I’m With Him

Posted: January 22, 2010 by Matt Horan in ReEmergent Church
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By Matt Horan

Let’s journey back to the first century for a few moments, to the moment that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.  John has just told the gathering crowd that being a descendant of Abraham is not enough to help them escape the “coming wrath.”  He says, “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

That can’t be good.

Luke says that the crowd asked him, “What should we do?”  He is calling the people to repentance, and specific people begin asking him, “What does this mean for me?”  “What does this mean for me?”  Tax collectors ask him.  Soldiers ask them.  He teaches them what repentance looks like in their own situation.

After a while, people begin to wonder, “Perhaps this is the Messiah.”  That was not uncommon.  People were always looking for the next big thing.  The next movement that would improve their lot, make life better, toss out their oppressors, vanquish their enemies, etc.  And accordingly, many times when people wondered if a powerful leader or teacher might be the prophesied Messiah, the prospect began to wonder it too.  Maybe they’d solicit the support of powerful leaders and influential people.  Maybe they’d rally people to their cause.  John, however, did not make such a run.  All the while he maintained that he was not the Messiah, that it was someone whose sandals he was not fit to untie.

But Jesus was not what anyone expected.  He was God in the flesh.  God, was called “El” in Hebrew.  Jesus was God, but add the Hebrew word “Immanu” which means, “with us.”  He was “Immanu El”—“God with us.”  He was not above us.  John said that he was not worthy to untie his sandals—which would have been the lowest of a servant’s jobs—but this is “God with us.”  Jesus walks into the water, asking John not to baptize him.  There is no element of the human experience that Jesus avoids.  He is born, grows, gets lost, rejoices, lives, suffers, and dies.  In every conceivable way, this is not a God who is aloof.  This is God with us.

One of my favorite things about Jesus is his invitation.  “Follow me.”  He doesn’t say, “Shape up so that you can follow me.”  He doesn’t have prerequisites.  There’s not an application.  You don’t need references.  Just “follow me.”

Remember back to the last time that you were in unfamiliar territory.  Perhaps you were trying to read a map or follow a set of directions or listen to the British woman speaking to you on the new GPS that you got for Christmas.  Or maybe you were trying to find something in a specialty store filled with items that are not your specialty.  Or maybe you’re just trying to find something at a Wal-Mart.  One of the best feelings in a moment like that comes along when someone who knows what they’re doing or knows where they’re going walks up to you and says, “I’ll help you find what you’re looking for.  Follow me.”  I’d rather have a person I trust in the car ahead of me so that I can follow them rather than the British lady or my printed directions from MapQuest.  I’d rather have someone who works at the Wal-Mart lead me to what I’m looking for.  I’d rather have a seasoned scrapbook expert help me find the gift I’m looking for for my scrapbooking wife.  I love when someone I trust says, “It’s this way.  Follow me.”  From there, I’m on them like glue.  If someone questions me, I simply point and say, “I’m with him.”

There aren’t many elements of Jesus’ life that appear in all four Gospels.  Feeding the 5000, and his death and resurrection, of course.  Even his birth is not in all four.  But the Gospel writers all agreed that the Baptism of Jesus was one such story worthy of retelling.  It was a formational story for the early church, as baptism became the rite of initiation into the church from the earliest moments of its existence.  Baptism was the moment when people decided to become followers of Jesus.  It was the moment when they affirmed, “I’m with Him.”

And you know what?  Wrath came.  Axes came. Suffering came.  Loss came.  Disappointment came.  Disease came.  Poverty came.  These all come today.  These all have come for you or for those whom you love.  We’re not sure what John was talking about when he talked about “coming wrath.”  We don’t exactly know what he was thinking about when he talked about being cut down and thrown into the fire.

Many people use these verses to say that you need to repent and be baptized and accept Jesus so that you don’t go to hell when you die, but that’s not what he was trying to accomplish.  He was saying to people that just being a descendant of Abraham isn’t good enough.  There are steps to take.  There’s following to do.

Jesus was baptized by John, not because he needed to be washed clean of his sins but because there’s no part of the human experience that Jesus would avoid because he is “God with us.”  When he was baptized, the sky opened.  The Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove, and the voice of God said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  From there, Jesus ministry began.

