding and the destructive. Our emotions tell us whether we are spiritually at rest and in harmony or whether we are deeply troubled and afflicted within. And if the latter, it is a red flag telling us that some very real healing is needed.
Baptism, then, is a symbolic representation of the rebirth of the whole soul, including our fickle emotions. When we are truly, spiritually baptised - when we have received the genuine "baptism of fire" (Mt.3.11), there will be a complete cleansing of the emotional forces within. It will signal the end of all destructive feelings and clear the way for the soul to hear the voice of Yahweh, which is as the "sound of many waters", of feelings and thoughts blended together in perfect harmony on every plane of mind and heart.
The frantic joy that consumes the new convert upon an awareness of the forgiveness of sin through trusting in Yah'shua haMashiach (Jesus Christ) is the spiritual child's first encounter with the harmony of those "many waters". Some people, who have been raised in loving and Spirit-filled homes, may know this spiritual contact from the beginning, and so the step of committment to Christ may not be as emotionally dramatic as with the soul who has lived in the deepest of darkness. It is only natural that there should be a major emotional release when someone passes from despair into joy - the contrast is simply so great. And that is as it should be. We should never, never frown on such emotional release, but should encourage it provided it is understood that there is a maturation process that must follow. Beware, though, that "maturation" is not used as a substitute for spiritual deadness, for there are, sadly, many of those who are spiritual fossils who believe that they are simply "mature" and therefore "beyond" emotions, though they invariably retain all the negative emotions of grumpiness, dullness, irritability, intolerance, and all that we associate with those who are, in truth, dead. A mature person is a feeling person, and deeply so, but he is not tossed to and fro like a cork bobbing on the sea of constant emotional change and instability. As Paul warns us in his own words, speaking about the necessity of, and reason for, mature leadership in the Church, "until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming" (Eph.4:13-14, NIV). This is an important warning, covering as it does both the feelings (waves) and the thoughts (wind). The mature person is calm mentally and emotionally, he is not tossed back and forth; he has drunk the milk of the Gospel and is now eating its meat (Heb.5:14).
The mature know that to hear God a soul must be still, not hopping up and down shouting and yelling. He knows that to hear Yahweh's voice his feelings must be whole and pure, and that he must meditate on the Word in quietness. Revival meetings are good and necessary to bring sinners to repentance, but they are not enough when it comes to spiritual maturity. Soup is good for someone who has been on a starvation diet for a long time, but give such a person meat and he will get very ill, maybe even die. But once he has adapted to the soup, so he must move on to the meat, else he will starve. Water may quench the thirst but it is not enough to nourish the body. The primacy of feelings, upon which small children build up their world, must give way to things more solid. There is a time when we must pass beyond the mental processes and get to the more substantial things of the Gospel - that which is down-to-earth and practical. To minister and partake of the whole Gospel of Christ you must convert the mind, train it up to think as Yahweh thinks, convert the heart and get the feelings in order, and finally you must get that lazy thing called the body into action, convert it from impurity to purity, and galvanise it into tangible Kingdom-building.
The New Testament and Sub-Apostolic Church used to teach new converts the seven gifts of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) as the seven great and desirable qualities to be cultivated. At the same time, it taught that the seven deadly sins had to be expunged from the body. As in the New Covenant Church of God, which has been doing these things from its very inception, very definite training was given concerning the emotions and their transformation from what is low and base, and very little removed from animal instinct, into what is great and lofty and part of the spiritual man in Christ. It was not enough to pray, sing and preach this transformation - there was a definite program of instruction, covenant-taking and spiritual endowment. Emotions which are upbuilding must be selected and cultivated, just as the thought life must be seriously controlled as Yah'shua (Jesus) taught, for we are to be judged by these things. Such a program was not, of course, something that was just done in the classroom, but in daily life situations as well. The early Church had a dynamic, a ministry of discipleship that reached not only into physical activities but into the thought and feeling life as well.
