Humility & Baptism (Luke 3:15-22)

As always, it was an immense privilege to be able to share with God’s people at my church this weekend. I share below a recording of the message which I hope you enjoy.

A dove

Here is the text from Luke 3 for your reference:

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with[a] water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

19 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, 20 Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.

21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 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.”

Luke 3:15-22 NIV

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire Luke3:16 #NIV #Bible

Baptise Them

The Great Commission #4

Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Matthew 28:18-20 (WEB)

Jesus gave three primary instructions to His eleven followers on the mountain.

  1. Make disciples of all nations
  2. Baptise them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
  3. Teach them to obey all He commanded

We now consider number two on the list, namely the instruction to baptise.

In some respects, I feel this is a forgotten element of the Great Commission. I have said previously that simply telling others about Jesus is not quite enough to fulfil the task at hand, and this particular instruction is relevant. Telling others about Christ and the Gospel does not equate to baptism.

We must not neglect the command of baptism in the Great Commission.

We must not neglect the command of #baptism in the Great Commission. #Bible #Jesus #Christianity

For the individual, this may feel somewhat difficult to fulfil. It is clear that we ought not to run around throwing holy water on people, baptising them with a super-soaker! For the most part, we tend to leave this instruction to be fulfilled by the church, rather than us as members of it.

To be clear, baptism is a symbolic event where water is sued to indicate the new life of a believer seeking to follow Christ. It is a public declaration of an internal change. When we surrender ourselves to Jesus, He gives us a heart of flesh instead of stone, and gifts us with His Holy Spirit to dwell with us. Baptism, then, is an outward sign of that commitment.

Different church traditions do this in a variety of ways. Some will completely immerse an individual in water, using a pool or even the ocean. Others simply sprinkle water over them as a symbol of cleansing. Some church traditions baptise children or infants, while others only adults.

On that last point, it is clear that as an infant, you cannot make the promises required for a real commitment for Christ. Instead, it is the parents and godparents who make those promises on the child’s behalf, and later in life it is hoped the child will make the promises for themselves. In the Anglican tradition, a baptised infant, when they reach an age of understanding, can then go forward for “Confirmation” which is essentially adopting the baptismal promises for themselves.

Whatever your tradition, and whatever your views on infant baptism or total immersion, the command from Jesus is clear – we are to baptise.

A friend of mine came to faith in his twenties, but was never baptised. He had not been baptised as a baby, and his church had not emphasised the need for it. When he moved home and thus changed to a different fellowship, he became involved in serving at the church. One day when the pastor was teaching on the subject of baptism, he came to the decision that he must be baptised as a sign of his belief.

Did it enhance his faith in any particular way? Was he not “properly” saved until he was immersed? Was it just a good excuse for a get-together? The likely answer is no to all of these (although some may disagree) but the point is it was a definite step of obedience. Baptism is a command of Christ, and this man fulfilled it.

As he climbed down the steps into the water, it represented the death and burial of his old life of sin. As he emerged from the surface of the water, it depicted his freshness as a “new creation” in Christ. This is what baptism is all about.

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Jesus instructs His followers to baptise in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To be honest, there is some debate about this point. Are these not titles, rather than names? Some will ask. Is it not sufficient to baptise in the “name” of Jesus?

There is something of a rabbit hole to avoid here. The issue is not unimportant of course, and I urge you to investigate it for yourself. We do not have time in these brief words to give the topic justice.

The critical point for me here is that we are not baptised into any old name. We are not pinning our colours to any random mast. Instead, we are dedicating ourselves to the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the God of the Bible, and the One who raised Christ from the dead. You cannot easily separate the Father from the Son, nor the Spirit from Jesus. They are One God, in three Persons. To fully understand this is to comprehend God Himself, which is beyond any of us.

How we baptise is a matter for study and debate, and various church traditions have grown up over time with differing views. The point is we are to baptise.

Having gone out, as Jesus told us, and sharing the Good News about Christ, a natural step for those who believe is to be baptised. For many people, it is a key event in their lives of faith. Often it marks the beginning of something too.

Jesus was baptised by John in the River Jordan, which you can read about in Matthew 3. This was not to cleanse Jesus from sin, as He was without it, but instead marked the coming of the Spirit and the beginning of His earthly ministry.

In a similar way, perhaps you need to experience baptism for yourself, or renew the promises you or others made for you?

What will you do?

Some questions for you today:

  • Have you been baptised, and if not, does this encourage you to explore it?
  • Does your church teach about baptism and encourage it?
  • If you were baptised as a child, why not review the promises that were made on your behalf today, and commit yourself to keeping them?

The River Jordan

Pilgrimage to Israel #4

It has been a while since I last wrote about my time in Israel, and I was part way through a series of posts on it at the end of last year. I was reflecting on it yesterday and thanking God I was able to go and come back before COVID shut everything down.

One of the highlights of the trip, and it was really all just one big “highlight”, was our time at the River Jordan.

I had been to this particular site before on my last journey to Israel, but this time it was particularly special.

The River Jordan is biblically significant for a number of reasons, and is mentioned throughout the Old and New Testaments.

For example, Joshua led the people of Israel across the river.

When the priests who carried the ark entered the Jordan River, as their feet touched the water’s edge (The Jordan River overflows all of its banks daily during the harvest season.), 16 the water flowing downstream from above stood still in a single location, a great distance away at Adam, a city near Zarethan. The water that flowed south toward the sea in the Arabah (that is, the Dead[a] Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan River, while all Israel crossed on dry ground until the entire nation had finished crossing the Jordan River.

Joshua 3:15-17 (ISV)

And in the New Testament, we see John baptising in the same river. Jesus Himself was baptised there.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan

Mark 1:9 (ISV)

I am not certain what the scene would have looked like for Jesus and John at Christ’s baptism. I can only imagine it was very different to the site where pilgrims visit the river today.

You arrive and move through a fairly sizable complex, complete with gift shop, and emerge on the other side on the banks of the river. It is fairly commercialised, with many jetties stretching along the water’s edge for pilgrims to use for baptism or to just wade in the shallows. There are a number of shops or stall selling various things.

Like many places in Israel, tourism has touched these sacred places and it is both sad and understandable at the same time. As much as I would like to arrive at such places and have them exactly as they would have been for Jesus or the early church, the tourism at least indicates people want to visit these sites and that they hold particular importance.

On our visit, the site seemed particularly busy. It was certainly busier than the last time I visited. Our group sought a free jetty to use to be able to access the water, but at first could not find one.

I am not sure who made it possible, but our group was led away from the main area and around a corner. We walked through a small garden and then entered a sort of pavilion with a basic roof and bench seating right down to the water’s edge.

It was quiet and peaceful, and we essentially had the place to ourselves for a good period of time. We held a short service, and then many just sat in the quiet. Others ventured down to the river and were baptised or just paddled.

The sense of peace grew, and it soon became apparent that it was more than just a natural peace. God was present with us in that place, and even those who wouldn’t call themselves “believers” experienced that profound sense of peace.

I will try to describe the scene so you can build a picture in your mind’s eye.

There was a shallow incline down to the water with a few bushes growing along the line of the bank. On the opposite side of the river, many trees grew giving the water a green hue. It was lovely and sunny, and almost no breeze as I recall. Many just sat in the presence of God, while others explored the water.

As I write this now, I don’t remember if we sang or not. Perhaps only during the short service itself and not afterwards. One lingering memory is that of a brightly coloured Kingfisher bird swooping down over the slow currents and reminding us how God’s creation cannot help but show His glory.

Was Jesus baptised in this exact spot? It is unlikely to be honest, but it was easy to imagine it. The bird, also, reminded us how the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus as a dove at His baptism.

The crowds only a few hundred yards away were forgotten and the only word I can use to describe it was “peaceful”. I am always a bit cautious about experiences where we say we “felt” God, as God is ever present with us and we should never chase an experience. We can worship God whether we feel Him or not. Additionally, “feel” is never reall ythe right word. Feelings are fickle and changeable, whereas God is not.

Whatever it was that made us more aware of God’s presence in that place, I am extremely grateful for it.

As wonderful an experience as it was, what is important is to experience Jesus in your life on an everyday basis. It is not everyday we find ourselves resting on the banks of the Jordan where it might be rather easier to encounter God. It is more difficult while doing the washing up or chasing the children around the house.

But Jesus is with us in the ordinary everyday as much as anywhere else.

And remember, I am with you each and every day until the end of the age.

Matthew 28:20b (ISV)

Wherever you find yourself today, take a moment to enjoy the presence of God. You may not “feel” anything but you can trust that He is right there beside you.