But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!
I. IN VIEW OF OUR LORD'S PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. In these two verses we find him passing through some moments of very intense feeling; he was powerfully affected by two considerations.
1. A compassionate desire on behalf of the world. He came to the world to kindle a great fire which should be a light to illumine, a heat to cleanse, a flame to consume. Such would be the Divine truth of which he came to be the Author, especially as it was made operative by the Divine Spirit whose coming should be so intimately associated with and should immediately follow his life work (see Luke 3:16; Acts 2:3). As he looked upon the gross and sad darkness which that light was so much needed to dissipate, upon the errors that heat was so much required to purify, upon the corruption that flame was so essential to extinguish, his holy and loving spirit yearned with a profound and vehement desire for the hour to come when these heavenly forces should be prepared and be freed to do their sacred and blessed work.
2. A human lounging to pass through the trial that awaited him. "But" - there was not only an interval of time to elapse, there was a period of solemn struggle to be gone through, before that fire would be kindled. There was a baptism of sorrow and of conflict for himself to undergo, and how was he "straitened" in spirit until that was accomplished! Here was the feeling of a son of man, but it was the feeling of the noblest of the children of men. He did not desire that it should be postponed; he longed for it to come that it might be passed through, that the battle might be fought, that the anguish might be borne. Truly this is none other than a holy human spirit with whom we have to do; one like unto ourselves, in the depth of whose nature were these very hopes and fears, these same longings and yearnings which, in the face of a dread future, stir our own souls with strongest agitations. How solemn, how great, how fearful, must that future have been which so profoundly and powerfully affected his calm and reverent spirit!
II. IN VIEW OF OUR OWN SPIRITUAL STRUGGLES. We cannot do anything of very great account unless we know something of that spiritual strenuousness of which our Lord knew so much.
1. We should show this in our concern for the condition of the world. How much are we affected by the savagery, by the barbarism, by the idolatry, by the vice, by the godlessness, by the selfishness, which prevail on the right hand and on the left? How eagerly and earnestly do we desire that the enlightenment and the purification of Christian truth should be carried into the midst of it? Does our desire rise to a holy, Christ-like ardor? Does it manifest itself in becoming generosity, in appropriate service and sacrifice?
2. We may show this in our anxiety to pass through the trial-hour that awaits us. Whether it be the hour of approaching service, or sorrow, or persecution, or death, we may, like our Master, be straitened until it be come and gone. Let us see that, like him, we
(1) await it in calm trustfulness of spirit; and
(2) prepare for it by faithful witness and close communion with God in the hours that lead up to it. - C.
I have a baptism to be baptized withI. OF THIS INTENSITY CHRIST HIMSELF WAS THE PERFECT EXAMPLE. Fervour reached white heat in the Son of Man, and the service of the kingdom received the whole of it. Do you think these words were spoken calmly? As we listen to the Speaker, we are conscious of the strain, the tension of spirit, the travail of soul! And what was it that moved the Saviour so profoundly, that made His soul "exceeding sorrowful"? His death on the cross, and burial in Joseph's tomb; but not these things regarded by themselves; death and the grave had less terror for Him than for the saintliest of His followers; but He thought of these in their august and solemn relations to His redeeming work. In His cross and passion, love to God and love to man were mysteriously and perfectly blended; His surrender to God was absolute and entire, wanting nothing; while the appeal of His love to man, unsurpassed in tenderness, maintains to-day its unrivalled influence and power. St. Paul used Christ's word — "straitened," in another and most significant connection: "The love of Christ constraineth us." Christ was Himself "constrained," that He might "constrain" His servants by His own great love to the end of time. This revelation of love to God and man in the death of Christ by no means adequately accounts for the agitation of the Saviour's soul. We must go deeper; unless we do so we have no sufficient clue to the mystery of this hour. The beginning of Christ's passion was reached; already He is the Sin-bearer. Our text, then, is not the cry of the hireling, bent only on accomplishing his day, longing eagerly for the last hour and the close of his task; it is something infinitely nobler, the cry of the "only-begotten of the Father," shut up, urged, pressed, filled with pain, panting as one oppressed in breathing, till His Father's will is done. Behold the perfect Example I If we wish to gauge this intensity, and know how great it is, let us place it side by side with our own low aims, calculating love, measured efforts, and frequently barren lives. Strangers to devotion, to intense devotion, cannot properly serve under such a King.
