All of us who have grown up in the church are accustomed to the ritual of baptism and the meaning that the Church has given to this tradition.
While there may be debate about whether baptism should be by immersion or by sprinkling, and when and where baptism should be undertaken, we find they centre on the following debates: is it too important? Or unimportant? Should we deify baptism? Or trivialise? While the Baptish Church may say, “I’m saved because I’m baptized.” The Church of Christ says, “I’m baptized because I’m saved.”
Does any scholar, or even saint, fully appreciate what this moment means in heaven? Any words on baptism, including mine, are simply a human effort to explain a holy event. In our churches, debates about the essentiality of baptism have been common—yet serious discussions about baptism’s essence are very rare.
In our readings today from Matthew and Acts we find 2 types of Baptism mentioned: the baptism of repentance and baptism by the Holy Spirit.
I’ve never really understood why Jesus went to John to be baptised… I’ve always thought that the focus should be on heaven opening and the dove – where God proclaims that this is my son in whom I am well pleased…
Of course, you do realise that John was not a Baptist, right? I read somewhere he was actually Methodist… although others say he was Presbyterian…
Like John, I have been often perplexed… why does Jesus need a baptism of repentance?
At that time Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River and wanted John to baptize him. But John tried to stop him, saying, “Why do you come to me to be baptized? I need to be baptized by you!”
After all, John had been “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” and Jesus was the spotless Lamb of God.
There are a number of ways we can look at Jesus’ baptism by John… and possibly not the only explanations:
The first way of looking at this baptism is as Jesus descended into the water, he was coming down to our level. He was identifying himself with sinners. Baptism was for the immoral, the impure, the liars, adulterers and thieves, and yet Jesus willingly plunged into the water as if to say, “I’m with them!” Jesus cast his lot with humanity. He came to the river because we are sinners. He was washed because we were not clean. He did what was right because we, so often, do what is wrong. He became like us so that we could become like him.
And the second way we can view this baptism is how baptisms were undertaken in the Old Testament. For the Jewish community there was another group of people, not the sinners and repentant who underwent a different type of baptism – the priests. The Law dictated that especially the High Priest was to “washed with water.”
In Leviticus 8:6 we’re told that – by the instruction of God – “Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water.” Later, during that ceremony Moses “poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him.” Leviticus 8:12 They began their priesthood and were empowered to make sacrifices and handle holy things as God’s representatives. At that point, God put His mark of approval on the ministry of Aaron and his sons.
The Bible tell us that Jesus’ ministry began with His baptism by John. After His baptism, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and the Father loudly declared: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17 This was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as our High Priest.
There is, as always, another way that we could also see baptism: which was also prevalent at the time – identification. Converts to Judaism who couldn’t be circumcised (such as women or eunuchs) were baptized. The purpose? To identify with Judaism. These people were baptized into the faith of the Jews. And so, for many, this has become the meaning of baptism – you are identified as being a Christian.
Did you hear about the man who wanted to become a member of a church?
The pastor explained that the only requirements were those of becoming a Christian: he had to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God; he had to acknowledge that he was a sinner and repent of his past sins; he had to confess Jesus as his Lord and Master; and he had to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
He groaned: “Oh, not again – I’ve been baptized 4 times now!” Puzzled, I asked him why? He explained that 1st time, he’d been sprinkled as an infant. Then when he wanted to join another church, they said that his baptism was invalid and he needed to be immersed into their church. The next church refused to accept that congregation’s baptism and baptized him again into their church. And again, another church did the same. But they all explained the same thing – he was being baptized into their church, not into Christ.
Somehow, churches have lost the message that we are to baptised in the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit… it’s nothing to do with church membership! It’s about identification with Christ.
So, I want to give my final thoughts to looking at what it means to be baptised in the Holy Spirit. I realise that for some, this means speaking in tongues and prophesying, as we read in Acts. There are many days that I wish that the fullness of the Holy Spirit invoked this response from me.
But, for me, it’s more about the daily choices and transformation in my life and relationships with those around me – easily summarised in Galatians 5 – the Fruit of the Spirit is
A lot of Spirit Filled Christians, can tell you the day and the hour, they received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, but ask them when the last time they exercised it, or were full of the fruit of the Spirit for a whole day, treating everyone that crossed their path as Christ would have them in a Spirit-filled life, (pause)
That’s right, there would probably be a long pause.
You speak about repentance? You want to speak about being full of the Holy Spirit? The fruit of your actions, of the words of your mouth, of your attitudes… they are the true colours shining through that say whether or not there has been true change and repentance.
- Choosing to love (as an action, not a feeling).
- Choosing to be joyful, even when you are sad.
- Choosing to be at peace, even when you have trouble.
- Choosing to be patient, for the 10th time…
- Choosing to be kind, even when you don’t think they deserve it.
- Choosing goodness over judgment.
- Choosing faithfulness to God and others, even if others have turned their backs on you and you can’t feel that God is near.
- Choosing humility, even when you KNOW you’re right.
- And choosing self-control, when you’d like to let it all fly…
This is where the rubber meets the road – here’s where we go beyond lip-service to real-life application that actually has an impact on who we are and how we live.
They say that Baptism is the symbol of rebirth – you will be happy to know to that today is the first day of the rest of your life! The Scriptures are clear ….. that if we are in Christ …..We will become…. a new creation. The old will be gone. The new will …..have come.
Let us pray:
We need You, we hunger and thirst for a more vital relationship with You, one where You are in control of our lives, rather than Me, Myself and I.
Father, we recognize our need for Your power to live this new life. Please fill us with Your Holy Spirit. By faith, we receive a fresh outpouring of His power! Thank You for Your baptism in the strength and power of the Holy Spirit.
By faith we invite You to fill us with the Holy Spirit as You commanded us to be filled. You promised to fill us if we ask according to Your will. We know that we’ve been born of the Spirit, sealed by the Spirit and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. That why we ask you for a fresh work of the Spirit in our lives.
We thank you for what you are doing in each one of our lives.
In Jesus’ name,