Following Jesus Through the Water
August 26th, 1979 @ 7:30 PM
FOLLOWING JESUS THROUGH WATERS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-26-79 7:30 p.m.
Now, you on radio and all of us here in this great sanctuary, let us turn to the First Gospel, the third chapter, the First Gospel, third chapter. Turn to Matthew chapter 3. I will get it right in a minute, Matthew chapter 3, Matthew chapter 3. The title of the sermon is going to be Following Jesus Through the Water, following Jesus through the waters of the Jordan.
Now I want you to start off with me in the first two verses, and then we are going to the thirteenth and read to the end. First of all, the first two verses in the third chapter of Matthew. Now out loud together:
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Now, let us start at the thirteenth verse and read to the end of the chapter:
Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
But John forbade Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?
And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered Him.
And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him;
And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Now the sermon is going to be in three parts. It will refer to the past. It will refer to the present. And it will refer to the future.
First, the revelation of the past: God writes here by revelation in His Holy Book. We know nothing about the Lord outside of the Bible.
One of the strangest things is how people value history. You can just read world without end about the Roman emperors and all of those petty kings and rulers in the Roman provinces. But the great news of all time, they never thought to record. How blind we can be to spiritual reality! Let me give you an example of that, if I can just talk to you for a minute.
In one of our daily newspapers recently, they published a supplement on what to do in Dallas on Sunday. It was entitled: “Sunday in Dallas.” It was full, I mean, it was a big, heavy magazine. It was a supplement, a thick one. And it had everything in that magazine that you could imagine that you can do in Dallas. All of the athletic events were recorded there and stories about them; all the theaters and everything about them and what they show; everything about all of the restaurants, and all of the clubs, and all of the lakes and the boats and everything—page after page after page. But did you know that there was not one hint in the entire magazine that on Sunday you might go to church—not a hint, not a reference. Can you imagine the blindness of people to what is important?
And this is a good instance of it. Outside of the Holy Spirit, who recorded it in the Bible, there is not a syllable, there’s not a reference in history, to the Lord Jesus Christ and the greatest event that the world ever saw. So, that’s why I refer to the revelation of the truth of God in the days that are past.
Jesus walked all the way from Nazareth to the Jordan River, just above the Dead Sea, a distance of something like sixty miles, in order to be baptized by John the Baptist [Matthew 3:13]. That was the first step of His public ministry. And that was the beginning of His showing to Israel. The first thing Jesus did as He began His preaching of the gospel of the kingdom of heaven [Matthew 4:17], was He walked to the Jordan, to John, to be baptized of him [Matthew 3:13].
Number two: the first time in history that all three Persons of the Godhead are seen and heard and observed is at the baptism of the Lord Jesus. The Father’s voice is heard from heaven, and the Son is lowered into a watery grave and raised in resurrection power, and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descends upon Him like a dove [Matthew 3:16-17].
The three Persons of the Godhead, for the first time in history, in revelation, are seen there, observed there in the baptism of our Lord Jesus. It is approved of heaven. It originated in the heart of God: this holy ordinance, and we see it beautifully affirmed by all three Persons of the Godhead.
And that same marvelous Trinity is seen and observed and followed in the baptismal formula: “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the peoples, baptizing them in the name”—singular. There is one God—one. But we know God as our Father, we know God as our Savior, and we know God as the Holy Spirit within us—“in the name of—singular—of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” [Matthew 28:19-20]. The Trinity is more beautifully displayed and seen in this holy ordinance of baptism than in anywhere else in the whole revealed Word and mind of God.
Then our Lord Jesus came to John the Baptist and asked to be baptized at his hands. Instinctively, for John did not know Him personally—instinctively, John the Baptist felt, saw, sensed, the holiness and the purity and the sinlessness of the Lord Jesus. And he said: “In Your sight and in Your presence, so unworthy am I” [Matthew 3:14] Later, he graphically described his humility: “I am not worthy to unloose the latchet of His shoes” [John 1:27].
In His presence, John the Baptist said: “I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?” [Matthew 3:14]
And the Lord: “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness” [Matthew 3:15].
You know, even little children will ask me what that means. What did the Lord Jesus mean when He said: “Suffer it to be now.” Allow it to be now. Let it be now that you baptize Me, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. What does that mean?
