September 19th, just five Sundays ago, we observed National Back to Church Sunday by beginning a series of worship services focused on understanding what Jesus meant when He said he would establish His church. That Sunday, we talked about church as being formed of people who would be committed to taking the plunge into a relationship with Jesus as one would enter a marital relationship.
On the second week of our journey, we saw that Jesus established a command that the people of his church love one another. Being loving toward other believers was the singular criterion to the world to distinguish Jesus’ church from any other collection of people.
On the first Sunday of this month, we saw that Jesus commissioned his committed loving followers to go into the world and bring the good news of the Gospel to all people. In celebrating the Lord’s Supper that Sunday, we gave testimony to Jesus’ unconditional love for those who would follow him.
Last week, we spoke about the Jesus’ examples that we were to servants to one another to build up the church, making the body of believers vibrant and healthy. And with that strong body, we were to then love our neighbors giving comfort and care when others would walk past them.
Today, I would like us to look at one more element of Jesus’ church and that is baptism. With the differing Christian traditions about baptism, there is much confusion about baptism. What is baptism? Does baptism do something to us or for us? Should we be sprinkled with water or immersed in water as an act of baptism? Is baptism symbolic of something? If I was sprinkled as a baby, should I be baptized again as an adult? Where should we begin with our conversation on baptism?
Absent any other starting place, it is always good to start at the beginning. So, let’s start our conversation with the earliest Biblical references to baptism. In chapter 1 of the Gospel of Mark, we read, “1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’—3 ‘a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ 4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (Mark 1:1-5).
Baptism has no earlier use in the Bible than the Gospel of Mark. Baptism, as we know of it, began with a man named John who God called to stir up the people’s attention to be aware that God was sending his Messiah, his messenger of great importance, to the people. John called people into the wilderness to hear the message. John called people away from the cities and town, away from the Temple in Jerusalem and the synagogues across the land and into the wilderness to hear a new message. The people who traveled to the wilderness and so they did not hear John’s message accidentally. The people were of an age and mindset that they wanted to hear what John had to say.
In the wilderness, John said two things. First, the Lord was coming. Second, in preparation for the coming of the Lord, people needed to repent, turn from everything else in life, turn from sin, and return to God, just God. To mark their preparation to receive the Lord and their decision to repent, John invited people to then be baptized in the River Jordan. Baptized is an English word we get from the Greek word, bap-tid'-zo, βαπτίζω, meaning “to immerse.” Those who responded to John’s message immersed themselves in the waters of the River Jordan. John’s baptism was thus seen as a symbol of preparation in anticipation of coming Lord.
John understood that his time of calling people and performing baptisms would only be for a limited time. John said, “7 And this was his message: ‘After me (John) comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I (John) baptize you with water, but he (the Messiah) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’” (Mark 1:7-8). Some text say the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. John knew that something more profound than his message and more profound than his baptism in the River Jordan was coming.
In fact, Mark informs us that, “9 At that time (when John was baptizing people) Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he (John) saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him (Jesus) like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You (Jesus) are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:9-11). John knew then the Messiah, God’s chosen, had come as John had proclaimed.
We see here though that Jesus the Son of God, the promised Messiah, was baptized by John. Why did Jesus get baptized? Jesus did not need to prepare for himself. Jesus did not need to repent and turn toward God. Jesus was God! So what is going on with Jesus’ baptism?
The Gospel of Matthew gives us some insight, “13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15 Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented” (Matthew 3:13-15). Jesus, who was God, humbled himself by becoming a man. Everything that Jesus did as a man served as an example for people to follow him. Therefore, Jesus said it was proper for people to see Jesus doing all things that lead to righteousness, a right relationship with God. And yielding of one’s spirit to the act of public baptism would become part of doing what leads us in the paths of righteousness by experiencing life in and by example of Christ. Jesus, therefore, did not undergo baptism for himself but instead was baptized that you and I would follow his example.
Very shortly after Jesus’ baptism, the king imprisoned John the Baptist and had John executed while in prison. The baptisms of John to prepare people for the coming of the Lord were over. Jesus was revealing himself as the Lord and the necessity for John’s message had ended. But the death of John and the ministry of Jesus did not put an end to the conversation about baptism.
