Baptism is a powerful act of God. But parents may sometimes decide to wait to have their children baptized until they are old enough to make that decision for themselves—even though this was not Christ’s command, and it was not the practice of the apostles or the early church after them. Paul baptized whole households. As the children of those households grew up and began having babies of their own, we read that they were bringing their infants to be baptized. It seems that today, there is a lot of misunderstanding about baptism. What is it—your commitment to join a particular church? Your commitment to God? Or is it God’s commitment to you? The early church viewed it as God’s commitment to them, to be their God and wash their sins away. Today, more tend to view it as our commitment to God, or to a particular church.
It seems there was a lot of misunderstanding as John the Baptist was baptizing along the Jordan River, too. Some were coming to him, quite certain that they already belonged in God’s kingdom because of the good things that they did. John chased them away, “You brood of vipers,” he called them. Others who came to him were not sure whose kingdom they were really entering when they were baptized. They thought maybe John himself was the Christ, and that the kingdom belonged to him.
If Baptism is such an important thing that God would command it, send a prophet in John the Baptist to teach us to do it, and then have Jesus, the Son of God himself, come to be baptized—then it must be pretty powerful. In fact, understanding your baptism better will strengthen your faith. It will make you certain, beyond any shadow of doubt, that you will be in heaven. It will help you overcome temptation. But how can the water of Baptism do all that? Jesus’ baptism is the key.
In these verses we may picture baptism like water washing off a rock. If you find a rock you want to keep, you may wash it to get all the dirt and filth off of it. But the water also lets you see the deeper colors of the rock more clearly. It lets you see what kind of a rock you really have. Baptism washes off the filth, but it also lets you see the deeper truth about your place in God’s kingdom.
“When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’”
1. Baptism Washes Away Sin.
The people came down to the Jordan River to be baptized because John the Baptist was preaching that the kingdom of God was near. God was coming to rule his people, and all who wanted to be part of that kingdom had to repent and be baptized—be sorry for their sins, be washed up by the baptismal water, and decide to do differently.
Now just consider how that clashes with popular opinion. Those who believe in God, those who have a good heart, who do good things, who are sincere and not hypocritical—they were coming out to John, and he was telling them that they were too filthy stand in the presence of God’s king. They needed a spiritual bath.
Baptism teaches that all the good pious people, even believers in God, are dirty and filthy, and unfit for God’s presence. If you have been baptized you have been washed by God, with a water that is powerful because it is used by God’s command. Like Naaman of old, who washed away his Leprosy when he obeyed God’s command to wash in the Jordan River, if you have obeyed God’s command to be baptized, your sins have been washed away.
What God does in Baptism is like what you may do if you find a rock that looks cool and you want to use it as a paperweight or a decoration in your home or garden, but it’s too dirty. It’s covered in mud and slime. It’s too dirty to bring into your home. You wash off the mud and slime. This is what God was doing when the people were coming out to be baptized by John. This is what God did when you were baptized.
Every analogy limps, though—baptism cleans much deeper than just the surface. It cleans the whole man. The guilt, the sins of thought, word and deed, the sins of who we are (because not all of the sins we commit are not accidents or temptations that we fell into being caught up in the moment, but sins that we wanted to do—sin is a part of who we are, and baptism washes that away too) It cleans up the whole person, and makes us fit to come into God’s kingdom. To get into heaven, you need what God has done for you in baptism, and you need the simple faith that he has told you the truth—that he has washed you up.
As the people came to John to be baptized, they had that simple faith, but they were still a bit confused. There was still a lot of mystery about the kingdom of God and baptism. Who were they following? They didn’t really know who the king of this kingdom was. Perhaps John the Baptist himself? Then too, I suppose just as many do today, they would have wondered how this simple washing of Baptism could actually bring them into God’s kingdom of heaven. Among those masses of people being washed from their sins, Jesus came also to be baptized. Just like washing a rock can clear up the surface of the rock to bring out the true colors of the rock…
2. Jesus’ Baptism reveals the deeper power of our baptism.
It was strange that Jesus would come to the river to be baptized—John knew who Jesus was and said, “I should be baptized by you!” And then the heavens opened, and God said, “This is my Son, whom I love.” The Spirit landed on him in the form of a dove. Now we know why he needed to be baptized…it wasn’t just water, and it wasn’t just to wash away sins. God wanted to use Jesus’ baptism to anoint him, marking him as the one he had chosen to lead his people, just like Samuel anointing David in the Old Testament. This was God’s declaration that Jesus was his Son and the Savior, and the King of his Kingdom. In Jesus’ baptism, the water washed away appearance that he was just another man and revealed the deeper truth that he is the Son of God.
Now here’s the part that makes your spine tingle—the anointed King had lined himself up with all the people who had to have their sins washed away by baptism. Though he had no sin, he chose to be part of this group. He was baptized to be the king of all who are baptized. By committing himself to us like this, he is able to share all the blessings of his kingdom with us, and the blessings of his baptism. Jesus’ baptism not only reveals him as the Son of God, it also reveals this deeper truth of how our baptism saves. It joins us to Jesus.
In life, you line up behind your favorite team, and you share in the joy and glory of their victories. In the Old Testament, this is how God treated the people of Israel. If their king was a good, Godly king, God blessed the whole nation. If the king was not, God disciplined the whole nation. Now here is Jesus the perfect King, who has connected himself to us as “King of the Baptized” by being baptized with us. We share in all his victories. We share in his glory. We share his close relationship to God the Father. God the Father sees his Son as our King, and he blesses all of us.
The New Testament draws specific parallels between what God the Father said to Jesus in his baptism and what he says to us in ours. Galatians 3:26,27 says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Not just Jesus, but all who are baptized along with him share in God’s proclamation, “This is my Son, whom I love.” You are not the Son of God, but you have a close relationship with him as his children whom he loves, so close and so honored that he would call you heirs of his kingdom. That’s what it means when he says that you are his “sons” in his kingdom—because in those days the sons were the heirs of the throne.
Titus 3:5,6 says that the Holy Spirit who came down and remained on Jesus has been given to us also. It says, “He saved us by the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.” God showed it visibly at Pentecost, and other times in the history of the early Christian church, when the Holy Spirit was visibly given to people by enabling those men to speak in tongues, giving them gifts of prophecy, and putting little flames of fire over their heads. It was a fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to all of us, to be the person of God who dwells within us to teach us and encourage us. These days, we may not ever see evidence of that happening, but in Titus we have his promise that God the Father will give us the Holy Spirit in our baptism.
One more thing is revealed by Jesus’ baptism. Your King has lined himself up with you to share his heavenly kingdom with you before you have done anything for him. Remember that John the Baptist brought baptism to wash up people who were too spiritually dirty for God’s kingdom. Usually for us, baptism comes very early in life, before we know what sin is or know what it means to repent of it. Even infants are baptized, because Jesus said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” He wants infants to be baptized so that he can share his kingdom with them too.
So now, if Jesus has already made you a child of God and an heir of his kingdom when you were baptized, there is nothing left for you to earn with your good works. You already have it all. Baptism reveals the real reason why we live to please God.
If you are already in his kingdom, the only thing left is to continue to live in his kingdom. You have a reputation to live up to now, as a member of Christ’s kingdom, a child of God and heir of heaven. You have been baptized with powerful water, which washed away the filth of that old sinful way of life—so live a Godly life, and don’t bring that old sinful way of life back again. It’s not who you are anymore. You are a child of God and heir of heaven, because of your connection to Jesus. He was baptized, so that as King of the Baptized, he might share everything with those who are baptized. Amen.