This week brings us to Luke 3:16, where the apostle John is preaching.
16John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but One is coming who is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Today we’ll take a quick look at baptism. While many different religions use baptism to symbolize many different things, we’ll look at how it was used in the New Testament around the life of Jesus. In this passage, Luke is summarizing John the Apostle’s ministry. John has called out in the wilderness, worn his animal skins, eaten locusts, and called the people a bunch of snakes. Most of the people who had come out wanted to be baptized, and some were even speculating that John was the one who was prophesied. His response is the verse above; he told them that he was going to baptize them with water, and that while he was not the Messiah, the Messiah was coming soon.
Just a few verses later in Luke, but out of sequence (as John was locked in prison in the previous verse in Luke), Jesus Himself was baptized. Matthew goes into more detail about this occasion.
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14But John tried to stop Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and yet You come to me?”
15Jesus answered him, “Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him [to be baptized].
16After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him. 17And there came a voice from heaven:
Can you imagine being John? Here you are, telling people that Jesus is coming, and here He shows up wanting to be baptized just like these “snake” people! I can completely understand John’s reaction. I know I wouldn’t think myself worthy of baptizing my Savior! However, notice what Jesus tells John. Not only should John baptize Jesus, but Jesus said that it is the way for them to “fulfill all righteousness.” That’s an interesting term; while I’m not going to try to come up with an exhaustive list of what that might mean, one meaning we can take away from it is that Jesus was confirming both John’s message and methods. Jesus came to this earth as a man, so that He could live the way we do. If he had refused baptism, this would have introduced a conflict into what John preached and what Jesus did. Was John wrong for proclaiming their need for baptism? Was the One who was going to baptize them above baptism Himself? God sent a dove to illustrate His pleasure with the baptism that had just taken place, confirming John’s message and Jesus’ identity.
Baptism was mentioned again by Jesus just before He ascended back into heaven.
19Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…
Here, Jesus commands His disciples to go and make disciples of everyone. Once they had done that, they were to baptize these new converts, in the name of each member of the Godhead. There is nothing magic in this; Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, not known as the cleanest body of water in Judea. However, the baptism has a great symbolism. When the body of a new convert is lowered below the water, this alludes to the death and burial of Jesus; when the body is raised from the water, this symbolizes Jesus’ raising from the dead. By choosing to be baptized after accepting Christ, the new believer is publicly identifying themselves as a follower of Christ.
Apart from the public identification, the other main point of baptism is obedience. In Matthew 28:19 above, Jesus commanded those who were doing the converting to baptize their converts. It’s very difficult to baptize a person who doesn’t willingly go along with it. (I think of the child’s sentence gleaned from a report - “No matter how hard you try, you can’t baptize cats.”) This means that the new converts were supposed to voluntarily get baptized. And truly, if you think about it, it is a great first public act of a Christian life. There is no cost involved, no studying required, no fees to be paid - all that is involved is a submissive heart willing to obey what God has told them. The only thing required, at its most inconvenient, is a change of clothes. At a camp we attended this summer, though, they did baptisms in a lake; after the baptism, the lake was open for swimming. It was an amazing celebration of new life in Christ, followed by an afternoon enjoying God’s creation.
Are you saved? If so, have you been baptized? If you haven’t, ask your pastor about it; I’m sure he’d be happy to explain it more in depth, if you need it, and help you follow in the steps of Christ with this obedience. If you have, praise God for His salvation, and join Him in celebrating another soul saved from hell.
This is Peter speaking to people who had assembled after he and John had healed a lame man (Acts 3:1-16). This type of healing, along with many other things described in the book of Acts, can be a bit contentious among Christians. Is God still in the healing business? Does He still use people like Peter and John to speak His healing? And what role do doctors play in healing - if I took a pill and got better, it must have been the doctor, right? The short answers to these questions are yes, no, and no. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at some miraculous healings at other places in the Bible.
In 1 Kings 17:8-24, we read about Elijah and the widow of Zerephath. This is during the time when Elijah had declared to Ahab and Jezebel (through direction from the Lord, of course) that it would not rain until he said it would. There was a famine, and Elijah was hungry. When he arrived at the widow’s house, she was about to make the last of her food; once she and her son ate it, they would be completely out with no prospect of any more. Elijah asked her to make him some food first, and she did; from that point on, her flour and oil never ran out for the duration of the famine. However, the widow’s son became sick and died. Elijah prayed over him, that the Lord would raise him.
22So the Lord listened to Elijah’s voice, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.
Elijah was succeeded by Elisha, and Elisha had some pretty radical healing experiences himself. In 2 Kings 4:8-17, he passed through a town called Shunem, and when he did, a woman prepared food for him every time he came by, and even set up a room in her house for him to stay. When questioned about why, she said that she recognized him as a man of God. Elisha asked what she would like in return for her hospitality, and she said she didn’t need anything. When he pressed her, though, she said that she had always wanted a son, but had been unable to conceive. Elisha told her “At this time next year you will have a son in your arms.” (v. 16) She was incredulous, but a year later, she had a son.
