Qumran and John the Baptist


Qumran and John the Baptist

January 19th, 1969 @ 10:50 AM

Matthew 3:1-13

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Matthew 3:1-6

1-19-69    10:50 a.m.


On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the message.  It is entitled Qumran and John the Baptist.  I wish I could have delivered this message immediately after I came back from Israel, which I had planned to do, but I got in contact with that mean, detestable, unspeakable flu bug.  So I had to pick it up later on; but I wanted to preach this sermon.  Now in the message, I will have to review just a little bit, and that will not hurt us; we learn by review.  We will have to look at that Qumran community just a moment so that you can see more perfectly and clearly what it is that I am trying to say this morning from the Book of God.

Now, the third chapter of the Book of Matthew:  “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea” [Matthew 3:1].  Luke says it like this:  “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being the governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee . . . Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness” [Luke 3:1-2].  For four hundred years there had been no open vision, there had been no word from God, there had been no prophet standing to deliver the message of the Lord.  Can you imagine therefore the electric power that must have surged through the political and national life of Judea when the announcement came that God had raised up a prophet?  And his name was John, and he was preaching in the wilderness of Judea [Matthew 3:1].  And this was his sermon:

Repent ye:  for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Now this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.

Now this John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat, his meal, his food was locusts and wild honey—

He was not beholden to any man; just beholden to God whose messenger he was—

Then went out to him Jerusalem, the whole city, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan,

And were baptized of him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. Getting ready for the kingdom of heaven and getting ready for the coming of the Lord Prince Messiah;

[Matthew 3:2-6]

well, just to read it brings a thrill of expectancy to your heart, John the Baptist with the word of God, preaching in the wilderness of Judea.

Now the reason that I am delivering this sermon is, that is where Qumran is, when Luke says that he was in the deserts until his appearance, until his showing to Israel, if you have ever been to Judea, you will know exactly why Luke says the deserts [Luke 1:80].  Matthew says “the wilderness” [Matthew 3:1].  Now to me, when I think of a wilderness, I think of a tangle wood, trees and brush.  But a wilderness as you find it in the Bible will almost always refer to a waste area.  And again I say, if you have been there, you will see what waste it is.  There is nothing alive around the Dead Sea.  There is nothing in it that lives, there is nothing that flies over it or around it that lives, and there’s nothing close to its shores, the bordering country, that is alive; it is dead.  Now in that place where John the Baptist grew up, and where he preached, and nearby where he was baptizing in the Jordan River [Matthew 3:5-6], in that place, they have found the most marvelous, fantastic, and meaningful archaeological discovery in human history.  You have heard them referred to as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Did you know—and now we are reviewing—there has been no manuscript that we had of this Old Covenant, except one that was copied in about 900 to 1000 AD, after Christ, the Old Testament, but when they found in those caves at Qumran, when they found those earthen jars and those scrolls inside, those scrolls turned out to be copies, manuscripts of God’s Holy Book; and they were copied, they were written 200 and 100 BC, before Christ.  And that meant that we were able now to go back more than a thousand years in the transmission of this Holy Book.  Now I haven’t time to speak of the textual criticism involved in that, but it was meaningful beyond any way I could describe it.  And it verified the Book that I hold here in my hand.  Well, now that’s Qumran, and that is why it is so amazingly important—and this is in the last few years.

Now another thing, a second thing:  not only did they discover those scrolls in those caves there on those cliffs that bordered the Dead Sea, but they found a community, and unearthed it, and excavated it, and brought it to view.  They found the community that transcribed those words that wrote those Scriptures.  And you can go there and look at it.  It’s one of the most startling discoveries in human history.  There at the north end of the Dead Sea, at the top of the Dead Sea, about one mile west, right at the base of those great cliffs that fall down to that 1,294 feet below sea level, there at the base of those cliffs and on the plain that runs out to the Dead Sea, there is Qumran, named after a dry creek, they called it a wadi, that comes from central Judea down there to the Dead Sea.  And on the banks of that wadi, that dry river, they built a community, Qumran, and named it after the river, named it after the dry creek; about seven and a half miles south of Jericho, in that desolate wilderness, where John the Baptist grew up.