Let us take, for example, the sin of anger. Whilst there is indeed something called "righteous anger" which is born out of purity outraged by sin, there is altogether far too much unrighteous anger, known as pugnacity, or the carnal instinct to "fight back" if we are criticised or affronted. Unregulated emotions are, as most of us know, unhealthy not only for social relations but also for the physical welfare of our bodies, and can often be the greatest and swiftest destroying factors in life. There is much about this subject in the Proverbs and generally throughout the Bible. So serious a matter is it that Yah'shua (Jesus) says that if a Christian is angry with his brother without a good cause that he is possessed of the spirit of murder (Mt.5:22). In short, he is under demonic control. Paul warns: "..rid yourselves of... anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language" (Col.3:8, NIV) and strictly admonishes the saints to nip anger in the bud: "Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry" (Eph.4:26). The scriptures that talk of uncontrolled emotions are legion so obviously God expects something concrete to be done about them. It is quite clear that emotional problems are not always automatically solved when a person is born again (though sometimes there are certainly dramatic changes) but that there must be a program of vigilence armed by understanding of human nature and what the requirements of holiness are, with covenants on which to build a sure foundation of spirituality.
Negative emotions not only harm others but harm us. They can, if habitual and there is resistance to repentance, open doors to demonic harrassment. They cause the body to make the wrong hormonal secretions which leads to sickness, with mental and emotional disorientation. Having emotional control is, therefore, ultimately for our own benefit. Righteous indignation, of which Yah'shua's (Jesus') overturning the tables of the money-lenders is one example, should not be happening too often.
The Bible is full of stories of men and women sublimating their emotions through the power of Yahweh. Look at Jacob, who was at first highly materialistic and deceitful, but who was transformed after a long and hard spiritual struggle and was rewarded with the new name, Israel, to indicate his overcoming. Or David, the adulterer and murderer who, through long repentance (for his sins were dark indeed), finally perfected himself through obedience to Yahweh. We all have negative emotions which we are often ashamed of, and which we naturally wish to conceal. The point is that God accepts us as we are, for He has a program in mind by which these negative, destructive and evil dispositions, which we have inherited from Adam and which we have cultivated by our own rebelliousness, will become transformed into something beautiful. And as the impulses and their emotional manifestations are cleaned out by the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) by our yielding in humble obedience to His laws, so these feelings will begin to vibrate with the glory of the Shekinah - the presence of God - which fills them. But if we do nothing about these dispositions to evil, we shall, by the by, be overwhelmed and drowned out by them, as David often felt in the earliest days of his struggles with sin. The negative emotions are very watery, very overpowering, and when we yield to them, we are at once filled with the lust for different combinations of excitement, noise, rapid movement, violence, sexual perversion, and the like. In our modern world all of these are remourselessly catered for in films, videos, steamy novels and magazines, and fast-moving computer-games. One by one we have seen the protective moral walls crumble as indiscriminate sex is encouraged, the family is scorned, authority is despised, and the need for religion explained away as a mere psychological escape route for superstitious and unbalaced people. It is bitterly ironic. For those who critcise the values they most need are invariably the most unstable, as is reflected in their casual relationships that lack depth and committment, in their dishonesty and absorption with self. When they are angry, as they often are when confronetd with the painful truth, they invariably lose their reason, and may even boast about their ungovernable temper, as though it were in som way a virtue. In promiscuous love-making, they are overcome by their feelings to such an extent that they are not able to logically think through the consequences of what they is doing, or of the harm they may be doing to their partners, let alone themselves. In sickness they whine and cry. They lack balance completely and until they gain it they are quite useless to anyone. And when such people come to Christ they are a destructive force in the Church until they have been properly taught and have made committments to deal with their problems. And as more such people enter the Church unhealed and improperly discipled, so the nature of the Church itself - which is an assembly of believers - is changed into something that more resembles the world than the Kingdom of Heaven. By this means the greater part of Christendom has been destroyed. Sin was not checked, and sinners, unchecked, soon exerted pressure to have their sins accepted, as in the case of homosexuality. The Word of God became twisted, the Spirit of God departed, and now we have churches that belong to Satan, not God.
