And So It Begins
I have told you before that my grandparents were Catholic. When we would go visit them, my parents would allow us to go with them to a mass. If you have ever been to a Catholic Mass you know immediately that are a few differences in the way that our two congregations worship on Sundays. The Catholic Church practices, what we call High Church and the Church of Christ is Low Church. Let me unpack that real quickly: High Church places a high emphasis on eulogies, vestments, and sacraments where a low church has more congregational involvement. We both strive to offer worship that is “decent and in order” but there are noticeable differences.
Since I grew up attending with my grandparents from time to time, I was at least familiar with the practice of High Church services. Trista was not as well aquatinted with the practice. Shortly after we were married, Trista joined me at the funeral mass for my uncle that was held at my grandparents church. She was nervous, and I just figured she didn’t do funerals very well. We sat in the back and at one point during the service she elbowed me and asked. “What did you just say?” I looked at her and said I didn’t saying anything. She retorted right back, “You did say something, what was it?” I smiled and said, “Sweetheart, this is a funeral, there is nothing for me to say, but if I say it again let me know.”
Not five minutes later she elbowed me and said, “you did it again.” I was still a little confused, and asked her, “What happened right before I said something.” He sad, The priest said, “The Lord be with you,” and then you said…… I smiled and realized that she didn’t have the same history that I had which was causing her confusion. And to make matters worse I was so comfortable with what was going on I didn’t even realize I was giving the appropriate response “And also with you.”
Most of us have lived so long with The Story that we just kind of go into auto pilot. We read these stories in the bible and we remember the flannel graphs or the coloring sheets and we never get break beneath the surface. But then there are those of us who came to The Story a little later in life and while it seems that everyone else knows what is going on, we are a bit confused.
The Story of Jesus, leads us to a text this morning that is honestly confusing for someone who grew up with a healthy focus on baptism. And to make matters worse, instead of diving deep into the story we just learn how to get comfortable in our confusion. While the gospel writers don’t give us a whole lot of information on the first 30 years of Jesus’ life, they all include the story of how His ministry begins. Luke even goes into detail about John the Baptist, who is a prophet and forerunner of Christ. Luke tells us that John lived in the wilderness, dressed just like Elijah right down to the camel hair jacket and belt. Luke even tells us that he ate honey and locus.
John was baptizing folks who were flocking to hear his forceful and straight forward message of repentance. Apparently, baptism was not a new idea with John. The people had no objection to the practice because the Jews were already practicing baptism. There was a Mikve or a large pool in the temple that was used to immerse people who were ceremonially unclean. The Jews would also baptize Gentiles who wanted to convert to Judaism, as a way to cleanse them from the unclean practices in their lives. John the Baptist took the baptism ritual and applied it to the Jews themselves, saying that they also needed to repent from the unclean practices in their lives.
With that as our background let’s look at our text, and maybe we can deal with a little bit of this confusion. Read Luke 3:15-22.
This morning we need to explore the question; If Jesus was sinless then why did He need to be baptized? It’s a valid question, because if Jesus wasn’t sinless then He was not qualified to be my Savior and Messiah. I mean the whole point of having Jesus as the sacrifice for my sins, is tied to the fact that He was sinless and perfect. So let’s see if we can clear up some of the confusion, and find some mustard seeds for our lives as well. But before we get to Jesus we need to clear up a little confusion about baptism. And I know as I say that some of you are thinking, We are the Church of Christ, we might be iffy on the Holy Spirit, but we understand baptism. So, let me offer just a small refresher.
If you were raised in the Church of Christ or another restoration church one of the verses you probably memorized was Acts 2:38: Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. I mean this is pretty much our verse. And there are countless numbers of folks who have put Christ on in Baptism because they were seeking forgiveness of their sins.
Let’s be very careful here though and not teach something that is not biblical. There are folks who have drawn line in the sand and said Forgiveness of sins is the only reason someone can be scripturally baptized. While that is one reason to be baptized, it is not the only reason.
Baptism clothes us in Christ according to Galatians 3:26-27 for 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. You can tell a lot about people by the way that they dress. I remember when Trista and I worked with an inner city congregation in Mobile, Alabama. Every Sunday morning there would be a few women dressed rather provocatively standing on the corner as the sun came up over the city. You could tell by the way they were dressed how they made money.
The clothes that we chose to wear reflect our status, our values, our priorities, our character, and even our occupations. After all you don’t see a lot of bankers wearing carharts. When Paul says that Baptism clothes us with Christ, he is saying that we have chosen to put on Christ’s character and qualities. Deciding that you want to live like Jesus is a biblical reason to be baptized.
Baptism allows us to Gain Entrance into the Kingdom of God. That’s what Jesus said in John 3:5 Jesus answered, “I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. In this conversation with Nicodemus Jesus was explaining how to be a part of what He was doing and continues to do on this earth. It’s important that you understand that Jesus was not just talking about Heaven in this text. I really like Graeme Goldsworthy’s definition of the Kingdom of God. He says that the Kingdom of God is “God's people in God's place under God's rule.” The Kingdom of God is heaven in our future, but it’s also the Church in our present. So Baptism to get into Heaven or to become a part of the Church is a biblical reason to be baptized.
Baptism is how we receive The Holy Spirit in our lives. If you go back to Acts 2 we read Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven. Then you will be given the Holy Spirit. I will readily admit that there are so many things I haven’t quite figured out yet, and there are things about the Holy Spirit I don’t know. While I truly believe that there were some special things going on in the first century, we are still given the promise that during our baptism God transformed us through His Spirit. We may not comprehend the magnitude of the gift, that doesn’t negate the promise that we receive the Holy Spirit with our baptism. It is that powerful moment when we receive that double cure of cleansing and power. The moment when God goes from living out there, to living in here.
Baptism brings about Salvation according to 1 Peter 3:21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter says that baptism is not just an outward deal. You are not taking a bath. It is the appeal or pledging to God for a clean conscience. And the power is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If you want to contact the Blood of Christ you make an inward pledge for a changed life.
And Finally we see that Baptism brings about a New Life. Paul reminds the Christians in Romans 6:3-4 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
I believe that this might be the most important verse in the Bible about Baptism, because it explains the significance. The significance is not in the water, not in what you are doing, The power is in what Jesus did. Paul says when you are baptized what happens is that you are buried with Christ and you are resurrected with Him.
Now you might say Jeremy that’s just symbolism. I would grant you that it’s symbolic. But I think that Paul would argue with you that it’s not just symbolism. Paul is not teaching symbolism; Paul is teaching participation. What happens at that moment is that you participate in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The whole reason that we can be saved is because of a day back in Calvary and three days later when Jesus resurrects. That is what saves us.
So in the New Testament we find 6 different reasons for someone to show their faith by submitting to baptism. I’ll be honest and admit that when I was baptized I didn’t understand all of those things. But my heart was set on God, and God does what He says whether I understand it or not. That’s the really great thing, when you are baptized for one, you get all of them.
In Matthews account of our text this morning we read that John was a little hesitant to baptize Jesus. If the only thing we knew about Jesus is what we find in the first chapters of the Gospels, then we know that there was something spectacular about His birth and as a baby He had a price on His head. There is really no reason whatsoever for Jesus to repent. But if baptism could have different meanings for us today, then we must consider that Jesus came to John to be baptized for another reason than repentance.
In Matthew 3:15 we read that Jesus answered him, “Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness (or God’s will). So it was God’s will for Christ to be baptized, not for forgiveness but for something greater. As we close this morning let me quickly offer you three reasons that Jesus was baptized.
Jesus’ Baptism marked the Beginning.
The Gospel of Mark starts with: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and immediately Mark tells the story of Jesus’ baptism by John.
In the verse immediately following our text this morning we read in verse 23: When Jesus began his ministry. It’s obvious that Jesus’ ministry began with His baptism. In very much the same way our baptisms signify the beginning of our new life with God, the Baptism of Jesus was a symbol of His new work. When Jesus came to the river to be baptized, He was essentially turning His back on the life He lived as a carpenter. He would no longer be known as Jesus the Carpenter from Nazareth. From now on he would be known as Jesus the Rabbi.
This was a glaring change in His life. In order to be a Rabbi you had to show promise as a young man in the temple school. You also had to be trained as a disciple of a Rabbi and when you reached 30 years of age you were able to forge out on your own. Jesus didn’t take the normal route to becoming a teacher and leader of the people. He went from a common carpenter to a teacher with authority. The change was drastic and immediate.
I believe that sometimes we treat our baptisms as the end of our journey. We think that once we get into the water everything else is done. But just as it was for Jesus, our baptisms serve as the beginning of a new life. The change that must take place in our lives will be drastic. We stop living for ourselves and our own selfishness, and we begin to love God with our entire being and love the people that He loves.
Jesus’ Baptism Was a Declaration of His Priesthood.
The second reason that Jesus was baptized has a deeper meaning that is understood by looking at the Old Testament. We have already discussed that there was a baptism of repentance and a baptism of conversion into Judaism, but there was a third baptism found in the Old Testament as well.
We read in Leviticus 8:6 Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water. The law stated that the High Priest must be washed with water before they could begin their service. Just as the act of baptism began Aaron’s ministry as the High Priest Jesus’ baptism began His reign as High Priest.
This is specifically what the Hebrew writer is referring to in Hebrews 4: Since we have a great high priest, Jesus the Son of God, who has gone into heaven, let us hold on to the faith we have. For our high priest is able to understand our weaknesses. He was tempted in every way that we are, but he did not sin. Let us, then, feel very sure that we can come before God's throne where there is grace. There we can receive mercy and grace to help us when we need it.
In the Old Testament the High Priest served several different functions, but the most important task of the High Priest happened every year on the Day of Atonement. It was on this day every year that the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place and stand before God. While there, he would make a sacrifice for the people and sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat. Without the work of the High Priest and the grace of God there would not be an atonement of our sins.
When Jesus took on the roll of the High Priest He brought us hope in this life and in the next. As our High Priest who suffered and understands our weakness and brokenness Jesus can offer us atonement for our sins.
Jesus’ Baptism was where God Claimed Him.
Every Gospel writer included the fact the after His baptism, the Father acknowledges Jesus as His beloved Son. Mark says that the heavens were torn open as the Holy Spirit descended and the Father says, You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. The greatest part of Jesus’ baptism is that this was the place where God made it clear that Jesus is His Son.
The entirety of the gospel can be summed up with the idea that when God looks at every baptized and believing Christian, He says to us, You belong to me and I am so proud of you. It’s in that moment that God sees us, not as we are, but as we are in Jesus. The same God who sings over us with delight, now says to us, you are my dear child; I'm delighted with you. Every now and then I need to reflect on God saying that to me not only at my baptism, but every day since.
Everyday of my life the fact that God has claimed me, becomes more and more important. There are so many people and things that try to claim my time, or talents, or treasures and try to declare ownership in my life. But just as God claimed Jesus at His baptism, He claimed me at mine. And because I am claimed by God I have value and worth. And so do you, if you have been claimed by God.