Monday, October 31, 2011

The Blessings of Water Baptism

Matt 3:13-17 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." 

Jesus came to John to be baptised. Since Jesus had no sin, why did He let John baptize Him? When John protested that he needed to be baptised by Jesus  instead, Jesus' reply was that it was proper in order to fulfil "all righteousness." What could Jesus have meant by that saying? I suggest that the "righteousness" refers to the Kingdom blessings all believers will receive though this act of obedience of faith:

(1) Membership of God's Kingdom: As the Firstborn of the New Creation, He set the example for baptism as the entry point into the Kingdom of God. As in Adam, all sinned, so in Christ, all are made righteous. Jesus Christ fulfilled this requirement of water baptism to pave the way for all other new creations to join the Church, of which He is the Head.
(2) Reception of the Holy Spirit. As the Prototype of the New Creation, He established the pattern for reception of  the Holy Spirit as one of blessings of water baptism. The heaven opened up and the Spirit descended on Him like a dove. Here is what will happen in all future water baptism - the coming upon new believers of the Spirit. Whether we call this infilling, baptism or indwelling of the Spirit to me is not so important as the fact that water baptism is the occasion for the Spirit's empowerment of all new believers to become witnesses of Christ (Acts 1:8). In the Ancient Church, this practice of water baptism is always accompanied by the laying on of hands by the presbyter for the reception of the Spirit, in their prayer, "Come Holy Spirit".
(3) Consecration for Service: As the High Priest of our confession, Jesus submitted himself to the ritual cleansing for the priestly service just as the Aaronic priests who were washed and anointed with oil as part of their consecration for service, as recorded in Ex 40:12-13, "Bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and wash them with water. Then dress Aaron in the sacred garments, anoint him and consecrate him so he may serve me as priest." So both elements were present in Jesus' baptism - the cleansing with water and the anointing of the Spirit. Water baptism is the consecration of new believers for service before God.
(4) Seal of Approval by the Father: NT water baptism is not just about removal of sin but the approval of God: a voice from heaven declared (and continues to declare): ""This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."  In every water baptism, God affirms the one who is being baptised as His special child "whom I love; with him I am well pleased."

What a privilege NT baptism is! It is more than just a symbolic public expression of our faith. Rather, it marks the blessings of the Kingdom life: viz., membership in the Kingdom, the reception of the Spirit, consecration for service and experiencing the seal of approval by our heavenly Father regarding our new status as sons and daughters of God! What a joyous occasion and life-transforming experience water baptism is when received in faith!

O Father, how we have trivialised water baptism and made it optional, as though it is largely a symbolic act, devoid of any spiritual realities. May Your Holy Spirit restore to Your Church the urgency and privilege of water baptism, so that new converts may experience the righteousness of the Kingdom right from the start of their Christian life! Amen.

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