Fast forward a few years (2 Kings 4:18-37), and the boy is growing. Suddenly, one day he complains of severe head pain, and quickly dies in her lap. She immediately calls for donkeys to travel to see Elisha. Elisha tries to send an assistant to hold his staff over the boy’s head to bring him back to life, but the mother is insistent that Elisha come himself. Once they arrive at her house, the assistant goes in as Elisha directed, but nothing happened. What Elisha does next I’m pretty sure isn’t in any medical textbooks, but it worked!
32When Elisha got to the house, he discovered the boy lying dead on his bed. 33So he went in, closed the door behind the two of them, and prayed to the Lord. 34Then he went up and lay on the boy: he put mouth to mouth, eye to eye, hand to hand. While he bent down over him, the boy’s flesh became warm. 35Elisha got up, went into the house, and paced back and forth. Then he went up and bent down over him again. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.
(While these examples are of times that God chose to heal, He does not always make that choice. Both the Old and New Testaments have plenty of times where people died, and were not raised back to life; and, even these people did eventually die “for good.” Don’t at all think that because someone prays, even someone who is “right with God” or “spiritual” or a “great prayer warrior,” that God is bound to heal. He alone knows the plans He has for each of us. The remainder of this will focus on times when God does heal, but I wanted to address this before we continue.)
Returning to my questions from the beginning… Is God still in the healing business? The answer to that is an emphatic yes! One of the names of God in the Bible is Jehovah-Rophe, meaning “The Lord Who Heals.” This was used in Exodus 15:22-26, where God provided purification for the undrinkable water at Marah so His people could drink. In Luke 5:30-31, Jesus even used the picture of a physician when explaining why He spent so much time with sinners rather than with those who already practiced religion; if He can fix our sin, can’t He also fix our health? Also, over this past year, I have known people who have defeated cancer and overcome a drowning. God is definitely still in the healing business.
Does God still use people, like Peter and John, to walk up to someone and heal them just by speaking? This is where some of the contention comes in. I’m not interested in a deep theological debate, but I will say that I have not see this in my lifetime. While God could still use men (or women) in this way, He has generally used different techniques for different times. In our day and time, could you imagine the international storm that would be created by someone who did this? It is highly unlikely that this attention would point people towards God, which is the goal of everything God does. Besides, I don’t think He needs to, which brings me to the next question.
Don’t doctors heal more people than God these days? No. God has revealed medicine and the human body to physicians; He has granted drug makers the knowledge that they have, and the doctors the knowledge as to when their application is appropriate. He created the earth and everything on the earth; even if a drug is synthesized, it’s synthesized using material He created. This reminds me of a joke that I heard a while back - a group of scientists gets together and decides that they’re now smarter than God. So, one of them goes up to God and says, “You know, with human cloning and all the things we can create, we don’t really need You anymore.” God replies, “Then why don’t we have a man-making contest - and let’s do it old-school, like I did with Adam.” “No problem,” says the scientist, and he bends down and picks up a handful of dirt. “No, no, no,” said God, “get your own dirt!”
So, then, we see that all healing does come from God, whether He chooses to make cancer disappear, or whether He uses ibuprofen and a physical therapist, or whether He uses a replacement limb. Recognizing Him as the source for all healing, not just the miracles, enables us to more greatly see His hand at work in our lives, and in the lives of those around us.
In this case, I believe that some context would help. Philippians 3:14 is a very popular verse, but let’s look at verses 12 through 16 to get the full picture.
12Not that I have already reached [the goal] or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. 15Therefore, all who are mature should think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this to you also. 16In any case, we should live up to whatever [truth] we have attained.
Paul was a traveling evangelist, and the last person to see Jesus face to face (Acts 9:1-7). If there was anyone on this earth who would have achieved “perfect Christian” status, it would have been Paul. But, here in verse 12, Paul tells the church that he is not a fully mature Christian - he still struggles to grow in Christ. In verses 13 and 14, he tells them that he doesn’t think that he’s arrived, but that he pushes on every day, reaching towards that goal.
In verse 15, Paul encourages the church to adopt his mindset. And, we should adopt it as well - none of us will ever know everything there is to know about the Christian life, and the blessings that God has in store for us. And, notice what Paul says will happen to us when we do this - if we “think differently about anything,” God will correct our errant thinking.
This brings us to verse 16. Whether we’re striving towards the goal, or we’re content to sit stagnant in our current level of knowledge and fellowship with God, we are responsible for living up to the knowledge we have. As the Spider-Man adage goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We have been given knowledge and power by the One Who has all the power and knowledge in the universe. We are definitely responsible for discharging this power and using this knowledge the way He wants us to.
When Jesus was on earth, He told a parable about a servant who had been given responsibility while a master was away, and what happens when that servant does not faithfully use what he has been given.
