The Way
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - The Meaning of Christ's Birth and Burial

We believe what we have from the Lord is based upon the conviction that Christianity as we know it is, before very long, going to be shaken to its very foundations, and that a great structure which is called Christianity is going to crash and disintegrate. I believe that what has already happened in the East is not far distant for this part of the world. Indeed, the signs are not lacking that it has begun, and certain observers are aware of what is happening. That being the case, which remains to be proven and seen, we should expect the Lord to be speaking very seriously, solemnly and definitely with such a contingency in view. We should expect that He would be speaking about the true eternal nature of Christianity, the kind of Christianity that will go through the shaking and survive, and that conviction lies behind what He has given us. Therefore we have been turned to these seven references in the book of the Acts where Christianity is originally called the Way, as the full explanation of what the Lord Jesus said about Himself, that He was the Way. If we understand what He meant, having been much more fully revealed and disclosed in the ministry of the Holy Spirit after His ascension, we shall be able to understand what kind of a Christianity it is that the Lord wants that will go through the fires and the shakings which are bound to come.

There is a vast amount of praying for revival. The question is: what can the Lord revive? And then further, is the Lord really going to do a great thing which will only mean the strengthening of something that is not real, or will the Lord permit the great shaking in order to revive what is revivable? I leave you to answer the question, but the necessity for us is to know what it is that the Lord would revive.

So we come back to those features and elements of Christianity as it was fresh from the hands of the Holy Spirit at the beginning.

The Difference Between the Two Humanities

That makes it necessary for us to understand the nature of man according to God; what God's mind is about us as human beings, for it is there the focal point of God's movement with mankind is found. You and I have not yet become sufficiently awake to the real and utter difference between the two humanities - Christ's humanity and ours. It is just there that we need a very real waking up. It is just there that the enemy concentrates his attention to keep us asleep or to deceive us. You see, the words used by God about man as he is now found in this world since Adam's sin are very utter and final words. When God uses the word 'lost' in relation to man, He means lost. He means that man is lost, and if you are lost you are lost; you just have to say, 'Well, I am lost.' When God uses the word 'dead', He means dead, dead in trespasses and sins. "This son of mine was dead" (Luke 15:24) is the parable, but contains the truth. And when God uses the word 'dead' about man, He means that; and when God uses the phrase 'afar off', He means afar off. When God uses the word 'alienated', He means that, just what we mean by alienate, made foreign, of another kind of nature, nationality, of another race. An alien is a foreigner, not a native, and when God uses the word 'alienate' as He does, He is saying, 'You belong to another race, another order of being, another nationality; you are a foreigner, afar off and foreign to God.' These are utter words.

Now all errors have their taproot there. You will find all errors to contain something faulty about the conception of man. Either there is that in man which makes it possible for him to be his own saviour, or some other form of making something of man which puts it within his own power and scope to do something to make himself acceptable to God, whether it be the humanism at one end, or whether it be the ritualism at the other. There are many phases between that declare that man does not need a saviour, he is his own saviour, he has only to cultivate what is in him... there is the God and the Christ in every one of us by nature; this is natural religion. That on one side. On the other, all your works, your good works, your religious works and activities, your observances of rites and so on, will bring you to acceptance with God. In between the two extremes there are many phases, all of which put something to the credit of man. Every error is rooted there.

Christ's birth, the incarnation, embodies this fact: that the very beginning holds an unbridgeable gap. Right at the very beginning where man is concerned there is an unbridgeable difference. That is the meaning of the virgin birth. If you can repeat that, if you can duplicate that, if you can imitate that, if you can reproduce that, you have bridged the gap. If you cannot, the gap remains. And that is the whole significance of the virgin birth. There is something initial that no one can repeat, no one can reproduce, no one can duplicate. That is something by itself, different from all the processes of nature, different from all the will of the flesh, different from all the will of man. The will of man, the will of the flesh, the processes of nature, are brought to a standstill there. That is the end of all human capability. When it comes to the virgin birth, you have something that is altogether outside of the course of humanity as we know it. It is a break in from the outside of another world, and therefore of another order, another humanity.