II. CAN WE. WITH THIS PATTERN BEFORE US, GET ANY HINTS RESPECTING THE SPRING OF SUCH INTENSITY? HOW is the fire kindled? What is the secret? When Christ spoke, He was in close touch with His Father. The Baptism was appointed; not self-chosen, not accidental, but set down in the Father's will; recognized as being there, and accepted in the teeth of natural shrinking. Surely this is evidence of fellowship without a break, high and habitual fellowship with God, therefore, is one secret of intense life in souls. A second secret of intense life, then, is familiarity with Holy Scripture. Men of the Bible may be furnaces, icebergs they can never be. And the passage, taken as a whole, indicates clear insight into the sins and sorrows of men, and a true estimate of our needs. The Speaker "knew what was in man"; was in close contact with man; saw our ruin, accepted the risks, and rendered at all costs the needed help. A third secret of intense life is, keep touch with men. We want to kindle the holy fire and keep it burning — then brethren, we must hold much converse with Christ. The planets get light and heat from the sun; we from the Sun of Righteousness. We must look into the face of Christ and gain power for work by habitual, sustained, and abundant communion with Him.
III. We are now in a position To APPRECIATE SOME OF THE SALIENT FEATURES OF THIS INTENSITY IN CHRISTIAN SERVICE. It is not concern about our own safety; by the whole diameter of the globe it is divided from that. How much solicitude we expend on ourselves! Are we God's sons? Are our evidences clear and bright? Definite answers to such inquiries we ought to get. Till we get them this holy passion can find no sufficient room within us. The intense spirit, the Christ-spirit, only possesses souls that can swing out of self. All Christ's anxiety and travail of soul was about others — about God, His Father, the revelation of His mind, the establishment of His rule, and the winning of men to obedience — about man, His brother, his waywardness and misery; the remedy, how it could be provided and how applied. We must be like Him I The noblest in us is impossible while we are occupied with ourselves. The mother at the bed-side of her fever-stricken child forgets self, so does the fireman as through flame and smoke he rushes to the rescue. Then heroism grows sublime, and becomes an inspiration. This intensity is not distinguished by exemption from trial, even the trial of apparent failure. Certain discoursings on earnestness in Christian work are depressing. We see how the purest are often most tried, and the best and most skilful husbandmen have longest to wait for the fruit. "It is enough for the servant to be as his Lord." What equipment was His — wisdom, stature, favour with God and man; and the Holy Spirit without measure. What Divine patience! The crown of enduring influence and ultimate success intensity like our Master's will assuredly wear. When Christ spoke, it appeared as if His was the only soul fired by this passion. Like Pompey's pillar, He was solitary, conspicuously alone I Then the good soil received the precious grain of wheat; it died, and from that moment was no longer alone! Paul's letters are rich in passages which breathe the intense spirit of our text. The case of John, the beloved disciple, is, if possible, more remarkable. He caught fire early; the holy passion was aglow in him. After the Council at Jerusalem he disappeared from view. For fifty years we hear nothing of him; but in the calm, loving utterances of his Epistles, and the penetrating light of his profound Gospel, we have evidence of the strength of a long hidden fire. It glowed till the century ended, when other fires were extinguished. Thus Christ reproduced Himself — the fire-circle enlarged; candidates for this baptism multiplied; and to-day no power is so fresh, so vigorous, and so aggressive as the power of Jesus Christ. Enduring influence and final triumph still lie with intense earnestness. It brings into line every power we possess, and allies each with the power of God. "Why could not we cast him out?" cried the humiliated disciples. "Because you didn't believe you could," was Christ's startling reply. The intense man ever believes he can; faith in God renders all things possible. The man of faith "burns his way when he cannot bore it"; and while the calculating halt in the initial stages of their task and cannot succeed, he stands radiant with the joy of an accomplished work. Everywhere we have machinery; power is the thing wanted. "I gained no theology from Dr. Chalmers," said Robertson, of Irvine, " but I gained enthusiasm."
(J. R. Wood.)have a baptism to be baptized with." He knew it; He knew the reason of it; He knew the result of it; and He knew that it could not pass away from Him. He had come to fulfil all righteousness; He had come to be made a curse for us. In this awful utterance of our Substitute, as He looked forward to the cross, we have —
I. A LONGING FOR THE BAPTISM. He desired its accomplishment. He knew the results depending on it, and these were so divinely glorious, so eternally blessed, that He could not but long for it — He could not but be straitened till it was accomplished. The cup was inexpressibly bitter, but the recompence for drinking it was so vast, that He could not but long for the hour when it should be put into His hands.
II. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF FEAR AND BITTER ANGUISH IN CONTEMPLATING IT. He was truly man, both in body and soul. His Divine nature did not relieve Him of one grief, or make His sufferings mere shadows. It fitted Him for being filled with more sorrow than any man could be. It conferred on Him an awful, we may say a Divine, capacity of endurance, and so made him the subject of sharper pain and profounder grief than otherwise he could have been.
III. THE STRAITENING IN REGARD TO ITS ACCOMPLISHMENT. Like Paul, He was in a strait between things which pressed in opposite ways, and which must continue to press till the work was done.
1. He was straitened between the anticipated pain, and the thought of the result of that pain.
2. He was straitened between grace and righteousness. Till the great sacrifice was offered, there might be said to be conflict between these two things. Between His love to the sinner and His love to the Father there was conflict; between His desire to save the former and His zeal to glorify the latter there was something wanting to produce harmony. He knew that this something was at hand, that His baptism of suffering was to be the reconciliation; and He pressed forward to the cross, as one that could not rest till the discordance were removed — as one straitened in spirit till the great reconciliation should be effected.
(H. Bonar, D. D.)sunechomaia, which is here translated "straitened," will admit of the following variations or different readings of our Lord's words:
1. How am I pressed together, and under a ponderous weight of imputed sin, and its dreadful concomitants! The Lord laid on Him, as the Head of the Church, and Surety of the covenant — the iniquities of us all. And He bore our sins in His own body on the tree. To be thus straitened was no way inconsistent with the final accomplishment of the work in which He stood engaged: for His work of suffering is over, and Jesus our Saviour is straitened no more!" His being thus straitened in His human views of the work, and in the feelings of human nature, does not suppose Him to be merely human, though it certainly proves Him to have been really human. Each nature operates in Him, according to its essential properties. The Divine nature knows all things; upholds all things; rules all things; and acts, by its presence, everywhere. The human nature was born, yielded obedience, died, and rose again. But it is the same person, the same Christ, that acts all these things; the one nature being His, no less than the other.
2. How am I straitened, may be read thus — How am I held fast in the grasp of almighty justice, and bound fast with cords (Psalm 118:27) of legal authority, and bonds of covenant engagements! Infinite love to His people, and to the honour of Deity as demanded by the person of the Father, bound Him fast in bonds, which secured eternal salvation. Justice held fast the bondsman, till all demands were fully paid. But when His baptism was accomplished, His person was free, and His people redeemed. Immanuel is straitened no more; He is held under judgment no more; when He became innocent (as the mediator of His people) or free from all sin, and had wrought all righteousness, justice could demand no more. He was delivered for our offences, and rose again for our justification. That baptism which so straitened our Lord, my brethren, hath made us for ever free indeed! O Thou immortal Deliverer of sin-bound captives, accept and maintain in Thy free people, perpetual hallelujahs to Thy redeeming name!
3. Again, How am I straitened, may be understood — how am I afflicted and distressed in mind. My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, said our agonizing Lord. O what love is here! He took our sorrows, He bore our stripes, He endured the curse for us; and thus He made our peace for ever.
