Baptism



Jesus is God’s Son.  

Born of a virgin, testified to by angels and prophets, Jesus showed both human and divine attributes from an early age.  One remarkable thing about Jesus as a human being is that He was without sin.

As a man without sin, Jesus shows us how to live.

If your purpose in life is to have fun, be rich, die without God and be lost for all eternity, Jesus may not be your example.  However, if you want to please God and live forever, Jesus is the only example for you.  Jesus is the way to eternal life.

One example Jesus set is baptism.

There is much confusion about baptism.  Because of its importance, the evil one has introduced controversy and confusion to the subject.  Whenever a subject is important, this is what the evil one does.

For example, the person of Jesus is of utmost importance.  Therefore, there is much confusion and controversy on the subject.  Jesus is God and man joined in one person forever.  This involves the idea of the Trinity and of the incarnation.  These teachings are so fundamental that if someone differs with the accepted teachings on these subjects, we do not consider them to be of the same faith and classify them as cults.  Examples of such cults would be Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.

Baptism does not fall into the same category.  If someone differs from us on baptism, we do not consider them heretics or cults.  We do not necessarily break fellowship with anyone over differences of opinion about baptism.  However, we distinguish between questions of mode and questions of salvation. 

There are those that maintain that baptism is necessary to salvation and that if one is not baptized, he or she is not saved.  In addition, there are differences in opinion as to who can administer baptism and what the proper way to administer baptism is.  Errors in relation to salvation and the necessity of baptism to salvation are errors that we reject.  Baptism is not necessary to salvation.  Baptism is for the saved.  Salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ.  The Bible is clear.  “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”  However, having said this, we have no examples of believers who were not baptized apart from extreme cases such as the thief on the cross, where there was no opportunity for baptism to take place.  Why would a person with saving faith (faith unto salvation) not want to be baptized?

As far as mode is concerned, there are those who sprinkle, those who pour and those who immerse.  While I believe we can know what baptism means and how it should be done, I also believe that sincere followers of Jesus differ with me as to mode and even on the meaning of baptism, and they are still my brothers and sisters in Christ.

As God the Son, Jesus is our example, and He teaches us about baptism by His example.  He was baptized by John in the Jordan River.

Matthew 3 gives the account of Jesus’ baptism.

John baptized Jesus, and in this account, we learn of the origins of Christian baptism.

The text says:
1In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching.  His message was, 2“Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  (Matthew 3:1-2)

John preached a message from God.  The text acknowledges this when it refers to the prophecy of Isaiah, which says, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming.’”  (Matthew 3:3)  The nature of John’s ministry as a prophet with a message from God is also emphasized by the report of the clothing he wore.  Matthew 3:4 says, “John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist.”  This is reminiscent of the prophet Elijah who dressed the same way.  In 2 Kings chapter one, the king of Israel identified the prophet Elijah by just such a description of his clothing. 

Jesus said of John:
11Jesus replied, “Elijah is indeed coming first to get everything ready.  12But I tell you, Elijah has already come, but he wasn’t recognized, and they chose to abuse him.  And in the same way they will also make the Son of Man suffer.”  13Then the disciples realized he was talking about John the Baptist.  (Matthew 17:11-13)

Christian baptism was instituted by God through His prophet, John the Baptist.   John the Baptist came in the Spirit and power of the prophet Elijah to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming, and as part of his ministry instituted the practice of baptism.

Matthew tells us that John’s message was “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  (Matthew 3:2)  This message was connected with baptism in that as Matthew 3:6 says, “And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.”

John was making an appeal to people to be right with God, just as we make an appeal to people to be right with God.  (Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  2 Corinthians 5:20, ESV)

Since his ministry centered on an appeal for people to get right with God, John strongly denounced the Pharisees and Sadducees who came out to be baptized.  His challenge to them was to prove by the way they lived that they had repented of their sins and turned to God.  The Pharisees and Sadducees put their confidence in the fact that they were descendants of Abraham, children of the promise.  Therefore, John directly confronted this mistaken confidence and called upon them to repent.  1 Peter 3:21 describes baptism as an “appeal to God for a good conscience.”  