To deal with this problem several things are needed. First, a biblically sound course of instruction. Second, covenant making - a committment to deal with the problems involved, to be reviewed regularly. And third, deliverance ministry, to unseat demonic oppression and close the doors to further harrassment by evil spirits. All of these do, of course, require 100% committment to Christ, to the infallible truths of all the Bible, and to the Biblically-based program itself. Nominal Christians, those who believe in non-biblical teachings and practices, or who don't like coming under authority, don't stand a chance. They must be willing to die to all untruth, and to make very real sacrifices. And they must also be patient with themselves when things don't go quite the way they expect at first.
The word "sin" means to "miss the mark" or "target". Repentance, after the intitial remorse felt for wrong-doing and any restitution made to those wronged has been effected, means to "change direction". In the early days of confronting and dealing with negative emotions and their causes, it is improtant to rechannel one's energies in edifying things. One of the simplest is to simply throw yourself into serving others. Thinking about problems too much can have the reverse of the desired effrect - we need to expend our emotions on things more worthy. Different people will react in different ways. Some may find themselves irresistebly drawn to missionary work and revival meetings, others to music and poetry, and others to simply being with whole Christians. Some find release in helping the poor or in remedying the evils of the world like abortion, for example. There may be many different outlets simultaneously. As a person engages in righteous endeavour, the Spirit is working in him, slowly cleaning him out. Pretty soon such souls are ready for concrete service requiring constancy and commitment and this may be a good time to start training them to become deacons or deaconesses. The spiritual awakening that occurs in people with emotional problems can occur in all sorts of unexpected ways and thus it behoves the spiritually mature to be senstive to what the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) is doing in their lives and how this new-found energy can be best channelled for the benefit of both the individual and the Church. As the Spirit works on an individual, there is a thirst for understanding and knowledge. Such people should at once be taught. Their minds, without them even knowing it, become more organised, and their feelings, which they supposed were in chaos, likewise begin to take on the semblance of order and harmony. Focusing on the positive is by far the best way if dealing with the negative. In time, poise and balance are attained, and as a result more responsible callings are needed for them. Their creativity must always be encouraged and supported for it is the power of God working in them for the benefit of everyone. The taught slowly becomes a teacher and must be released and empowered to help and bless those struggling with similar things, for mutual support and encouragement. This then becomes the dynamic of the local congregation and fellowship, a community of saved souls working through their problems bearing one anothers' burdens.
Now this sounds all very wonderful to be sure. In reality, churches are full of people who are either dead or half dead, or too immature to be anything more than caterpillars feeding off the more mature, and the pastors encourage that kind of dependency because it gives them more power and control. Such is the heineous sin of Priestcraft which afflicts not a few denominations. By it, the saved become slaves. And so the newly saved find themselves burdened in ways which retard and may even destroy their spiritual growth, and may even find themselves criticised when they do not fall into line with their church's moribund ways. Without knowing it they may find themselves in a cult and the best thing for them to do is just get out. It is one thing to bind the infant to the cradle but it's quite another to kill him as well.
Let us return to the prophecy of Isaiah 40 with which we started this meeting, and which John the Baptist cited. It contains four important lessons that the newly born souls needs to learn, which lead, finally, to a full and complete salvation. To learn them we must repent, that is, change direction. Our target or goal must change and the also means to attain them. To become a Christian is to become a revolutionary. To become a Christian is to expect a complete reorientation of thoughts, feelings and behaviour. It consists of a revolution in the soul - a revolt from sin and death, and the ways we have habitually come to walk in that that lead to our personal destruction. John the Baptist, the prophet who first announced repentance for the New Covenant dispensation, has a name which means "gift". This personal revolution can't be accomplished in our own strength but requires the gift of God, Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) who, whilst being a resurrected Personage in time and space, is also a spiritual capacity and resourse within man himself that is activated upon profession of true faith that leads to righteous obedience. Thus this power is both external to man as well as within him. It is called many things including the Light of Christ, a portion of which every man receives who is born into the world (Jn.1:3-9, KJV), and which is also his true moral nature. At the heart of the Light of Christ or divine moral nature is the impulse which leads a man who seeks after it to cultivate the Four Cardinal Virtues of Justice, Prudence, Temperance and Fortitude. Until these are built into the character, the spiritual man cannot work properly. In other words, man's emotional nature has to be curbed sufficiently in order that he may never be unjust because he is angry. He has to learn prudence, which means he must learn not to act rashly and impulsively but be discrete. He must be temperate in everything, including that which is lawful, by not going to excess, by exhibiting self-retraint and controlling his lower appetites. And finally, he must show fortitude, which means he must learn to be courageous, strong, determined, and constant. If we have not learned these things then we still need the baptism of John and what it represents!
