Lance Haverkamp – January 17th 2016
If you were here two weeks ago, we briefly talked about ritual clensings required by some of the ceremonial/ritual parts of the Old Covenant Law. Sometimes you needed a head-to-toe clensing; you could use a walk-in bathtub sized basin called a “mikvah,” or use a river or lake. These head-to-toe ritual clensings were common, and well understood by the Jews at the time of Christ. In fact, they had also begun dunking new converts into Judaism; these were the so-called “God fearing Greeks” we find mentioned in the New Testament. So when the only son of a Jewish priest, by the name of Johanan ben Zechariah, started baptizing people in the Jordan River, it wasn’t something completely unheard of.
Now as you probably guessed, Johanan ben Zechariah is who we call John the Baptist. Johanan is the Hebrew name for Johnathan, ben means “son of”, and Zechariah was a Preist. An Old Covenant priest, who did his required two tours of service in the Temple every year.
Some of you will recall the family connection between John the Baptist and Christ:
The angel Gabriel told Zechariah; “your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.” (Luke 1:13–15)
Zechariah doubted this, as both he and his wife were very old. The angel told Zechariah that he would be unable to speak until these words were fulfilled, because he did not believe. After Zechariah returned home his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months she remained in seclusion—and Zechariah remained silent.
The angel Gabriel was also sent to Mary, then a virgin, who told her that she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and was also informed that her cousin Elizabeth had begun her sixth month of pregnancy. When Mary came to visit Elizabeth Baby John leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Well, it was that John about whom the prophet Isaiah was speaking, hundreds of years before, when he said:
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!
The valleys will be filled,
and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened,
and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see
the salvation sent from God.’”
John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem, and from all of Judea, and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins; he baptized them in the Jordan River.
When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live, that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”
The crowds asked, “What should we do?”
John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”
Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”
He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”
“What should we do?” asked some soldiers.
John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”
Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with fire.” John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people. (Luke 3: 4-18)
So, this was the kind of gruff, outdoorsy, wild-man we’re talking about in John the Baptist. Not a soft shoulder to cry-on, when you’re having a bad day. This is part of the reason some Early Church theologians were kind-of embarrassed about John baptizing Jesus. Not only was John more than a little off the beaten path; it was also easy to mistake Jesus as a disciple of John…since John was the one doing the baptizing.
Since Sheila read from Luke, I’ll read from Matthew:
Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”
But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.
After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
The entire Trinity took part in Christ’s baptism. The Son said; it should be done—we must carry-out all that God requires. The Holy Spirit descended from heaven, like a dove, to settle on Jesus. The Father said; This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.
No Old Testament animal sacrifice, no matter how carefully selected, has ever been truly pleasing to God. It’s impossible to find an animal that didn’t have some blemish, some imperfection. Not only that, but the blood of those animals was, at best, only symbolic. But the sacrifice Jesus would make on the cross would be the true unblemished and spotless sacrifice.
The Jews were told to make those animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin; but with the understanding that a Messiah would come and atone for all sin. The animal sacrifices were merely a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that Christ would make through His death.
Likewise, we Baptize for the forgiveness of sins, not directly of course; if water could wash-away sin, Christ didn’t need to come to earth and die. We are practicing the same kind of shadow event that the Jews were practicing. It is through the real event that’s depicted in the baptism; that death into the water, and resurrection out of the grave, that we are forgiven.
For that death and resurrection which truly forgave our sins, Thanks Be To God.
When the last surviving disciples died, someone said “hey, we should write-down all the disciples teachings and sayings that we can remember, if they aren’t already recorded elsewhere.” That short document is called the Didache, which is Greek for Teachings. A section of that was on Baptism, let’s read it:
Concerning baptism, you should baptize this way:
After first explaining all things, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in flowing water.
But if you have no running water, baptize in other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, then in warm.
If you have very little, pour water three times on the head in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.
Before the baptism, both the baptizer and the candidate for baptism, plus any others who can, should fast. The candidate should fast for one or two days beforehand.