Walking Where Jesus Walked ()Rev. Dr. William A. Lewis, March 5, 2017
The church trip to Israel started the day before we left when I went to buy a suitcase. The clerk asked, “Where are you going?” I told him, “Israel.” He said, “You’re going to see the pyramids.” “Close, I’m going to where God came to earth to end the domination of sin on our planet.” He asked, “Do you want a gray or black suitcase?”
We are starting Lent, a season of reflection and prayer, a 40-day retreat in which the Christian follows Christ from His baptism to His cross and resurrection.
Thomas Merton comments that Lent is about searching for the meaning of repentance, a change in thinking. Therefore, the fasting and abstinence we engage in is so our minds may be more receptive to receive the sacred nourishment of God’s Word. So, I want you to read a chapter of the Bible a day. If you miss a day, don’t quit. Just pick up and keep going. Choose a gospel and then add John or another New Testament book.
The goal of self-denial is an inner rending, trading out the sins that dominate our minds and lives, allowing in God’s spring cleaning so the old self is minimized while the new self is cultivated.
Self-denial traditionally defines the season: no chocolate, lattes, or social media. But what if we asked a fresh question? For the next 40 days, how can I be in the world in a new way? How can I be present with the people struggling with anxiety, worry, defensiveness and fear? Let’s go on the spiritual offensive, intentionally bring His attitudes, and leave God’s fingerprints everywhere on everyone.
Instead of spending 40 days contemplating all our sins, let’s make this a season of healing by invigorating the bored drudgery of an indifferent existence with the presence of God, a purpose a power, whether this is our life or someone else’s.
Let’s launch into Lent the way Jesus launched into His ministry by getting baptized in the Jordan River. Baptism is the public statement that we endorse the message. God sent Jesus to wash away our sins and create a forever bond with us.
This raises the question: Why would Jesus get baptized? He is the second person of the trinity. When we were in Bethlehem during our recent trip, we heard the Muslim’s call to prayer they blasted over the loudspeakers in every city, five times a day. Within the call, it states “God has no son.” It’s an attack on Christianity, denying Jesus as the son of God.
However, the scriptures are clear Jesus is God in the flesh. As God, He does not have sin. If baptism is about sinners recognizing their need for forgiveness, why would Jesus do this? John the Baptist asked, “I have need to be baptized by You and You want me to baptize you?” Jesus was baptized in order to identify with us, the people He came to save from sin. He who knew no sin became sin so we might be the righteousness of God. Ultimately, He took upon Himself all our sins.
I decided to baptize our folks in the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized, the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land, and Elijah parted the rivers. Our guide tried to talk us into using a more sanitized location with bathrooms, showers, gift shops and food at the sea of Galilee. She argued, “The water is muddy and there are all kinds of challenging people using the Jordan River: Russians, Ethiopians and Sri Lankans. And, it’s in Muslim territory, not Israel where there are landmines surrounding the area.”
Despite all these arguments, I wanted my people to get baptized where Jesus did. I’ve baptized people in the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean, the Gulf, the Caribbean, the Sea of Galilee, in numerous lakes across the United States, many people’s pools and even hot tubs—I am from California!
But now, it was the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized. Can you imagine the conversation, “Where did you get baptized? In church?” “I got baptized in the Jordan River—just saying.”
Let me share our experience. We had 13 people get baptized, not to mention a number being blessed. As we walked toward the river, a couple of women from Uganda were heading toward the water. I asked if they were getting baptized? They said yes. So as I baptized a couple of our people, I noticed they were standing there watching us. I could tell they didn’t know what to do. They wanted to have a God encounter. They were seeking to connect with Jesus, but didn’t know how. This sounds like so many people in our world today; they want Jesus but don’t know how to access Him as there are so many contrary voices in the world and church. “You must do this and don’t do that.” Anyway, I invited them to get baptized, they joyfully came over, and I baptized them.
Then as I baptized more of our people, I noticed another man enter our space who looked at the water not knowing what to do. I asked him, “Would you like to be baptized?” He didn’t speak my language, but understood the invitation. He furrowed his brow and asked, “Orthodox?” I responded, “Jesus Christ.” He understood my answer; this location was bigger than a particular denomination or belief system. This was not about what divides us, but who unites us.
He also had come to connect with his Lord Jesus, but didn’t know how, so he presented himself to me and I baptized him. The next thing I knew, his wife, children and family members all came forth to be touched by the water and Spirit of Jesus Christ. They were from Romania. I already thought we were an international group because we had America, Denmark, England, and Trinidad represented, but God’s reach spread over four continents to Africa and Asia Minor.
Some others were anointed with a blessing on their forehead, which raises the argument by my Baptist friends that say: If you aren’t dunked, fully submerged, it doesn’t count. When we were in one of the Roman ruins, we found a Byzantine baptismal font where it was obvious people were sprinkled, not immersed.
Once I got into it with a fundamentalist who stated, “Listen you Presbyterians, if you aren’t immersed, it doesn’t count.” I asked, “What about if you were in the water up to your knees?” Nope. “Your waist?” Nothing. “What about up to your shoulders?” He said, “It has to be the top of your head.” I said, “Great, that’s where we Presbyterians go right to!”