42The Lord said: "Who then is the faithful and sensible manager his master will put in charge of his household servants to give them their allotted food at the proper time? 43That slave whose master finds him working when he comes will be rewarded. 44I tell you the truth: he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and starts to beat the male and female slaves, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47And that slave who knew his master’s will and didn’t prepare himself or do it will be severely beaten. 48But the one who did not know and did things deserving of blows will be beaten lightly. Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more.
Notice verses 47 and 48 - the one who knew what he was supposed to do and did not do it would be punished severely, while the one who didn’t know what he was supposed to do would be punished much more lightly. In the case of us knowing God’ Word, though, knowing that God expects us to study and learn the Bible means that we know our Master’s will.
So, then, our responsibility with regards to Philippians 3:12-16 is two-fold. First, we must strive to know God on a deeper, more intimate level, and the way to do that is by studying His Word. Second, we must live up to the knowledge that we do have. While ignorance of the law does not necessarily make one’s actions illegal, knowingly violating the law not only makes one’s actions illegal, but shows a lack of respect for laws and the ones who have made them. The same principle applies spiritually - knowingly disobeying God’s laws shows contempt for the One who has made them.
I pray that each of us will gain knowledge and understanding, and, having gained it, be able to live up to its expectations in our lives.
This is an end-of-the-letter salutation from Paul to the church at Thessalonica. Paul began and ended most all of his letters by talking about the “grace and peace” of our Lord, and his hope that it would remain with those to whom he was writing. This theme of peace is one that is woven throughout the Bible. The word “peace” (or some form of it, like “peacemaker”, “peaceful”, etc.) is found in 266 verses in the HCSB. We’re not going to look at the other 265 verses, but we’ll look at a few of them.
Peace was used as a greeting to Gideon…
23But the Lord said to him, “Peace to you. Don’t be afraid, for you will not die.”
In these four verses, we see a common theme - the source of peace is God, through His Son Jesus. But how to we get this peace? Ask God for it! According to Peter, the disciple of Jesus who went on to lead the early church…
10For the one who wants to love life and to see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit, 11and he must turn away from evil and do good. He must seek peace and pursue it, 12because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their request. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
We know we should study the Bible. But why? When I was growing up, one of the questions they asked every Sunday, right at the start of Sunday School, was “who read their Bible every day last week?” We all wanted to be able to raise our hands; I remember, on the few occasions when I could not, I felt really bad. Back then, it wasn’t for the right reason (it was more that a lot of the other kids had their hands up), but it was the right feeling. Today’s Scripture gives us several great reasons why we should study the Bible.
First, we should study the Bible because It is Inspired by God. (“All Scripture is inspired by God…”) Inspiration literally means “God-breathed”, and is the basis of the Bible’s inerrancy (perfection). God moved through the authors to provide exactly what He wanted to. Revelation 22:18-19, while speaking directly about Revelations, speak a warning that applies to all Bible readers even today…
18I testify to everyone who hears the prophetic words of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book. 19And if anyone takes away from the words of this prophetic book, God will take away his share of the tree of life and the holy city, written in this book.
Second, we should study the Bible because It teaches us. (“and profitable for teaching…”) Teaching is the act of imparting knowledge. Studying the Bible can increase our knowledge, and help us develop a proper Biblical world view. Being knowledgeable about Biblical principles can help us when we encounter new situations that may not be directly addressed in Scripture.
Third, we should study the Bible because It reproves us. ("…for reproof…") Reproof is “an act or expression of criticism and censure.” (WordNet) The Bible can call us out when we fail to live us to the standards within It.
Fourth, we should study the Bible because It corrects us. ("…for correction…") Correction is “the act of offering an improvement to replace a mistake; setting right.” (WordNet) This flows naturally after reproof, and is really one of the great things about the Bible that a lot of Christians miss. It not only tells us when we do wrong (and what we do wrong), It tells us how to make it right!
Fifth, we should study the Bible because It shows us God’s righteousness. ("…for training in righteousness;") Righteousness is not something we can do on our own; rather, it is given to us (imputed) based on Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. We are declared to have kept the law (something we cannot do on our own) because of Jesus’ ability to keep the law. Training in righteousness helps us live up to the gift we have been given.
Sixth, we should study the Bible because It equips us. (“so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”) A soldier wouldn’t go to war without the proper equipment. The Bible is our main weapon in spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:17 expresses it this way.
17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s Word.
The answer is diligence. Reading the Bible every day, as asked by my Sunday School teachers many years ago, is an important part of Bible study. It will also help us interpret It accurately - by acquainting ourselves with the Bible, we will have no reason to be ashamed. This is important, as certain verses can be taken out of context and twisted to support an argument that is not Biblical. For example, a church used Luke 4:7 as it’s theme verse…
7If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.
This sounds like an excellent promise, doesn’t it? There’s only one teensy-weensy problem with this. Let’s read the verse in its context, Luke 4:5-7 (back to the HCSB, although the capitalization gives it away)…
5So he took Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6The Devil said to Him, “I will give You their splendor and all this authority, because it has been given over to me, and I can give it to anyone I want. 7If You, then, will worship me, all will be Yours.”