Now, it is very interesting, oh, how much so, being acquainted with that community, and now through these archaeological discoveries to know what they believed, and how they lived, and who they were.  It is very interesting to compare them with John the Baptist, and that’s what we’re going to do this morning.  They lived at the same time.  They lived in the same place.  And they had many, many, many things in common.  And I haven’t time in this brief moment to speak of these things that they would have in common, nor have I time to speak all of the things that differentiate them; but I have chosen two this morning.  I am going to talk first about the asceticism of Qumran, and the asceticism of John the Baptist; we are going to compare that.  Then second, we’re going to compare the ablutions, the lustrations, the washings, the cleansing, the purifyings in water of Qumran, and we’re going to compare that with the baptism of John the Baptist; Iōannēs ho baptistēs, the one who baptizes.

All right, let’s begin with the asceticism of the Qumran community.  This is one striking difference between them and the great Baptist preacher.  Now the Qumran community was organized as a withdrawal from the contact of this evil world.  As you remember, when I preached on these things, coming back from Israel, as you remember, I said that in about 165 BC, when Antiochus Epiphanes was the ruler over Syria and had conquered Judea, it was a part of his kingdom.  Antiochus Epiphanes took it upon himself to make the Jew a Greek:  to abolish, to destroy the Scriptures and the Judaistic worship of Jehovah God, to obliterate it from the earth.  Antiochus Epiphanes, as you remember, dedicated the temple in Jerusalem to Jupiter; and he took a sow and offered her on the great brazen altar, and took the juice from the sow and scattered it all over the temple, over the vessels, the sanctuary, in order to pollute it, to make it abominable for those who worship Jehovah God.  Then city by city, and town by town, village by village, and house by house, he began to force the Jewish people to worship Greek gods.

Now in those days, in about 165 BC, there arose a priest by the name of Mattathias, and his five sons.  They lived at Modein, just a little way from Jerusalem.  And when an officer of the army of Antiochus Epiphanes came to force those in Modein to worship, to sacrifice before the heathen idol gods of the Greeks, Mattathias, the old priest rose up and his five boys, and they slew that Syrian officer.  And they raised a standard in Judah, and God amazingly and miraculously blessed them.  They conquered the Syrian army, and they brought for a brief space of time independence and liberty to Judea.  Now there is a saying that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The Maccabees—for one of the sons of Mattathias was named Judas, whom they call Maccabeus the Hammer—what they did was instead of remaining like their old father, Mattathias, a servant of God, power, as I say, corrupts, and the Maccabees, instead of staying true to the old father, the Maccabees invaded the priesthood, and they seized the high priesthood.  And they degenerated in their succeeding generations—which is a long story in itself—in which time the Pharisees and the Sadduccees and these Essenes were born; and by which Herod the Great seized the throne by marrying Mariamne, a Maccabee.

Well, when these Hasidim, when these holy ones—and you will see them in Jerusalem today, walking around the city with their hats, and the little balls around their hats, and their robes, and their long uncut beards—when those holy ones saw the corruption that was coming into Judea, they despaired of the future of the nation.  The Maccabees seemed to have been their last hope.  So they withdrew from the economic, political, cultural, religious life of the community.  They would not worship in the temple because the sons of Zadok had been dismissed, the true high priests of God, and the Maccabees had seized it.  So they withdrew to this community, and there they built what you would call a monastery—except it was not a monastery.  In a monastery, you just have a monk.  In a nunnery, you just have a nun.  But in the Qumran community, you had men and women, their families.  They withdrew from the life of the world.  They would not touch it.  They withdrew completely, and there they lived, reading apocalyptic literature, reading the Holy Scriptures of God, copying them by hand, and waiting for the denouement of the age, the imminent consummation of all history that is to be ushered in by the coming of the Lord Messiah.

Now that is Qumran.

So keep that picture in your mind.  Here is a people who have withdrawn from the world; they have no contact with it.  It is evil, and the government is corrupt, and there’s no hope for it; and they are withdrawn from the world.  And they live there waiting in expectancy for the consummation of the age.  That is Qumran.  Now, John the Baptist was an ascetic.  He was monastic in his life.  He grew up right there, and he knew those people, and they knew him.  And his ministry was there, and he baptized just about seven miles away.  But there is a vast difference between the asceticism of John the Baptist and the asceticism of the Qumran community.  It is simply this:  the asceticism of John the Baptist is that of a man who is waiting before God, he is in communion with the Lord; it is the asceticism of Elijah the Tishbite, who stayed before the Lord [1 Kings 18:15], and the Lord sent him to appear before Ahab and before Jezebel and before the prophets of Baal [1 Kings 18:20-40], to anoint Elisha, to give him his mantle, to anoint Hazael, the king over Syria [1 Kings 19:15-16].  Elijah of all men of his day was in contact with and conversant with the flow of political and national and religious life.  Now, John the Baptist was an ascetic like Elijah.  He was a man who stayed before the Lord, listening to the voice of God; then when God needed a messenger, He sent John [John 3:1], as He had sent before him Elijah the Tishbite [1 Kings 17:1].

