I Baptize with Water

Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

Gospel of John 1:19-28

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” NIV  

Notice that John the Baptizer gives us his testimony—as in court; he is a witness in the box. John the Author places him very near the beginning of the story because of his importance. We should never treat the Baptizer as a bit player. Until Pentecost, he is the second most important character in the drama of God coming to earth.

We do not know how long the Baptizer preached before Jesus began his ministry. We do know from Luke 1:26 that John was six months older than Jesus and that he likely lived the Nazarite life for the time of his ministry.

Numbers 6.The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, they must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or other fermented drink. They must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as they remain under their Nazirite vow, they must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins. “‘During the entire period of their Nazirite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the Lord is over; they must let their hair grow long. “‘Throughout the period of their dedication to the Lord, the Nazirite must not go near a dead bodyNIV This description goes on through verse 21.

How long John spent in preparation for his mission, we cannot say. He may have studied with a rabbi to become a priest like his father. Since the discovery of the Qumran community—revealed to us through the Dead Sea scrolls—some scholars have speculated that John might have lived there for a time. Qumran was the most conservative of all Jewish groups of the day.

Do not be surprised that people asked John if he was the Messiah. Others had claimed the title, and some created enough of a following to cause the Roman army to stamp them out. John flatly denied he was the Messiah. [This is the first use of the word in the Gospel.]

John’s answer that he was not the Messiah gave the questioners only a little relief because John did claim to baptize people in preparation for the coming Messiah. What the Temple leaders really wanted to know was, ‘are you going to cause another Roman attack on the people.’

‘Are you Elijah?’ Everyone expected that Elijah would return as the Messiah or as the messenger to prepare the way for the Messiah. ‘No’ and ‘no.’

We give up, who are you? In answer, the Baptizer paraphrased Isaiah 40:3-5.

A voice rings out: “Clear in the desert a road for the Lord! Level in the wilderness a highway for our God! Let every valley be raised, every hill and mount made low. Let the rugged ground become level and the ridges become a plain. The Presence of the Lord shall appear, and all flesh, as one, shall behold—for the Lord Himself has spokenJSB

This is the first quotation of Scripture in the Gospel, if we don’t count, ‘in the beginning.’ More importantly, jumping ahead, in John 12:38-41, the Gospel ends the ministry of Jesus with two quotations from Isaiah. After that, Jesus prepares for the crucifixion and resurrection.

Isaiah 53:1. “Who can believe what we have heard? Upon whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

Isaiah 6:10. Dull that people’s mind, stop its ears, and seal its eyes—lest, seeing with its eyes and hearing with its ears, it also grasp with its mind, and repent and save itselfJSB

the Baptizer tried to make clear that he was just a worker, not the boss.

24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” 28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. NIV

Matthew 3:11. “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Mark 1:7-8. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Luke 3:16. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

No idea why John is the only Gospel writer to leave out the Pentecostal Baptism, even as all four mention the sandals.

Baptizo is the Greek word that best fits the Hebrew tevilah, the ritual immersion. Tevilah called for moving water, such as the river. The mikveh was, and still is, used indoors for ritual cleansing, but they must have water flowing through the trough or pool. The Greek baptizo is a more general term for being submerged in water.

GJohn does not describe the Baptizer as preaching repentance, and the word repent does not appear anywhere in GJohn. The Synoptics all include it as a part of the Baptizer’s ministry, GJohn was intent on witnessing to the love and grace of Jesus. When we see the Light, we will want to turn away from the darkness, that is, repent.

The Bethany mentioned here was a village on the east side of the Jordan, not the Bethany outside Jerusalem. GJohn often gives us details that give the impression of personal knowledge, suggesting that John may have been in the crowd when the questioning occurred. When the fishing boat was full of fish, the fishermen would make for the nearest town to sell their catch. If they had to cross the lake to find the fish, it would make sense to sell them there as well.

Baptism, like nearly every other sacrament and element of church services, has changed through the ages. What was it like on day one of the Church—The Way, the earliest name for the Church?

In Acts 2, the sermon of Peter is recorded by Luke. He concluded with, 36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ. 37 Now when they heard this, they were acutely distressed and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “What should we do, brothers?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Skipping on to verse 41, we read, So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were addedNET

In Acts 16 we read, 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded usNIV

We are not told any detail about the 3,000 of chapter 2, but in the chapter 16 account and others in the NT, we find the whole household baptized. That means everyone living and working within the house, including slaves, servants, children, and infants. Yes, Protestants, infant baptism goes back to the beginning. It is based on a believer’s baptism, the faith of the head of the house. I doubt that every slave had the faith of the man of the house, probably some wives did not either; but they accepted the master’s wish.