The birth of Christ sets forth then, that that which is of God and that which is going to come to God because it came from God, is not of this order of humanity. Essentially, fundamentally, there is a difference, and such a difference that cannot be rubbed out and cannot be bridged. There are likenesses, it is true, the human form, the human constitution of spirit, soul and body. All those things are likenesses, but when you have said all that, and look at Jesus Christ, you have another. Deeply and inwardly He is not of this order; He is of another order. There is a mystery about Him that no human mind or intellect can fathom or explain, and you have either got to rule out such a thing as the virgin birth as fiction or falsehood, or you have got to accept that this is something that you cannot account for on any ordinary ground. It must be God.

The Necessity for New Birth

So Christ's initial and fundamental, all-governing imperative, was and is, "You must be born again" (John 3:7). That is in keeping with the incarnation. I am not talking about Christ's Deity, and I am not suggesting or hinting that what takes place in us makes us a part of Deity. You understand that. I am keeping a very wide eternal gap between the Deity of Christ and His humanity, and I am only dealing with the significance of His humanity as our Kinsman-Redeemer.

God put man originally into a perfect garden, and man has made it a perfect bear's den. It is man who makes the world, or unmakes it. Always it is man who makes the world what it is, what it becomes. Outward values depend entirely upon inward condition, inward state, and it does not matter how man may develop this world, because man is what he is, the end of all his developments will be suffering and destruction. He cannot help himself. When the Lord Jesus says such things as "you will be hearing of wars and rumours of wars" (Matt. 24:6), He is not just making a prophetic statement in an objective way that that is how things will be. He is speaking on principle and He is saying in effect, that man, being what he is, will only increase difficulties in this world, he will only bring about an ever-increasing state of conflict because he himself is a conflict, he himself is all disrupted.

War is not some objective thing; war is what man is in himself! Can you deny that? In spite of man, in spite of his outward efforts, he just does it. Man says, 'The war to end all wars'. Man says, 'This is the last world-war; no more war.' What endless talk there is like that, and all the time if he were a sane creature he would realize that he is only working for more, and the end of his works does mean more, he cannot avoid it. It is the coming out of what man is and you and I know that very well. That is the meaning of this fundamental imperative, "You must be born again." There must be another kind of man to have another kind of world. There must be another humanity. Redemption comes by another kind of humanity, and that is the principle of the incarnation.

Our Discovery of the Difference

You see, the Christian life is one long discovery on the negative side of this difference between Christ and ourselves. Thank God it is not only that, but on one side it is that - one long discovery and realization that we are one thing and Christ is another. That is the basis and the background of all the meaning of the Gospel, all the work of grace, all the growing knowledge of the Lord, all the discipline. There is no meaning in such words as "predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom. 8:29) if conformity does not mean a change from one thing to another. Language has no meaning if that is not its meaning. You and I are really in this thing on one side of our Christian experience. What Christ is is something utterly, wholly different from what we are. There lies the real danger in all doctrines of eradication which put young Christians in a position where they believe that everything is done in an instant. They do not know the terrible depths of the difference, and which knowledge is necessary to spiritual education and spiritual growth.

Christ Provides a Way Back to God

If it is true, as God says it is, that man is lost, then he needs a way back. He will never be recovered unless a way is provided and set before him. Christ was never lost, hence He can provide a way, indicate the way, tell you the way. He was never lost, and so He says, 'The way is what I am, I am the way.' The way does not become objective to Christ, something to which He points. He says, 'The way is what I am, and I am the kind of Man that reaches God. I am the kind of humanity that links God's purpose with its realization, God's original beginning with God's end, God's desire with its attainment, and man's too; I am the way.'

So you see, this gives the meaning to Christianity as the Way. Christianity as the Way means that there is another humanity brought in by regeneration or new birth, another kind of being. Is not that the deepest truth and reality about us if we are the Lord's? Oh, I know about all the framework and all that we carry with us, but fundamentally some radical difference has been made, and we know right there deep down in the centre of our being there is that which is against all the rest that is true of us, that knows quite well that all the rest is wrong, all that other has got to be repudiated. Something has happened that has linked us with an order that we are not naturally. Is not that the deepest truth of our being as Christians? We have not just accepted certain teachings and practice and by so doing joined Christianity. Something has happened in us and that happening is that which corresponds to what happened at Bethlehem, a different kind of being has been brought into this world.

