Baptism of Jesus
September 1996, Mzuzu, Africa
What was meant by God to be a precious and wonderful gift has become a point of war. As the Body of Christ grows and becomes more one with Jesus, and with each other, we should definitely come to understand what baptism is. We see in the New Testament how John the Baptist came baptizing people for the forgiveness of sins. There was no scripture in the Old Testament about John baptizing people. When John came and took people and dunked them under water in the Jordan River, it was a surprise to many people, because there were no prophecies about baptism and no one really knew what baptism was until John came.
So it would be easy to say that John was wrong. Because where does the Bible say I have to be baptized in the Old Testament? But because John was a friend of God and he was sent by God with a message for God’s people, he brought baptism to them, and they came from cities and villages far, far away to be baptized. Some of the church leaders in John’s day said, “We don’t want baptism. Prove to us in the Bible, John, that we should be baptized.” John could not prove that to them in the Bible, because there was no teaching about that in the Old Testament.
But John listened to God and he heard God’s voice about baptism. Many of the leaders and the Pharisees said “No” to baptism. The Bible says very clearly that they rejected God’s purpose for their lives by refusing baptism. I will repeat it so you can understand for sure: The Bible says that men who rejected baptism rejected God’s purpose for their lives.
Perhaps we don’t understand baptism perfectly, and somehow getting all wet may not make that much sense to us. To some, it may seem like something extra, but even John’s baptism was so important that men who rejected it rejected God’s purpose for their life. We may not understand why this is, but it is very important to God, so it must be very important to us also.
The Importance of Baptism to Jesus
As you look into the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus, some of the very last words that Jesus said before He went back to heaven on the clouds were, “Go into every nation. Make disciples. Teach them all of my ways. Baptize them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”
If I were lying in bed, almost ready to die, and I told you something in your ear—maybe some of the last words I’d ever say—these last words would be very important, wouldn’t they? Some of the very last words that Jesus said were, “Go make disciples. Baptize them. Teach them to obey everything I commanded.” These words are so important to Jesus that they must be just as important to us. The original word for “baptize” in the Greek language, “baptizo”, means to “immerse” or to “submerge”. When people heard Jesus speak, they did not hear, “Go make disciples... baptize...” In their language, they heard Jesus say, “Go make disciples... immerse them... submerge them.”
“Baptize” was not a religious word back then. When we hear the word “baptize” now, we usually think of something religious. When people washed the clothing, they put it in the water, all the way underneath the water, and washed it. That was to “baptize”. When they washed the dishes, they put them under the water and washed them. That was their word for “dunk”. “Baptism” was not a religious word, so when Jesus said, “Go make disciples... baptize...” He was telling us clearly how He wanted us to do it.
There is much questioning in many people’s minds about this matter, but the words of Jesus say that it is important that we be buried with Him. These things are important because Jesus says they are.
“Who can be baptized?” is a good question. Peter said that baptism is the crying out of a pure heart towards God. A heart that wants to live for Jesus, cries out for God, believes that Jesus is the Son of God and wants their sins washed away can be baptized. A person who does not really believe in Jesus, is not really crying out towards God, and has not decided that they want to live for him with all their heart to the best of their abilities perhaps is not yet ready to be baptized.
We will never understand everything about baptism; we will never understand everything of what it means to live for Jesus. But our hearts must at least want to follow Jesus as far as we understand. We must know that we have crucified Jesus with our sin, and it should break our hearts that we have killed the innocent Son of God. And we must want to say, “I’m sorry. Please take my life.”
Romans 6 says that we die to our sin, we are buried with Jesus and we rise to walk in newness of life. We would not want to bury a man who is living; burying is for dead men. It is also true spiritually. We must want to die to our sin. Otherwise, we are not ready to be baptized. We bury dead men. And it’s only as we give our life away that we can rise to walk in newness of life. Baptism is a celebration of us giving our life away and Jesus giving us His Life.
Like everything else in Christianity, it is more a matter of the heart than it is the form or the externals. By that I mean that it is more important that we really do love Jesus the Son of God and want to give our life away for Him. That is more important than the words we say over the baptism. Jesus wants to give us His Holy Spirit and forgive all our sins. Jesus wants us to be baptized by one Spirit into one Body. He wants us to be part of the Father, part of the Son and part of the Holy Spirit. But do we have to say all of those words, like a formula, in order for Him to keep His promises?
The answer is that it’s not the words that we say, it’s the heart and the lives that are given to God that matter the most. If we understand and believe in our heart that Jesus is the Son of God, that our sins have murdered the Son of God, that Jesus died so that all of our sins could be forgiven, and to the best of our understanding we want to live for Jesus rather than for ourselves, then obey him and give our lives to be baptized, then we are participating with heaven. It’s as if Jesus is reaching His hand down from heaven and touching us as we are baptized. Baptism is very, very special. There are many promises of God that are associated with baptism. satan opposes baptism; he hates it.
