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11th February 2001
"The Surprise Baptism: How To Please Your Father"
"THE SURPRISE BAPTISM."
I was with Charlie Crook and some technicians at Gospel Enterprises recording studio in North Sydney, for a recording on the life of Jesus. They are making this double CD which features only the words of a harmony of the four Gospels. The voices for all the characters in the Gospels are those of well known Australian celebrities and sportspersons. I was asked to be God. God speaks only seldom in the Gospels so I thought my task would be easy. But not so. Because the producers do not know what God sounds like, they wanted many versions of each sentence. For example, when Jesus met John the Baptist, Matthew writes: Matt 3:13-17 "Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased."
As the voice of God, I had to record these two sentences ten times giving difference emphasises to each word. For example "This is my Son, whom I love. With Him I am well pleased." "This is my Son, whom I love. With Him I am well pleased." "This is my Son, whom I love. With Him I am well pleased." "This is my Son, whom I love. With Him I am well pleased." And so on and on. If I learned nothing else I learned that by His baptism, Jesus pleased His Father!
When people want to be baptised, their parents are not always pleased. When I wanted to be baptised as a young man, my mother said to the Churches of Christ minister, "Well I really want him to become a Methodist. I know the Methodist Church is the one we stay away from, but his uncle is a Methodist minister and missionary, and I always assumed he would be a Methodist." I guess when Jesus, aged 30, walked 80 miles to where John was baptising people, Mary could easily have said, "What is the point of going all that way out into the desert area? If you want to be baptised, what is wrong with Lake Galilee. And haven't we got a very nice mikveh, right here in Nazareth for baptisms?"
But Jesus wanted to please His Father. Luke records that: "John went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." 3:3 This is a key verse for understanding John the Baptist, and how Christians today should learn to repent and be forgiven. But why should Jesus, the sinless One, want to be baptised?
1. WHO WAS JOHN THE BAPTIST?
Jesus regarded John the Baptist as the greatest man who had lived. Why? Because John was the one who recognised the Messiah, who was the forerunner to the Christ. John called people to be ready for the coming of the Christ. Repentance had to be preached before salvation was possible: John preached repentance and Jesus made salvation possible. John was a cousin of Jesus of Nazareth, his mother Elizabeth being related to Mary. John's aged mother Elizabeth was already in late pregnancy when Mary, the mother of Jesus came to Elizabeth to tell her of her own pregnancy.
His parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, were elderly when John was born a child of prophecy, prayer, and promise. After a brief but phenomenally popular ministry John the Baptist denounced King Herod who committed murder and illegally married his brother's wife, Herodias. The common people admired John's courage in speaking against the King. But Queen Herodias conspired with her daughter Salome, to get her stepfather drunk and agreeable to what she wanted. The precocious girl danced. The immoral old murderer fell victim to his own word of honour, and gave the girl what she asked for: the head of John the Baptist on a plate. So ended a most noble life.
2. WHERE WAS JOHN MINISTERING?.
Mark expands Luke: "John came, baptising in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." 1:4 John was orphaned at an early age. He grew up in the wilderness until the day he came preaching and baptising people in the Jordan. The Essenes frequently adopted young orphans and brought them up to be members of their community. As an orphaned son of a priest, John would have been most welcome. In 1948 the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered. While the scrolls say nothing about the teachings of Jesus, they do throw a great deal of light on the group of monks that lived in the desert community at Qumran in the same era. They wrote the scriptures on long scrolls, lived lives of holiness, and spoke of the coming Messiah. They expected a prophet to come out of the wilderness preaching judgement and baptising prior to the Messiah's arrival. John was not an Essene but as he kept their strict food laws, it is probable that he grew up among the Dead Sea sect.
Qumran is quite close to the area where John was baptising. John's favourite verses were also favourite sayings in the Essene community. John's teaching about sharing food and clothing was common practise at Qumran. There, vast water storages and large baptisteries allowed daily baptisms for purification. Ritual baptisms by believers for forgiveness of sins by immersion was widely practised in Israel and scores of mikvahs or baptisteries for total immersion of believers have recently been uncovered in Jerusalem where 3000 people were baptised on the Day of Pentecost.
