Baptism is a big deal for a disciple of Jesus. I was baptized at a very young age and it meant the world to me.
Today the word baptism generally evokes thoughts of identifying with the Messiah’s death, burial, and resurrection, baptism did not begin with the followers of Jesus. For years before the Messiah, the Jews had used baptism in ritual cleansing ceremonies of Gentile proselytes.
“As for me, I [John the Baptizer] baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.“ | Matthew 3:11 (NASB)
I came to Jesus and decided to follow Him at the age of 12. I was immediately baptized in water. Being a part of the Baptist denomination at the time, I was immersed.
We rehearsed how it would all come down with the minister beforehand. They gave me a folded handkerchief that I was to give to the minister right before it happened. Stapled to the cloth was my name, so he wouldn’t forget who I was or say the wrong name. It was quite the ritual, but it meant something to me. It still does!
It was a VERY long time ago but here is what the minister said:
Based upon your profession of faith in the Lord Jesus the Messiah, I now baptize you in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Ghost. Buried with Him in the likeness of His death, raised with Him in the likeness of His resurrection to walk in the newness of life.
Here are the key ideas:
- John the Baptist took baptism and applied it to the Jews themselves—it wasn’t just the Gentiles who needed cleansing. Many believed John’s message and were baptized by him. The baptisms John performed had a specific purpose.
- John the Baptist mentions the purpose of his baptisms: “I baptize you with water for changing your mind and acting differently (aka repentance).” Paul affirms this in Acts 19:4: “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” John’s baptism had to do with repentance—it was a symbolic representation of changing one’s mind and going a new direction.
- “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River”. Being baptized by John demonstrated a recognition of one’s missing God’s goal (aka sin), a desire for spiritual cleansing, and a commitment to follow God’s law in anticipation of the Messiah’s arrival.
- There were some religious elites, like the Pharisees, who came to the Jordan to observe John’s ministry but who had no desire to step into the water themselves. John rebuked them sternly: “When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance’”. Even the religious leaders needed to repent of their sin, although they saw no need of it.
- Baptism today also symbolizes repentance, cleansing, and commitment, but Jesus has given it a different emphasis. Baptism is a mark of one’s identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah. It is representative of a cleansing that is complete and a commitment that is the natural response of one who has been made new.
- Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross completely washes away our sins, and we are raised to new life empowered by the Holy Spirit. With John’s baptism, a person repented of sin and was therefore ready to place his faith in Jesus the Messiah. John’s baptism foreshadowed what Jesus would accomplish, much as the Old Testament sacrificial system did.
- John prepared the way for the Messiah by calling people to acknowledge their sin and their need for salvation. His baptism was a purification ceremony meant to ready the peoples’ hearts to receive their Savior.
Here are the scriptures:
- Matthew 3:11 (NASB) — “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
- Matthew 3:6 —and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.
- Mark 1:4–5 —John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
- Acts 19:1–4 —It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”