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Church News Volume 7, Issue 1 (February 2006)

Dear friends,

"Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John." (Matthew 3:13)

Imagine reading in the local newspaper that your town was to be visited next weekend by a king from abroad. How do you think this monarch would expect to be received? He'd probably arrive in a Rolls-Royce, which would be part of a cavalcade of gleaming cars carrying other dignitaries. He would, no doubt, be escorted from the car onto a red carpet. There a row of carefully selected people would wait to bow and curtsey. You'd probably not expect to catch more than a glimpse of him through the bustling crowd.

Now let's imagine that you did go into town that weekend. Then imagine how you would feel if you saw this king stepping off the number ten bus! After blinking a few times you'd probably laugh, "It must just be someone who looks like him." But imagine your amazement if later on that afternoon you stand behind the same gentleman at the supermarket checkout and overhear him chatting about his visit to this country!

Later, on your way home, you notice some kind of disturbance outside a bar. You peer through the crowd of onlookers only to discover this king again, busy separating two argumentative youths and getting beer thrown over him for his trouble. I think you'd be pretty staggered and maybe you'd want to shout out to the crowd, "Don't you know who this is? He shouldn't be doing this! He's a king!"

John the Baptist faced a similar surprise. He had dedicated his life to the calling God had placed upon him - to "prepare the way for the coming Lord". He had had plenty of time to consider what this Messiah would be like and what his ministry would involve. He anticipated a mighty, powerful figure that would baptise not simply with water, like himself, but with the Holy Spirit and fire. John was at pains to point out to the crowds that flocked to him, that he was only the messenger getting them ready for this coming king, even saying that he wasn't worthy enough to be His slave!

With such expectations we can imagine John's surprise when Jesus began His ministry. His very first act was to come to John amidst the crowds and ask to be baptised, just like everybody else! Naturally John protests. His baptism symbolised repentance from sin; why on earth would the sinless Christ need to undergo such a ritual? The answer was that right from the very start of his ministry Jesus chose to walk the same path as us. Despite sharing God's nature He chose not to stay at a distance from messed-up humanity but to identify Himself with us, taking on our very nature, sharing our suffering and facing our pains and temptations. And it was through His choice to get totally involved in our sinful world and take upon Himself our wrongdoings that His power would be made manifest. By bearing all of our sins on the cross, He conquered the forces of sin and death, making our forgiveness possible, and by His Holy Spirit He empowers us to lead new victorious lives. Jesus certainly did not carry out His ministry in the way people expected but in obedience to God, and God's ways are higher than ours!

Very often when we are suffering and going through difficult times we cry out to God, why aren't you here to help us? He may seem distant and even disinterested. When this is our experience we may need to operate faith in what we know about Christ rather than listen to our ever-fluctuating feelings. We know that Christ chose to walk the same path as us. We know that He faced temptation and was misunderstood, mocked and bullied. We know He experienced poverty, was let down by His friends, and that He knew terrific fear and pain. We also know that He wept in grief and in agony and that, finally, He faced a most terrible death. The Jesus that whilst on earth chose to identify Himself with humanity, is still in heaven waiting to hear our cries and to intercede for us, intimately understanding our own pain and suffering from His own experience. He also comes alongside us by his Holy Spirit bringing strength and comfort. We will not always understand why He does things the way He does, just like John the Baptist didn't, and He will often surprise us, but we can be sure that He truly is Immanuel, "God with us".

Rev'd Ian M. Finn

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Last Modified Wednesday 25 May 2011