Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
January 13, 2013- Epiphany I
Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
From the Book of the prophet Isaiah:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.”
From The Acts of the Apostles:
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
John answered them all, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
“If Socrates would enter a room, we should rise and do him honor,” said Napoleon Bonaparte. “But if Jesus Christ came into the room, we should fall down on our knees and worship Him.”
St. Luke or Dr. Luke would have agreed with the famous French general, for in chapters 3 and 4, he makes it clear that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is indeed the Son of God.
When John the Baptist appeared on the scene, no prophetic voice had been heard in Israel for 400 years. His coming was a part of God’s perfect timing, for everything that relates to God’s Son is always on schedule (Gal. 4:4; John 2:4).
John the Baptist resembled the Prophet Elijah in manner and dress (Luke 1:17). He came to the area near the Jordan River, preaching and baptizing. He announced the arrival of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 3:3) and urged the people to repent.
Centuries before, Israel had crossed the Jordan, which was like a national baptism, to claim their Promised Land. Now God summoned them to turn from sin and enter His spiritual kingdom.
John was son of the priest Zaharias and his wife Elisabeth. Both parents were of priestly families. Scriptures lead us to believe that his birth occurred about six months prior to Jesus birth. Mary, the mother of Jesus and Elizabeth were related. In the desert solitudes of Judaea, John fed on locusts and wild honey, and wore coarse garments of camel’s hair and a leather girdle.
Keep in mind that John did much more than preach against sin; he also proclaimed the Gospel. He was an evangelist; he preached the Good News. John introduced Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29) and told people to trust in Him. John was only the best man at the wedding; Jesus was the Bridegroom (John 3:25-30). John rejoiced at the opportunity of introducing people to the Saviour, and then getting out of the way.
A unique feature about John’s ministry was baptism (Luke 20:1-8). Baptism was nothing new to the people, for the Jews baptized Gentile proselytes. Proselytes were Gentiles who had converted to Judaism and were living under the protection of Judah or Israel. They were given certain privileges and allowed to offer sacrifices to Yahweh (Num. 15:14ff). But not until a candidate was circumcised and cleansed (or baptized) and had offered sacrifices did he become a proselyte to Judaism and eligible to partake of the Passover. There were a number of Gentiles who were proselytes to Judaism; some of these were in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:10).
But John baptized Jews also, which was unusual. John’s baptism looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, while Christian baptism looks back to the finished work of Christ.
But there was something even beyond John’s baptism, and that was the baptism that the Messiah would administer. He would baptize believers with the Holy Spirit, and this began at Pentecost (Acts 1:5; 2:1ff). Today, the moment a sinner trusts Christ, he or she is baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). John also states that Jesus will baptize with fire.
What is the “baptism of fire?” It does not refer to the “tongues of fire” at Pentecost, for tongues over a person’s head could hardly be called a “baptism.” John’s use of the symbol of “fire” indicates that he is talking about judgment and not blessing. In A.D. 70 the nation experienced a baptism of fire when Titus and the Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem and scattered the people. All unbelievers will experience a baptism of judgment in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15).
There are several illustrations that St. Luke gives to help us understand the ministry that God gave John the Baptist.
To begin with, John the Baptist was a voice “crying in the wilderness” (Luke 3:4). He was like the herald who went before the royal procession to make sure the roads were ready for the king. Spiritually speaking, the nation of Israel was living in a “wilderness” of unbelief, and the roads to spiritual reality were twisted and in disrepair. The corruption of the priesthood and the legalistic hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees had weakened the nation spiritually. The people desperately needed to hear a voice from God, and John was that faithful voice.
Philip the Evangelist, was chosen as a deacon (Acts 6:5) and he grew in his ministry and became an effective evangelist. He preached and healed effectively at Samaria after the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 8:4-8). God directed him to evangelize in Samaria, an area that had been prohibited to the Apostles (Matt. 10:5-6). Both John the Baptist and Jesus had ministered there (John 3:23), so Philip entered into their labors (John 4:36-38). Philip was God’s commissioned herald to deliver His message to the people of Samaria. To reject the messenger would mean to reject the message and rebel against the authority behind the herald, Almighty God. How people respond to God’s messenger and God’s message is serious business.