We have seen this in India, for example. A person can say, “I think I will become a Christian,” and his neighbor will say, “Okay, okay.” The first man then says, “I want to be baptized,” and then someone burns his house down. satan hates baptism. Anything satan hates, I love.
Baptism is a place where God meets man. It’s a very special place. It’s not just something that you do. It’s not some way to just join a group of believers. It’s bigger than that. God is in baptism in a very special way. That’s why Jesus spoke about it in His last words. That’s why Peter spoke about it in his first words to the new church. “God has made this Jesus, whom you killed, both Lord and Christ,” he said. And they were cut to the heart that they had killed Jesus. Because they were cut to the heart, they said, “Well, what should we do? What should we do?” Did Peter, by the Holy Spirit, say, “Join a church” ? No! Peter, by the Holy Spirit said, “Repent! Turn away from your sins! Every one of you be immersed and you will receive the forgiveness of all of your sins. Though your sins were red like blood, they shall be white as snow, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit living inside of you. This promise is for you and your children, and all who are far off, as many as call on the name of the Lord.”
These things are very, very special. If a person has given his life to Jesus and is sorry for his sin, and he knows that Jesus forgives sin, and so wants to live his life to the best of his understanding for Jesus, then he should desire to be baptized.
In Acts 8, Philip went to a man on the road. That man was a high official in Ethiopia. He was a very, very intelligent and well-schooled man. He was reading the scriptures out of Isaiah. Philip came to him and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He was reading about the Savior, about the Messiah, Jesus. And the man answered, “How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?” So Philip went on to tell him all the good things about the wonderful Savior. He told him about our friend and our King Jesus. He told him about our Jesus who walks on water. He told him about our Jesus who tells storms to be still. He tells about Jesus who raises dead men and gives sight to the blind. He tells him about a Jesus who takes broken hearts and makes them whole again. And as this man from Ethiopia heard all these things about this wonderful Jesus, he said, “Here’s water. Baptize me now!” He knew that the teaching about Jesus and baptism were connected. And he didn’t even want to wait one minute. “Here’s water. What hinders me?” He said. And they went down into the water. Phillip immersed him into Jesus, and they came out of the water rejoicing. But his heart’s desire was to participate with Jesus in baptism.
There was a keeper of a jail in a city called Philippi where some of our brothers had been locked up. There was an earthquake and our brothers were set free by the power of God. The jailer saw the doors were open, and he wanted to kill himself. Our brothers told him how he could be saved, and even though it was after midnight, he wanted to be baptized right then. Something about the teaching of Jesus made him want to be baptized right away. It was midnight. It was not convenient; it was not easy. But his heart’s desire for Jesus was that he wanted to be baptized, immersed. If we were to have God’s mind about baptism, we would be very excited about it, the way the man from Ethiopia, the jail keeper in Philippi, and 3,000 people in one day in Jerusalem were very excited about it.
Now what is the difference between John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism? John’s baptism was for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1) and Jesus’ baptism is also for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2). Later in the book of Acts Paul met some men who had to be baptized a second time, because they had only received John’s baptism and they needed the baptism of Jesus. So, baptism isn’t about just getting wet. Baptism isn’t just about going under the water. Those men with John’s baptism had been baptized to do good works and to stop sinning. The baptism of Jesus is to come into the Holy Spirit of Christ, to be clothed with Jesus of Nazareth. John’s baptism was about a good work. Jesus’ baptism is about faith in the blood of the Savior. John’s baptism was a pledge towards God, to obey God. Jesus’ baptism is a crying out for the filling of Jesus. John’s baptism was to do righteousness. Jesus’ baptism is faith in Jesus, taking our sin and exchanging it for His righteousness. It is about the good works of Jesus, not about the good works that we do.
The Father loves the Son of God, Jesus, who made a covenant with His Father and obeyed Him in everything. The baptism of Jesus is our calling out to God and asking Him to hide us in Jesus. So now the covenant, or the ‘deal’, that the Father made with the Son becomes our covenant—not because of our good works, but because of Jesus’. This is very good news, because our good works will never please the Father. But the Father loves the Son, and in Him the Father is well pleased. So as the believers hide themselves in Jesus in His baptism, because the Father loves the Son, then in them He is well pleased. This is the baptism of Jesus, where the Father gives us the Spirit of the Son, and He clothes us with the Son that He loves. This is very good news.
There have been people who have come to us with a desire to be a part of the church, and perhaps they were never immersed into Christ. Perhaps they believe Jesus is the Son of God and have said, “I give my life to him,” but they have never been baptized. There are two ways this might be handled. One way is with externals... with form or law; that is, “We can’t walk with you until you are baptized.” Or, we can say, “We want you to love Jesus and totally give everything to Him, and baptism is something that is very important to Jesus. Please think and pray about these things very much. Here are the teachings about baptism from Paul and from Peter, from John and from Jesus.”