It is the asceticism of Savonarola.  Savonarola was the incomparable morning star of the Reformation, he in Florence, Italy, as Wycliff was in England, as John Huss was in Moravia, John Huss.  Now, Savonarola was a great man of God, ascetic in his life.  And if you ever go to Florence, you ought to go to St. Mark’s monastery, and look at the little cell where Savonarola lived; just this big.  And there he pored over the Scriptures, and there he prayed, and there he communed with God, and there he listened to the voice of heaven.  Then he left that little cell and mounted the steps of the pulpit in the great Duomo, the cathedral in Florence; and his message was a flame of fire and a thunder from the Lord God Almighty!  Now the asceticism of John the Baptist was like that.  He was in the wilderness, there before the Lord, in an ascetic, monastic life, separate.  But when God spoke to him, you will find that John the Baptist is conversant with the whole stream of the history of the world.

So as we watch him, John the Baptist, you see him preaching to the Pharisees; they were the doctors of the law.  You see him preaching to the Sadducees; they were the aristocrats of the temple [Matthew 3:7-10].  And in Luke, in the story, you will find him addressing the multitudes [Luke 3:7-11].  Then you will find him speaking to the publicans, the despised tax gatherers [Luke 3:12-13].  Then you will find him addressing his message to the soldiers, the Roman army [Luke 3:14].  And then finally, as you follow the story on down, you will find him addressing Herod the tetrarch himself [Luke 3:19-20]; the tetrarch, the ruler of a fourth part, one of the sons of Herod the Great; you will find him addressing Herod Antipas.  Now why he’s addressing Herod Antipas is plain:  the Book says Herod Antipas visited Rome, and there he saw his brother Philip, and his brother Philip’s wife was named Herodias.  And Herodias schemed, and Antipas fell into her flytrap; and so Herod Antipas took his brother’s wife and sailed with her to Judea, and made her the queen there in Galilee and Perea.  And John the Baptist stood up [Matthew 14:3-4].  Now you see the difference between Qumran and John the Baptist.  Qumran is over here separate from the world, washed its hands of the world, nothing in contact with the world.  It is an evil world, and that is true, but that was their reaction to it—but the reaction of John the Baptist was he went before the king himself, and looked in his face, and pointed his finger at his nose, and said, “It is not right, it is not right for thee to have thy brother’s wife” [Mark 6:18].   Now that’s John the Baptist, and that’s his life in the world.  And it’s always dangerous when you fall into a situation like that.  And John the Baptist lost his head.  I don’t mean he lost his head preaching the gospel, I mean he lost his head literally: they cut it off; Herodias saw to that [Matthew 14:1-10; Mark 6:14-29].

Now, before I go on, I want to say a word about us.  It is all right, it is all right in God’s sight, to be an ascetic like John the Baptist:  to pray, to commune with God, to read the Bible, to shut out the world.  But at no time and in no sense is it pleasing to God for us to withdraw contact from the world.  It may be an evil world, it may be sodden and sot, it may be vile and vicious, there may be corruption in government and high places and in low places, there may be disintegration, degeneration, there may be everything vile in the world; but it is God’s will that we be light in it [Matthew 5:14-15], as a city on a hill, shining pointing to God [Matthew 5:16].  It is God’s will for us that we be like salt in it, a good savor to preserve [Matthew 5:13].  There is an asceticism that is good:  to pray, to commune with God.  But we are never to withdraw from this earth.  That’s the reason this First Baptist Church ought to be down here in the middle of this town.  As long as there is a Dallas, there ought to be a First Baptist Church in the middle of this city; and we are not going to escape, we are not going to leave, we are not going to wash our hands, and we are not going where it is soft or easy.  We are going to stay here where Satan has his throne.  And that’s God’s intent for His people in the world:  we are not to withdraw from it.

