Diving into Baptism

June 5, 2016

The Baptism of Jesus
It’s just confusing.  We all know the story of John the Baptist,
and we know the story of Jesus and we even know the point where the two stories
intercept.  And that’s where it gets
confusing. 
There are two things we know that seem to
muddy the water, so to speak.  The first
is that John was preaching a baptism of Repentance.    In
Mark’s Gospel we read Mark 1:4  This
messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people
should be baptized to show that they had turned to God to receive forgiveness
for their sins.
And he is faithful to that message, not
content with lip service, he actually called on people to change their
ways.  In Luke’s account we read that the
crowd hearing John’s message wanted to know what repentance looked like in real
life, we pick up the story in Luke 3:10-14  The
crowds asked, “What should we do?”  John replied, “If you have two shirts,
give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”
 Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what
should we do?”  He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government
requires.”  “What should we do?” asked some soldiers. John replied, “Don’t
extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”
 And
we have no problem with that, some people did. 
His message finally resulted in his being killed by King Herod after he
challenged the king about his marriage to his younger brother’s ex-wife. 
And while John was a little different and
just a tad eccentric his message was clear. 
Repent, commit to changing your behaviour and get baptized.  Simple.
The confusion arises when Jesus arrives at
the edge of the Jordon River asking John to baptize him.  Because our understanding of Christ’s
character was that he was without sin, that is that he had nothing to repent
of, no behaviour that had to be changed. 
And that isn’t just my opinion, the scriptures return to that theme over
and over again.    And it forms the
foundation of our theology of salvation. 
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21  For God made
Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be
made right with God through Christ.   No sin, no need for
repentance, no repentance not need for baptism.   That’s where it gets confusing.
So let’s jump in and see where the story takes
us.
Matthew
3:13
Then Jesus went
from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.  
The First Thing we discover is that Jesus’ Baptism Was Intentional The
baptism of Jesus didn’t just kind of happen, Jesus wasn’t just walking along
one day and saw John baptizing people and thought, “Hey that’s kind of cool, I
should do that.”
We are told that Jesus travelled from
Galilee to the Jordan river to be baptized.  Let’s pull up one of our handy dandy
maps.  Couple of points of
reference.  Here is the Sea of Galilee
and here here is the Dead Sea.
And here is where Jesus was, and here is
where John was and where Jesus went.   That isn’t like Jesus crossed the road to be
baptized, it was at least a full day’s journey, and possibly longer to get from
point A Galilee to Point B the Jordan river. 
This is the first mention that we have of
Jesus since he was 12, you’ll remember that story from the book of Luke when
Jesus and his family had gone to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and Jesus
got separated from his parents and got lost. 
Actually he knew exactly where he was, in the temple, and that’s where
they found him.  Now we discover that he
is 30 years old and he steps back into the narrative.  And what may or may not have happened in
those 18 years will remain speculation and the arena of fiction.
After Luke’s account of the Jesus’ baptism
he adds a little aside when he writes Luke 3:23  Jesus was about thirty years old when he began
his public ministry.     And maybe that’s just Luke, after all he told us that Jesus was 12
when his parents lost him at the temple, he seems like a bit of a numbers
guy.  Or maybe there is more to it. 
In 1965 it was Jack
Weinberg who coined the phrase “Don’t trust
anyone over 30.”   Of course
Weinberg turned 76 in April so he might have changed his mind.  But 2000 years ago a man’s opinion wasn’t
worth much before he was thirty.  Joseph
was thirty when he began his service in Pharaoh’s court, David was thirty when
he became King and the Levites had to be thirty before they could serve in the
temple. 
And so when Jesus was thirty, he made the
decision to be baptized, and being baptized was a choice that Jesus made, his
parents didn’t make it for him, John didn’t make it, it was Jesus who decided
to go from Galilee to where John was baptizing people and he went with a
purpose, to be baptized.
I am a firm believer in believer
baptism.  In 35 years of pastoral
ministry I have never baptized a baby, I have baptized children who have made a
commitment to follow Christ and who have asked to be baptized, but I have never
baptized an infant.  Why?  Because I believe that baptism needs to be
intentional, that it is a choice and a decision that has to be made, by the
person being baptized.
Other’s may suggest that you ought to get
baptized, but ultimately the decision to be baptized has to be yours. 
