Summary: Jesus baptizes in the Holy Spirit.
Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message on Jesus the Baptist; Date: 6 December 09
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One man – more than anyone else – prepared people for the dawn of God’s kingdom and the coming of Jesus Christ. Two thousand years ago – in fulfillment of an old prophecy – one man – his name was John – focused on the most important aspect of anyone entering the kingdom of God, that is: repentance – the turning away from sin – and as people repented, he baptized them – submerged them in water – for the washing away of sins. John baptized so many people – with such enthusiasm – that he soon became known by this one – singular – action. It summed up his work. Even today we call him John – the Baptist (cf. Matthew 3:1; 11:1). Yet, this is where we are on dangerous grounds. We tend to connect baptism with the wrong person (and then do not adequately connect baptism with the right person). John himself was at pains to clarify that the true Baptist was not himself but the one coming after him which means that – today – instead of saying John the Baptist we should be saying Jesus the Baptist.
I am going to unpack this slowly. From the beginning Jesus’ own work was defined as baptizing people. This was what mattered the most – even to John. I read from the Bible – Mark 1:1-8: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send a messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’ – ‘a voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River … And this was John’s message: ‘After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you in water, but he will baptize you in holy Spirit.’”
John preached a baptism of repentance and then – as people owned up to their sins – he baptized them in the Jordan River, which was so significant that Jesus himself said about him – Matthew 11:11: “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist … ” Yet, John knew his shortcomings. His baptism could only do so much. It would save people – wash away their sins – but would not have the power to keep them clean. After God forgives our sin, we need power not to sin again. Otherwise there is no lasting change. John was so desperate about the limitations of his water baptism that he humbled himself in extreme words: “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the sandals of the one that is to come because of his power.” Then he said: “I baptize you in water, but he will baptize you in holy Spirit.”
Not everyone understood that something was lacking in John’s work. He was amazing – unconventional like a rock star – Mark 1:6: “John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” People came from everywhere to be under his preaching and the numbers were adding up – success – Luke 3:15: “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ [the promised Saviour King].” Even the king feared him – Mark 6:20: “ … Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man … ”
Many were caught up in the whirl-wind of what was happening and therefore did not share in John’s desperation. Had not God poured out his blessings: Powerful preaching – big crowds – repentance and forgiveness – mass baptisms – national recognition – royal protection. What more can anyone want? Yet, John was desperate. Maybe this is a lesson for us. One day we may have a big church and a growing profile and even mass baptisms (superbly successful with evangelism) but – like in the days of John – it may not be enough. It is one thing to bring people into the kingdom of God and it is another thing to retain them – to secure them – to have them abide – in the kingdom of God.