A day of trouble, rebuke, and blasphemy was upon the Israelites as Assyria laid siege to Jerusalem (Isaiah 37:2-4). They had a vicious battle on their hands, with no hope of deliverance. King Hezekiah sent his emissaries to the prophet Isaiah with a special message: “the children have come to birth, but there is no strength to bring them forth” (v. 3). The people were fearful, much like a woman in labor who had struggled for hours without success to bring forth her child.
The illustration of childbirth gives us something to think about. Though often fraught with pain and difficulties, childbirth is the manner God has chosen to repopulate the earth. Even more important to God is rebirth (being “born again,” John 3:3).This rebirth is God’s chosen procedure by which the kingdom of Christ is to be populated. And it is illustrated through baptism.
Prior to the start of His ministry, Jesus himself sought out John to baptize Him and, in so doing, left us an example to follow.
Death and resurrection
Eternal like His Father, Jesus willingly laid His prior glory aside to experience humanity. He was exposed to the same temptations we face — the same vulnerability — and became subject to death.
In His humanity, the Son asked if there would be a way to sidestep His appointment with death. Yet in His divinity, He qualified the request: “nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). The animal sacrifices that had foreshadowed this moment could never take away sin. However, the Son’s obedience reached back and covered those who, also in obedience, had performed those ritual sacrifices. His sacrifice of Himself continues to reach forward to all who will come in confession and conversion.
The Son rose again and returned to the glory He had once enjoyed. His death and resurrection made it possible for all humanity to experience future glory in eternity with the Father. A stipulation: believe, be baptized, and be obedient to the Father’s will.
Rebirth and growth
At an early age, I believed and was baptized. But obedience to God’s will has taken some time.
My baptism occurred at age thirteen at a campmeeting in the summer of 1947. During a Friday evening service, an altar call was extended. Without a spoken word, my sister and I stood and walked together to the altar.
The following afternoon, Elder Ennis Hawkins led my three sisters and me, along with a number of other teens, into the chilly lake waters. One by one, we were baptized and thus signified our commitment to live for the Lord.
What next? Grow. Study. Learn. Do. Looking back, I believe I had been caught in a net of arrested development — stuck in the birth canal, not fully comprehending the significance of the commitment I had made. Life went on much as before. I read my Bible, attended church, learned the words to many a hymn, and memorized special verses. I taught younger children’s classes from the time I was twelve or thirteen but failed to grow spiritually myself.
The years went on, and what little “armor” I had acquired developed a few cracks that left me susceptible to the influence of the world. My earthly father was a well of Bible knowledge, yet I failed to access this precious resource. I spent little time with family, preferring rather the company of non-Christian friends. Eventually, my interests headed in other directions, and church attendance became a mere facade.
Like Israel and Hezekiah, my birth as a child of God became a rather long, drawn-out delivery because of the gaps in my spiritual development. But God is faithful and has never given up on me. I am 81 years old and rejoice in Jesus as Lord and Savior as I continue to learn and grow.
Gains and losses
Perhaps some desire to be baptized, but the thought of what they have to “give up” is overwhelming. Satan may have convinced them that the cost is too great. The truth is that what is given up cannot begin to compare with what is gained in Christ.
Some might choose to not take that all-important step of baptism because they are fearful. They may wonder how their family and friends would view this decision and ostracize them. These people need to be encouraged, to take heart. The love of the Savior can fill and inspire them to stand — alone if need be — against real or imagined opposition: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
Though Satan has experienced many a failure, he still watches for any opportunity to abort our experience of new birth in Christ. The allure of the world can cause partial-birth abortion that extinguishes the light of Christ’s love before it fully develops into a brightly burning flame, not easily extinguished.
The umbilical cord of the world that nourishes with a taste for worldly pursuits must be cut. There is a need to be freed from the pull of sin, to experience total immersion and cleansing in the love of Jesus.
The Spirit of God descended on Jesus at His baptism, and God’s voice from heaven expressed pleasure in His Son. In His subsequent ministry, Jesus often communed with His Father, spoke only His words, and performed only His will. Likewise, the new child of God must be first nurtured by milk, then advance to the meat of the Word in order to grow. The call has gone out to “taste and see” that the Lord is good, that He wants — nay, demands — first place in the lives of those drawn to Him: Spirit fed and Spirit led.
When Hezekiah received Sennacherib’s letter threatening destruction, he laid it on the altar of the Lord and pleaded for God’s intervention (Isaiah 37:14). God answered with a mighty deliverance, and faith came full blown into the hearts of the people.
The Lord is still delivering souls from the clutches of sin. Even as the Father rejoiced in the obedience of His Son, so He and the angels in heaven rejoice over each individual who is brought to the birth, evidenced by the outward show of baptism.