Tuesday
Jul212009

Appealing to God

Even today, the scene brings shudders to the softhearted who read it.

As Jesus finished praying in his customary place, the Garden of Gethsemane, a contingent led to the remote site by Judas of Kerioth, prepared to arrest him on trumped up charges of blasphemy and treason. Unctuously, Judas identifies the Lord in the darkness with a kiss of hypocrisy and betrayal. One shudders when he thinks just how frequently the kiss of Judas is replicated today by weak-willed disciples.

One of the twelve was a cowardly miser, but the others were men of dedication and spirit. Peter “stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear,” but the Lord did not desire such an offensive defense at the hour of his arrest. In spite of all his preparatory sermons – even comparing Peter to “Satan” himself for suggesting he avoid his date with Calvary – the apostles were shocked and disillusioned when Jesus went so willingly into Sanhedrin custody.

Where they were shortsighted, worldly and worried, Jesus was confident and hopeful. “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so” (Matthew 26:53-54)?

Jesus was certain that his faithful appeal to God would bring results and today it is necessary that his imitators also make their appeal to Jehovah with as much confidence and trust as can be mustered.

The appeal of the believer toward God is for cleansing of the conscience, a clearing of the air, the remission of sin’s debt, a wiping of the slate. The appeal is that one’s failures might no longer be held against him, with regard to his privilege of prayer and his hope of eternity. 

Most believe that appeal consists wholly of a prayer – the sinner’s prayer as it is sometimes spuriously called in the back of a hotel Bible. Accept Jesus into your heart and recite this little speech and voila – redemption. The trouble is that the so-called sinner’s prayer, as such, cannot be found anywhere in between Matthew and Revelation. It is purely of human origin.

It’s not that prayer is useless. Cornelius, yet lost, prayed to God and was blessed with an opportunity to hear the gospel by which he was saved (Acts 10-11). Simon, already converted, pleaded with Peter to pray for him that he might not suffer the loss of his salvation (Acts 8). Prayer is of irreplaceable value, but when it comes to entering the body of Christ, it is but a step in that direction and not the entire journey.

Along the way, a believer is compelled by a conscience on the mend to forsake a sinful lifestyle and wage war on godless habits. Thus, he begins to take his stand with a savior who died, not that the sinner should feel emboldened to sin, but that he might walk in newness of life instead.

The believer has embarked upon a process which will culminate in his appeal to God for mercy and a renewal of fellowship. He will enter the body of Christ by the only means the New Testament ever describes. His appeal, God’s reply and the transfer of spiritual ownership and location are simultaneous.

Peter wrote, 

 

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (First Peter 3:18-22).

 

Baptism – water baptism lest anyone mistake it for fire or spirit – is the means and occasion upon which the humbled believer makes his plea before a merciful God. Baptism, an antitype of the Noahic flood event, is an appeal to God for a renewed conscience.

It was so when the church’s worst enemy sought membership. Ananias followed Saul of Tarsus into Damascus where he told the persecutor-cum-believer what was appointed for him to do. Penitent, believing Saul prayed until Ananias arrived. 

 

“And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:14-16).

 

Saul would call on God’s name in the watery grave of baptism where the blood of Jesus – not the H2O – would erase his guilt. He would enter the body of Christ, the church, as he would write later: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27; cf. Romans 6:1-7). 

Water baptism is more than a ritual washing or an outward expression of some inner feeling – the response of the saved. Baptism itself is the appeal for mercy, an act not of merit, but surely of obedience (see Hebrews 5:8-9).