4. Once more. How am I urged and constrained. For this sense of the word, see 2 Corinthians 5:14. Jesus was first bound with His people in union indissoluble. He could not bat feel the strongest desire for their redemption, whose persons and welfare lay so near His heart. He was urged by the desire of having the work accomplished. Justice called upon Him for her right; and the joy set before Him excited Him to His important baptism, out of which He knew He should surely emerge, and ascend to the enjoyment of the glory which He had with the Father before the world was. His baptism is now accomplished, and He is straitened no more! Who, then, shall bind the members, since the Head is free?
I. CONSIDER CHRIST'S AGONY AS A BAPTISM. Now, it was a stupendously great work which our blessed Lord undertook in His mission to earth. He had assumed human nature in union with the Divine, and thus stood in the attitude of the representative of mankind. He was no solitary and isolated being acting out for Himself the duties which, as a creature, He owed to the Creator; He was the Surety of the whole of our race; and in the very minutest circumstance of His life we have a close and important concern. He took our transgressions just as well as those of all others living on the earth, and cast them into the waves, and then they rolled on an immensity of wrath, and the innocent Surety bowed down, and trembled, and sank beneath the impetuous torrent. Not, however, that this is the only reason why our Lord's agony and passion may be characterized as a baptism. We have spoken to you of baptism as introductory to some alteration in state or condition. The word only applies to cases in which some change is presumed, as the result of immersion, to have taken place either literally or symbolically. But, with respect to the sufferings of Christ, they agree in every point with the declaration which limits the applicability of the phrase. The baptism of our Lord was such, that length of time was not needful in order to give effect to endurance. Each instant of our Surety's anguish, seeing that He was God as well as man, was equivalent to such countless ages of human punishment, that it was enough for justice that he should be immersed in the water, and then quickly emerge. This fallen creation, tottering under the curse, was then plunged into an abyss of wrath, and sparkled as a renovated thing so soon as He arose above its surface. The agony in Gethsemane was only for a brief season; the ignominy of the crucifixion was soon brought to a close; the imprisonment of the grave quickly gave way; and then He who "bore our sins in His own body on the tree," was literally baptized with the baptism of bitterness. The woe, infinite in extent, was but finite in duration — "Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell; neither wilt Thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." He must descend into darkness, that the waves and the storms might go over Him. Anguish — He must endure it; contumely — He must submit to it; the hidings of His Father's face — even this, the bitterest and most grievous of all, must be encountered. But then this enduring, this wrestling, they were but for a brief season. He did not tarry in the waters, though it was needful He should be covered by them. And thus the emerging and immersion follow so closely one on the other, that you cannot better describe the great work than by saying of our Lord, that He had "a baptism to be baptized with."
II. CONSIDER IN WHAT RESPECTS IT WAS THAT THE SAVIOUR WAS STRAITENED TILL THIS BAPTISM WAS ACCOMPLISHED. The work of redemption was not complete, and Christ therefore was "straitened," as unable to exhibit a finished deliverance. The Spirit was not yet poured out on His followers; and therefore was He "straitened," inasmuch as He could not preach the deep mysteries of His gospel. Conflict with Satan was not concluded, and therefore was he "straitened" in His human nature, being still exposed to all his attacks. And, lastly, He had not yet won the headship over all things, and therefore was He "straitened" by being circumscribed in Himself, in place of expanding into myriads. These, with like reasons, serve to explain, in a degree, the expression of our text; though we frankly confess that so awful and inscrutable is everything connected with the anguish of the Mediator, that we can only be said to catch glimmerings of a fulness which would overwhelm us, as we may suppose, with amazement and dread.