Jesus, with his disciples, now well into his ministry talked about his pending arrest, trial, suffering, and death. Jesus referred to this experience as a baptism that he had to undergo.
- “But I have a baptism to undergo” (Luke 12:50a).
- “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:38).
The baptism Jesus was talking about was not at all like the idyllic baptism in the gentle waters of the River Jordan. Jesus’ drinking from the cup and baptism was going to be hard and difficult. We learn just how difficult the cup and baptism would be for Jesus though a private moment with Jesus and his disciples in a garden called Gethsemane. “32b Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’ 35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’” (Mark 14:32b-36).
Jesus’ cup and baptism were upon him. Jesus was about to experience the intense suffering of the cross. That was the cup and baptism Jesus must undergo and through it his disciples, you, and I would come to see the very image of a baptism of the Holy Spirit and the baptism of fire.
Visualize the scene of Jesus’ baptism of suffering for the sins of the world. It began after Jesus was arrested and the order given that Jesus be executed. Luke shared it with us: “32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left… 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42 Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ 43 Jesus answered him (the second criminal), ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:32-33, 39-43).
Three crosses stood on hill. Jesus, God in the flesh, sinless and righteous, hung on the center cross. Jesus was undergoing a baptism of suffering for the world’s sin. Jesus was selflessly giving to others. To his left and to his right were two thieves. Men who selfishly stole what was not theirs. They were sinners bearing witness to Jesus’ baptism of suffering. One thief mockingly challenged Jesus, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” This thief did not believe in Jesus. This unbelieving thief only wished Jesus would free him from judgement.
The thief on the other side of Jesus was different. The second thief acknowledged Jesus’ Lordship of Jesus. The believer begged Jesus to remember him in Jesus’ kingdom. In that moment, the two thieves were baptized by Jesus. The believer received words of comfort from Jesus, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” That was a baptism of the Holy Spirit bringing about salvation through Jesus Christ. The other thief received silence from Jesus. He received a baptism of fire into judgement. We can see John the Baptist words in the scene on the cross, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Jesus will baptize us in accordance with our wishes. He will either baptize us with the Holy Spirit as our Savior or He will baptize us with fire as our Judge. The choice is ours to make.
After this baptismal scene of the Holy Spirit and fire on the cross with thieves, Jesus’ baptism of suffering came to an end. Jesus said, “It is finished,” and Jesus died. Jesus’ baptism on the cross reflected the completed work of Christ suffering for all sins. Jesus’ baptism does not and will not be repeated.
Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb. Three days later, Jesus was resurrected from the dead and reunited with his disciples. Jesus then commissioned his disciples saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-19).
In Jesus’ commissioning, Jesus directed his church to teach the gospel to make disciples. And of those who are disciples of Jesus, the church is to baptize them in the fullness of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ command to his church was not to repeat what John had done in the River Jordan. Jesus’ command to his church was not to repeat what Jesus had done on the cross. Jesus’ command to his church was for a new baptism. Jesus’ command was that his church baptize those people who had come into agreement with who Jesus and is. Jesus is their Lord, Teacher, and Savior. Jesus is the visible imagine of the invisible God and they want to follow him and do has he has done, and he would do. Jesus’ command to the church was that people could be made new in him and to celebrate that newness with baptism. This is the baptism of what we are now about.
So, if you are willing to commit to Jesus, willing to love other believers, willing to bear witness of Jesus, and willing to serve in Jesus’ name – then you should be baptized as sign that the Holy Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit of Jesus, is part of you and you are saved from all judgement. Your baptism means God is central to your life and that you seek to live it your life of commitment, love, testimony, and service.
Your baptism does not mean you perfect and free from sin. Your baptism means you agree with Jesus and that you are a different person seeking to follow him into a life that is free from sin.
Your baptism does not mean the water will wash away your sins. Your baptism means you have had your sins washed away by Jesus’ baptism on the cross.
Your baptism does not mean you are better than anyone else. Your baptism means you are better off than you were before because you are God’s child.
Your baptism as a thinking person does not mean your baptism as an infant was wrong or improper. Your baptism now as a thoughtful youth or a discerning adult, means you want to personally follow every example set by Jesus.
The church is ready to do as Jesus commanded and baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Come and be baptized. Amen and Amen.