You ought to get into politics, you ought to do it, you ought to be good men in politics.  We ought to be in politics.  We ought to be voting.  We ought to be trying to get good men elected.  We ought to be interested in the school system.  And we ought to be interested in the whole structure of society.  Now that is God’s will and God’s program for His people.

All right, second: we are going to look at the ablutions of Qumran and compare them with the baptism of the great Baptist preacher.  Now Qumran had many lustrations, many of them, many ceremonial washings.  They washed everything.  They washed their feet—may I commend it to you—they washed their feet.  They washed their hands.  They washed their heads.  They washed themselves all over.  They washed their pots, they washed their pans.  Now I’m talking about ceremonial cleansing:  they did it as a ritual.  They did it as a service to God; they just had ceremonial washings, ritualistic bathings.  And they had them multitudinously.

I took the little map that they give us there when you visit Qumran; and you can follow every little old thing in detail.  Down that dry wadi in the wintertime, in the wet season, in the rainy season, why, the water rushes down, so they dam it up; and there is water and to spare.  Then there is an aqueduct, and you can follow that right down today.  There’s an aqueduct from up there in the wadi, down there to the community.  Now, looking around at that exposed community, now in ruins, I counted seven enormous cisterns in that little place; about an acre or two, there were seven enormous cisterns.  And then as I went around and looked at it, I saw nine different little pools, little places where they bathed and where they washed and where they conducted all those ceremonial cleansings.  Now that’s Qumran.

Do you know you have a reference to that here in the Bible?  You could read it forever and not realize it, but let me show you.  All of those sects of the Jews, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, the whole group, all of them had many lustrations, they had many bathings, many washings, many, many, many of them.  All of them did.  Now, there in Qumran they had many washings, and they got into an argument over their meaning.  Now look at this, this is in the third chapter of John:  “After these things came Jesus and His disciples into the land of Judea; and there Jesus tarried, and baptized [John 3:22].  Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there” [John 3:23].  You can’t baptize with a spoon, or with a lily, or with a cup, or with a glass; you got to have lots of water to baptize.  “So, John was there at Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there:  and they came and were baptized by John the Baptist.  Now John was not yet cast into prison [John 3:23-24].  Then there arose,” where John was baptizing, close to this Qumran community, “there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying, about purification [John 3:25].  And they came unto John, and said to him, Rabbi, He that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou gavest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to Him” [John 3:26]. Well, look in the verse before, it says, “They were arguing about purification” [John 3:25].  But in the next verse when they spell it out, they were arguing about baptism [John 3:26], the baptism of John and the purifications of these Qumran people and the other sects of the Jews.  So Qumran had many washings, they had many lustrations, they had many cleansings, they had many purifications.

Now, was John the Baptist’s baptism just another one of those purifications?  Was it just what the Jews were doing all over Judaism and especially there in Qumran?  Was the baptism of John the Baptist just another one of those ceremonial washings?  No!  So we’re going to compare the baptism of John the Baptist to the washings, the lustrations, the cleansings, the purifications of the Jews, and especially that Qumran community.

All right, first: in the Qumran community and in all Judaism, you will find that there are many bathings; and in the Qumran community, no one shared in those lustrations until first he had become a member of the community.  After you became a member of the community, after they had accepted you, why, then it was that you washed your white robe and put it on, you washed your hands, you bathed your feet and your head, and all over you, and pots and pans, and everything else.  After you became a member of the community, then you washed over and over and over again.  But in the baptism of John, it is an initiatory, it is an initial rite:  one time and never repeated again!  When you say, “I want to get right with God, and I want to be ready to receive the Messiah,” then it was that you were baptized, and never again; just at the beginning when you became a convert.  That’s one difference between this baptism of John and the baptism of the Qumran community and all the Jews.

All right, the second great difference:  the first time that the world ever saw a man take another man and bathe him, wash him, was when John the Baptist did it [Matthew 3:6].  They never saw that before in the world.  Nobody had ever seen that in the history of the world.  Now there were as many Johns in that day as there are Johns today.  You have got Johns everywhere.  That is everywhere but up here.  You’ve got them everywhere, Johns, you’ve got Johns everywhere.  You’ve got a lot of them out there where I’m a-looking.  But this John did something nobody else had ever done in the history of the world:  this John took people and washed them, bathed them [John 1:25-33].  So they called him Iōannes ho Baptistēs, John the one who baptizes, who washes, who immerses, who bathes his converts.  Iōannēs ho Baptistēs, that set him out from all the other Johns in all creation.

Now, this baptism of John, as he administered it, was a most meaningful thing; but John didn’t understand its ultimate meaning.  I’m just as sure of that as I am that I’m alive and preaching to you this moment.  John did not understand the full and final and ultimate meaning of the baptism that God gave him from heaven [Matthew 3:13-15].  I think John thought it was a purification, a cleansing in water, a getting ready for the Messiah, a getting ready for the kingdom of heaven [Matthew 3:4-6, 16].  We confess our sins, we ask God to forgive us, and we believe the promises of the Bible that the Messiah is coming, Christ is here, and we’re getting ready; and the sign of that was a purification, it was a baptism in water, it was a washing in the streams, it was a cleansing [Luke 3:3].  Now I think that’s what that meant to John the Baptist.  And I don’t think he knew anything else beyond.  I don’t think so.

What is the ultimate meaning of that ordinance?  Who invented it?  When finally we come to know the meaning of baptism, not in the life of John but years after, when finally we come to know the meaning of baptism, you will find in God’s Word that baptism means, it signifies, it dramatizes, it portrays death, burial, and resurrection; and especially, and particularly, and emphatically the death and the burial and the resurrection of our Lord [Romans 6:3-5].  I don’t think John understood that at all.  I don’t think he knew that at all.  But God gave him that ordinance, God gave him that ritual [John 1:33], and God said to John, “John, you go down there in that wilderness, and preach My message, and stand there on the banks of the Jordan River and call men to repentance and faith, and baptize your converts!” [Matthew 3:1-6].  God said do it like that.  Well, it’s the same kind of a thing as when God said to Moses, “Here is the pattern from heaven:  see, here is the pattern of the tabernacle, and I want you to make everything just as I show you in this pattern from heaven” [Exodus 25:9, 40].  And after he’d done it all, the Bible says that Moses faithfully did everything as God had showed him the pattern on the top of the mount [Hebrews 8:5].  And I don’t think Moses had any idea of the ultimate meaning, the full rich symbolism of that tabernacle.  Here’s the brazen altar, and here’s the laver, there’s the seven branched candlestick, and there is the table of showbread, the golden altar of incense, and here is the veil in between, here is the propitiatory, here is the blood of expiation, there’s the mercy seat and the cherubim looking at each other over it [Exodus 25:9-30:38]:  I don’t think Moses had any idea of the fullness of the significance of that.  He may have some, but not as we do, revealed in God’s Word.  But God said to Moses, “Moses, you may not understand all that I have in this pattern; but I want you to do it just exactly as I have showed you” [Exodus 25:9, 40].  And Moses faithfully did it [Exodus 40:18-33].

Now he could have said, “Well, I don’t see any particular significance in this, so I am going to take the brazen altar and I am going to put it in the Holy of Holies.  And I am going to take the seven branched lampstand, and I’m going stick it on a lamppost out here at the gate.  And I’m going to take the table of showbread and put it out here to feed the poor.  And I’m going to take that veil that separates in between, and I’m going to hang that over here as a curiosity for the people that come by and see.”  He could have done that, but he didn’t.  God said, “You do this just exactly as I tell you” [Exodus 25:9], and Moses faithfully did it [Exodus 30:38].  And when finally we came to see what it meant, the brazen altar is the altar of judgment on our sins, that’s the cross [Hebrews 2:17]; and the laver is the washing, that’s the regeneration of the Holy Spirit of God [Titus 3:5]; and the seven branched lampstand is Jesus the Light of the world [John 8:12]; and the table of showbread is Jesus the bread of life [John 6:48]; and the golden altar of incense is Jesus our great Mediator and Intercessor in heaven [1 Timothy 2:5; Revelation 8:4]; and the veil in between is the veil of His flesh [Hebrews 10:20], and when it was torn apart [Matthew 27:51], there we see the fullness of God [Colossians 2:9]; and the sanctuary is the great high altar upon which Jesus offered His blood for the sins of the world [Matthew 26:28; John 1:29].  Moses may have somewhat understood, but years later; but he faithfully did what God said [Exodus 30:38].

Now, God gave to John the Baptist just the same.  John says, “I got it from heaven.  I got it from heaven” [John 1:33].  When John the Baptist was preaching there in the wilderness of Judea and baptizing in the Jordan River [Matthew 3:1-6], so unusual and amazing was this innovation that they sent a committee from the Sanhedrin—all this in the first chapter of John [John 1:19]—they sent a committee from the Sanhedrin down there to John the Baptist to ask him, “Are you the Christ the Messiah?” and he said, “No [John 1:20], no I am not.  No.”

“Well are you Elijah raised from the dead?”

He said, “No, I am John.  My name is not Elijah” [John 1:21].

“Well are you the Prophet that should come, the One that Moses spoke of when Moses said, After I am gone, God will raise you up another Prophet like unto me, and Him shall ye hear [Deuteronomy 18:15]; are you that Prophet?”  And John said, “No” [John 1:21].   And they said, “By what authority, and by what right then do you administer this new ordinance?  We never saw anything like this, when one man take another man and bathe him, and wash him, and immerse him in water.  By what authority, if you are not the Messiah, or Elijah, or that Prophet to come?” [John 1:22-25].  And John said God told him to do it [John 1:33].  God told him to do it.  John said, “I got this baptism from heaven.”  And Jesus said John’s baptism was from heaven [Matthew 21:25].  So John’s out there doing just like God told him to do.

Well now John could have said, “Now listen here, Lord, I don’t see any sense to this.  Here we’ve got to have lots of water for this.  I’m going to get me a bucket, I’m going to get me a bucket, and I’m going to stand down there on some street corner somewhere, and I’m going to call men to faith and repentance, and I’m going to baptize them out of this bucket.”  And then after a little while, he’d say, “Well, this bucket’s heavy, and I’m getting tired; it’s hot.  I’m going to get me a glass.”  So he gets him a glass of water, and he puts it down in the wilderness, or there on the street corner, and he calls men to faith and repentance, and he baptizes them out of that glass of water.  Then upon a hot day, he’d say, “Now water is scarce, and we ought to be very, very careful with it.  I’ve got me a beautiful lily here, and here’s a little water out of the Jordan River”—I’ve seen this done, the reason I’m describing it—“now here’s a little water, so I get me a little vial of water, and I pour it in this lily, and I call men to repentance and to faith in Jesus, and then I baptize their babies, after I call them to faith and repentance.”  How could a baby repent?  And how could a baby believe?  In no place in God’s Word is a baby ever baptized, never!  But here John the Baptist, he’s thinking his own thoughts, and he’s going his own way, and he’s doing what he thinks, he’s wise in his eyes, so he gets him a lily, and he calls men to faith and repentance, and then out of that lily he drops one little drop on the head of each one of those little babies, and says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and Son, and the Holy Ghost.”  Now he could have done that, like these degenerates do today.  He could have done that.

But God said to Moses, “Moses, you build this tabernacle exactly as I tell you” [Exodus 25:9, 40].  And Moses did it.  And after years, we learned what it meant.  And God said to John the Baptist, “You baptize these people exactly as I have given you the pattern from heaven.”  And John thought it was a purification, it was a washing, it was a cleansing [Luke 3:3].  But when finally we come to understand what it meant—we are buried with the Lord in the likeness of His death, and we are raised with the Lord in the likeness of His resurrection—baptism is a burial and a resurrection, dead with Jesus, and buried, and raised with our Lord to walk in newness of life [Romans 6:3-5].  And where there is no burial and resurrection, there’s no gospel and no baptism [1 Corinthians 15:12-17].

So Jesus took the baptism of John and put it into the heart of the church.  He baptized Himself:  He Himself was baptized [Matthew 3:13-17].  And in the Great Commission we are to make disciples of all the nations, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” [Matthew 28:19]; in the name, singular, there is one God, and He has three names.  I have three names; most of you have three names.  God has three names.  We know God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and in the name of, singular, that one God whom we adore as our Father, whom we worship as our Savior, whom we accept inside of our souls, the Holy Spirit; in the name of God we are baptized.  And in all the story after—and I haven’t time to follow it—in all the story after, anyone who accepted Jesus as his Savior was baptized immediately.

“See, here is water, here is water,” said the Ethiopian eunuch to Philip the evangelist, when he first heard the message, “Here is water, look.  Let me be baptized.  I want to be baptized” [Acts 8:36].  And Philip said, “You can, if you believe with all your heart.”  And the treasurer of Ethiopia said, “I trust in Jesus with all my heart [Acts 8:37], and he commanded the chariot to stand still, and they went down, both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch” [Acts 8:36-39]—man that would be hard to do in a glass, wouldn’t it?  That’d be hard to do in a pitcher.  That’d be hard to do in a lily.  “And they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.  And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on rejoicing, Hallelujah, I have done what God wants me to do” [Acts 8:38].  And he was happy in it, and you will be too.

Now I can’t do much for God, I can’t do much for God.  God says, “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee [Psalm 50:12]; for the gold and the silver is Mine [Haggai 2:8], and the cattle on a thousand hills” [Psalm 50:10].  I can’t do much for God.  That prayer, Stohner, was it Stohner who prayed that invocation?  “Lord, You are so great, we’re so insignificant.”  There’s not much I can do for God, but what I can do, God willing, I will do.  And God wants me to honor His Son, to receive the Lord Jesus as my Savior, and to love Him, and to adore Him, and to worship Him, and to get ready to see Him some great triumphant day [Matthew 6:12].  I can do that.  I can confess my sins to Him [Romans 10:9-10].  I can ask Him to forgive my sins [1 John 1:9].  I can ask Him to write my name in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27].  I can ask Him to keep me and save me now and in the hour of my death [Psalm 116:15; Isaiah 41:10].  I can do that.  And I can do that other thing:  after I have received the Lord as my Savior, God asks me to be baptized [Mathew 28:19], and I can do that.  I can do that.  If I were in a wheelchair—and I’ve baptized many in a wheelchair—you can come into that baptistery, and I can baptize you.  It’s easy to do.  You’d think it’d be difficult.  No.  Or if I’m crippled, or if I am not altogether brilliant, I can do this.  Amen, Ray.  I can do this.  I can be baptized.  And nobody ever went through those waters, following the holy and righteous example of the blessed Jesus [Matthew 3:13-17], nobody ever went through those holy waters but that they thanked God.  Oh, there’s a fullness, and there’s a blessedness, and there’s a holiness; it never leaves you.  Every time you read the Bible and every time you hear the preacher preach, you have that feeling in your heart, “I did that.  I did that.  Bless God, I did that.”

Well, our time is gone, and we must give our invitation.  In the throng in the balcony round and the press of people on this lower floor, to take the Lord as your Savior, to give your life to Him, would you come?  And in that same breath, would you say, “And pastor, like it says in the Book, just like Jesus [Mark 1:9-11], I want to be baptized; and here I come, here I am”; do it now.  Make it now.  And there are families and couples and one somebody you who’ve already accepted the Lord as your Savior, and you’ve already been baptized, and you live in our city, you’re here where you can come to this dear church, you come.  A whole family, you come.  A couple you, you come.  Or one somebody you, you come.  While we sing this hymn and make this appeal, you decide now, and in a moment when we stand up to sing it, stand up coming.  Into that aisle or down one of these stairwells, and here to the pastor, “Here I am.  Here’s my wife and my children, all of us coming today.”  Or just you, make that decision now.  And may the blessings of Jesus attend your way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.


Dr. W. A. Criswell

Matthew 3:1-13



I.          Introduction

A.  John the Baptist in the wilderness (Matthew 3:1-6, Luke 3:1-2)

B.  Where he grew up, preached and baptized was Qumran

C.  Dead Sea Scrolls discovered at Qumran

II.         The
community of Qumran compared with John the Baptist

A.   Asceticism

      1.  Of the Qumran community

a. Separate from the corruption and evil of the world

b. Came as a result of Maccabean degeneration

2.  Of John the Baptist

a. A man in communion with God before he is sent out (1 Kings 19:15-16)

b. He was conversant with whole stream of history (Mark 6:18, Matthew 14:8)

3.  It is God’s will that we be salt and light

B.  Ablutions of Qumran and baptism of John the Baptist

      1.  Qumran had many ceremonial washings, ritualistic bathings (John 3:23-26)

2.  Baptism of John an initiatory rite, not repeated

3.  First time world saw a man baptize another was when John did it


III.        The
meaning of the ordinance

A.  To John, a sign of purification

B.  It signifies the death, burial, resurrection of our Lord

C.  God gave him the pattern (John 1:19-21, 33, Exodus 25:9, 40, Matthew 21:25)

D.  No burial and resurrection, no gospel and no
baptism (Romans 6:4)

E.  Jesus put the baptism of John into the heart of
the church (Matthew 3:13-17, 28:19, Acts

F.  We can’t do much for God; but what we can, we
ought (Psalms 50:10-12, Haggai 2:8)