And the answer is very obvious. Always, baptism refers to a burial and a resurrection [Romans 6:3-5]. And the Lord Jesus there in that holy occasion with John the Baptist identified Himself with us sinners. He is the representative man [Matthew 3:15].
It’s the same imagery as when the Lord said: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” [John 3:14]. That brazen serpent was a representative serpent, not an actual serpent [Numbers 21:8-9]. Had it been an actual serpent, its head should have been crushed, should have been slain, as being a serpent that was destroying the people of Israel.
But this is a representative serpent; a brazen serpent. And lifted up—lifted up, it should be, that whosoever looks, shall live [Numbers 21:8-9]. And the Lord said: “So must the Son of Man be lifted up” [John 3:14-15].
It is the same imagery here. He is the representative man. He is like us. He identified Himself with us. He took upon Himself all of our trials, all of our iniquities, all of our sorrows, all of the heartbreak and tears and troubles of our lives [Isaiah 53:4-6]: the representative man. And this is His pledge: that for us He will die, He will be buried, and He will be raised triumphantly from the dead [Hebrews 10:5-14]—our Savior and Mediator [Romans 8:34], at the right hand of the throne of God [Hebrews 12:2]. That’s what that means.
In the ninth chapter of Daniel, it says that this Messiah shall bring an end to sins and shall bring in everlasting righteousness [Daniel 9:24]. And our Lord did just that. This is His pledge: that He will die for our sins, that He will be buried, and that He will be raised for our justification [Romans 4:25]. “Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness” [Matthew 3:15]. And He was baptized! [Matthew 3:16-17].
One of the most unusual things that you read in the Bible is this: in the ministry of our Lord, in the press of the oh-so-busy a life as He devoted to the people, in the ministry of our Lord, in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, it says that Jesus went back to the place where He was baptized and there He abode. I can imagine the Lord—this is John 10:40: “He went again beyond Jordan into the place where John had first baptized; and there He abode.” In these years that followed after the ministry of our Lord, He went back to the place where He was baptized, and there He stayed.
I’ve often wondered just why He did that. I suppose it would be for the same reason as some great experience in your life, and somehow, you’d like to go back there again. “I was saved in that place. I’d like to go back and see it.” One of the sorrows I have in my life: they tore down the little white church in which I was converted and in which I was baptized. And I’ve often felt, I wish that I could buy that little church, and bring it here to Dallas, and set it on a lot somewhere close to our First Baptist Church in Dallas. And every once in a while, I’d just go in that little church and sit down and just remember the day that I found the Lord and the day that I was baptized. Well, that’s exactly what happened here. The Lord went back to that place, and there He abode, reliving all of those wonderful things that happened in the Jordan River, under the hand of the preaching and the administering of the ordinance of John the Baptist.
And one last thing about this gift from heaven, the ordinance of baptism: in the first chapter of the Book of Acts, we learn that the qualification for an apostle is that he had to be baptized by John the Baptist. There were two qualifications for the election and the selection of an apostle. Number one: he had to be baptized by John the Baptist. And number two: he had to be a personal witness of the resurrection of Jesus from among the dead. He must be one who had actually seen the Lord raised, glorified, immortalized, transfigured from the dead [Acts 1:21-22].
What a beautiful revelation is given to us in the Bible regarding the institution and the beginning of this holy ordinance of baptism—following Jesus through the water!
Number two: I speak now of the deep, significant meaning—its present meaning in our present lives. There is a reason why the Lord used a little tiny word, just a little tiny word, when John said: “I do not feel worthy to baptize You” [Matthew 3:14]. And yet John, the Bible says, was a man filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth [Luke 1:15]. But in the presence of the holy and sinless and pure Lord Jesus, he said: “I do not feel worthy. I do not feel worthy.”
Then the Lord said: “Let it be now—suffer it to be now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered Him” [Matthew 3:15].
Now the little word is “us.” Why didn’t He use the word “Me”—“for thus it becometh Me to fulfill all righteousness.” That’s what He is talking about. He is talking about His baptism. No! There is a vast and tremendous significance in the use of that word “thus it becomesth us to fulfill all righteousness” [Matthew 3:15]. What is that “us”? That “us” refers to our unity in Him. We are buried with Him. We die with Him. And we are raised with Him. The “us” binds us to Jesus forever. We are one in Him [Romans 6:3-5]. This is our unity in Christ! There is not a separation and a division in His people. He is one with us, and we are one with Him! Some of us are on the other side of the river; in heaven. Some of us are down here in earth in this pilgrimage. But whether some of us are over there or some of us are here, we are all one in the Lord. There is one Lord, there is one faith, and there is one baptism”[Ephesians 4:5]. And in that “us,” in His baptism, we are all united to Jesus our Lord [Matthew 3:15-17].
