Birthdays and Baptisms
This has been a doubly special weekend for me.
Yesterday (Saturday) was my birthday. A day when I am (so the culture says) supposed to rejoice and party (or at least others are expected to do that for and around me). In these awkward middle years of life, there isn’t so much partying as there once was or as I suppose there may be if I end up as a senior gentleman (assuming I live long enough and eventually become gentlemanly!!) Still, a birthday is an opportunity for personal reflection. My reflections were confusing and not without some pain. My perpetual struggles with understanding the complexity of Christian service and the wider Christian community with its celebrity culture and shallowness of character (especially evident when some people who I have seen behaving very badly seem to advance) were intense over the last few days. I had to preach to myself repeatedly to remember that I am merely a sinner saved by grace and that I must simply do what God has given me and trust Him to vindicate His own glory.
Then there was today (Sunday), which was one of the greatest days of my life to-date. Why? Because my son, who I held in my arms as a blotchy bundle of gangly limbs and umbilical cord nearly 16 years ago, was baptised. I listened with pride as Joseph, who is a man of few words (something I could learn from him!), gave his testimony to a church building full of faces familiar and unknown (including four of his friends from school). It was a rich and thoughtful testimony, almost like a little sermon (wonder who he inherited that from?) and it was entirely his own (although Mum and Dad got a mention). His story of his relationship with the Saviour he professes to follow. To then watch him being baptised and hear him answer in the affirmative that he intends to follow Jesus was even more wonderful than seeing him born. I pray he will never turn back from this good confession.
How are these two special days related? Yesterday with its low-key celebration with family (we did have a lovely meal out thanks to my wonderful wife) and today with its almost inexplicable joy and gratitude to God. Well, as I heard my son testify to God’s salvation, express his confidence in God alone to bring good fruit in his life, and pledge himself to follow Christ for a lifetime, I was reminded of this same good confession I have made. My mind went to 1 Timothy 6:11-16, which says:
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.
These are the words I want to say to my son, and I need to hear in my own heart.
Notice the apostle Paul’s mention twice of a “good confession”. Timothy made his in the presence of many witnesses. Most commentators think this was probably a reference to Timothy’s baptism, although it could have been when he was commissioned to serve in mission with Paul. Still, for Joseph and me we can relate it to baptism. We have confessed faith in Jesus and pledged to find our identity now in Him and among His people as we live for His glory. I did that many years ago. Joseph did it today. But it is a fresh commitment to be made every day. The fight of the faith – the good fight against the flesh and its constant pull to self-righteousness or self-loathing, against the devil and his temptation to sin or despair, and against the world and its values that pull towards self-glorification and over-work or self-indulgence and laziness. This fight I must fight every day. I must seize hold of and cling firmly to the eternal life God has called me to rather than settling for mere existence without that higher purpose.
This is my good confession and my son’s baptism today reminded me of it. But the other good confession in this passage was made by Jesus before Pontius Pilate. It is this that absorbs the apostle’s mind as he continues to write, sending him spinning into a hymn of praise. My confession means nothing if it is not a confession of Christ as Lord and that confession would have no power if it were not for the confession Jesus made. He surrendered Himself to His Father’s will and testified that He was living (and prepared to die) for a kingdom not from this world, one that Pilate, entrapped by the lure of power and popularity, could not comprehend. He testified that the eternal kingdom of God is what truly matters. God, the king of kings and Lord of Lords, is Sovereign, the only eternal king who is immortal, invisible and unapproachable in glory and holiness, yet made known to us in Jesus.
Here then, is my confession. I will live for the eternal kingdom of God. I will not stop fighting the good fight. I will say no to my sinful desires, crucifying them with Christ, no to the devil, looking afresh to Jesus, and no to the world, rejecting its false promises of comfort and fame. I will entrust my life to my God and King until the fate when he will reveal my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in great glory. To him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.