III. LET US COMMEND TO YOU, IN CONCLUSION, THE NOBLE DESIRE OF ST. PAUL. "That I may know Christ, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death." There is to be wonderful analogy between the firstborn and His people, and we call on you to examine whether you find it realized in your own experience. Unto each of us there remains the baptism of death; a baptism in the truest and most literal sense; for we do but pass through the Jordan, and not stay in the waters. But are we "straitened?" Do we feel ourselves "straitened" till this baptism is accomplished? Let us have no evasion and no subterfuge. We are predestined to be conformed to the image of God; and as He was" straitened," so, if we belong to Him, shall we also be "straitened." Who can be a real Christian and not feel "straitened?" It is our very profession that we are but strangers and pilgrims below; that our home is above. There is "a law in our members warring against the law of our mind — the good that we would we do not — the evil that we would not we do" — "we bear about with us a body of sin and death" — "we see only through a glass darkly" — "it doth not yet appear what we shall be." Are we not then "straitened?" I would give my soul to heavenly music, to communings with the glorious beings of the invisible world; but the flesh clogs the spirit, weighs it, and presses it down, and thus am I "straitened." I would love God with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my strength; abstracting myself from things that perish in the using, and centring myself on the joys that are laid up for the faithful; but my affections are seized on by the creature; the visible prevails over the invisible, and thus I am "straitened." I would mount even now on the wings of faith, realizing the promise that "they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount with wings as eagles." I would walk to and fro through the inheritance of the saints, but the things of time hang lead on the pinion, and thus I am "straitened." I would have my thoughts by day and my dreams by night coloured by the pencil of Christian hope; but indwelling corruption throws a stain on the picture, and thus I am "straitened."
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Homiletic Review.Christ's eagerness for the consummation of His sacrificial mission sublimely pathetic and heroic.
I. The cross loomed up in His thought with increasing vividness and more absorbing interest toward the last.
II. Eager for the suspense to be changed to certainty. For the Father's glory to be magnified. For the ending of the curse, and the beginning of the blessing.
III. Eager to make the supreme proof of His love to sinners, and to see the result. "I, if I be lifted up," etc.
IV. Eager to return by the gateway of the cross to the Father's bosom.
I. We have to show, first, THAT THE SAVIOUR UNIFORMLY EXHIBITED THE DEEP CONCERN WHICH THE TEXT EXPRESSES FOR THE COMPLETION OF HIS MEDIATORIAL WORK ON EARTH.
1. To say that He had not been beguiled or surprised into the work of our redemption would be saying but little, He had undertaken it intelligently, and with the distinct foresight of all the liabilities which it involved. He had looked into the darkest recesses of depravity in the human heart, and had sounded the lowest depths of human misery, before He came to expiate the one or relieve the other.
2. To say that He had not been forced into the great undertaking, would be saying but little.
3. To say that the ardour evinced in the text for the completion of His work was not of new or sudden growth, would be saying but little. A large and interesting class of Scriptures exist to prove that there never was a moment in which, even prior to His incarnation, He did not anticipate its completion with similar intensity of desire.
4. To say that He did not neglect the work which was given Him to do, would be saying but little. "My meat," said He, "is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work" — in other words, His devotedness was entire. "For their sakes," said He, "I sanctify Myself" — and He did so.
5. And not only was His devotedness entire, including the consecration of all His powers, it was eager and intense, not allowing the unnecessary delay of a moment, nor admitting of the slightest increase. To say that four thousand years were allowed to elapse prior to His advent, is no objection whatever to this statement. It only reminds us that His devotedness, ardent as it was, was yet regulated by wisdom — that His zeal was not the zeal of improvident precipitation — that He did not sacrifice one interest to another.
II. BUT WHY THIS EAGER AND INTENSE DESIRE TO REACH THE GOAL OF HIS HUMILIATION? Surely He was not in love with suffering! Let us proceed, secondly, to specify some of the reasons which account for it, and we shall find that it was not only explicable and justifiable, but infinitely necessary — well for a guilty world that His zeal was not a particle less.
1. For what? He had undertaken to minister to the relief of a world groaning in its misery — and all that misery was before Him. He did not — by necessity of nature He could not — content Himself, as we do, with vague impressions of human woe. He saw it with a distinctness and felt it with a power which made it all His own. He felt that its every sigh and its every struggle was, in effect, a distinct appeal that He would hasten the work of deliverance, and He was straitened until the work was accomplished.
2. But there was more than misery to be remedied — there was guilt, the cause of it all — and that He had undertaken to atone for. He knew the history of sin.
3. But more still There was more than the misery of man to be remedied — more than the rights of justice to be satisfied; there was the character of God to be embodied and made manifest as the God of love — and He had undertaken that. And hence the anxiety of Christ to perform the act which should prove it. For to wipe off every stain from the character of God, and to present it in its real glory, infinitely outweighed with Him every ether consideration.
