Understanding the Significance
of Jesus' Baptism (And Yours)

Many churches will traditionally end the Christmas season this Sunday by observing "The Baptism of the Lord Jesus". The season began with the appearance of a baby boy who joined the human race and ends with an adult who is revealed as the very Son of God.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?"

But Jesus answered and said to him, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed Him.

When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
Matthew 3: 13-17

Ritual cleansing with water was well known to the Jews before Christianity. Orthodox men still immerse themselves in mikva before the Sabbath and holidays. Scribes do so before writing a Torah scroll. Jewish women often follow the Mitvah prior to marriage.

Ritual immersion into water symbolized cleansing...a commitment to purity and devotion to God. People considered it very important during major transitions of life such as ministry (age 30) and marriage.

John began to preach during human history's greatest transition--from shadow to substance, promise to fulfillment, from works to grace.

"In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, .Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!' For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:

'The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.'"

"Now John himself was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins."
Matthew 3:1-6

As the 400 years of prophetic silence were drawing to a close, John preached repentance and its accompany fruits in order to prepare people for Christ's arrival. Obviously, those who had been baptized by John were made ready for the message of the Kingdom. It enabled them to see its King.

When John saw Jesus, he questioned why the sinless Jesus was coming to be baptized. Note Jesus' answer: "It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness".

Jesus already possessed righteousness, but it was important to demonstrate that right standing. In doing so, He was establishing a standard of behavior for those who were to follow Him.

"For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps." 1 Peter 2:21

The Godhead manifested at the Baptism: God, the Holy Spirit alighted on Jesus as a mantle and God, the Father spoke from Heaven...the first time the distinct Persons of the one essence of the Trinity were made visible to mankind.

Prior to this event, the locals knew Jesus only as an ordinary man, the carpenter--son of Joseph and Mary. As He emerged from the water, Jesus' full identity and purpose was revealed to the world--God, the Son incarnate in human flesh--completely God, yet completely man!

John had been instructed ahead of time to watch for this sign as confirmation:

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for HE WAS BEFORE ME.' I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water."

And John bore witness, saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and testified that THIS IS THE SON OF GOD."
John 1:29-34

It is natural for us to want a bath when we get dirty, but how do we clean a soiled heart?

The Ceremonial Law was meant to be a lesson in the futility of man's own efforts to become righteous. When he  inevitably failed, God's mercy allowed for the innocent blood of animals to stand in his stead of judgment. The sight, sounds, and smells all added to the compounding drama of man's enduring sinfulness before a Holy God. But the coming of Jesus changed all of that!

"I (John) indeed baptize you with water unto 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 fire.

His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
Matthew 3:11,12

Going into water and coming back up without a good scrubbing doesn't really get you clean. Residue still lingers. John proclaimed that those who were baptized into the coming Christ could have the chaff thoroughly separated and removed from their lives--not by what they did--but by being immersed into the fiery presence of the Holy Spirit!

If Jesus is our pattern, then let's look at our own baptisms to get a deeper understanding and appreciation for what God has done for us.

Salvation is accomplished by grace through faith. Upon repentance* (conversion), God forgives you for your personal sins.

By the "fire" of the Holy Spirit, you are regenerated--transferred out of Adam and into Christ-- thereby removed from the bondage and consequences of Original Sin. This is being "born again".

Then you are instantly justified...having Christ's righteousness credited totally, permanently as yours.

Finally, as a result of now belonging to Christ, you are adopted by God as His son or daughter with full benefits and privileges.

All of this is accomplished from start to finish by grace as you place your active faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

However, with Jesus as your pattern, you must also make your 'appearing' to the world and validate who you are. Folks may have known you for years as the sad drunk, wayward son, abusive father or drug addict, but now you have become a new creature in Christ.

Our baptism is meant to be earthly evidence of our Heavenly status, where our names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life. Adoptees have legal proof of their new identity and home and so do we--baptism. Earthly births and adoptions cannot be formalized in solitude; neither can Heavenly ones.

Some people say baptism is not necessary for Salvation; they are right. But it IS necessary to fulfill all righteousness!**

Jesus was sinless, yet went into the water to demonstrate the importance of baptism.

A convert has imputed righteousness, but still chooses to follow through in baptism in order to not complete the righteousness, but 'fill" it (Greek-Pleroo..."to fill, as a house with perfume or a net with fish."

Both vivid examples of perfume and fish indicate evidence that can be weighed with one or more of our five earthly senses. The house or net is already yours--now fill it!

When you step out of the water, you bear the new fragrance of Christ, not the old stench of a rotting, self-righteous rag. As the Holy Spirit rested upon Christ, so He will rest upon you, and make you a fisher of men!

Did you know that the Father spoke over you at your baptism? What did He declare? If Christ is our pattern, then here it is:

"This is my beloved son (daughter), in whom I am well pleased."

Are you one of the many Christians who wonder what God thinks of you?

