Baptism

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.' (Mar 1:9–11)

At the time the people of Jerusalem and the Judean countryside were being baptized by John in the Jordan (Mar 1:5), Jesus came from Nazareth and was also baptized. John had been preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mar 1:4), so why was our Lord baptized, who had never sinned, nor would ever sin?

Jesus said he was baptized to fulfil all righteousness (Mat 3:13–5), which meant it was his Father's will; but that didn't explain the reason for it. I believe the Father wanted Jesus to be baptized for two reasons: to set us an example; and so that he, as the Son of Man, could receive the gift (the baptism) of the Holy Spirit, as we do.

Washing our sins away

If it was right for the sinless Son of God to be baptized, how much more should we sinners be baptized. When Ananias saw Saul after his conversion on the Damascus road he said, 'And now [Saul] what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name (Act 22:16).'

To Christians who are reading this study I ask: Have you had your sins washed away by baptism? And if not, then why not?

Death and burial

Baptism also symbolizes the death and burial of our old way of life. Rom 6:11–2 tells us to consider our bodies dead to sin but alive to God in Christ. What do you do with a dead body? You bury it.

When we're baptized by immersion, our body that was ruled by sin (Rom 6:6) is buried in water; we then rise up from the water (our grave) to live a new life of righteousness in Christ (Rom 6:4,13).

Pledge of a clear conscience

However, baptism is not solely symbolic, it is also the pledge of a clear conscience towards God (1Pe 3:21), ie a solemn undertaking to obey him in the future (Act 24:15–6).

On the eve of his crucifixion Jesus asked his Father if the cup he was about to drink could be taken from him. Then he added, 'Yet not as I will, but as you will (Mat 26:39).' Jesus fulfilled his baptismal pledge to obey God, even to dying on a cross.

Immersion not sprinkling

As Jesus was baptized to fulfil all righteousness, so we should be baptized to fulfil all righteousness; and infant sprinkling is not New Testament baptism.

The Greek word translated 'baptize' in the New Testament means dip, immerse, plunge, submerge. In Jesus' day it was used in the clothing trade to describe the submerging of cloth in a dye. I was sprinkled (christened) as an infant, but I was baptized by immersion after I'd believed.

Why was I baptized? I did it for two reasons. Firstly, Scripture commands it (Act 2:37–8). And secondly, being sprinkled as an infant was a decision that was made for me by my parents. But salvation is a personal matter that demands my own response to God. Being baptized as a believer was a decision I made in response to what God had done for me in my life.

Baptism of the Spirit

Peter told the crowd at Pentecost to repent and be baptized and they would receive the gift (the baptism) of the Holy Spirit (Act 2:37–8; 1:4–5). As the Son of Man, Jesus was also baptized and received the gift (the baptism) of the Holy Spirit.

When the Spirit came on the believers at Pentecost he appeared as tongues of fire (Act 2:1–3)—tongues symbolizing the new tongues he would enable them to speak (Act 2:4), and fire symbolizing the purifying aspects of his ministry (Mat 3:11–2).

Jesus was already pure, so when the Spirit came on him he descended like a dove, symbolizing his gentleness and innocence (Mat 10:16). If you haven't been baptized with the Holy Spirit when you are baptized in water, believe that you will be: it's a promise from God, and God keeps his promises!

Empowered

As Jesus came up out of the water the Spirit descended on him. But why should God the Holy Spirit come down on God the Son? The answer is given in Luk 3:23:

Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.

Our Lord's ministry was about to begin, that is why the Holy Spirit came on him.

Before the Spirit descended, heaven was torn open—a violent action. A similar thing happened before the Spirit came at Pentecost—there was a sound like the blowing of a violent wind from heaven (Act 2:2). Both were signs that God was about to move powerfully on earth. The Greek word translated 'Spirit' in the New Testament means breath or wind.

If you talk about our Lord's earthly ministry, people may say, 'Well, of course, Jesus was the Son of God: no wonder demons came out when he spoke; no wonder the sick were healed; no wonder the dead were raised.'

But Jesus didn't minister on earth as the Son of God, he only ministered on earth as the Son of Man empowered by the Holy Spirit—which is how we minister. He shared in our humanity even to that level.

That is why he told his disciples to heal the sick, raise the dead and drive out demons (Mat 10:5–8)—the very things he had been doing. In fact Jesus promised his followers even more than that. He said:

'Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.' (Joh 14:12)

When Jesus ascended to his Father in heaven he poured out on his church the same Holy Spirit who had empowered him to minister (Act 2:33); the same Holy Spirit who had come on him when he was baptized.

But why did the Holy Spirit come on him in a visible form for everyone to see? God wanted the world to know that everything his Son would do would be done under the anointing and power of the Spirit.

That is also why the Spirit came in a visible form at Pentecost. That similar event was designed to show that what was about to happen in the church would be the result of the Holy Spirit coming on ordinary men and women just like us.

Michael Graham
October 2001
Revised September 2019

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition). Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved.

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