Isaiah 55, Baptism, and the word not returning to the Lord empty

I was baptised about six months after my birth. My parents had no particular religious leanings but in the UK at that time, babies were regularly “christened” as a cultural practice. My family gathered in the Anglican church in a small Kentish seaside town one day; the water was splashed and promises made. And nothing else was ever said about it…

Some eighteen years later I started on my own journey with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As I have written elsewhere, I felt the divine presence seeking me out and drawing me in to something new and unknown to which (after some time) I responded – https://buildingbiblicalbridges.home.blog/2020/05/03/luke-19-1-10-a-personal-testimony-and-reflection/

As the years have rolled by, and the Lord has been with me through many dangers, toils and snares, I have been led to consider this from Isaiah 55.10-11 in connection with my baptism:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

On that day of baptism all those years ago, I believe something was set in motion. No one – perhaps only the minister conducting the service – had any idea of what could possibly lay ahead. Indeed, my becoming a Christian as a young adult was a shock to everyone in the family. But, apparently, not a shock to the Lord whose word does not return empty, but accomplishes what is purposed.

This is not to say that every detail of my life was fixed by divine calculation when baptised; but rather, through the word, water and oil, I was somehow connected to God in such a way that is hard to articulate. And this would appear true even though the rite was entered into by a family who did not necessarily believe in the words they were saying on the day, or reflect upon it afterwards.

Now, in different people, this connection with God may not “bring forth and sprout” (55.10) for many years, or sometimes, apparently not at all in this life. Nonetheless, it seems to me that, at the moment of baptism, in some intangible spiritual sense,

“Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other” (Psalm 85.10)

I might put it this way:

In baptism, there is a meeting in the spiritual realms that anticipates being replicated in the physical. Perhaps the word “shall not return to [the LORD] empty” in the sense that divine purposes come to pass through promise, invitation, and opportunity which characterise the Kingdom of God.

By this I mean that, the divine kingdom is often described as now and not yet. As much as it is within and around us whenever God is active; the Kingdom of God also lays ahead, growing like the mustard seed, needing to be sought out like the treasure in the field. It is certainly possible for the Kingdom to come and for the divine will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, but because of the freedom given to humanity, there is always an element of invitation requiring a response. The promise unleashed at baptism spiritually must be responded to by the baptised individual in order for it to grow and bear fruit.

It is interesting in Isaiah 55, how the idea of active response runs through the chapter: “Come to the waters”, “Come, buy, and eat”, “Listen… incline your ear”, “Seek the LORD”, “Return to the LORD”. For all that the impetus of inviting and drawing-in might come from God, if someone is to respond, they must do something. Even Jesus actively went to the Jordan, going through the process of baptism from John (Mark 1.9).

And then, when he had come up out of the water, “a voice came from heaven, ‘you are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well-pleased'” (Mark 1.11). Now, of course Jesus was already the Beloved Son since the very beginning, but this word from the Father is surely also an invitation to something more. Again, think of the now and not yet of the divine kingdom Jesus came to model. With every positive response to the stirring of the Holy Spirit within; with every sacrificial act for the good of others; with every step towards the cross, the tomb, and ultimately, the right-hand of God; the identity of this Beloved Son shifts and flourishes. Jesus’ continual response to his heavenly Father enables his being involved in making this divine promise “accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55.11).

~~~

A few years ago, my mother sent my Certificate of Baptism to me. Looking at the date and the details of the event, I was moved. Thinking now about all that has happened in my life, personally I consider the day as momentous. But, despite that which was set in place on that day in the spiritual realms; despite my on-going response in the years following my baptism; I cannot say that God’s word has been returned fully. This is not a negative however. Rather, it is a reflection of the character and experience of the divine Kingdom which is here and there, clear and hidden, now and not yet.

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