Having the whole household baptized was not just a Christian thing. In that time, the head of the house decided what god or gods to worship, and everyone else had to toe the line; or live a lie.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:13-14, 13And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. NIV Note that the infants and children are only clean because of the ‘clean’ parent. Baptizing an infant who is not part of a believing family does no good. It is the faith of the family that allows the Holy Spirit to work.

So, does that mean that when the infant is an adult, he/she does not need to be baptized? The NT is completely silent on the question.

Whether a child is baptized or not, most Protestants believe that an adult must make his/her decision. The exact age for this decision is up for discussion. Also, is there a time when the person is not covered? Say, if the top childhood age is 16 and he/she is not baptized at age 18 and dies; Hell?

Neither infant baptism nor believer’s baptism has all the answers. That leaves plenty of room for Grace.

Returning to Acts 2, we should mention that the Twelve, the Seventy-two, and the other followers who were together when the Holy Spirit filled them with special powers—they were baptized with the Spirit promised by Jesus. It was with this power that Peter gave the best sermon of his life. [Luke alone—10:1—describes Jesus selecting the Seventy-two from his regular followers for a mission].

The NT says little about the Spirit in the act of baptism, outside of Jesus’ baptism and the events in Acts 2. In his book, Baptism, Warren Carr writes, Christian theology is generally agreed that the Spirit is the gift of the Risen Lord. There is no significant division on this point. How, when, and where the Spirit is manifestly given is another question. It has given rise to vigorous and prolonged debate.

In Acts, we see the Spirit given before baptism sometimes and other times with baptism. You might begin to think that we are not able to control God. No matter what we do to force Him to give us the Spirit, He does it His way.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

A Man Called John

Photo by Dewang Gupta on Unsplash

Gospel of John 1:6-18

6-8 A man called John was sent by God as a witness to the light, so that any man who heard his testimony might believe in the light. This man was not himself the light: he was sent simply as a personal witness to that light. Phillips

A man’ is the translation for the Greek Anthropos, but the word actually refers to a person as opposed to aner which does mean man. Anthropos can be used for man when it is known that a man is the subject, as it is here. Why did GJohn use the word? I suspect because he wants us to understand our role is just as important as that of the Baptizer. He was a witness to Jesus as we all are expected to be, even if we are doing it centuries later.

That man was sent by God. GJohn will use sent, send, sending, etc., fifty-seven times. God intends for us to be visited by many witnesses. In that same vein, GJohn always refers to the Twelve as disciples, never Apostles. He seems to emphasize that all who follow Jesus are equal and expected to witness as the Baptizer did.

There are two Greek words, martureo (noun) and marturia (verb) occurring forty-seven times; they always mean witness, yet many English translations use testimony or testify. The purpose of witnesses is to convince people that Jesus is the Messiah. GJohn uses the word pisteuo one-hundred times. It means to believe.

Isaiah 40:3-5. A voice rings out: “Clear in the desert a road for the Lord! Level in the wilderness a highway for our God! Let every valley be raised, every hill and mount made low. Let the rugged ground become level and the ridges become a plain. The Presence of the Lord shall appear, and all flesh, as one, shall behold—for the Lord Himself has spoken.” JSP

Here, John first uses the Greek martureo—witness. We will see it thirty-seven times in his Gospel. Words, actions, and people all witness to the Messiah, including Jesus himself. In John’s Gospel, one witness is not enough; a dozen is not enough. All of us are witnesses to the reality of a human who was God; or a God who was human.

Yet, given Let us make man in our image…, why should we be surprised when God walks the earth looking like us?

The Baptizer, son of Elizabeth, a cousin to Mary, was only a prophet, not the Messiah. But he was a prophet regarding the Messiah, he who Isiah promised. Baptizer’s message was clear; turn to the true light now, for the Messiah is coming (GJohn does not use the word repent). He never claimed to be anything other than the promised witness for the long-promised Messiah.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. NIV

Standing in the running waters of the River Jordan, the Baptizer shouted to all who would listen, ‘he is coming.’ He spoke of the Promised One of God who would bring the Light of God into the dark world. The Word that created light became a human to bring us the Light created before the creation of the sun and moon.

10 He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. NET

The world we live in is not the perfect creation we read of in Genesis 1. This world, the one Jesus came to, is broken by sin, but we must live here until we can believe in God instead of ourselves. The Hebrew Yeshua, Jesus, lived a perfect life in this imperfect world so that we can see how God wants us to live. Jesus is a witness to God the Father.

We humans, Hebrew and Gentile alike, have a long history of not believing in God or ignoring Him. Many who claim to believe have very warped ideas of what that involves. Some followers of Jesus did not believe he was a person. John wrote his Gospel because of such beliefs to steer us back to the Truth. Jesus is the Son of God, but also the son of Joseph and Mary.