Let’s go back to the story, Jesus makes the
journey and finds his cousin baptizing folks, now if you are familiar with the
story John has been telling people that he wasn’t the promised Messiah but that
the promised one was on the way.  And
then Jesus show up and asks to be baptized and we pick up the story in  Matthew 3:14  But
John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by
you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”
Jesus’
Baptism Wasn’t Without Opposition 
I would
think that John would have been excited to baptize Jesus.  Pretty good chance that they knew each other,
we are told very early in the story that their mothers were related, and even
though they raised in different communities, Jesus in Nazareth and John in
Jerusalem, the gospels tell us that Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem every year
for the Passover. 
Now I don’t know if you have a place that
you go home to, but when I was a kid we went home to Grand Manan.  And when we went home to Grand Manan we
stayed with kin and we visited kin.  I
would suspect that it was the same with Jesus. 
And I would think that John would be excited that his younger cousin
wanted to be baptized, and that he wanted John to do it.
But Nooooooo.  The New Living Translation says that John
tried to talk him out of it, the New International Version says that John tried
to deter him and the King James version is even stronger, it says that John
forbade him.  The word used in the
original language means to hinder or to prohibit.  It would appear that John wasn’t in favour of
Jesus being baptized. 
John no doubt saw Jesus as the messiah that
he had been announcing, if he had grown up with Jesus he probably had seen the
difference in Jesus’ life compared to the life of others and had never
witnessed any behaviour, attitudes or actions that Jesus needed to repent of.
So understand, if you choose to be baptized
there will be some who might not be as excited as you are.   If you were baptized as an infant they might
not understand why you have chosen to be baptized again, they might tell you
there is no need of it.  They might even
feel that by choosing to be baptized that you are in some way negating or
diminishing their earlier earlier decision, or  by being baptised you are saying that it was
wrong. 
Other may not understand your need to get
baptized, or maybe because they have never been baptized they are feeling some
pressure because of your choice. 
Other’s may suggest that you shouldn’t get
baptized, but ultimately the decision to be baptized needs to be yours.
So what happens, Jesus arrives at the edge
of the river asking John to baptize him and John objects and tries to talk
Jesus out of his decision, well let’s go back to the story
Matthew
3:15
 But Jesus
said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John
agreed to baptize him.”
Jesus’
Baptism Was an Act of Obedience  
There have been many suggestions and theories as to why Jesus was
baptized.  But ultimately Jesus goes back
to the fact that God required it.  Why?   We’ll never really know, this side of
eternity, but we can speculate.
Some have suggested that he was baptized to
display his humility.  Others would say
that he was baptized in order to provide an example to future believers. 
I kind of think that he chose to be
baptized in order to mark the beginning of his journey.  He could point back to his ministry beginning
at that point.   He could say “It all
began the day John baptized me in the Jordan.”
But honestly, Jesus doesn’t elaborate on
the why, he simply said he needed to be baptized if he was going to be obedient
to God.   And if we go back to Luke’s account we are
told that is when Jesus began his public ministry.  And so baptism seems to be Jesus stepping out
in obedience and saying “Yes I will.”
We can go into all the theological
implications of why you need to be baptized, and that is a sermon in itself,
for next week.   And we will talk about
how baptism symbolizes the washing away of our sins, that it is a metaphor for
becoming made new, that it illustrates the resurrection and new life.  And we can provide scriptures to back up each
of those concepts. 
But for the Christians there is really only
one scripture that we need and that is when Jesus told his disciples in Mark
16:16
 Anyone who believes and is baptized
will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.
Baptism is the first point of obedience in
your Christian life.  Believe and be
baptized.  And I’ve said before, if you
find it hard to be obedient in an act as simple as baptism what are you going
to do when the big stuff comes along? 
And don’t worry about getting everything right before you get baptized,
it marks the beginning, not the end.
Here is the bottom line, and you can disagree
with me if you like, but you will be wrong, if you are a Christ Follower and
you haven’t followed him into the water of baptism then you are disobedient.
Baptist preacher and evangelist John R. Rice summed it up when he wrote “God’s people should be baptized because God
commanded it, not because some church requires it.”
Because ultimately the decision to be
baptized is a decision of obedience.
So let’s go back to the story,  Matthew 3:16  After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water,  Jesus’
Baptism Happened in the Water 
There
is no question that Jesus’ baptism was a water baptism.  But there are different opinions about how
the water was applied.  Some would insist
that John would have simply poured water over the head of a standing Jesus,
others speculate that Jesus knelt and had water poured over him, while still
others argue for full immersion.