3. WHAT WAS JOHN DOING?
"John went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance." John exercised a remarkable public preaching ministry denouncing the excesses and shallowness of Jewish ritual. He called Jews to a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Crowds travelled down the steep road from Jerusalem to Jericho, then south along the River Jordan to where John was baptising. Soldiers, tax?collectors, lawyers, and even Pharisees felt convicted. Matthew asks who John is, and John replies "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'" A voice - that is all: a voice, speaking the word of God. John was supported by a band of disciples, teaching his preaching, and helping in the baptisms. Some of those disciples later followed Jesus, becoming the first Christians; Peter, Andrew, James, and John among them. The Jews baptised gentile believers, but John said that even members of the chosen race had grown so far from God, that they too needed to repent of sin and be baptised. The rite of baptism was by complete immersion symbolising total cleansing of sin.
4. WHY WAS JESUS BAPTISED?
"At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." Mark 1:9-11 The question is: "Why did Jesus walk 80 miles to John to be baptised?" What need had the sinless One of repenting from sin? Why should He be cleansed and forgiven for what He had never done? The Gospel writers say it was "a baptism of repentance and of forgiveness of sins", so why was Jesus baptised?
Jesus saw that God's will for Him was to identify Himself with us, that He might bring us back to God. He identified Himself with our search for righteousness. John called us to seek after this new way of life in obedience to God, and Jesus identified Himself with us seeking after this new way of life. Further, Jesus may have identified Himself with our search for forgiveness. We seek forgiveness. Jesus identified Himself with our sin, and sorrow, and suffering. His love for us was so great that on the cross and in His baptism, Jesus identified with us and our sins.
The son of God became a son of man, that He might enable sons of men become sons of God. Such was the importance of His baptism. Jesus, about to bring salvation to people, started by identifying Himself in John's baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus said "Let it be so John." This was the big decision of Jesus. "Allow it to be so John, for it is fitting, it is proper for us to fulfil all righteousness."
There is little doubt that the baptism of Jesus was more a private matter than a great public spectacle. Of course all the other people were there. But the real significance was known by only God, John, and Jesus Himself. When the Saviour was baptised, the voice spoke from heaven saying "You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased." As if it was said to Jesus and His cousin alone. As the spirit of God descended upon the waters before the creation of the world, so the spirit of God descended upon Jesus gently "like a dove." This was a great moment in the life of Jesus.
Let me describe what that moment meant to Him:
- It was a moment of decision. Jesus recognised the appointed hour. This was the moment Jesus had been awaiting for the last 18 years while He worked at that carpenter's bench. This was the moment of decision.
- It was a moment of assurance. At this moment of baptism Jesus received in an unshakeable way the assurance from God of Who He was, and of what He was called to do. To every great man there comes a moment when a quiet question mark is raised in his mind. This was one of the temptations. "If thou be the son of God..." said the Devil ... "If!" But at this baptism any such doubts were gone forever. This was a moment of assurance "You are my beloved son" said His Father ... "with whom I am well pleased!" How this must have assured the Saviour. God had brought Him to this moment - of this He was sure!
- It was a moment of equipping. Jesus was equipped in a unique way: by the acceptance of God's own spirit. This was something the Jews could understand. God often gave His spirit to His great prophets. God equipped His servants in this great way.
So Gideon, Samson, and Saul were all equipped by the gift of the Spirit. But there was a difference between His equipping and theirs. They were equipped for a special task only. Jesus was equipped for life, for His whole life was his special task! This was the permanent indwelling of the Spirit. Indeed in commenting on this The Gospel of the Hebrews seizes upon this very point: "And it came to pass, when the Lord was come up out of the water, the whole fount of the Holy Spirit descended and rested upon Him, and God said unto Him, "My son, for whom in all the prophets was I waiting that thou shouldst come, that I shouldst rest in Thee. For thou art my rest, my only begotten son!"
- It was a moment of dedication. Jesus was dedicating Himself to God's task until He could say "It is finished." No matter what might come, He had dedicated Himself to this task to the end. The decision of Jesus to be baptised was a tremendously important one. This act of baptism marked for Jesus His moment of decision, assurance, equipment, and dedication.
I know why people who love Jesus, obey Him and follow Him in their own baptism. Jesus walked 80 miles to be baptised for you. If you have never been baptised - you should walk out here to be baptised for Him! If you love Jesus, seek to follow His way, acknowledge Him as Saviour and Lord, but have never been baptised in water, indicate now, you want to be baptised into Him. Jesus says such an act fulfils all righteousness, and it will certainly please your Father in Heaven!
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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