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.”— Luke 3:16 (HCSB)
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:
This is My beloved Son.
I take delight in Him!— Matthew 3:13-17 (HCSB)
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…— Matthew 28:19 (HCSB)
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.