We don’t know, but again we can look at
what we are told.  In this scripture we
are told that Jesus came up out of the water, which would imply that Jesus had
gone down into the water.  In John’s
account we read John 3:23  At this time John the Baptist was baptizing
at Aenon, near Salim, because there was plenty of water there; and people kept
coming to him for baptism. 
And so John wasn’t looking for a little bit
of water, he was looking for plenty of water. 
Which would lead me to believe that whatever method he was using
required plenty of water.  And if you are
just going to pour water on someone then all you need is enough water to
pour. 
And so if you are unfamiliar with
Cornerstone, we baptize by immersion, figure you were good and lost so you
ought to get good and wet.  Is that
engraved in stone?  Probably not.  In 2010 I was in Northern Ghana and while
there our team performed 89 baptisms, many of them were performed in rivers but
at one church we were way too far from the closest body of water for that to be
a reality, so we poured water on the candidates, and I believe that they were
just as baptized as those who had been baptized in the river.
But when it can happen by immersion, I
believe, this is Denn talking, that it should be by immersion.  And I know that entire denominations disagree
with me, and that’s ok, and I’m not saying that if you were baptized by
sprinkling or pouring it doesn’t count, I’m just saying that I believe that
when it can happen by immersion, it should happen by immersion.
And the result of what happened that day is
spelled out in,  Matthew
3:16-17
 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the
heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and
settling on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved
Son, who brings me great joy.”
Jesus’
Baptism Testified to the Trinity 
The concept of the Trinity goes clear back
to creation, when we read in Genesis 1:26  Then
God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like ourselves.”  He didn’t say “Let me
make human’s in my image, to be like me.” 
He said   “Let us make human beings in our
image, to be like ourselves.” 
And while we get hints throughout the Old
Testament with talk of all three persons separately here and there it is in
this scene at the beginning of the New Testament we see the Trinity,
together.  The Son has just been
baptized, the Holy Spirit descends on the Son and the Father speaks from
heaven.  
Sometimes people will ask me if I can
explain the Trinity, the answer I usually give them is “No.”   There
are all kinds of things I can’t explain. 
I can explain how the solar system on the
roof of our house makes hot water but I can’t explain how the solar system on
the roof of the church makes electricity. 
I can’t explain E=mc2, I can’t explain where the white goes when the
snow melts, I can’t explain women and I can’t explain the Trinity.  But even though I can’t explain them the
solar system on the room still produces energy, E still equals mc2, the white
disappears with the snow and the Trinity exists.
 Augustine
wrote a book called “On the Trinity” and he couldn’t explain it.  In 1953 in their book “A Handbook of
Christian Truth”, Harold Lindsell and Charles
Woodbridge wrote “The mind of man cannot
fully understand the mystery of the Trinity. He who has tried to understand the
mystery fully will lose his mind; but he who would deny the Trinity will lose
his soul.”
And while we may not be able to articulate
the “how” of the Trinity we see each of them at Jesus’ baptism, and through the
Gospels we see Jesus refer to himself as the Son we listen to Jesus pray to the
Father and and we hear Jesus promise the Spirit. 
When Jesus was giving the apostles their
final instructions he tells them in Matthew 28:19  Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing
them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
It was Thomas
Adams, a Puritan Preacher, who was sometimes called “The Shakespeare of the Puritans” who
wrote, “”Baptizing them
in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” The Father,
Son, and Holy Ghost: there are three distinct persons: in the Name, not names;
there is one essence.”
Ten years ago we had a lady who asked me if
I would baptize her just in the name of Jesus instead of in the name of the
Father, Son and Holy Spirit?  And I said
“No.”  And she left Cornerstone, because
there are somethings I don’t move on, and that’s one of them.  
And at that moment, when Jesus stepped out
of the water he was declaring that he was stepping into obedience.  He closed the door on one chapter of his life
and opened the door on another chapter.  
When we choose to follow Jesus into the water of baptism that’s what we
are doing, we are proclaiming that we are made new.  We aren’t just taking Christianity for a test
drive we’ve signed on the dotted line, Max
Lucado is
one of my favorite writers, and he sums it up when he writes “Baptism separates the tire kickers from the car
buyers.”
Swiss theologian Hans Urs von
Balthasar
explains 
“The Church does not dispense the sacrament
of baptism in order to acquire for herself an increase in membership but in
order to consecrate a human being to God and to communicate to that person the
divine gift of birth from God.”
So, where you at?