Summary: The stories of three different baptisms explain why Jesus thought it important enough to include baptism in his final words to his disciples.
Three Baptism Stories
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
We are in a continuing series from what Bible students call ¡§the great commission¡¨¡XJesus¡¦ final words to his followers. Working our way through this passage requires that we talk about baptism.
As most of you know, many churches and denominations have differing views on baptism. One writer called it ¡§the water that divides.¡¨ Partly to avoid conflict, some churches ignore baptism. Some play it down or leave it as an option. I am sometimes asked why we say baptism is more important than that. Instead of arguing, which seldom accomplishes much, I want to tell you the stories of three baptisms. All three are true. Each provides some clues about why Jesus thought baptism was important enough to include in his last words to his disciples.
The first took place three years before the events of our passage. Jesus walked nearly seventy-five miles on foot to the place where John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing in the Jordan River. Matthew¡¦s Gospel, the same book from which our text comes, records it this way. ¡§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¡¨ (3:13-16).
Jesus had been dedicated as a child when he was eight days old according to the custom of his people. As an adult he affirmed his commitment to the will of heaven by being baptized himself. No one can accuse Jesus of asking us to do something he wasn¡¦t willing to do himself. He walked his talk. It is no surprise that when he instructed his disciples to recruit others to follow him that he included the act with which he began his own public ministry.
Peter, the first disciple to publicly invite others to follow Jesus, also included baptism as part of the process of beginning the Christian life. In Acts 2, he announced, ¡§Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit¡¨ (38). He later explained, ¡§baptism [that] now saves you also¡Xnot the removal of dirt from the body but the pledgeƒnof a good conscience toward God.¡¨ (1 Pt 3:21). That word ¡§pledge¡¨ or ¡§answer¡¨ (KJV) was the ancient term used to describe the oath of allegiance a soldier took when joining the army. It was the pledge of commitment made when taking on a new responsibility.
Jesus did it at the beginning of his ministry. He asks his new followers to do the same. Jesus¡¦ baptism demonstrates that baptism is about beginning.
That¡¦s the first story. The other two aren¡¦t from the Bible, but illustrate something important about baptism as well. Several years ago, well-known radio commentator Paul Harvey was asked to write a personal testimony for Guidepost Magazine. I know a lot of you read Guideposts. You may remember Harvey¡¦s story. He chose to tell about his own baptism. In the article, Harvey told how he received almost every possible award for broadcasting yet still felt empty inside. You do realize don¡¦t you, that money, fame, and power can never satisfy that deep down thirst of the soul.
One summer while on vacation, Harvey and his wife decided to go to church. That wasn¡¦t something they always did. They ended up in the Sunday morning service of a tiny church in Cave Creek, Arizona. Only about a dozen people were present.
Harvey said there was a good spirit about that place. For some reason he began thinking about John 3:16, ¡§For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." He said, he liked the ¡¥everlasting life¡¦ part. He thought he believed in Jesus, but he had never publicly acknowledged it or been baptized. He said, ¡§I remembered one night praying in my hotel room and asking Jesus to come into my heart, but I felt that there was still something that was missing."
When the preacher got up, he announced that his sermon was going to be about baptism. Paul Harvey said, "I yawned. But as he started talking about it I found myself interested. He talked about the symbolism behind it. He said it symbolized surrender to Jesus Christ. He insisted that there was nothing magic in the water. But he said a cleansing took place inside when you yielded yourself to Jesus."
Paul Harvey said, he surprised even himself when he stood up and walked to the front when the preacher offered an invitation to be baptized. He describes what happened, "The preacher had said there was nothing magic in the water. Yet as I descended into the depths and rose again I knew something life changing had happened.¡¨ Harvey went on, "The change this simple act made in my life is so immense as to be indescribable. Since totally yielding to Him in baptism, my heart can¡¦t stop singing. Also, perhaps because baptism is such a public act and because one¡¦s dignity gets as drenched as one¡¦s body, I discovered a new unself-consciousness in talking about my beliefs." (Via Melvin Newland at SermonCentral.com).