After a hardy rainstorm filled all the potholes in the streets and alleys, a young mother watched her two little boys playing in the puddle through her kitchen window. The older of the two, a five-year-old, grabbed his brother by the back of his head and shoved his face into the water hole. As the boy recovered and stood laughing and dripping, the mother ran to the yard in a panic. “Why on earth did you do that to your little brother?” she said as she shook the older boy in anger. “We were just playing church, Mom,” he said. “And I was baptizing him …in the name of the Father, the Son and in…the hole-he-goes!”
Tonight we start a new Sunday evening sermon series that will lead us to Easter. This series, The Journey to the Cross, will walk through Jesus’ adult ministry, stopping at some key places along the way to see how they lead, ultimately to the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter morning.
Tonight, we begin…at the beginning- the beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry, that is. We find John the Baptizer, standing in the Jordan River, baptizing new believers. John- a Hebrew term meaning “Jehovah is gracious.” His name was divinely given when the angel Gabriel appeared to John’s father. Zechariah was in the temple, the Holy of Holies, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. when suddenly Gabriel is standing in front of him. He had a very singular message to deliver, “Your wife Elizabeth will have a child. It will be a boy, and you must name him John.” Not “you SHOULD name him”. Not “you might want to name him”. “You MUST name him John.”
Not coincidentally, Elizabeth was the cousin of…Mary. And when Mary found out she was pregnant with Jesus, she went to see her cousin Elizabeth, who was about 6 months farther along in HER pregnancy with John. When Mary drew near to Elizabeth, John leapt for joy within his mother’s womb.
As it all turns out, the angel Gabriel wasn’t the first one to prophesy about John’s coming. Seven centuries earlier, the prophet Isaiah spoke of “the voice of one that cries out,” one who would “prepare in the wilderness the way of Jehovah”. In the last book of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi declares: “Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple; and the Messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, behold, he comes, says Jehovah”. John was clearly a key figure in laying the groundwork for Jesus’ ministry to come.
John’s description is brief and stark. He wore a “camel’s hair” garment, secured by a leather belt. His diet consisted of locusts and wild honey. Not coincidentally, this description is reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets, particularly Elijah. But despite his appearance, his influence was phenomenal. Hundreds, if not thousands, were baptized by him. And his success was based on what? Nothing more than the message he preached.
John was, above all else, the preparer. He was sent to prepare the people for the coming Messiah. Both Isaiah and Malachi had announced that fact. And the fact that Christianity became such a resounding phenomenon is, in some way, a commentary on how well John accomplished his mission.
Matthew 3:13-17 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 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 lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
In 18 years in the ministry, I have done somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 baptisms, give or take. Along with a LOT of baptisms done in the church, at the Baptismal fount, I have done some others in rather…unusual places. I have done a total of three baptisms in an outdoor hot tub that sat out on a promontory that stuck out into a lake. I have done one in a hospital whirlpool, because the patient couldn’t leave the hospital but wanted to be immersed. I even had the extreme joy of baptizing my younger son. I’ve baptized newborns, toddlers, kids and adults. And I did one baptism in a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) in a major hospital in St. Louis. There was a decent chance that the baby wasn’t going to survive and the parents wanted him baptized. How could I possibly say no? And after those 140-ish baptisms, in a variety of settings and circumstances, there is NEVER a time when a baptism seems commonplace or routine. Each one is special and powerful.
John was offering baptism for the forgiveness of sins. So it was no wonder that he was reluctant to baptize Jesus when He came down to the river. He understood Jesus to be completely without sin- a lamb without blemish. But Jesus understood that there was a pln- things were designed to happen in a certain way…for such a time as this. So when John was reluctant, Jesus reassured him. “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”
As Jesus came UP out of the water…the power and the presence of God Himself came DOWN out of the Heavens. God’s Spirit, like a dove, came down and lit on Jesus. And then…and then…God’s voice was heard from Heaven. Those who were gathered at the river that day HEARD THE VOICE OF GOD! Not just with their hearts…but with their ears! God spoke! “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
So why was Jesus baptized? Jesus was baptized to so that we could be reminded that God calls each of us into new territories. He was baptized to show us that there comes a time when we each have to step forth and more fully accept God’s call on our lives. And the minute we quit asking God, “What’s next?” is th minute we quit moving forward. And when we quit moving forward, we separate ourselves from God.
A life lived in the shadow of God is full of moments when we are called to step up- as individuals, as families, as a church. This church is SMACK in the middle of just such a time. We are being called to step up to the plate in a major way. We are called to learn from the past, live in the present and dream toward the future. I believe with all my heart that there is no limit…NO limit…to where we can head if we stay focused on what God is calling us to do.
So why was Jesus baptized? He was baptized so we could see that timing is everything. He was baptized so that we might be willing to step up and accept the calling that God has placed in front of us. God loves us SO much that He ripped open the heavens, broke into time and space and came down to earth as a human…so that we might know a better way.
So why was Jesus baptized? He was baptized so we would be fully aware of His continued claim on our lives. Remember, John heard the voice of God that day. He saw the visible form of the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus like a dove at the river. And he spent the last days he had on earth as a witness to that fact, John’s importance in God’s divine plan is summed up best by none other than Jesus himself. In Matthew 11:11, He says, “Among them that are born of women there has not arisen a greater than John the Baptist.”
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- I’m a Busy Guy!