John’s Baptism – Matthew 3:5-16

 
There are a lot of Christian scholars who don’t like John the Baptist, and who try to call him some sort of Old Testament prophet or servant of God. I know that it is true, because I have often read it, but I can’t understand why they want to do it. Maybe its nothing more than a hatred of the designation “Baptist.” But that’s not the entirety of it, because there are a lot of professing Baptists among the rejecters. On the other hand, I’ve never met a man who I thought was a true historic Baptist who has turned against John the first Baptist.

John may have lived and died before the death of Christ, and for that reason he didn’t know all the doctrines about Christ that you and I should know. But he had the privilege of knowing the Saviour personally and directly – something which we lack. If to be a Christian, one must have faith in Christ, and to be a follower of the Lord, then John qualifies. But I am getting ahead of myself. I believe that John should be considered to be a Christian, and more specifically, John’s baptism should be considered to be Christian baptism.

John is a New Testament personality.
He is found in the Old Testament only as prophecy. Of course that doesn’t prove he was a Christian, because Herod, too, is found in the New Testament. But in addition to his historical setting, we also have John’s testimony of Christ. We have his knowledge of the Lord and his testimony of faith in Christ Jesus. John the Baptist was without a doubt a servant and prophet of God, but so was John the Evangelist. If one of these named John, is a New Testament character then why shouldn’t the other be as well? Does the fact that the Baptist died before his Saviour did, prove that he wasn’t a Christian? That is a thorny question – one which people will be debating until the Lord returns. But if we are going to throw out John, then we’ll have to throw out others, like Joseph, Simeon and Anna, along with several others. And yet as far as salvation goes, this is a somewhat unimportant question. I believe that salvation from sin, whether it be in Abraham and David or Peter and Paul, is always by the grace of God, predicated upon the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But what about the ministry of John? Was it a New Testament kind of ministry? Doesn’t Mark 1:1 thoroughly answer that question? “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.” Mark speaks of the beginning of the gospel of Christ and immediately describes John’s ministry. And then doesn’t Luke 16:16 corroborate Mark? “The Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him (Christ). And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached.” The preaching of the Kingdom of Heaven and God, as we hear from John, inaugurated the New Testament era.

Some parts of John’s ministry were universal and as old as that of Enoch and Noah. The preaching of repentance, for example, has been around since the days of Adam and Eve. And John was not the first man to exhort people to love and to serve Jehovah. He was not the first teacher to speak of the Holy Spirit, or to declare the divine attributes of God.

But here is the thing – he was the first man to baptize. There was no doctrine of baptism in the Old Testament. Even though others had taught and practiced ceremonial cleansings of different sorts, John’s was different. And to this sort of thing ancient historians agree – for example, men like Josephus.

John’s baptism was Christian baptism.
Some people say that John himself declares that his baptism wasn’t Christian baptism. In verse 11 he said “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance.” That may confirm some people against John, but it actually confirms me for him. “Unto repentance” is “eis metanoia” (met-an’-oy-ah). “Eis” is a little preposition, which has caused a lot of undue confusion, because it has been translated several different ways, depending on the passage and its context. It can mean “into” or “unto,” “toward,” “for,” and also surprisingly “against.” In particular, it has given a lot of people grief in another scripture which talks about baptism – Acts 2:38 – “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” In this case “eis” is translated “for.” And many baptismal regenerations say that it means that baptism washes away sins. But Strong’s Concordance goes out of its way to give us an out-dated illustration. “‘For’ (as used in Acts 2:38…) could have two meanings. If you saw a poster saying “Jesse James wanted for robbery,” “for” could mean Jesse is wanted so he can commit a robbery, or (he) is wanted because he has committed a robbery. The later sense is the correct one. So too in this passage, the word “for” signifies an action in the past. Otherwise, it would violate the entire tenor of the New Testament teaching on salvation by grace and not by works.”

Applying the same principle to the same Greek word, but which is translated differently here in Matthew, what John is saying is that he was baptizing with water “in regard” to repentance. And that is something which true Baptists do whenever they dip a convert into the water. We baptize people because they have repented of their sins and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Beginning with Matthew 3 and passing on until we get to the Book of Revelation, there is only one kind of water baptism. In John 1:33 John declared that he had been given a commission from God authorizing him to baptize. “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” I challenge the world to find another scripture declaring that God gave someone else authority to baptize, or where God ordained another kind of water baptism.