Now John, in quoting Isaiah 40, makes four promises to baptismal candidates who truly trust in Christ with all the minds, hearts and souls. They are vital to know and remember.
(1) The first promise is that "every valley shall be filled in". What this means esoterically is that if we are lacking in any necessary quality, the gift of God, which is Yah'shua (Jesus), supplies it. A soul entering the waters of baptism must therefore get rid of any feeling that he lacks anything, for Yahweh has promised to us that He will supply us with everything we need, whether physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. In short, he is giving us the complete kit of salvation. The package deal lacks in nothing. All the valleys and pot-holes in your life will be filled in.
(2) Secondly, the Lord promises that "every mountain and hill shall be made low". If there is anything in our nature which is wrong, it will be removed like a wart off our body. The mountains and hills, which are obstacles for us, are going to eventually disappear. He is going to change our character into His own image. Our sinful habits, like spots and blemishes on our skin, will disappear as we live our lives in Yah'shua (Jesus).
(3) Thirdly, Yahweh promises that "the crooked roads shall become straight". Everything that takes us away from Christ, from our duty, from the path of perfection, from salvation, will be straightened out. And when they are, there won't be any "surprises" around the corner because we'll be able to see ahead clearly. This will enable us to walk the path of discipleship with courage and enthusiasm.
(4) And finally, he says that "the rough ways shall become smooth" and we shall become as a polished stone after the rough edges have been knocked off. The journey will become easier and easier.
Now one could say alot more about these four promises but in this brief introductory lesson I must keep the principles simple enough for you to see the whole picture. To conclude we come to:
(5) The last promise, which is the fruit of the other four, namely, that we have arrived at the mystical or spiritual baptism of which physical salvation is a type: "all flesh shall see the salvation of God" (KJV). As we know, the Name Yah'shua (Jesus) literally means "salvation", or to be accurate, "Yah(weh) saves". When the valleys of incompleteness are filled, when the mountains of our character defects are laid low, when crooked paths of deviant behaviour are made straight, and when the rough patches of our unpolished personalities are finally smoothed out, then we may say that we have been saved in the complete sense. Having said this, let us not confuse jurisdictional or "legal" salvation with the actual spiritual process of salvation which is also known as sanctification: we are not saying that a person is not "saved" until he is perfect, for salvation is both an event (the moment we first start trusting in Yah'shua (Jesus) as our Lord and Saviour) and a process (the perfection of sanctification). So long as we are in the process, we are delivered from the claims of hell, and have the security we are going to heaven should our life be shortened before we have attained that perfection. In life we are on one or other of two roads: the one leading to heaven, and the other leading to hell. The important thing is getting on the right road, but the next important thing, once we're on the road to heaven, that we get walking. And that is what this lesson is all about.
The issue is not so much whether we are saved as to whether we have "seen" the salvation of God. Yah'shua makes many promises in the Beattitudes, one of which is: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Mt.5:8, NIV). The heart, to the Hebrew, is both the emotions and the thoughts of the mind, as well as the will. Once we have a pure mind and heart, and our will is to do the will of Yahweh always, we shall see God. Once we have been literally baptised within, we shall see the salvation of God.
We see, then, that baptism is a cleansing of all aspects of the soul. Not only are we cleansed jurisdictionally of sin so that we may commune with the Father through the Son, but we enter a process of inward cleansing of mind, heart and body. A very clear sign of salvation is clean thoughts and speech, pure and wholesome emotions and temprement, and wholesome physical habits. Salvation concerns the whole man - that is why the whole man is immersed in water. Repentance - the changing direction of our lives - leads to cleansing of the soul. It can't be avoided. If you change direction in your thinking process, cutting out impure thoughts, your speech will automatically be changed also and people will clearly see that your mind has been baptised into Christ. Sinning is not just breaking the Ten Commandments - it isn't just committing murder, stealing, or using profane language - sinning is "missing the mark", heading in the wrong direction. I may be obeying all the Ten Commandments and yet still be sinning. So what is the "mark" we should be heading towards? Simply, as Paul says: "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ (Yah'shua haMashiach)" (Phil.3:14, KJV). The "mark" is what Yahweh wants us to do through the power of Yah'shua (Jesus) - our calling - our mission. We are not just called to be saved by trusting in the Messiah but to perform a specific task for God. We are not to be idle believers - we have a destiny in this world and in the next.
