For an introduction to this series, click here.
Dec. 6, 2006
Chapter 3 tells us the story of John the Baptist, or as I like to call him, John the Dipper. Because that's really what he was. (I'm revealing my Baptist roots here). I'm not going to get bogged down in a Baptist defense of immersion. I'll leave that to the experts.
Anyway, John, Jesus' cousin, came preaching the word of God. He lived in the desert, for how long we don't know, but apparently he left his father and mother at an early age. His parents were quite old when he was born, so perhaps they died. Certainly he learned to rely on God for his needs out in the desert. Often in Biblical history God took His servants to the wilderness before He brought them back for service. Look at Moses, David, Elijah, Paul, etc. Anyway, he comes back to civilization and creates a commotion. It had been 300 years since a prophet had been seen in Israel. Then John breaks onto the scene, and everyone goes out to hear him. He preaches a hard message:"Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." (3:8-12, ESV)
John preached a message of repentance and good works that follow salvation. This is a message sorely needed in our time. Not that we can do anything to merit salvation, but that salvation produces a change in our life. That is the main point of John's message.
One of the outward fruits of repentance was a willingness to be baptized. Now here is where most teachers (at least the ones I have heard) miss the significance. 1st century Judaism was a religion on the march. They were not content to practice their religion on Saturday. They were actively proselytizing (I think that's spelled right) Gentiles, especially in the areas where the Jews had been scattered. There were Jews all over the Roman Empire (remember the Jews at Pentecost in Acts 2 who came from all parts of the world) and they were militant for the faith. Baptism was a public symbol of a Gentile's conversion to Judaism. Here came John baptizing Jews, and the Jewish leaders were upset. "What were these people converting to?", the leaders wanted to know. Baptism was never intended as a means of grace or a washing away of original sin. It was a sign that an adult had changed their religion. That's why baptism was essential in the early church. They were living in the midst of a Jewish culture that would have understood the sign. That's why the Ethiopian ruler in Acts 8 wanted to be baptized. He understood that it was a symbol of a new life.
I didn't want to go this long, so I think I will address why Jesus was baptized when it comes up again.