The Distinctiveness of Christianity

When Christianity became known as the Way, it surely meant at least that it was something distinct. The article is there every time - the Way. It does not just say a way, although there were others. It is the Way. They were the people of the Way. It was this way, something quite distinct, something different, something other, something recognizable as being other. When you sift it down and ask what it is, you cannot find that it was just because these Christians were changing their religion and their religious procedure. You arrive at this, that these Christians are different people. They are different from all the rest and it is that that makes them known as the Way. It is the way which is marked out by a difference in the people themselves, and when you ask again, What is that difference? - if you had asked these people who formulated that title, that designation, 'What do you mean by the Way?' they would have said, I believe, that they are related to Jesus of Nazareth; Jesus of Nazareth is everything to them. Jesus of Nazareth is all they have to talk about; it is the Jesus way. Ah, it is the only explanation and definition of the Way. It is something which brings Christ into view, something that presents Him. Christianity, therefore, in its very inception, is that which is intended to be the embodiment of Christ as another order of being.

We have said enough about His birth, His humanity, as the inclusive background of what is meant by the Way. It is not some thing, it is a kind of Person.

The Meaning of Christ's Baptism

I said there were five major features of Christ and of Christianity as the Way. That was the first; and the second is the meaning of His baptism. The birth declares the difference in the humanity, of one humanity which will not be acceptable to, or accepted by God and another humanity which will be accepted. That is the secret of the birth.

The baptism, as the next major outstanding thing in Christ's life sets forth the door into the Way. Let us be very clear here. We are not preaching baptism. The apostles did not preach baptism. Oh, but, you say, what about Peter on the day of Pentecost? "Repent... and be baptised" (Acts 2:38). What about Philip and the eunuch? I repeat, they did not preach baptism. But, you say, what about the great commission - "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19)? I repeat, they did not preach baptism. Now, you say, how are you going to get round this? Go straight through it! We are not saying that baptism is the door into the Way. We are not talking about baptism and saying that it in itself is anything; we are talking about baptism in its meaning. It is the meaning, not the thing. Let us leave ordinances aside, for we are not talking about baptism as an ordinance.

The apostles preached Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. They set forth Christ, what He was, Who He was, and what He signified in the sense in which we have been speaking - another, different, and only way - and the Holy Spirit came upon their preaching of Christ and brought conviction and men cried out, "What shall we do?" and then as a reply to a Holy Spirit created conviction about the Lord Jesus, they said, "Repent... and be baptised." You see the order. Baptism derives its value from a seeing of Christ, and God help anybody who is baptised who has not seen Christ - seen Christ, the altogether different, the altogether only.

The Effect of Seeing Christ

Where does it lead me and lead you? When we, under the power of the Holy Spirit, see Christ, we immediately see our own lostness. Is that not true? When the Holy Spirit reveals Christ to us, the immediate accompaniment is the sense that we are lost and we are hopeless. An accompanying despair goes with a real seeing of Christ. That is conviction; call it conviction of sin, if you like. It is conviction of what we are as over against what He is. This difference immediately springs into view.

Christ is one thing and I am another, and the difference is so overwhelming. In myself I am utterly in despair, there is no hope. God's way is not negative. That is just condemnation. God's way is positive and He reaches His ends by contrasts. If God were to come to us and just begin to bring us under condemnation in itself, where would the end of that be? Well, that is a negative way, a very unprofitable way. But if God holds up something and then shows us the contrast between us and it and then tells us this is what He wants where we are concerned, that is a positive way of salvation. That is the revelation of Jesus Christ and it brings this sense of hopelessness in ourselves in order that we may discover that our hope is in Christ. You see, the true effect of an impact of Christ upon the life is despair to begin with, and the continuous effect of the revelation of Jesus Christ is that the more we see Him, the more we see the hopelessness of ourselves as ourselves. To see Him will produce the cry - "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man" (Luke 5:8). It is the first reaction to a true seeing of Christ. "I am a sinful man."