The Bible says that a Christian is one who craves the pure spiritual milk of the word of God in the same way that a newborn baby craves his mother’s milk. So we could say, “We can’t walk with you unless you are baptized”... or we could begin to feed them with the pure spiritual milk of the word of God and see whether they love or hate that food. This takes a little bit of time. But if they love that food, having just never heard it before, then they will soon be baptized. If they don’t love the Word of God, then it doesn’t matter if they are baptized. We cannot walk with anyone who does not love the Word of God. So then the test is not whether or not they are baptized but whether or not they love the Word of God.
Obviously in the Scriptures, baptism is a very precious thing to God and to everyone who knows God. As soon as the man from Ethiopia heard about baptism, he wanted it right away. As soon as the 3,000 new believers in Acts 2 heard about baptism, they wanted it right away. The jailer in Philippi wanted it right away, even after midnight. It didn’t matter what time it was. Why was this true? It was true because all of these people loved the word of God. When you love your wife or husband and they ask you for something, you want very much to give it to them. If you love Jesus, and baptism is important and precious to Him, then you will love to be baptized, because Jesus loves it.
So it takes a little bit of time to offer the Word of God to people, but whether we can sit together and talk or not isn’t based on whether they are baptized. If they don’t understand baptism, we can still fellowship a little bit, because if they love God and love His Word, they will grow and will be baptized.
We are all growing in many things, aren’t we? The test is not what we know; the test is whether we will change. We are all at different places. The test is whether we love the word of God and want to change. Sometimes change is very hard, and we need to be patient with and love each other. If a person doesn’t want the word of God, that’s a problem. But if they do want the Word of God and it’s difficult for them, we should help them.
God’s People are Family
If we are all walking together as a family every day, then we can work these things out pretty easily. If the church is just a place to meet on Sunday morning, we have a big problem, because then we have to decide who is a member and who is not a member. But if we are a family every day, then when a person doesn’t love the teachings of Jesus it becomes obvious. We find out in the course of living every day in our neighborhoods whether or not they love the Word of God.
If a person says, “I’ve been baptized,” but they don’t love their wife or their husband, that would be very bad. If we are living as a family every day, we’ll know whether a person wants to live for Jesus or not. If we live as a family every day, we will have time to talk about things like baptism. It won’t be a “sermon” about baptism; it will be friends among friends talking about baptism. Maybe if one person can’t explain baptism very well, he will bring the person he is talking with to someone who can. There are different gifts in the body of Christ and some can explain things better than others.
As we live as family, we can work out all of these things together every day. It solves many problems to be a family instead of having something to attend, because now we have the time to work out our differences and understand each other. When you just come to a meeting house and that’s all the church means to you, then you pretty much have to believe all the same things at the same time in order to be there.
But if we are a family, we have time to work out our differences, because we love each other. Not with “sermons,” but with family discussions. This makes life very exciting and very peaceful. This is why the Bible says that the Church is the pillar and foundation of all Truth, because together, as a family, we can find God’s Mind. When all the gifts are living together and sharing their lives together, our God will help us understand His mind about different areas of Truth.
Together, We Find the Answers
This is good, because no one of us has a perfect mind. Many, many great scholars disagree on every major point, and most of them are not really a part of a living church. They go someplace on Sunday morning and that’s all. They don’t have the other gifts talking to them and challenging them every day. So they have very weak knowledge, even though their minds are strong. They have many great opinions based on their studies, but their opinions are very different than other peoples’ opinions. So who is right? God said the Pillar and Foundation of Truth is the Living Church. Together we can find the answers!
In Acts 15 the believers didn’t know whether a new convert should be circumcised or not, so various brothers came together to try and work out a solution. One brother said, “I saw God do miracles with the Gentiles.” Another brother said, “I remember something the prophet Amos said in the scriptures.” They worked together as the People of God and the Family of God to find the answers from God. They worked together to find the answers. It was not one “superstar” with a brilliant mind, but it was the Family of God working together. And as one brother spoke and then another, James said, “It seems good to us and to the Holy Spirit that this is the answer.” The Church is the Pillar and Foundation of Truth. Together we can find the answers. You don’t have to be a great scholar for God to use you this way.
Baptism of Jesus—A New Promise
Like the baptism that John taught, Acts 2 says that the baptism of Jesus is also for the forgiveness of sins. The difference between Jesus’ baptism and John’s baptism is that Jesus’ baptism is a baptism unto the gift of the Holy Spirit and of calling out to the Messiah.