And to top it all off, you know what happens next?  This is the end of chapter three.  At the beginning of chapter four, Jesus is whisked away and tempted by the devil.  There is no part of the human experience that Jesus avoided.  No matter what you’re feeling or experiencing, Jesus can say, “I’ve been there, but I know where to go from here.  Follow me.”

When he says that, it’s a good time for us to say, “I’m with Him.”

Maybe John is referencing a belief about the afterlife, or maybe he just knows that hard times come for everybody.  Either way, you probably know that you don’t have to be in hell to walk through the fire.  In many ways you have had those moments when life is crashing down, and you really feel like you’re in a season of walking through fire and you’re close to getting burned.  Just remember that you follow the One who knows the way through.

Rememeber that John gave them specifics.  He told them what repentance looks like.  Just like we can discern what following Jesus looks like.  We’ve been talking for over a year now about the pathway for a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ.  It means prayer.  It means studying the Scriptures.  It means generosity and evangelism and serving and worship and being a part of a small group.  When we do those things, we are following Jesus, and when we’re following Jesus, He will show us the way through the fire.  Our baptism redefines who we are—we are people who are with Jesus.  We are with God, and God is with us.

I have talked to more people than I care to count who have lost their jobs in the last year.  I have talked to bankrupt people.  I have talked to people who are in debt.  I have talked to people who have lost sons, daughters, parents, siblings, babies, and spouses.  I have talked to people who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s.  I have talked to people with terminal cancer, and I assure you that any of these have the potential to break a person down and leave them just mired in the sadness of it all.

Some are not handling it well at all.  Some are waiting for the next big thing to come along and rescue them from their circumstances.  Just like back in John the Baptist’s day—they’re waiting for some kind of messiah to save them.  But this kind of waiting simply depletes their soul.  I’ve talked to these people and it is so sad to watch them wait.  It’s like they’re waiting at a stoplight that will never change, and their gas tank is slowly running out.  They’re walking through the fire, and they’re being charred to ash.

But then there are others.  Others who are in just a dire a circumstance.  Others who have lost loved ones in equally tragic ways.  Others who face equally distressing economic misfortune.  However, these others are following Jesus.  And “being a Christian” or “being a member” or “going to church” is just as ineffective as “being a descendant of Abraham” was for those gathered around John the Baptist.  These followers of Jesus, whose hopes are buoyed by the Scriptures and prayer; these followers of Jesus who continue in generosity, service, worship, and evangelism; these followers of Jesus who have a small group to lean on when they lose someone—they know that the way through the fire is to be who they are according to their baptism when they said, “I’m with Him.”  Jesus avoided no human circumstance, He knows the way through, and we will get there when we follow Him.

I confess to you today that I have been on both sides of the coin.  I have gone through things when I was far from God, and I thought that I could just spend some more money and go into more debt and fix everything, trusting zero in God and 100% in my friends at the credit card company, and they almost ate me alive.  My wife had saved money for years to help her get started once she finished college.  She earned scholarships and worked hard, and when we got married and merged our financial situations I cancelled all of her hard work right out, and I was ashamed and embarrassed and started out our marriage feeling weak and inadequate as a leader for our marriage and family.

But then there was a time in college when by the grace of God I was close to the Lord in prayer and worship and community.  At that time one of my fraternity brothers, a faithful follower of Jesus, was on a camping trip with his sister in the Ocala National Forest, and two guys found them and attacked them and murdered my fraternity brother, and fifty college kids all around me had no idea what to do with that.  But over the next few months the guys would seek me out for answers and for meaning and for God, and I was able to tell people about Jesus and one after another guys in my fraternity who cared about nothing but drinking and partying and girls suddenly began to follow Jesus, and I saw that while God doesn’t cause things like that to happen, He can bring something good out of them if we’ll just follow Him as he leads us through the fire.  As the Scriptures say, “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”

Knowing that trials are ahead, we reaffirm our baptism.  Whether it happened when we were infants and we took ownership of it at our Confirmation, or whether we were baptized as adults and we remember it like it was yesterday, we reaffirm our baptism.  We remember that whether life is good or bad, easy or difficult, feeling empty or full—we are following the One who knows where to go.  He is “God with us.”  Therefore we say with confidence, “I’m with Him.”  And how wonderful will it be one day when we stand before God with armfuls of sin and we get to hear Him say, “Hold on, this one is with Me.”

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