Now I want to show that to you. In the tenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, Paul writes:
Brethren, I would not that ye should be without knowledge, how that all of our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;
And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
[1 Corinthians 10:1-2]
You look at that wonderful passage: “They were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” [1 Corinthians 10:2]. That refers to that marvelous experience when they were delivered out of Egypt and the cloud covered them. By day, it looked like a cloud. By night, it looked like a burning fire [Exodus 13:21]. And when they were baptized in that cloud, the imagery of the apostle says: “They were baptized unto Moses” [1 Corinthians 10:2]. They all were together in the cloud: Moses, their leader, and the people he was bringing out of the bondage of Egypt. And then, he refers to their deliverance in the Red Sea: “They were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” [1 Corinthians 10:2]. The great wall of water was on either side of them, and they were following, one with their leader [Exodus 14:21-22]. Moses and his people were together. And the imagery: “they were baptized unto Moses in the water, in the sea” [1 Corinthians 10:2]. What a magnificent imagery!
So it is with us. We are one with our Lord. We are together with Him. We have been baptized in the likeness of His death, and we have been raised in the likeness of His resurrection [Romans 6:3-5]. As they were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, united with him—a leader and his people [1 Corinthians 10:2]—so we are baptized unto Jesus our Lord, one with Him in His burial and in His glorious resurrection [Romans 6:3-5].
Will you look again in this present significant experience that we enjoy? We are wholly baptized. It isn’t just a part of us, or a piece of us, or a section of us. It is the whole of us. The whole body is baptized unto the Lord, all of us—every part of us, all of us. Isn’t that what Paul wrote in Romans 12:1-2? “I beseech you, brethren, that you present your bodies a living, whole sacrifice unto the Lord, which is your spiritual offering.” All of us, every part of us, we are baptized unto the Lord. Man, that’s just—that’s just—you can preach on that all your life! Everything about us belongs to the Lord Jesus. We are dedicated to Him. Our heads, our hearts, our arms, our feet, our legs, our souls, everything in us, we’ve been baptized unto the Lord, all of us buried with Jesus—all of us, every part of us raised in the likeness of His glorious resurrection [Romans 6:3-5].
I was reading about those Franks, the Gauls, when they were won to the Lord. They were a warlike people. And so, when they were baptized, they held aloft their right arms with their swords. And when they were asked, being Christians, “Why do you fight so? You’re so barbaric and vicious—warlike. Why do you fight so, being Christians?” And they said, “When we were baptized, we held our right arms and our swords aloft. They weren’t baptized. So, they go on out to war, just as they always were.”
Well, you know, I got to thinking about that when I read it, and I thought of that fellow right back there. He was getting ready to be baptized, coming down into the water. And he said, “Oh, wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I got my pocketbook in my pants! I want to take out my pocketbook before I’m baptized.” And I said, “Brother, come on down. Come on down. All my life I’ve wanted to baptize a man’s pocket book. Just come right on down. Come right on down.” It’s a marvelous thing that God has led us through when we are baptized, all of us are baptized—every part of us, sanctified, given, dedicated to the Lord [Matthew 28:19-20].
And will you notice another thing: a present experience? Here in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, it says: “that He might be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water” [John 1:31]. And that is the great purpose that lies back of the experience that we have dedicated to our wonderful Lord: that He might be exalted. And that’s the great purpose that lies back of the holy ordinance: that He might be manifested. You know, that would be a great thing to put over the baptistery, wouldn’t it? “That He might be known—that He might be manifested” [John 1:31]. And there’s no one that ever looks upon that holy ordinance but that is reminded of the grace and the goodness of the Lord Jesus that reached down even to us: that He might be known as the Savior of my soul and the Savior of the world [John 3:16].
Third, and last: there is in the ordinance of baptism, not only a revelation of what God did in Jesus Christ in the days gone by, and not only what it means to us in our present all-significant experience with our Lord, but there is also in baptism a marvelous and incomparable unfolding of the future—a marvelous promise and hope in that ordinance.