John was baptizing before Jesus was crucified, before the blood of Jesus was shed. So, you could say that John the Baptist was an Old Testament prophet. He was participating in the Levitical law. When he was baptizing, it was the blood of bulls and goats that brought forgiveness of sins. John’s baptism had ended by the time Jesus died on the cross; John’s head had been cut off before Jesus died, so he could not baptize anyone into Jesus. When John was baptizing, Jesus’ blood had not been shed.
You could say, then, that John’s baptism was a baptism of good works and Jesus’ baptism is a baptism of grace into His blood. The new baptism, Jesus’ baptism, is into the blood of the New Covenant and the forgiveness of sins by Jesus. When Jesus died, a new promise came into effect. John could not baptize us into that new promise, but now that Jesus lives, He baptizes us into the New Promise.
Peter said in Acts 2 that in the New Covenant our sins are forgiven in baptism. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, and your sins will be forgiven.” So, part of giving our lives to Jesus involves baptism and part of giving our lives to Jesus involves the forgiveness of sins. But there is something John could never give us that Jesus can. Jesus also baptizes in the Holy Spirit. “And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
In Acts 19, men were re-baptized. Paul asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit and they said, “We don’t even know what the Holy Spirit is.” This is what caused Paul to think that they needed to be re-baptized. Paul said, “You can’t have baptism into Jesus and not have the Holy Spirit. You must have the wrong baptism.” If you are baptized into Jesus, it also includes the Holy Spirit. John baptized only with water, but Jesus baptizes in the Holy Spirit. This is a very powerful promise.
Are My Children Judged for My Sins?
The Holy Spirit said in Ezekiel 18 that God looks at each of us individually, and the soul that sins is the one that shall die. God judges the man who makes the choices to rebel against Him. In one sense, we are all under a curse because of our father Adam’s sins. If you are a drunkard in your home, then God will judge your home. That is the meaning of the scripture in Ezekiel 18. God takes away His presence and there is a penalty paid in your home for your sin—there is a breakdown of peace and a breakdown of love. Your children will not respect you and love you. There are many judgments for the sins in our homes, but Ezekiel makes it clear that the judgment that sends a man to hell is not what his father does but what he himself does.
There is a judgment from God because of my sin that will make my children’s lives very sad. There is a curse on all of planet Earth because of Adam and Eve’s sin. Women have pain in childbirth now. Men must work by the sweat of the brow, with sore muscles and backs. The ground now grows weeds and thorns and thistles. The water in the stream can now make us sick. There are many curses because our father Adam sinned. If I am a drunkard, there are many curses and judgments on my family. My son will be very sad because of my sin, which can make his life very, very hard. So, in that sense, there is judgment from God on my son because of my sin. But my son can go to hell only for his own sins. He cannot go to hell for mine. Jesus said there are four kinds of soil. If my son loves Jesus and His Word, and he obeys Him... he will be saved. Ezekiel is very clear about that.
Children and Baptism
There comes a time in every child’s life when they begin to make choices from the heart to rebel. Because of Adam’s sin, children sometimes have behavior problems. Probably all children have behavior problems, but those behavior problems will not send them to hell. Jesus said, “Unless you become as a little child, you cannot go to heaven.”
Another time, while pointing at the children He said, “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Those children have not been baptized. The people that were baptized were ones that came confessing their sins. There is no record of any children being baptized. There were many, many children, but we have seen no accounts of children being baptized. I can understand why someone would want to baptize a child. But the scriptures are clear that baptism is only for those who truly believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Only people who give their life to Jesus can be baptized. Because Jesus said the kingdom of God is for people like these little children, then we must believe that God will protect a little child’s soul. There were many children in Jesus’ day, yet there is no record of any of them being baptized. So, Jesus must protect our little children. And, when they become old enough to either decide to rebel against Jesus or give their life to Him, a decision must be made.
The Jewish faith is a shadow of the Christian faith (Hebrews 10). In the Jewish faith, there comes a day called Bar Mitzvah. It is a day when a boy becomes a man. The Jews teach that the children are just like slaves in the house until they get old enough for their Bar Mitzvah. After a Bar Mitzvah, a child becomes a son. This is a shadow of what is true for us as well. There comes a time when our children must decide if they will live for Jesus or live for themselves. Most five-year-olds could never decide that. A baby cannot decide if it will live for Jesus or for itself. Maybe a ten-year-old or a twelve-year-old could decide if they will live for Jesus or for themselves, but probably not a five-year-old, because they don’t understand who Jesus is.
In Acts 2, it says that in order to be baptized, you must repent. You cannot be baptized unless you repent. I think that in most cases it would be hard for a five-year-old to understand what sin is. If you tell them that they have killed the Son of God, would they understand? They probably would not. Only a person who can understand that they have killed Jesus with their own sin can be baptized. Jesus said that the children have angels that stand in the very presence of God. Jesus Himself has taught these things, so we must trust Him for our children...until they are old enough to decide.