Now we could say alot about this mark - this target we are heading for. The Gospel was not given just so we could live moral lives. Our whole lives have to change. Not just our temprement and our habits, but our whole raison d'être. When we are in Christ it is not enough for a secretary or a bus driver to say: "OK, now I am to become a good, pure and clean secretary or bus driver." There is much more. We are not just to become better husbands or wives, better mothers or fathers, better sons or daughters. We are being called to do and be something we have never done or been before. Our calling to be a good employer or employee becomes refined and purified, our calling to be spouses and parents or children becomes elevated, but we are also called to have an entriely new vocation which is even more important than any of these. We are to become sons and daughters of Almighty God Himself. We are to become like Christ in everything (1 Jn.3:2). Now Christ was a carpenter, and I suppose He was a pretty diligent and honourable one. But when he turned 30 he also became a preacher of the Gospel and became the Saviour of men on the cross. Although not all of us are called to be full-time preachers, every one of us is called to be a full-time witness. We are all missionaries. And just as Yah'shua (Jesus) was, and is, the Saviour of mankind, delivering sinful men and women from their sins, so we also are called to be "saviours on mount Zion", even as it is written: "And saviours (deliverers - NIV) shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; andf the kingdom shall be the Lord's" (Obad.1:21, KJV).
Now this is not a very well known passage of scripture. What it means is that all those who are called to be sons and daughters of God are called one day to be rulers of this world during the Millennium and thereafter. Mt. Zion is the Kingdom of Heaven, Mt. Esau is the kingdoms or nations of this world (cp. Rev.11:15). Every believer is in training for a position of responsibility in the Kingdom of Christ and is to become as a "royal priest" or priestess (1 Pet.2:9). Every Christian who has committed Himself unreservedly to the Kingdom is preparing for a very demanding rôle as a judge. Not all will make it, of course, for many are called but few are chosen (Mt.22:14); nevertheless, everyone who names the Name of Yah'shua (Jesus) is called to train as a public servant in the Kingdom of Yahweh on earth. And he (or she) will get his (or her) initial training in the local congregation as a Deacon (or Deaconess) or an Elder (or Elress), or in the wider field as an Evangelist or Apostle.
No, to be baptised is to acknowledge the beginning of an entirely new life and the end of the old one. Employers and employees cease being such and suddenly become employers and employees of Christ even though they may have earthly masters or bosses; husbands and wives cease beings husbands and wives and begin anew as the Bride of Christ even though they continue as husbands and wives. And so on. The baptised man or woman changes ownership - previously he belonged to himself, and therefore to Satan and hell, but now he belongs to Christ and to heaven. His thoughts and his feelings will reflect that change, as well as his deeds.
Every man makes ideals for himself. Every man is a seeker after truth but he knows, unless he is very bigoted, that he has not obtained the whole truth even though he knows where it is to be found, viz. in the Person of Christ. Hence he has not attained his mark, and thus he must engage in a life long quest for it. We are all sinners even though jurisdictionally, because of Christ, we are without sin as far as the Father is concerned.
And yet, what do we find? We find Christians arrogantly saying: "I am saved! I am fully sanctified!I am in the throne room of God! I have reached my mark because Christ has done it all for me." But in saying this he has gone far wide of the mark. Yes, Christ has jurisdictionally saved us - we need no longer fear death or Hades should we suddenly die - a heavenly home awaits us. But that does not been we have been perfected, otherwise Yah'shua (Jesus) would never have commanded His disciples to be perfect! It does not mean that we have hit our mark - it does not mean we have overcome the carnal nature. Salvation is a free gift to be sure, but the gift has to be appropriated and used.
This page was created on 5 February 2001
Last updated on 5 February 2001
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