I like stories of drowning people being saved by a good lifeguard. The images that come to mind are often the flapping in the water, gasping for breath and tunnel vision right before a powerful hand swoops in to save the day. The intervention in those stories range from the lifeguard being fully in the water to being anchored in something that floats. The trick is that the lifeguard may not be received in full trust as a gift to be received fully and simply.
To this point of not receiving that help is a story by Watchman Nee. There once was a man who got a cramp and was drowning in a lake. A champion swimmer stood by fully dressed and did not move until the man began to go under. When he did, he got out of his sweats and saved the man. When asked what took him so long he said that the drowning man had to be at the end of himself or they both would have drowned.
When John the Baptist formally presents Jesus to the crowd he uses words for Jesus to fulfill in several dimensions and continues to fulfill when we cooperate.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34).
Behold, the Lamb of God– – Where a lion is known to conquer, the lamb is known to be conquered and consumed. Jesus is proclaimed as one who would give all and not take like kings of old nor exploit the resources of the people. Jesus is counter-intuitive as a gift for our redemption that we are unable to obtain for ourselves. So we depend on Jesus for that. Jesus is wholly self-giving.
takes away the sin of the world– Here is indicated that the gift of self is beyond Israel but to the world (John 3:16). The gift is not tied anymore to a temple in a certain city but is universal. Salvation as a gift for the world is shown in the Church which Jesus founded and as early as 110 AD was called that by Ignatius- – Catholic. And before Jesus came this was foreshadowed of Jesus being re- – presented by the people of God like this. Jesus is wholly accessible.
From the rising of the sun to its setting, my name is great among the nations;
Incense offerings are made to my name everywhere,
and a pure offering;
For my name is great among the nations,
says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 1:11).
he existed before me– Here John shows Jesus to be beyond the time of a human life span. The gift is divine. After all, one can look at the gospel of Luke and see that John was conceived three months before Jesus if one views Jesus only according to the flesh. John opens a perspective later seen more fully by Paul that, “from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16). The gift transcends understanding. Jesus is timeless and thus must be discerned with eyes for the eternal than the timely.
I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him– The only time before that the Holy Spirit had come down on a single direct object was the temple of Solomon. One more reason that Jesus said, “I say to you, something greater than the temple is here” (Matthew 12:6). The gift is consecrated because Jesus is that gift and he is holy.
will baptize with the Holy Spirit– – Christ through His humanity and in partnership with the Holy Spirit brings in those who are His with adoption that is beyond a legal transaction. If it was only legal, the relationship between God and the believer would be contractual in what I have is yours. Instead it is “I am yours”. To have a relationship with the Blessed Trinity that is covenantal is to be in synch to the original creation of humanity. “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba [Daddy], Father” (Romans 8:15)! The gift is intimate and is forward towards oneness.
Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God– – John has already spoken that Jesus must increase and he must decrease. By saying this officially, John steps back for Jesus to shine. He does continue to baptize but the traffic continues to be more to Jesus. Just as John yielded to Jesus, so in the process of conversion and formation towards Jesus there is a yielding to happen. This yielding to Jesus as the gift is informed by how he redeems, transcends understanding, is consecrated, is universal, and is intimate. To hear John’s words right, is the beginning to getting Jesus right. Such is the fulness of the proclamation of the gospel in the Church that Jesus wants. To yield is to be on mission in disposition. And to be on mission is to be sent. And to be sent is to be apostolic. In one sense, all who have “testified” to the fulness of Jesus are apostolic.
The design for a people that are transformed and have ongoing connection to the authority of Jesus as Lord is one with the traits above. And to water down these traits with a forgetting this kind of encounter is to move with the world that God wants to redeem through Jesus. To hold on to these is to be the Church that instead moves the world as the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).