Watercolor painting by E. J. Kirsch

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Jan 11, 2015

“The Baptist and Baptism” 1-11-15

Matthew 3
January 11, 2015

How many times have you been baptized?  If you have been a Presbyterian all your life, it is likely that you have been baptized only once.  That is because the standard reformed doctrine of Baptism interprets Ephesians 4:5 as meaning that each person is only to receive the Sacrament of Baptism one time during their life.   Ephesians 4: 4-6 reads “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and in all and through all.
Now I will confess to you here that I am not at all sure that the reformers and the Presbyterians who followed them got this right.  The fact that there is only one form of baptism for Christians does not necessarily mean that one can receive the sacrament only once.  Nevertheless, as one who has always been under the authority of a Presbyterian denomination, I have only been baptized once, and I have, since my ordination as a Teaching Elder or Minister of Word and Sacrament, only baptized people once.  My concerns in this matter have not been strong enough to declare an exception in this matter, it is more in the nature of an uncertainty, but I am glad to obey the doctrines and practices of my denomination in this matter. 
I am equally glad to avail myself of the opportunity to reaffirm the vows of my baptism on occasion, and to offer Christians who attend worship here the same opportunity.  And, since this is the day many Christians remember the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, we are going to do that in a few minutes.
But first, I want to briefly look at what Matthew wrote about Baptism in chapter 3 of his gospel.
First of all, Matthew introduces us to John the Baptist and his Baptism.  John came to prepare the way for Jesus and for Christian Baptism.  John marked the end of a long silent period between God and Israel.  The last prophet of the Old Testament had lived 400 years earlier.  Then there were no new revelations from God until John.  John came appearing like some of the Old Testament prophets, wearing clothing made from animal skins and eating food culled from the wilderness.  But his message although simple enough had 2 aspects.
The first aspect was that it was time for all people to repent.  That was what baptism was a symbol of.  Everyone needed to repent because all had displeased God in some way.  Prior to John, some divisions of Judaism did have a baptism of sorts.  Sometimes, when a Gentile came to believe in God and converted to Judaism, he or she would be baptized as a sign of putting off their old Gentile nature and becoming a Jew.  But no one ever suggested that those born Jewish should be baptized until John. 
Surprisingly enough, John’s baptism became a popular thing.  So much so that even some of the leaders of Judaism came to John to be Baptized.  Our text tells us that John criticized them because he suspected that they were not really repenting of their sins, that they were just coming to him along with everyone else.  That is why he referred to them as snakes fleeing from harvesters or a fire in the field.
He told them not to depend on their lineage for salvation.  Even the leaders of God’s people and the leaders of God’s religion needed to repent of their sins, to turn away from them and turn to God.  We still do.  John’s baptism was to be a sign of that repentance or turning. 
The second aspect of John’s baptism was that it was a baptism of preparation.  It enabled people to prepare for the Kingdom of God.  He said, Repent, for the kingdom of God is coming.  And the way John spoke of the kingdom, it did not sound like a totally pleasant thing.  He made it sound like the fire that burned up the stubble and the husks after a harvest.  He made it sound like a time of Judgment.
John also spoke about the one who was coming to bring the kingdom of God, and he spoke of Him being one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and Fire.  Now he was speaking about Jesus, but we might not recognize our savior in those words.
What he was saying was that Jesus was his boss and that Jesus was coming to call people to account for their sinfulness and to call them into a new kingdom where sin would not be tolerated, that is why they needed to repent.
So John’s baptism was a sign that the one being baptized was sorry for their sins, that he or she was preparing for the kingdom of God and that he or she was identifying with that kingdom and identifying themselves as being ready to follow the one who would bring that kingdom and baptize them with the holy Spirit.
Then, while John was very popular and doing a lot of Baptisms, Jesus came to be baptized by John.  John recognized Jesus as the one who was coming to bring in the kingdom of God, so he did not want to baptize him.  John recognized Jesus as being morally superior to John and not needing to repent of his sins.  So he did not want to Baptize Him.  But Jesus said it was the right thing to do. Well, really he said that it was a proper way for them to fulfill all righteousness.  In other words, Jesus’ being baptized would help others become righteous, through putting away their sins and looking forward to their kingdom.  How would Jesus’ baptism do that?
In calling people to repentance and baptism, John had created a group of people.  A group of people who were sorry for their sins and who were looking forward to God’s kingdom.  Jesus needed to be baptized because he needed to make it clear that He belonged with and to those people and they belonged to and with Him.
And that is what Christian Baptism is all about.  When we are baptized as adults, we proclaim that we belong to Jesus and with Jesus and that he belongs to and with us.  We are proclaiming that we belong with those who belong to Jesus.  That is why baptisms take place among a congregation of people who believe in Jesus.  When we bring our children to be baptized we state that we belong to the kingdom of Jesus and that we intend to raise our children so they will belong to Jesus too.  We state that our children belong with other Christians.
And that is what we are about to re-state as we renew and or remember our baptismal vows.  We are sorry that we have not always lived by the standards of Christ’s kingdom, but we clearly state that in spite of our failings, we do belong to Jesus and we do belong to His kingdom, and we do belong with each other.  We have been saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

Pastor David L. Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906