When our baptism in the Jordan was all done, I was alone in the water so I decided to baptize myself by spreading my arms and falling back into the water. As I descended into the cold water, it was like I was being wrapped up, encompassed with a warm presence that was so peaceful. I just stayed submerged there a moment to experience the embrace of the Lord.
When Jesus was baptized, something supernatural occurred: the Holy Spirit descended from heaven and rested upon Jesus.
In fact, these were the words I pronounced over everyone I baptized: “May the Spirit that fell upon Jesus when He was baptized here, fall afresh upon you.”
Who is the Holy Spirit? The third person of the Trinity. Jesus said, “It is better I go so that you have the Spirit, the Counselor, who will bring to remembrance all that I have said. When Jesus breathed on the disciples, they received the Holy Spirit, which meant they now were always in the presence of God, not just when Jesus was around.
In Luke 3:15, John says Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Notice in Acts 2, at Pentecost tongues of fire rested over them and they all proclaimed the love of God--internationally. It was the fulfillment of God’s word to Abraham in Genesis 12: “that through your seed all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
It does raise a personal question. Have you received the Holy Spirit? When you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you received His Spirit, because you can’t make that decision without the Holy Spirit moving on you. The Spirit is in you already, but maybe is He dormant?
You know you are filled with the Spirit because you are different within. You live with Jesus in mind, even when you drift into sin, you are immediately convicted. “Whoops, this is the wrong attitude, words, or behavior.” The Spirit’s conviction isn’t to shame or threaten us with punishment, but to remind us of the more excellent way of grace, love and wholeness with God’s presence.
His love is personal. I was at a Presbytery meeting yesterday and when the prayer over the food was offered, the man appointed to ask for God’s blessing started to mumble so we couldn’t hear what he was saying. Someone yelled out, “We can’t hear you.” To which the man replied, “I wasn’t talking to you!” We have a very personal relationship with God that is played out in how we live in the midst of others.
Have you been baptized by Jesus’ Spirit? Or maybe the question is: Are you on fire for anything? Do you have passion for Jesus? Do you seek out His presence and enjoy Him? Do you investigate His Word to see how it applies to your life? Do you have a drive to share His love with those in your life who are not in a relationship with Him? Do you get fired up to answer the objections from those who are keeping the Lord at arms distance? Do you invest your life to see others touched by God? Or pray with power to bring His healing?
There is so much available for you. So much God wants to bring to you and do through you. His very presence is yours to enjoy.
We had a healing occur during our trip. On our way to the Western Wall, someone’s foot popped while walking the cobblestones of Jerusalem. I pulled her aside and said, “I want you to go up to the Western Wall, lay your hands on it, and ask God to heal your foot because you are on a walking tour to connect with Jesus.” Guess what” She had power sweep over her. She said it was as if two warm hands were holding her foot and there was no more pain. In fact, at the end of our pilgrimage I asked, “So, how’s the foot?” She said, “The one God touched is fine, but the other one is hurting!” We walked over 40 miles throughout the trip.
There is a powerful spiritual presence in the Holy Land. God is in the air. My wife and I discussed what if we died while over there. I said, “Just bury me here among all my biblical heroes. She asked, “If I die, will you bury me here, too?” I said, “I can’t take that chance. People are known to rise from the dead here!”
But, let’s get back to the question. Are you under the Holy Spirit’s influence? Many are leery of the Holy Spirit. “II don’t want to be a Pentecostal filled with the Spirit or whatever it is they’re full of…”
Someone on our trip was asked if they were going to get baptized in the Jordan. They responded, “No, I already have enough of the Spirit.” No! There is more of God to be had, more of the Spirit to experience and release to others.
At Jesus’ baptism, God said, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” This is one of the Holy Spirit’s main objectives: to remind you of the Father’s love. Walter Brueggemann shares that Lent is a time of learning how to listen to the voice of promise, hear the true voice of assurance, and notice the voices of unfaith.
I’m sure we are all familiar with the whispers of accusations, guilt and shame because of our failures. When Martin Luther would get attacked with depression and feel horrible about himself, he would look into the mirror and say, “Martin, you are baptized.” This was a reminder that he was covered by what Jesus did on the cross, and that’s why there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
The amazing aspect of connecting to God is when we drag our sins into His presence, we encounter a God full of mercy and forgiveness, with an empowering grace. He is excited to trade out the “yuck” of our lives for abundant life, giving us a vibrant attitude and putting a bounce in our daily steps.
Lent is about releasing God’s love into our lives. We don’t need to be terrified of God as a judge because His perfect love casts out fear. Fear narrows the entrance into His presence, it shrinks our capacity to love, and it freezes the desire to give ourselves to others.
Lent is an opportunity to reaffirm your baptismal vows. We embrace the love of God made available through Jesus Christ His Son, who forgives all our sins and unites us to God at all times!
Let’s spend the next 40 days exploring and activating His love.
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