I read now from the sixth chapter of the Book of Romans: “Know ye not—beginning at verse 3:
. . . that so many of us as were baptized into, unto Jesus Christ, were baptized into His death?
Therefore we are buried with Christ by baptism into death: that just as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also are raised up to walk in newness of life.
For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also, some glorious and triumphant day, in the likeness of His resurrection.
Baptism has in it a marvelous and incomparable presentation and dramatization of our hope in Christ. If we die and are buried, the Lord will speak to the very dust of the ground and raise us up to Himself in glory [Romans 6:4-5; John 5:25-29]. That is the gospel!
My brother, when you say that we send out a missionary to preach the gospel, what do you mean? What is he going over there to preach? Or, when you go to church, and you sit there and listen to a man in the sacred pulpit and he preaches the gospel, what do you mean when you say, “that man has preached the gospel?” What is the gospel? In the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, Paul defines it:
Brethren, I make known unto you the gospel—I define for you, the gospel which I preached, which you received, wherein you stand; By which you are saved…
For I delivered unto you, first of all—above all, that which I also received.—
He says, “I got it directly by revelation from Christ Himself” [Galatians 1:11-12, 15-16].
I delivered unto you, above everything, that message that I received from the Lord, how that—
and here it is; this is the definition—
how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures;
That He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures:
And that He was seen by—and then he named Cephas, and then all twelve of the apostles;
And then by five hundred at once.
And then by James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem.
And last of all, He was seen of me, as in an abortion, as one [born] out of due time.
[1 Corinthians 15:1-8]
—before the day, when the Lord appears to all of His people, He was seen by me [1 Corinthians 15:8].
Now that is the gospel! When a man preaches the gospel, what he preaches is, that we are lost sinners, all of us, we are lost sinners, and Christ died for us lost sinners [Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3]. That He was buried—He didn’t swoon, it wasn’t a psychological overcoming—He died! They plunged a Roman spear in His heart, and the blood, the crimson of His life, poured out on the earth [John 19:33-34]. They buried Him [John 19:38-42], and the third day, the greatest miracle of all time and time and tide, the greatest miracle of history is on the third day, He was raised from the dead! [John 20:1-16; 1 Corinthians 15:4].
There is no miracle like the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus Christ! Dead men don’t rise. Dead men turn back to the dust. Dead men are food for the worms, they corrupt, they go back to the ground from whence they were made [Genesis 3:19].
But, the miracles of all miracles: Jesus Christ was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:4-7], not resuscitated. He was transfigured, glorified, immortalized—the firstfruits [1 Corinthians 15:23]. He was raised from the dead. The greatest miracle of all miracles is the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And my brethren, you and I in Christ shall experience that same glorious miracle! [1 Corinthians 15:22]. That is the meaning of our baptism: we are buried with Him; we are also raised in the likeness of His incomparable and triumphant glorification [Romans 6:3-5]. It is marvelous what God intends for us.
I can just hardly realize, hardly realize, I live in that world of death all the time: these funeral services, these funeral services. And as I get older and more people know me and our church grows, more and more do I share in those memorial hours. I’d be in one in the morning, were it not that early in the morning I’m leaving for a state convocation all next week in Florida. I live in a world of death. It is the judgment of God upon all mankind that we face inevitable dissolution and death, some of us when we are young—some of us when we are children, some of us down to old age, but all of us under the penalty of a death: “As in Adam, all die” [1 Corinthians 15:22]. I’m a sinner. If I hadn’t sinned, I wouldn’t die. It’s because I am a sinner that I die. God hath joined sin and death together: “The soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:20]. “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23].
I need someone who can save me, deliver me and that Someone is the blessed Lord Jesus. He is our Savior, our representative, our leader, our great Mediator and mighty Sovereign. And He has the death and the grave in His hands:
I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore . . . and I, I have the keys of Hell—that is the grave—and of Death.
He has them in His hands.
And the greatest miracle in history is the resurrection, the glorification of Jesus Christ. And my brethren, we are going to experience, if He delays His coming, we are going to experience that same, glorious resurrection. And the sign of it, the seal of it, is our baptism: buried in the likeness of His death, and raised in the likeness of His resurrection [Romans 6:5]. It is marvelous, that wonderful thing God has prepared for us who have found hope and refuge in Jesus Christ [Colossians 3:1-4]. Buried in the earth, and the Lord is able to speak to that very dust in the ground, and raise us in glory, in transfiguration, in the likeness of His own resurrection [John 5:25-29].
