Three baptisms in the New Testament

celebration of baptism of adult

In order to fully understand baptism in the New Testament, we have to begin with John’s baptism. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, calling people to repentance and baptizing them: “Then in Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:5-6 ESV). We know that it was a baptism of repentance when Paul asked a group of new converts in Ephesus if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed. They said they had not even heard there was a Holy Spirit. When Paul asked what they were baptized into, they replied, “John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus” (Acts 19:4). After hearing this, the new converts were re-baptized and then received the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, having no sin, was baptized by John. If John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, why was Jesus baptized? When John questioned why Jesus felt the need to be baptized by him, he replied, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Unlike John’s other baptisms, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus immediately after his baptism (vs. 16). John prepared the way for Jesus by baptizing for repentance but Jesus fulfilled all righteousness by being baptized.

But after Jesus died and was raised, the Christian baptism now took effect. Hebrews 9:17 gives us a clue into why John’s baptism shifted after Jesus died: “For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive.” We see the change in language immediately after Jesus died and was raised when Peter explained, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In order for Christ’s will to go into effect he had to both die and be raised: “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).

Hebrews tells us that under the old covenant blood had to be shed over and over again. But when Christ died his blood covers believers completely through Christian baptism.

God Wants All To Turn To Him

black man praying with eyes closed

Life is extremely fast. Peter writes to his audience that the day of the Lord will come and will be a surprise to everyone. Therefore we should all be prepared. Peter says, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:8, 9 ESV).

Peter’s point is that though this day is fast approaching, many are scoffing at it and are living in their own sinfulness. The Christians need to take it seriously, live holy and blameless lives, and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We’ll be talking about God and others this quarter. In order to value others and reach them with the Gospel, we need to understand that God values everyone and wants them to come to repentance. That won’t happen without us teaching them about Christ.

Paul’s Bad Day

person putting palm on face while holding prayer beads

Have we ever had a really bad day? Most of us have had days where we realize we made bad mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes can be bad enough that they lead to loss of life. Paul’s convictions prior to becoming a Christian not only led to a loss of lives, he also intentionally took the lives of innocent people. Paul explains to King Agrippa: “I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities” (Acts 26:10, 11 ESV).

Paul, in giving his defense to the king, described his “raging fury” against Christians. He retaliated against them, drug them out of their synagogues and humiliated them, forced them to blaspheme, put them in prison, stripped them away from their families by sending them to foreign cities, and cast his vote against them to have them killed. Not only was Paul giving a defense of himself, but he was defending the Gospel and calling people within earshot to repent!

Paul’s defense worked very well, but unfortunately he had already appealed to Caesar so King Agrippa couldn’t release him: “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment. . . This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar” (vs. 31, 32). Paul’s bad day recounting his past went from bad to worse, but he still managed to use the rest of his life for good by preaching while imprisoned! It goes to show that even on our worst days we can still put God first and celebrate that we are saved and others can be saved too.

Where Two or Three Are Gathered

women praying beside green trees

Matthew 18 can be a tricky chapter. Jesus begins by saying that the greatest in the kingdom must become like little children. Then he says that it would be better for someone who causes any of the little ones to suffer to have a large millstone tied around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Then Jesus goes into a discourse on the necessity for mercy. He tells the parable of the lost sheep, followed by a story about the brother who sins against his other brother. He says if that brother sins against you, go and show him his fault. If he listens, you have won your brother over. But if he refuses, you should take one or two others along with you. If he still refuses, the brother is to be brought before the church.

Then Jesus tells them, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:19, 20 ESV). This verse has been used out of context to “prove” that it’s only necessary for two or three people to be present to worship God. But that is far from the point of the passage. The point is that there is power in the witness of two or more people. Whether we are disciplining, worshiping, or praying, there is power when two or three gather.

This is important for those of us who pray for others. James says that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Christians need to work together, not isolated from one another. When we work together God is present and powerful!

Remember Lot’s Wife

photo of salt on white surface

Jesus told his followers that the kingdom is coming, but not in ways that can be observed. In other words, only God knows when it’s coming and we shouldn’t be focused on the proper time. Instead, knowing that the kingdom is coming for sure, we should be focused on how we are living right now. When Jesus was asked when the kingdom of God would come, he said, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:20, 21).

Similar to the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus was warning people not to look back. When you are gone is too late to repent. Focusing on the past won’t move you into the future. Plowing and looking back will lead to disaster. You get the point! Jesus was clear that when the time comes, the time comes. It is unstoppable. There is nothing anyone can do to change it. He mentioned the day of Noah. People were eating and drinking. Life went on as usual. Then, unbeknownst to them, the flood waters turned on and didn’t stop until they were gone. Similarly, Sodom and Gomorrah had the same fate. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. Then on the day Lot went out of the city, fire and sulfur rained down, destroying them all. Jesus said, “So it will be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (vs. 30).

Then he said 3 chilling words, “Remember Lot’s wife” (vs. 32). His point was that on that day whoever is saved will be taken and whoever is not will be left behind. Don’t look back. On that day is too late to save others. There is a critical sense of urgency that Jesus is giving his followers to act now. Live life as if the kingdom is here now. Remember Lot’s wife.

The Prodigal Returns

pink pig

Most of us are familiar with the parable of the prodigal son. The prodigal is a younger of two sons who asked for his inheritance early. He took it and spent all that he had recklessly. When a famine hit, he hired himself out to someone and was feeding pigs. We often miss the grotesqueness of this image because we don’t consider pigs “unclean” like Jews did. It was highly offensive for someone to work for a farmer who raised pigs. Yet the prodigal worked among the pigs and even longed to eat from their trough.

The scene Jesus paints is one of embarrassment and despair. The prodigal had hit rock bottom. He wore shame like a blanket. Luke records, “When he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against haven and before you” (Luke 15:17-18 ESV).

The prodigal did, in fact, return home. When he was a long way off, his father saw him and had compassion on him. He ran and embraced him. Then he told his servants to kill the fattened calf and dress the son in the best robe. The older son was infuriated that his father would give preferential treatment to the irresponsible brother who squandered all of their dad’s money. But the father replied, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found” (vs. 31-32). God is a God of grace and always prefers to see his children come back to him.

What You Were Is Not Who You Are

sad isolated young woman looking away through fence with hope

In a continuation of Paul’s thoughts in 1 Corinthians on purging the evil person, he reiterates that people who are practicing wickedness will not inherit the kingdom of God. In chapter 6 he repeats the list he gave in chapter 5, while adding to it. Paul is not backing it down. He is ramping it up. The point is that unrighteousness is not to be tolerated in the church because it destroys lives and maligns the body of Christ. Paul said earlier to “cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened” (1 Cor. 5:7 ESV).

What he’s referring to are the people within the church who create division and attempt to cause others to fall away from God. You cannot have both poison and nourishment in the same body. When Paul wrote the first letter to the church at Corinth, he was addressing some very serious sin issues. Christians were extremely divided, were sexually immoral, were having drunken parties during the Lord’s Supper, and were fighting horribly over spiritual gifts. The church was in complete shambles, and Paul was issuing a stern warning that they better clean up their act.

What’s noteworthy is that Paul is less focused on working on current issues and puts more emphasis on who they were called to be. In the church today, we tend to get caught up in the past, bringing up all the issues we have with people who are causing problems. Paul has no interest in placating the Christians at Corinth. What they were is not who they are.

Paul says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). He is reminding them that, yes, they really messed up. But that they need to repent and focus on who they are as bearers of Christ’s holy name. In other words, he tells them it’s time to get over themselves and move forward in unity.