Just as God spoke affirmation BEFORE the Son performed His ministry, so God's acceptance of you is not based on your performance. He loved you from the foundation of the world, and now that you are restored to right standing, there is nothing that stands in the way of you receiving and walking in that love as His adopted child. What you could not become by human nature, He made you by divine grace.

In fact, you are as righteous now as you ever will be! As you grow in Christ, the reality of what you have been given will manifest more and more here on earth, but your standing with God cannot increase through good works or decrease in faith's struggles.

The Holy Spirit anointed Jesus, launching Him into His public ministry:

"How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him." Acts 10:38

At your baptism, you were also anointed to go about doing good and continuing the earthly ministry of Jesus with particular gifts and callings.

In summary:

God, the Son affirms you have been redeemed out of corrupt Adam and into Him.

God, the Father officially receives you into the family.

God, the Holy Spirit prepares you unto service and sanctification for the remainder of your earthly life.

Did you realize all of this?

Growing up as an evangelical, I recall that the act of baptism seemed to center around what the people did, with little thought as to what God was doing.

Some of my friends have been re-baptized in order for the experience to be more 'meaningful'--even traveling to the Jordan River--as if the setting or their maturity in Christ makes it really count!

It may for them, but God got it right the first time!

"Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a deposit." 2 Corinthians 1:21 

"In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel  of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory." Ephesians 1:13

Proof of this sealing is by baptism. You do not seal the commitment--God does! What do repeated baptisms say of the integrity of God's sealing power? Can it be eroded through the ups and downs of the Christian life or stolen by the devil?

No. Only YOU can break the seal by a deliberate rejection of God!

Consequently, we must be careful to faithfully represent God and His intents to a watching world! Is the focus more on what we want, think or feel, rather than on what God has said and done through the Baptism of our Holy Pattern, Christ?

Hank Hanegraaff, in his excellent article on baptism, notes that Charles Hadden Spurgeon, often referred to as the Prince of Preachers, said that he was afraid to confess Christ before his baptism.

Thereafter, he lost all fear of man and never hesitated to boldly profess his faith. He likened his baptism to "burning the boats". "No retreat was possible after that, " he said, "nor have I ever wanted to go back to the world from which I then came out." (Spurgeon at His Best, Baker Book House)

Hanagraaff reminds us that while the mode of baptism is not essential to salvation, the mandate of baptism is essential to obedience. Although it is not the means by which we are saved, it is the means by which we are set apart. Read the entire article

Are you a believer who has yet to be baptized? Fulfill all righteousness, make the path straight and be baptized.

Are you a baptized believer? Understand and appreciate your outward sign of an inward grace. The next time the devil tempts you to doubt your salvation or the goodness of God, remind yourself and him of your baptism, and what reverberated through the Heavenlies as you came up out of the water! 

* Repentance differs from mere regret or remorse. We are normally regretful when our behavior brings difficulties upon ourselves or others. We might experience profound remorse when the consequences of our actions result in horrible pain or loss.

"Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation..." (2 Corinthians 7:10a)

Being exposed, getting caught, or coming to an end of one's means or wits produces only worldly sorrow. The focus is entirely on how the uncomfortable consequences are disrupting our lives and pleasures.

Godly sorrow is experienced when we have come face to face with the goodness and love of God, and we break for breaking the heart of God. The focus has now shifted to how God sees the sin and resulting estrangement.

A crisis can certainly lead us to the place of true repentance, but we often confuse regret or remorse for repentance. We cut short the conviction process when we pray or ask others to pray for us so we can simply feel better. There's nothing wrong with lingering conviction that's allowed to work it's way down into the deepest motives of our hearts.

**The first altar calls and "sinners' prayers" in the Church were introduced by Evangelist Charles Finney in the 1800s. Prior to Finney, a person under conviction would come into the church and arrange for baptism. It became a relational journey of prolonged conviction (letting the Holy Spirit do a thorough job), learning, and readiness to enter the Kingdom.

For over 1,800 years, baptism itself was the public renouncement of the old life, accompanied (but never separated) from the convert's first public profession of faith.

His new church family participated from start to finish--much as midwives--in bringing the new convert along to a successful birth. Baptism was the proof, not an afterthought. It was not an empty ritual or ceremony; baptism was (and is) the public signing and sealing of the covenant of redemption between God and the new believer.

How different that was from most of our modern altar calls and baptismal services, where the congregants are mere spectators who often remain relationally detached from the convert before and after his "decision".

"Church wide, there's an 84% to 97% "fall-away" rate among those who make decisions for Christ at the altar. The most logical inference is the 20th century evangelism practice of telling everyone they are saved at the altar without regard for their true condition, is producing a staggering number of stillborn--not born again Christians." (Society for Effective Evangelism)

The Society for Effective Evangelism also reports that 90% of those who come to altars for conversions do not join themselves to a church afterward. (It also stands to reason that most people within this 90 percent have not been baptized.)

Also disturbing is the society's revelation that 74% of Americans who once walked an aisle and shook a pastor's hand claim they are born again and have been told they are secure for eternity. Are they?

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