If someone suggests that Matthew 28 is a different commission for a different baptism, I’ll just ask him to think about that for a minute. Matthew 3 clearly declares that Christ was baptized by John, under that authority to which John referred. In no scripture do we ever read that Jesus was baptized again. And in no scripture does God the Father give new authorization to Christ, nor does Christ ever declare that He had been given new authority to baptize. And in almost the same breath, the Holy Spirit describes John and Jesus both baptizing in close proximity. John 3:22 – “After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.” Christ Jesus’ baptismal ministry was an extension of the ministry of John.

And along those same lines, John baptized the men who became disciples of Christ. In other words the apostles were all baptized by John. Not one of them was rebaptized either by Christ or later by one of the churches in the Book of Acts. In Acts 1:22 when the church was looking for a replacement for Judas Iscariot, they placed some limitations on the candidates. “Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.”

Both Christ Jesus and all of the apostles were baptized by John, and none of them were rebaptized, because what they had done and what they had received was fully acceptable by God. That baptism should be considered as Christian baptism. And the baptism which Christ passed on to the church in the Great Commission was the same – it was still John’s baptism.

I believe that there are four essential elements to Christian baptism.
Baptism to be scriptural baptism must be by immersion, because that is the meaning of the word “baptizo.” The sprinkling of a little water, or the pouring of a bit more water over someone, is not baptism – it is impossible – by definition. Secondly, only a believer – or shall I say a saint of God – is a proper candidate for baptism. We do not baptize people in order to make them Christians, to cleanse them from sin, to save souls. Only people who have been saved are candidates for baptism. And if someone who has been baptized previously, comes to realize that he has only recently been saved, then that person needs to be baptized again. We also believe that baptism is a picture of that believer’s union with Christ, in his death, and burial and resurrection. Baptism is a symbol only a symbol. It is a declaration by that person that he has been saved by the sacrifice of Christ. And fourth, we believe that only those who are commissioned by God – only those who have been authorized by the Lord to baptize – have any business baptizing. The practical application of that point is that only the Lord’s churches have the right to baptize. We believe that Christ gave the great commission to his first church to be passed on to all his succeeding churches. Other than in the very first case – John the Baptist – no individual has the authority to baptize another.

If you take time to look at what John taught and practiced about baptism, you’ll see these four principles – with one slight difference. He declared that his authority to administer baptism came directly from God himself. It was not his idea; it was not something that the cult of the Essenes had passed on to him. At some point, unknown to us, but perfectly well-known to John, God gave to him the meaning, and authority, to baptize. And as we see here in this chapter, John refused to baptize those whose lives didn’t give evidence of God’s salvation. If there was no evidence of repentance and conversion, he refused to baptize. And of course, to John baptism meant immersion. As we read earlier, John liked Aenon, because there was sufficient water there. “John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.” In the dry period of the year, especially in a drought year, it might have been hard to find enough water to immerse big, hefty adults. But at Aenon there was enough water to completely immerse people.

The only problem that we might have with our four points, in applying them to John, is making the application to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Jesus was still alive – in fact John began his ministry of baptism even before Jesus began His ministry. But keep in mind that John did preach that Jesus was the great sacrifice – the Passover Lamb, the Atonement. Whether or not he understood that Christ would rise from the grave, and whether those he baptized believed that, the symbolism was not lost. John baptized only those who had a personal, faith-based relationship to Christ Jesus.

Imagine the apostle Andrew or one of the others, whose heart the Lord touched and saved. For years he was busy preaching that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that the Kingdom is near. He was not expecting the life of the Lord to end the way that it did, and he was heart-broken. But then three days after the burial, he became convinced of Jesus’ resurrection. How long did it take before the earlier act of his baptism began to reveal itself? He might have understood that he, Andrew, had died and that he was now a new man in Christ. But at some point later on, he saw Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection illustrated in his baptism as well.

I don’t have a problem with this fourth point in scriptural baptism, when applying it to John. John’s baptism was Christian baptism. It was good enough for Christ and His disciples. And it ought to be good enough for us as well.