The Beginning of the Way: A Grave

Now you see, that helps us, for when Christ officially takes up the work of revealing the Way (and I say 'officially' because it was officially that that He did it at the Jordan in His baptism) He was stepping into His finished work as Redeemer, and when He takes up that work of revealing the Way, He makes the very beginning of the Way a grave. The beginning of the Way is a grave; that is the Jordan - a burial. The Holy Spirit makes much of that idea of burial. "We have been buried with Him through baptism into death" (Rom. 6:4). Those who have seen Christ will at once recognize not only the necessity but the blessed possibility of being buried. What I am in contrast with Christ! Let me get buried and out of the way! That is the effect. Let me get off this earth, let me get out of view! The baptism of Christ is the provision for us of a grave, providing our old man with a grave. "Our old man was crucified with him" (Rom. 6:6). "We were buried". Thank God! Let us get into that grave as quickly as we can! It has to be the result of conviction, not because the church says that baptism is something you must conform to and accept, not because in Christianity baptism has a place in the creed and in the practice, not because anybody tells you you ought to be baptised and it is the thing to do; Christ was baptised and you ought to follow His example. None of that. But it is because the Holy Spirit has come to you and made you feel, "Let me get buried as soon as I can!" It is something wrought in us. Do not entertain baptism until the Holy Spirit convicts you. I am not preaching baptism, I am preaching Christ, and saying that His baptism is a figure of our death with Him. He is representative and inclusive, and in His baptism we step right into what God says about us in ourselves, for Christ has taken our place officially and representatively to be carried out of the sight of God.

Ah, but with Him it was a terrible thing, for the counterpart of His baptism was the cry of anguished despair - 'My God, You have forsaken Me!' There is the despair Christ has entered into which is our despair when once the Holy Spirit gets to work upon us. He has touched our despair, our hopelessness, to its uttermost depths; tasted that depth for every man that in His despair our despair should be swallowed up and carried to the grave, that the thing of despair should be put right out of the sight of God. Oh, thank God for the grave! It is the grave of the humanity that God knows it to be. First, what God knows it to be is something that can never stand in His presence. It is the grave of the people who have come to despair because the Holy Spirit has opened their eyes to Christ.

So long as any other hope exists, the way is closed. That is a strange contradiction. So long as any other hope exists, the way to God is closed. If we hope in our works, if we hope in ourselves, if we hope in our own righteousness, the way to God is closed. And that is one of the great emphases of Christ's life on this earth. He thundered about that. Righteousness? - it is your righteousness that bars and locks the door which opens the way to God! Your works, your good works, your religious works? - they are the very things that are keeping that door closed. Your goodness, something in yourself that after all is worthy of God? - such an idea keeps the door fast closed. When you have come to despair about your righteousness, your goodness, your works, your religiousness, you are not far from the kingdom of God, you are on the threshold of the Way, you are at the door, for that door finds people at it, and only people who have lost their hope in any other way or direction.

Well, baptism is something very much more than an ordinance, is it not? Baptism is a funeral, baptism is a conviction; and you do not get convicted that you ought to be baptised, you get convicted that you ought to be buried. If the Lord has provided a way for your putting your conviction into practical expression and that way is baptism, then it is just the meaning of baptism that is all-important and not the thing itself. Although the thing constitutes a challenge to our reality, seeing that we are, after all, human beings, men and women, and not disembodied spirits, we are called upon to put these things into very practical expression, but that follows something of the Spirit's work in us. People come to me and say, 'Ought I to be baptised?' I never say, 'Yes, of course', and I never ask anybody if they have been baptised. But if the matter arises I say, 'Has the Lord spoken to you about that? Has the Lord been troubling you about that? Has the Lord been showing you that that is necessary to express some work of His Spirit in you?' If the answer is 'Yes', what is left for anybody to say? There is no need to come and ask about it; of course the answer is 'Yes'. If that is not the cause of it, do not be baptised on any other ground at all. It is the Holy Spirit bringing the greatest truth home to the human heart, which is that we are fit for nothing but the grave. The Spirit would tell us that, and many of us know that. Perhaps some of you are knowing that as very really now.

Christ's Death Representative and Inclusive

Christ's baptism was representative and inclusive. That has been said many times, but what I mean by that is this - He takes a position as representing us. It is not so many baptisms as there are Christians who are baptised. It is not your baptism and my baptism; it is His death and He takes that place for us and as us and by faith we step right into Him, and, so to speak, we go down into His death and His grave. That is what He did.

And let us say this simple thing again, that it is not something that will happen today. It is something that did happen. This whole thing took place hundreds of years ago. The apostle does not say, 'We are baptised with Him' or, 'We are buried with Him when we are baptised.' He says that we were crucified with Christ, we were buried with Him. We only recognise, acknowledge and accept what took place back then when we ourselves bear this testimony. That is, perhaps, too simple, but it may be necessary. The great, governing phrase of the New Testament is that little phrase "in Him". Sometimes it is put, "together with Him". It is "in Christ".

The Death of Christ an Active Thing

One added word on this. The death of Christ is no mere passive thing. The death of Christ is a power, is dynamic. I think it was Dr. Mabie who many years ago said, long before this present time when we are so familiar with these terms, "The death of Christ is radioactive." Now you know what radioactivity is. You touch some ground which has been affected by radio action! You know you must be insulated, you know it is going to affect you, to disintegrate you; it will make you fall to pieces physically. "The death of Christ", said Mabie "is radioactive"; the death of Christ is a power right up to date. If you and I really come into vital touch with the death of Christ we meet a registration. Let me put that another way. If you and I have really spiritually entered into the meaning of Christ's death, then if we touch something that that death was against, we know it. You touch it, and see if the death of Christ does not register - keep off that; leave that alone; you have died to that; the death of Christ cuts you off from that; the death of Christ witnesses against that; the death of Christ said no more of that! Touch it and the Holy Spirit brings back the power of Christ's death. You say, 'Oh, I wish I had not touched that; I wish I had left it alone; somehow or other that death has touched me.' Anybody spiritually alive knows that that is true. We are not talking about ordinances, performances, rites and ritual, burial as such. We are talking about the death of Christ, and that is a mighty thing. It affects us. It is not a performance, something that we do which is objective to ourselves. It affects us, it testifies in us against a whole world, a whole realm. It witnesses against all that is not of God, and it is a living witness right up to date because the Holy Spirit has charge of that matter and He is alive right up to date.

So, you see, baptism is not some thing. It is a declaration of a deep reality. It is the declaration of the meaning of Christ's death. It is interesting that as soon as Christ steps out into His official work, it is at Jordan - baptism is the door. As soon as the church starts on its course on the day of Pentecost, it is baptism. The very first thing - "Repent... and be baptised." Baptism comes into view. It is the door to the Way, and if the church is going to really express and represent Christ as the Way and in effect be the Way for man, it has got to be a baptised church, that is, a crucified and buried church, raised from the dead. You and I will never, never help people to God except in so far as we are crucified, dead and buried, so far as our old life and nature and relationships are concerned. Only a crucified church can bring the mighty power of the death of Christ to affect other lives.

When John was baptising at Jordan, Jesus came, and different classes and sets of people came to be baptised. The soldiers came, we are told, and the soldiers, whether they were the Roman soldiers or the temple soldiers, represent the strength of this world and the strength of this world, the power of this world, has got to go down into the grave. The publicans came, and they were the commercialists, the embodiment of this world's wit and wisdom and cunning and acquisitiveness, possessiveness along the line of cleverness, and it has all got to go into the grave. And the Pharisees came, and they are the embodiment of a religion that is Christ-less, and it has to go into the grave. Every class in this world is in the grave to be buried. And then the only One Who has an open heaven and the seal of God is a different kind that has come up out of that figurative grave: "My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased". He is the only One to survive the grave and be accepted with God.

That leads us to His anointing in the next chapter.

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