Tens of millions of people today are atheists who reject all religions and any concept of a god. That was not a problem John had to tackle. Nearly everyone in the world in 90 CE, not just the Roman world—Africa, China, the Americas—believed in gods. John had to convince his readers that there is one and only one God. Jesus the Messiah created the entire physical universe, and He created humans to be his companions. [Since few people could read until modern times, reading the Gospels and Letters aloud in churches was the norm.]

John works to counter the arguments put forth by atheists. God does not exist; ‘wrong, Jesus did exist, I walked with him for three years; I saw Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah; I saw him drive out demons and heal the sick; I saw his empty tomb.’

12 But to as Many as did receive him, to those who put their trust in his person and power, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 not because of bloodline, physical impulse or human intention, but because of God. CJB

Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, writing about 350 CE, penned the following. For the Word perceived that death was the only way that the corruption of people could be undone—thus the flood. However, it was impossible for the Word to suffer death, being immortal and Son of the Father. Therefore, he takes to himself a body capable of death, so that such a body, by partaking of the Word who is above all, might be worthy to die in the stead of all, and might, because of the Word that had come to dwell in it, remain incorruptibleACCS

Note the phrase, takes to himself a body, means that God created a body just like the first Adam had before sin changed it. God placed that body on earth to live a human existence. Athanasius was not speaking as a Gnostic; he argued against the Gnostic position.

By 350 CE, the Gnostics had to hide after two centuries of success. At their peak, they controlled about half of all churches throughout the empire. The Greek word, Gnostic, refers to knowledge, especially secret knowledge. Many of the Gnostic cults required initiation ceremonies, memorizing of secret texts, and proof of loyalty before being allowed into the inner circle of the enlightened few. Jesus’ Good News is for all who accept it in faith.

There were—and still are—many variations on the theme that God’s Son could not have died, so the disciples faked the death. Most Gnostics did like what Jesus taught, but they could not accept the possibility that he was God in the flesh. The two basic Gnostic ideas were: 1) God took over a man named Yeshua and used him as His puppet for three years, saying all the things God wanted us to hear; or 2) God appeared on earth looking like a human without being human and when it was time to ‘die,’ God let some loser die for Him.

John had to be sickened to see these ideas starting to weaken the church. John remembered the murders of his brother James, and Jesus’ brother James, and all the other Apostles who insisted that Jesus was both God and man.

We modern Christians are often fond of saying that Jesus took on our sins, but read what Augustine had to say about 400 CE. It is not right to say that any part was lacking in that human nature he put on, except that it was a human nature altogether free from any bond of sinACCS

Basil the Great, writing about the time of the Nicaean Doctrine in 325 had this to say. How can the Godhead be in the Flesh? In the same way as fire can be in iron: not by moving from place to place but by the one imparting to the other its own properties…. The fire is not diminished, and yet it completely fills whatever shares in its nature. So it is also with the Word. He did not relinquish his own nature, and yet “he dwelt among us.” ACCS Basil spoke against the ideas of Arius and Arianism. They held that Jesus was created by God, so was only human.

To those who put their trust in his person and power, he gave the right to become children of God.

Following Jesus is not rocket science, and trust is the only requirement. The atheist says Jesus does not exist; I say, ‘I trust he does exist.’ I say that because John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul, James, Jude, and millions of others have said it and have held to the trust through the ages.

14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. 15 John testified about him and shouted out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” NET

Because we do not have words to describe God, we resort to using human terms. He speaks, and things happen. Really? As far as human knowledge goes, yes, God speaks. He said the Word that placed a perfect human egg in Mary’s womb, guarded by angels, so that the one perfect human could become the long-promised Messiah, the man we call Jesus. We Saw his Glory. John means he and thousands of others saw Jesus and witnessed to having seen him.

Even before the Twelve, Jesus’ cousin preached about the Messiah and pointed him out to others as Jesus came to be baptized, a way to identify with John’s ministry. John even said that Jesus existed with God before arriving as a human.

All of this was easier in some ways for First Century people, especially Greeks and Romans, because speaking of gods becoming human and walking among us was everyday stuff. They were already religious, they just needed direction to the one true God.

16 Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received—one gift replacing another, 17 for the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. NJB

Jesus came to us with a gift from God the Father. The gift is Grace, and only by grace can any of us enter the Courts of God’s Kingdom in the New Jerusalem. God the Father gave that gift to His Son, and Jesus freely gives it to anyone who believes in him.

In 1943, C. S. Lewis published a book entitled, Mere Christianity. On page 43 in my small paperback version, he writes: If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in Arithmetic—there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong; but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence