The Baptism of Christ was a forerunner to a ceremony which has become the norm for Christians. Baptism is also the subject of some division and much misunderstanding.
Let’s explore the mystery of baptism.
We will look at Matthew 3:13-17 and Jesus’ baptism.
Matthew 3:13 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.”
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Matthew 3:14 Leadership Lesson from a Baptism
We learn several key things about leadership from the baptism of Jesus. Real leaders are not so afraid of their positions that they cannot submit to the leadership of others at appropriate times. Jesus was superior to John, yet he submitted to John’s baptism. What humility! Real leaders willingly submit to rituals of public cleansing even when they have no fault in a matter. Jesus was faultless and did not need to submit himself to a ritual of repentance. An example is apology. Some believe that the weak apologize, but the truth is that weaklings and cowards refuse to apologize. True leaders willingly apologize even when there is no need to.
Matthew 3:15 Right or Righteous
A choice between two good things can be difficult. Do we do the right thing or the righteousness thing? Which choice is God’s will? As Jesus approached John to be baptized, the right thing in John’s mind was that he should be baptized by Jesus. The lesser ought to be baptized by the superior. However, Jesus’ purpose at that time was humility not high position. He was born in a stable, served in an itinerant ministry and died on the cross. What was God’s reaction to Jesus’ choice of taking the lesser position? He was well-pleased. How about us? Do we always demand our rights or willingly fulfill all righteousness?
Matthew 3:16 Dippers & Washers
Who is right about baptism, the dippers, washers or both? Baptize literally means to dip, but in the Bible it is not always used literally. It can mean to wash (Mark 7:4; Luke 11:38; Acts 22:16). Both are correct. Was dipping the original mode? The Bible is deliberately vague as to which mode is preferable. When Jesus came up out of the water after his baptism, it could have been ankle deep. Israel was baptized into Moses by walking dry shod through the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). Less literal modes of baptism like washing are also legitimate. Dippers and washers are equally baptized into Jesus Christ.
Matthew 3:16 The Principal Sacrament
Baptism is the principle sacrament, a physical act with divine grace. Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:13-17) though the mode is perhaps purposefully unclear. Baptism pictures a new beginning (1 Corinthians 10:2, 1 Peter 3:20-21), Jesus’ suffering (Luke 12:50) and washing away our sins (Mark 7:4; Titus 3:5). Invoking the Trinity is mandated (Matthew 28:19) but the mode and age of baptism are not. Baptism of the Holy Spirit is pictured by fire landing on people’s heads (Acts 1:5; 2:3), so either placing water on the head or immersion are appropriate. The regeneration of baptism or rebirth differs it from any other sacraments.
Matthew 3:16 Good Enough for Jesus
Have you ever heard someone say that if an immersion baptism was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me? Jesus came "up out of the water" after his baptism (Matthew 3:16), literally came "up away from" the water. It is perhaps purposefully not clear whether he was immersed or merely stood ankle deep. Early church mosaics and paintings show Jesus standing ankle deep in the Jordan River and John the Baptist using a shell to pour water over him. Other historical evidence suggests that Jesus probably was immersed, but the Bible is perhaps purposefully vague. Is the method of baptism not as important as the fact of baptism?
Matthew 3:16-17 What is Baptism
Repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins and receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39) included children. Baptism is to wash away sins (Acts 22:16). God can give the Holy Spirit before physical baptism (Acts 10:45-48). It is the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5), a spiritual rebirth. Jesus declared baptism necessary (John 3:5). It is a baptism into Jesus, his death and new life (Romans 6:3-5). It is like circumcision (Colossians 2:11-13), performed on children. Three whole households were baptized (Acts 16:15; 16:33; 1 Corinthians 1:16). Baptism is a physical and spiritual washing and must invoke the Trinity (Matthew 28:19).
Matthew 3:16-17 Baptism Requirements
A baptism of repentance alone is not the baptism of Christ or his church (Acts 19:1-6). What about a so-called believer's’ baptism where belief is a prerequisite? The Ethiopian eunuch was told he could be baptized if he believed (Acts 8:36-38). Being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit are not always the same event (Acts 8:14-17). God gives the Holy Spirit at a time of his choosing. Infant baptism and later confirmation fulfill this. Acts 2:41 shows 3,000 baptized after hearing and accepting only one sermon. In churches where Christ’s commands in the Gospels are taught weekly (Matthew 28:20) then every sermon is a catechism.
Baptism is the most important of all the sacraments. It is more important than marriage or whether we take communion weekly, monthly or annually. It is the initiatory rite into this wonderful journey we call Christianity. It begins our journey from the kingdoms of this world into the kingdom of God.