“I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” – Luke 12:50
These words were spoken early in the Lord’s ministry. They express the purpose of His coming into the world. Baptism with water represents the cleansing of the outward life, applying the “water of life,” the teachings of the Lord’s Word, to the child as he grows to keep his heart and character free from what can defile, as water keeps the body clean. If this is done, the way is prepared and the path made straight for the entrance of the Lord into the soul, keeping evil away.
The text expresses the fact that there is disagreement between the internal and the external man, and that therefore there must be temptation combats before the disagreement can be removed and internal peace restored.
The verse preceding and the verse following the text read, “I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?” and “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division.”
It is of this conflict between the internal and the external man that our text teaches. We seek to make our outer lives appear well before people’s eyes – we teach our children to observe the outward forms of courtesy and honest behavior – but the real task is to instill into the heart right principles, that when the children grow up, they may live and speak the truth from a spirit of charity.
Our Lord said that He had a baptism to be baptized with and that He was straitened until it should be accomplished. The Greek word translated “straitened” means “distressed.” That is, He must apply the truths of the Divine life to His natural life and character until everything imperfect was put out and the natural tendencies of the human He had assumed from Mary were completely cleansed of everything that was opposed to the Divine within This is what “straitened” Him or brought to Him the pain of labor and effort.
If we should prepare a garden and plant good seeds and then let it alone through the summer, we should expect in the fall to gather a much larger crop of weeds than of fruits. The garden would “go wild.” So children sometimes go wild when they are merely taught what is right but are not carefully supervised and cared for because this takes so much time, sacrifice, and effort, and it “straitens” us to give the required attention.
The baptism with water is very important but it is only the beginning. We must be in the constant effort to keep our outward life in order, to compel ourselves to be obedient to what is right, and – what is more important – to exercise self-control and self-sacrifice, and cleanse the mind of wrong thoughts and motives, making the inward character clean. It is only after a struggle with our selfish tendencies that the truths of faith come to be our rules of life. Of course it “straitens” us and is a painful effort until it is accomplished, but this is what prepares the way of the Lord and makes the path of His entrance to our hearts straight, and in the end brings the peace of the true life.
In the Holy Supper the elements used are bread and wine. Bread represents goodness and wine is the symbol of spiritual truth. Partaking of them represents the reception of goodness and truth from the Lord. What is the real substance of the Lord’s life as it is revealed to us in His Word? It is the inward quality of the Divine love that is within it. And the truths of the Word are the only truths that contain and reveal that love.
It is strange that men should be willing to recognize that it requires much labor and time to understand the principles of any art or science, together with much practice, yet should believe that all the principles of revealed religion must be understood at a glance, and that no patience or experience is at all necessary. The world today is passing through conflicts. The text may seem remote from the difficulties which the world is facing. Yet it is the motives of men which determine the final result. Learning and science may be developed to the highest degree but if the motives are wrong, the consequences will be hurtful.
The Lord came not to destroy men but to save them. In the book of Revelation is the story of the two witnesses who were slain and whose bodies lay in the street of Sodom. It was prophesied that they would rise again. We are told that these two witnesses are the two great commandments, love to the Lord and love to the neighbor. These represent the truths which govern all happy and successful life. The Lord came to establish these laws in the hearts of men. They seemed – and still seem to many – to give little promise of bringing happiness, to be “straitening,” and they are often subject to ridicule, exposed on the streets of public opinion and trampled underfoot. But we are assured that these truths will rise again in more than their former power.
Some of the Lord’s teachings seemed to the Apostles hard and condemnatory. When we first learn the truth, it often seems to condemn us. It is the instrument of judgment. But it condemns only those who oppose it. It is not the Lord’s will that His truth should condemn anyone. Truth as it proceeds from Him is united with His love, and always goes forth from Him on a mission of love for the purpose of saving men from their afflictions. This truth in the Lord is the Word made flesh, bringing to the eyes of men the Divine purpose – to make clear the eternal truth, that men might see it in Him and be saved.
Yet the life that the Lord came to save is not physical life. It is true that evils destroy men before their time. Wars, for example, cause the death of many who are young in years. But Jesus said, “Fear not them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.” Mere continuation of life is not the major concern. The Lord has in view more than survival, namely, regeneration, the overcoming of evil, the kind of character that will make immortality enjoyable. We are indeed interested in survival, but we should be much more interested in the character of the man who survives.
When the mother of James and John came to the Lord and asked that it be granted to her sons to sit at His right hand and at His left in the kingdom of heaven, the Lord replied, “Ye know not what ye ask, Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” The Lord’s cup and baptism are inward and outward temptation, James and John replied, “We are able.” It is only those who overcome in these temptations that the Lord can grant to sit down with Him in His throne, as He also overcame, and is set down with the Father in His throne.
We do not become regenerate in a moment. We begin by learning the truth, being convinced of it, and little by little working it out in our lives. We cannot begin at the end or in the middle or anywhere at random.
John’s message was a call to repentance. We should examine our thoughts and motives. We are very much blinded if we can detect nothing in ourselves that should be improved and see no wrong desires which we should be better without. We must come to realize and be convinced that of ourselves we are neither wise nor good, and that whatever of wisdom or goodness we may have is from the Lord alone.
The acknowledgment of this truth will beget humility and dependence upon the Lord, which will bring the greatest of blessings, for then, trusting no longer in ourselves, or in our own unassisted efforts, we shall constantly look to the Lord for strength, direction, and security, and we shall no longer have any doubt that this teaching could never have originated with man himself.
It is not at first pleasant to the natural feelings to refrain from any indulgence to which we have been accustomed; yet if we make the experiment, we shall find a happiness that can come in no other way. It will be an anticipation of that heavenly happiness which the angels feel who look to the Lord for guidance and protection. “To prepare the way of the Lord” means to learn and keep the commandments. We must come to know that repentance and regeneration are of the Lord Himself and not of men, and that He is the rewarder of all who seek Him diligently, and seek to learn and do His will.