Philip not only declared God’s Word, but he also demonstrated God’s power by performing miracles. The emphasis here is on the Word of God: the people gave heed to the Word because they saw the miracles, and by believing the Word, they were saved.
The Gospel had now moved from “Jewish territory” into Samaria where the people were part Jew and part Gentile. God in His grace had built a bridge between two estranged people and made the believers one in Christ, and soon He would extend that bridge to the Gentiles and include them as well.
It is important to note that the Samaritans did not receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when they believed. It was necessary for two of the Apostles, Peter and John, to come from Jerusalem, put their hands on the converts, and imparts to them the gift of the Spirit. Why?
Because God wanted to unite the Samaritan believers with the original Jewish church in Jerusalem. He did not want two churches that would perpetuate the division and conflict that had existed for centuries. Jesus had given Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:13-20), which meant that Peter had the privilege of “opening the door of faith” to others. He opened the door to the Jews at Pentecost, and now he opened the door to the Samaritans. Later, he would open the door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 10).
It was John the Baptist’s task to prepare the nation for the Messiah and then present the Messiah to them (Luke 1:16-17). He rebuked their sins and announced God’s salvation, for without conviction there can be no conversion.
Like some “religious sinners” today, many of the Jews thought they were destined for heaven simply because they were descendants of Abraham. It is the same with some Christians, who believe that “all roads” lead to heaven.
It doesn’t matter who you worship, whether it is the Goddess Sophia, Allah, Buddha, etc. they are all the same. Woe to the religious leaders who believe this and lead the “sheep” astray. John reminded them that God gets to the root of things and is not impressed with religious profession that does not produce fruit. In the last judgment, the true believers will be gathered by God, while the lost sinners will be burned in the fire.
How tragic that the religious leaders refused to obey John’s message and submit to his baptism (Luke 20:1-8). They not only failed to enter the kingdom themselves, but their bad example and false teaching kept other people from entering as well.
John was faithful in his ministry to prepare the hearts of the people and then to present their Messiah to them. He clearly stated that Jesus was “the Lord” and the Son of God. Because John rebuked Herod Antipas for his adulterous marriage to Herodias, he was imprisoned by the king and finally beheaded. However, he had faithfully finished his God-given assignment and prepared the people to meet the Messiah, the Son of God.
One day, after all the others had been baptized, Jesus presented Himself for baptism at the Jordan; and John at first refused to comply (Matt. 3:13-15). He knew that Jesus of Nazareth was the perfect Son of God who had no need to repent of sin. Why then was the sinless Son of God baptized?
To begin with, in His baptism He identified with the sinners that He came to save. Also, His baptism was the official start of His ministry (Acts 1:21-22; 10:37-38). He was “about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23), and the Jewish Levites began their work at age thirty. But our Lord’s words tell Us, the Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Spirit), that the main reason for His baptism: “for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). In what way was He talking about: In the way pictured by His baptism in the Jordan. Many Bible scholars agree that New Testament baptism was by immersion, which is a picture of death, burial, and resurrection. Our Lord’s baptism in water was a picture of His work of redemption (Matt. 20:22; Luke 12:50). It was through His baptism of suffering on the cross that God “fulfilled all righteousness.”
When our Lord came up from the water, the Father spoke from heaven and identified Him as the beloved Son of God, and the Spirit visibly came upon Jesus in the form of a dove. Those who deny the Trinity have a difficult time explaining this event.
We acknowledge that all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Our Savior Jesus Christ said, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” May the mercy and goodness of God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, grant that all of us here today, may receive the forgiveness of sins, be baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, and may acknowledge our membership in Christ’s holy Church.
Let us pray:
Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting.