This week we'll be looking at baptism, specifically, Jesus' baptism. But to do this, we'll also need to understand John's baptism as well as the baptism we practice today. These three baptisms are all different but so linked, they should not be see separate of one another.
I realize baptism can be a controversial issue. "Let's face it," writes John Armstrong, "nothing more quickly leads to disagreement among otherwise agreeable Christians than a discussion about the meaning and method (mode) of Christian baptism. There are almost as many reasons for disagreement about baptism as there are views and positions held by Christians on baptism" (Understanding Four Views on Baptism, Zonverdan, 2007). As we look at Scripture this Sunday (and discuss it in our Fellowship Groups next week), we want to avoid these distractions and seek to see what Scripture tells us we can all agree on--the gospel displayed in baptism.
This Sunday, we'll see that John's baptism is of repentance and an anticipation of forgiveness of sins. This faithful act was a public way of declaring a commitment toward repentance. In it, there was a sense of preparation for the coming of the Lord. But it was not complete (as we learn in Acts 19).
If Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, why would he need a baptism of repentance? He didn't.
John argued with Jesus. He thought Jesus should baptize him (which would happen in a totally different way). Jesus however, instructed John to baptize him so all righteousness could be fulfilled. It was as if Jesus was saying, "This is something different. Trust me." Jesus came to fulfill what was started in John's baptism. In addition, Jesus' baptism was a public declaration. Jesus' baptism was an announcement that the Suffering Servant Isaiah prophesied about more than 700 years earlier was here. When Jesus came out of the water, the Father spoke the words of Isaiah 42 about Jesus. And Jesus' baptism was a foreshadowing of the cross. Jesus, who needed no baptism, was baptized for you and for me, just as Jesus went to the cross for you and me. And just as Jesus defeated the grave, for those who trust him.
When we get baptized, is it John's baptism? No. First, we can't do the same thing Jesus did because we are not God, nor are we the Suffering Servant. However, we are baptized into Jesus' baptism. Where John said 'turn from your sin,' Jesus says 'die to yourself and be raised in me.' Not only do you need to repent of your sinful behavior, you need to face the punishment of those sins--death. That is pictured in the plunging into the water, as if we are plunged into the grave. But Christ has already died for you, in your place. Then, just as we will be raise in Christ, we are pulled from the water in Christ. It's a new life, made only possible because of Jesus. It's the gospel.
We are not doing exactly what those baptized before Jesus did, nor are we doing what Jesus did. When we follow Jesus in baptism, we are making a public delectation that we have committed to following Jesus-entirely. We are saying, "I'm marked by Jesus' righteousness." That's baptism!
As you prepare for Sunday (and I pray you take a few minutes to do so), I'd like to invite you to read Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, and Luke 3:1-22. These accounts record the baptism of Jesus. Good students of the Bible will probably realize that there is more around these texts that greatly shed light on this event; so if you're a good student of the Bible or desire to be, move up a few verses and read up on John the Baptist too. Also, check out John 1:19-34 and Isaiah 42:1-9.
On January 29th, we will include baptisms in our worship service. If you have never made this "all-in" public declaration of baptism, I invite you to consider doing so. It's time to step into the waters, die (symbolically), and come out raised in Jesus Christ. I'd love to talk more about this with you.
I hope to see you Sunday, if not before.
Pastor Bryan Catherman