Does baptism matter? Most Americans have come to the conclusion that it does not, a person can be saved and go to heaven baptized or not. It is such a settled conviction with most that they are not willing to give the study of the topic the time of day. It is ridiculous to even consider it as they see it. Only the spiritually blinded, only the cult faction, could think otherwise from their point of view.
It seems to me this is taking the same attitude the Pharisees took back in the first century. They had their settled law and there was no point in thinking there was any possibility that they might be in error. When Jesus came along and started questioning some of their beliefs and practices there was nothing to do but crucify him for there was no possibility in their mind that they could be wrong in their religion. What he had to say had to be heresy.
A man ought to be cautious in reaching conclusions in spiritual matters for once this life is over and the next one has begun there is no going back a second time and getting it right. There are no second chances and eternity is a long, long time. I would like to look at baptism and want to start with an account that is often overlooked - the baptism of Jesus when John baptized him.
It is certainly true that the baptism of John differs from that which the Lord commanded in the great commission as given in Matthew 28 and Mark 16. If I was to be baptized with the baptism of John today it would not do me an ounce of good for its time has long since come and gone. Nevertheless, that was not the case when Jesus came to John to be baptized approximately 2,000 years ago.
Mark tells us (Mark 1:4 NKJV), John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. We know that Jesus never sinned and when Jesus comes to John to be baptized John is hesitant. In Matthew 3:14 we are told that, John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?’
Now note carefully how Jesus responds. But Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. ’ Then he allowed Him. (Matt. 3:15 NKJV)
Why was Jesus baptized? To fulfill all righteousness for that is what he says. What did he mean by that? The answer is found in Psalms 119:172, My tongue shall speak of Your word, For all Your commandments are righteousness. Jesus was baptized because it was the righteous thing to do for God had commanded it and all of God’s commandments are righteousness.
In Matt. 21 Jesus is being confronted by the chief priests and the elders who want to know by what authority he is doing the things he is doing. The Bible says, (Matt. 21:24-26 NKJV), Jesus answered and said to them, ‘I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?’ And they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘If we say, ‘From heaven, ’ He will say to us ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ ‘But if we say, ‘From men, ’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet. ’
Jesus is saying John’s baptism has to be either from God or from man, which was it? Jesus believed (knew) it was from God and was baptized. The Pharisees did not believe it was from God and thus were not baptized. In Jesus’ case belief led to obedience, in the Pharisee’s case disbelief led to disobedience.
In Luke 7 Jesus has been talking about John the Baptist and the Bible says, beginning in verse 29, And when all the people heard Him (Jesus – DS), even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him. (NKJV) This provides further proof that John’s baptism was from or of God.
The counsel of God was that men receive John’s message and be baptized. John’s message was that men repent and be baptized, a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
The Good News Bible translates Mark 1:4 as follows: So John appeared in the desert, baptizing and preaching. ‘Turn away from your sins and be baptized, ’ he told the people, ‘and God will forgive your sins. ’" This was the message of God for the people that was rejected by the Pharisees, lawyers, chief priests, and elders.
But, the Bible says even the tax collectors justified God, have been baptized with the baptism of John. (Luke 7:29 NKJV) What does it mean justified God, how is that done? The New American Standard translation of this verse clarifies it a lot. It reads, And when all the people and the tax-gatherers heard this, they acknowledged God's justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John.
Part of John’s message was that there was to be wrath to come and the way of escape was to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. When men obeyed John’s preaching they were in affect saying by their actions that God was just in bringing this wrath upon them unless they did repent and obey and that it was just of him to demand their repentance and baptism.
Now what does all of this have to do with you and me today, with men and women in general? There is a direct application and an argument I think no one can reject save at their own peril.
Jesus asked the question where did John’s baptism come from, from God or man. Here is the question for you and me today, where did the baptism Jesus commanded come from, from God or man?
Why would it be wrong to reject John’s baptism in its time but right to reject Jesus’ baptism in our time? Jesus made it clear that to reject John’s baptism in its time was to reject the counsel of God against themselves. Are we not doing the same thing today, rejecting God’s counsel against ourselves, when we refuse to be baptized with Jesus’ baptism, the baptism of the great commission. If not why not?
One cannot reason his way out of this dilemma but it gets even worse for those who want to reject baptism. Please note it was a salvation issue with Jesus concerning John’s baptism. Are you going to say it is not a salvation issue today with Jesus’ baptism?
How much difference is there in the meaning of the words, a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4 NKJV) spoken concerning John’s baptism and the words repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38 NKJV) spoken concerning the baptism Jesus requires in our own time? The words sound very similar to me.
Am I saying that both baptisms were identical? No, but the difference lay not in the end to be achieved. John’s baptism ultimately would have done no good had Jesus not died on the cross. In that sense it looked forward and was a promise. We have this in our everyday lives all of the time. If I do this then I am promised that even though that may be down the road a ways. Paychecks are like that. We work trusting by faith the promise that we will be paid. This was John’s baptism.
Does this mean their actual forgiveness lay down the road somewhere in the future and was not immediate? No, for it was a certainty, not just a promise, that Jesus would die on the cross. The deed was as good as done the day it was first prophesied. When Moses and Elijah met Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus had not yet died on the cross. Was their salvation hanging in the balance until he did die? To ask is to answer. So it was with those who obeyed John’s teaching. Their sins were forgiven then and there or else John misled them for he said it was for the forgiveness of sins.
The baptism Jesus gave man by way of the great commission was based on the fact that Jesus had already died and shed his blood for the remission of sins and the salvation of man. Man has to believe the gospel, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1-4). In short, for a man to receive the baptism of Jesus he must believe in the historical Jesus, the Savior of the world.
If a man today refuses to obey the command to be baptized he refuses to do what Jesus said he was doing when he said, it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. (Matt. 3:15 NKJV) It has already been pointed out that all God’s commands are righteousness (Psalms 119:172). If we have a command to be baptized today, as far as I know all agree we do, should we not obey it and fulfill all righteousness? Why is it wrong to follow Jesus’ example?
Does Jesus’ baptism condemn you? It well could for when all is said and done you will either make camp with the Pharisees and other unbelievers who could not take God’s word at face value, believe and obey it, or you will camp with those who did believe and did obey. You will either reject the counsel of God against yourself refusing to be baptized or else you will accept it, believe and obey it. Make no mistake about it, for there are way too many passages that teach it, God has commanded baptism for you and me today thus it becomes a matter of either we will or we won’t. We will either accept his counsel or we will reject it.
I am sometimes taken aback by how people can just blow off baptism as being an insignificant thing unworthy of time or trouble. It is a reflection on God. Really is that not what Jesus was saying way back when – you don’t believe God? So many want to be saved by faith today apart from baptism and cannot see, as though blinded, that baptism is a part of faith, a part of the faith that saves. You are either going to believe God or you are not going to believe him when he speaks of baptism in his word. Why is it we can see this when Jesus addresses the subject of John’s baptism but cannot see the direct application to our own response in our time to Jesus’ baptism?
I doubt any of us can fully grasp the power that tradition exerts on us when it comes to how we see things and how we think. Add to that the influence of friends and family and the desire for it to be the way we want it to be often because of family. All that be as it may God’s word stands and so what are we going to do about it becomes the question. Many have answered I am not going to believe it as did the Pharisees. They did not believe it because they did not want to believe it. We pretty much end up believing what we want to believe instead of what we ought to believe.
I close this now just adding one final thought. The decision is yours.
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