Jesus Did It:
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
16 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 alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)
In Baptism we get to actually participate in an act that Jesus did himself. How great is it that when we cry out that we want to follow Jesus, Jesus provides us with a tangible way to take those first steps with him? John knew that Jesus did not need baptism. Jesus is God in man so he needed neither the gift of the Holy Spirit nor the forgiveness of sins. Yet Jesus insists on baptism in order to fulfill all righteousness. In other words, Jesus insists on baptism because it is the right thing to do. Jesus’ baptism is the only place where scripture records that all three personages of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are physically detectable. The Father is heard. The Son is physically present. The Holy Spirit is visible in some form. Jesus’ baptism is a big event. God the Father is pleased. In our baptism God is present. It is through the Son that our sins are forgiven. The Holy Spirit indwells in us and we are made right before God the Father. We submit to baptism because it is the right thing to do and it pleases our Heavenly Father.
Jesus’ First Followers Submitted to Baptism:
22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” (John 3:22-26)
In this passage we see that Jesus’ disciples baptized so many that John’s (whose nickname was “The Baptizer”) disciples got jealous. From the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry, baptism existed as an integral part of following Jesus.
Jesus Commands Baptism in Conjunction with Discipleship:
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore 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 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
These are the final verses written in the Gospel of Matthew. They are some of the last commands that Jesus gave the apostles before he ascended into heaven after the resurrection. After telling the apostles that he has the authority over everything and everyone, Jesus commands the apostles to go throughout the whole world making new followers (disciples) of him. They should baptize these disciples in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and teach them obedience to all Jesus’ commands. These commands come with a promise that Jesus will be with them and with all of his disciples (the “you” in verse 20 is plural) to the very end of time. So baptism was not just something done during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus commanded baptism for all who would follow him as a result of the apostle’s testimony. That means the command is for us. We are to submit to baptism and to baptize others. Baptism is not some sort of fire insurance, but the beginning of a new life of learning and obeying all of Jesus’ commands. We do not live this new life in isolation. Instead, Jesus promises that he will walk with us in this new life on into eternity.
Baptism Comes with a Big Promise:
Baptism when joined with belief, repentance, and confession comes with a promise:
2:37 Now when they heard this, they were acutely distressed and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “What should we do, brothers?” [Belief] 2:38 Peter said to them, “Repent, [Repentance] and each one of you be baptized [Baptism] in the name of Jesus Christ [Confession] for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. [Promise] 2:39 For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” (Acts 2:37-39)
The promise concerns the receiving of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. To make clear that this promise was not just for those present at Pentecost, Peter explicitly tells us that this promise is for future generations (your children) and for people everywhere (all who are far away). In short this promise is for “as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” If you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and you need your sins forgiven, then this is what you should do. Listen to what Peter prescribed for those asking the same question of “What shall we do”:
1) Repent- the word simply means “to turn around” or “to change one’s mind”. To repent is to turn around from living a life where you are the boss to living a life with Jesus as your guide.
2) Confess- is to proclaim to the world with your mouth and with your actions you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
3) Baptism- is a focal point of belief, repentance, and confession. In baptism you publicly confess in word and deed that you believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. In baptism you take that first step of repentance in the direction of submission to Christ’s leadership.
At the focal point of baptism God does all the real work. You go to the waters of baptism and God gives you the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. You are not performing some act that is so meritorious that it puts God in your debt. Instead you are simply going to the surgeon’s office where he removes the cancer of sin and inserts the healing, life-giving Holy Spirit. Baptism is an act of submission, not a work that earns salvation.
In Baptism, We Die to Sin and Participate in Jesus’ Resurrection:
Paul speaks about baptism as the place where we participate in Christ’s death and resurrection:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:1-4)
For Paul, baptism is where we die to sin and God raises us into a new life. This does not mean that we never sin again. It means that sin is no longer the norm of our life. We cannot “go on sinning”. We are on a campaign through the leadership of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit to eradicate sin in our lives wherever we find it. We cannot tolerate sin in our lives any longer. We died to the sinful way of life in the waters of baptism and arose to a new life characterized by the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Baptism is the beginning of a journey toward Christ likeness, a journey that will find completion only in Heaven.
Baptism Is the Pledge of a Clear Conscience Before God:
in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. (1 Peter 3:20b-22)
Baptism is not an act of superstition. It is not like pinching salt and throwing it over your shoulder or knocking on wood. There is nothing supernatural about the water itself. No one has blessed it or gotten it from some holy source. It is just regular tap water. What is significant about baptism is the pledge of a clear conscience. Baptism in some ways is like a marriage ceremony. The ceremony holds great significance if the bride and groom with clear consciences pledge themselves to each other for life. If their pledge is not sincere then the ceremony holds no real value, but instead is destructive to both parties. Likewise, baptism holds real eternal significance if it is where with a clear conscience you publicly pledge yourself to Jesus for eternity. If baptism is not done with sincerity, then it is nothing more than a substandard bath. As insincere marriage vows end in the harm of all involved so do insincere baptisms.