Judaism had rituals for cleansing and also had pools for the purpose of ritual cleansing of the whole body.  Several biblical regulations specify that full immersion in water is required to regain ritual purity after ritually impure incidents have occurred.[i]  However, John was not just carrying on the Jewish tradition of cleansing.  He was teaching much more.

Josephus was a Jewish scholar and historian who lived from 37 AD to 100 AD.  Josephus was not a follower of Jesus, and therefore his understanding of John’s teaching and method are not necessarily biblical.  However, as an outsider and one from that time period, he lends perspective to what John was preaching and doing.  When speaking of the destruction of Herod’s army, Josephus says this about John:
     Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and was a very just punishment for what he did against John called the Baptist [the dipper].  For Herod had him killed, although he was a good man and had urged the Jews to exert themselves to virtue, both as to justice toward one another and reverence towards God, and having done so join together in washing.  For immersion in water, it was clear to him, could not be used for the forgiveness of sins, but as a sanctification of the body, and only if the soul was already thoroughly purified by right actions.  And when others massed about him, for they were very greatly moved by his words, Herod, who feared that such strong influence over the people might carry to a revolt -- for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise -- believed it much better to move now than later have it raise a rebellion and engage him in actions he would regret.[ii] (Antiquities 18.5.2 116-119)                                

We have in Josephus then an indication that John was teaching repentance, an appeal to God for a good conscience and a joining together.  (And also as an aside, support for the practice of immersion.)

John also indicates that his ministry was in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.  He says:
11“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  (Matthew 3:11-12, ESV)

John’s preaching included the statement that the Kingdom of God was near.  This thought is expanded in this passage from Matthew.  The coming one would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit.  John is warning people to get ready.  His words to the Pharisees and Sadducees were, “Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath?”  (Matthew 3:7)  

Repentance and confession are necessary because of our sin.  The Scriptures clearly teach that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  (Romans 3:23)  The Scriptures also clearly teach “…the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”  (Romans 1:18, ESV) 

John preached to prepare people for the approaching Kingdom of God, and the first thing people needed to deal with was their sin.

We preach to introduce people to the Kingdom of God, and the first thing people need to deal with is their sin.

Jesus had no sin.  Therefore, when Jesus approached John to be baptized, John said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  (Matthew 3:14, ESV)  Jesus responded, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  (Matthew 3:15, ESV)

While Jesus had no sin to repent of or confess, He still needed to be baptized as a measure of obedience.

If Jesus, who had no sin, needed to be baptized, how much more those of us who have sin?  John baptized people after they confessed their sins.  Baptism comes after we recognize that we are sinners.  Recognition that we are sinners is usually accompanied by the realization that because of our sin, we are subject to the wrath of God as mentioned earlier.  We realize that we need to flee the wrath of God and there is nowhere to go but to God.  Since Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead, we know something that John did not.  John knew that God would forgive our sins if we asked Him, but he did not know how God would pay for those sins.  We know that Jesus paid the price for our sins.  Therefore, for us there is an added picture to baptism.  Baptism pictures our joining with Christ as explained in Romans 6:3-4.
3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  (ESV)

When we are baptized, we give outward evidence of a spiritual transaction that has already taken place.  We confirm with an outward sign what we have already decided in our hearts.

When Jesus took this step, the Father affirmed Jesus.  The Scriptures say:
…he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  (Matthew 3:16-17, ESV)

When we follow Jesus’ example and are baptized, the Holy Spirit also affirms us.  Not everyone’s experience is the same.  However, Romans 8:16 tells us that, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (ESV)  What better time for that affirmation to take place than at baptism?

I am going to be harsh, please forgive me.  I am sure you have good and legitimate reasons for not being baptized.  However, can we put those reasons aside?  Don’t tell me you believe if you have not been baptized.  If you believe, get baptized.  Jesus did, why don’t you?




[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikveh
[ii] http://www.josephus.org/JohnTBaptist.htm#Purification

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