4. And this reminds us of another reason to account for His eagerness to reach the cross — the glory which should accrue to God in the salvation of mankind.
III. But we have to show, thirdly, THAT THOUGH THE GREAT CRISIS IS PASSED, THE CONCERN OF CHRIST FOR THE SALVATION OF MAN IS UNDIMINISHED. True, as far as that concern involved suffering it has ceased.
1. Would you admit that a person discovered urgency for an object if he lost not a moment in arranging for its attainment? No sooner had the Saviour emerged from the tomb than He summoned His disciples, and began to prepare them for their missions to the ends of the earth.
2. Does a person discover intense concern for an object, if he consecrates all his power to its attainment? The Saviour did this. As soon as He could say in His mediatorial capacity, "All power is mine," He added, "Go preach the gospel to every creature."
3. Does a person discover intense concern for an object if he not only consecrates all his own power to it, but if the first use which he makes of that power be to secure and employ the agency of others? In the loftiest sense, the Saviour did this. The first agency which He engaged after He ascended the mediatorial throne was that of the Holy Spirit — the great agent of the universe.
4. Does a person discover intense concern for an object, if he commands and lays under tribute the instrumentality of every one belonging to him for its attainment?
5. But speak we of the fact that Christ has thus laid all the members of His Church under solemn obligation, as a proof of His unabated solicitude for human salvation; from the concluding Book of Scripture, the Book of the Revelation, there is reason to believe that He has engaged the agency of every angel in heaven for the same object.
6. "But why this continued solicitude on the part of Christ?" it may be asked. Has not His great sacrifice been not only offered, but accepted? and is He not now exalted in consequence to the right hand of God?" Yes; but His concern relates now to the proclamation of His atoning sacrifice throughout the world, and to the salvation of those who rely on it. Having provided the means of salvation, He is now for pressing on to the end.
IV. Brethren, WHAT SHOULD BE THE PRACTICAL APPLICATION OF THIS SUBJECT? If the devotedness of Christ to the salvation of man was such that He not only agonized on the cross, but even agonized for it, and if His Divine solicitude be still undiminished — then, surely, the Christian cannot render less than entire devotedness to the same object. Accordingly, the Saviour claims every Christian here for Himself. Your character is to be a reproduction of the character of Christ. The disinterestedness which appeared in Christ is to reappear in you. The tenderness of Christ — His untold solicitude for human souls — is to live over again in your tones of entreaty, your wrestling prayers for their salvation. The blood of the cross itself is, in a sense, to stream forth again in your tears of anguish, your voluntary and vicarious self-sacrifice to draw men to Christ.
2. But if we thus sympathize with Christ, we shall see the importance of everything calculated to promote the object of His solicitude. Viewed in connection with these objects, nothing we do is insignificant — an act apparently trivial, a word, a look, acquires a character of infinite moment.
3. But this reminds us, next, that if we truly sympathize with Christ, we shall not be satisfied with merely providing the means of usefulness, or with putting them into action — we shall be deeply anxious to see the end of all such means accomplished. The Saviour was not only straitened till He had reached the cross — till He had provided salvation; all the solicitude which He then felt for the means, He now feels for the end.
4. But this subject reminds us, brethren, finally, that if we truly sympathize with Christ, we shall be conscious of deep humiliation at our past apathy, and of holy impatience and concern to see the designs of His death realized in the salvation of our fellow-men. And ask we for motives to this? Is it nothing that Christ expects it? Is it nothing that He has turned His whole self into a sacrifice, compared with which nothing else deserves the name? and that He has devolved it on us to multiply as far as we can the copies of His character in our own? Is it nothing, again, that others have felt this? Yes; the duty is not only obligatory but practicable, for others have felt it. And should it not urge our languid movements into zealous activity when we reflect that "the time is short"?
5. And achieved it shall be. How should the prospect quicken our activity and inflame our desire! To think that the scene of the Saviour's humiliation shall be the scene of His ultimate triumph.
(J. Harris, D. D.)
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