Sunday, January 5, 2014
Matthew 3: Jesus as the Proto-Christian
Mt 3:1-5, 11-12, 16-17 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins...
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire”...
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
The heart of the Gospel message that John and later Jesus came to proclaim is not life after death but life before death, namely, life lived in God's Kingdom the moment we repent and confess our sins. This participation in the Kingdom life of "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17) begins the moment a person is baptized with water and the Holy Spirit. When he is baptized, his status changes from a slave of Satan to a son of God. Jesus was the Prototype of how a person becomes a Christian and lives a Christian life.
Jesus was the Proto-Christian who was regenerated ("born again") by the Holy Spirit at the moment of his conception. But He was accepted publicly as a Son when he received the baptism of repentance (water) and baptism of fire (Holy Spirit): "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Though Jesus had no sin to confess, He nevertheless subjected himself to the baptism of John as the Firstborn of the New Human Race, born not just of water but also of Spirit. So, if we want to know what it is like to live the Christian life, we only need to look at Jesus. Firstly, we need to be regenerated (born again of the Spirit). Then we need to be baptized (to repent, turn from Satan's rule to subject ourselves to God's rule). When we have done both, the Holy Spirit will descend upon us and grant us our new status as children of God, crying out to God as "Abba! Father"
If we keep this perspective that Jesus is the Proto-Christian who is a living demonstration to us what a Christian is like, we will learn many precious lessons of true discipleship, which is nothing more than following in His footsteps: "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps." (1 Peter 2:21). The idea that Jesus has lived the Christian life vicariously for us and we now only need to believe but don't have to do anything is inconsistent with biblical witness.
To be a Christian is to be a Disciple, a Follower, for we know that the early disciples were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26). So Jesus says to all who are His Followers/Christians/Disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). The Christian life is a pro-active life, not a passive life. True discipleship is intentional not incidental.
Father, may You guide us as we review our Christian walk in the light of this truth, that Jesus came to earth as a Perfect Model of True Sonship, so that we might follow in his steps. Amen.