Dear people, the time is gone. That’s why, that’s why that in these years past a baptistery was always so very conspicuous. It is only in these modern centuries that we have separated this great holy ordinance from the Christian faith. Stuck if off somewhere, or don’t even observe it, or change it to where it is meaningless. But in the years, in the years past, this baptistery was one of the most conspicuous things that you would find in the church.
Let me show you, let me show you. Michelangelo looked on those doors in Florence, in the great Duomo, the cathedral in Florence, and he said, “Those doors are so beautiful they could be the doors to heaven!” What doors was he talking about? He was talking about the doors to the baptistery. Always, those old churches, back yonder when men believed the gospel, they had a sanctuary, they had a campanile, a tall bell tower, and they had a beautiful, octagonal baptistery. When you go to Florence, Italy, look at it yourself, look at it yourself. When you go to Pisa for example, there is the sanctuary, there is the campanile, the leaning bell tower, and there is that beautiful baptistery. One of the most beautiful baptisteries I have ever seen in the earth is in St. Paul’s, in Rome—there are four great basilicas in St. Paul, St. Peter’s where the Vatican is located, St. Mary’s, St. John Lateran—and St. Paul’s on the Ostian Way, where he was beheaded. And inside of that church is one of the most glorious baptisteries you ever saw. You could’ve baptized two hundred people at the same time in that baptistery. It hadn’t been used for centuries and centuries and centuries. People have forgotten it, they’ve gotten away from it.
Dear people, when I was in Sao Paulo, Brazil, when I was in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I asked them to take me to a church. There’s a church down there that baptizes more than three thousand every year. Think of that! They baptize more every year. They baptize more than three thousand converts every year. And when I went into that big church and stood there and looked at it, I couldn’t believe my eyes. In the center of it, where you see me now stand, in the center of that church, is a beautiful marble baptistery, and the pulpit is just right over there. And the preacher stands there and preaches the gospel, and right there in the center of the church is that big, beautiful, marble baptistery.
That’s the way it used to be. That’s the way it used to be. The baptistery was prominent; it was beautifully done because it represents resurrection truth! Brother, this is our triumph! This is our promise! This is our hope! We who have found refuge in Jesus, though we die and are buried, yet shall we live again [John 11:25], for he that liveth and believeth in Me could never die [John 11:25-26]. God shall raise him up! [John 6:40]. That is our baptism! [Romans 6:3-5].
Now may we stand together? Our Lord in heaven, what wondrous things has God revealed to us in His precious Book. And what wonderful truth has the Lord packed into these two ordinances. “This is My body broken for you [1 Corinthians 11:24]. This is My blood poured out for you [Matthew 26:28]. This is My burial, and this is My resurrection” [Romans 6:3-5]. And to those who look in faith to the blessed Jesus, “though we die, yet shall we live again” [John 11:25-26], God is able to speak to that dust in the ground, and raise us to Himself, in glory [John 5:25-29]. O Lord, what blessedness, what preciousness, what hope we have in Thee. Life now, life forever, raised to walk in newness of life in Christ [Romans 6:4], raised to live with Jesus, world without end [John 14:3]. Lord, it’s beyond what our minds can imagine. Our hearts can’t take it in. This dull, stolid earth, someday shall we receive Jesus [Zechariah 14:4], and shall we live in that beautiful city [Revelation 22:14], and will God walk in and out before us, and our very eyes look upon Him in our glory? [Revelation 22:3-4]. O Lord, what an incomparable word! What an incomparable promise! What a preciousness of hope!
And our Savior, bless these tonight to whom the Lord has spoken, and may they answer with their lives. “I’ve heard His voice, and here I am.” In the quietness of this moment, as our people stand and wait, as we pray for you; down one of the aisles, down one of those stairways, “Pastor, tonight, I have decided for Christ, and here I am.” “I want to accept Him as my Savior.” “I want to be baptized just as He said in that sacred Book” [Matthew 28:19-20]. “I want Jesus to live in my heart!” “I want to be wholly baptized, I want all of me to belong to Jesus, and I’m coming, I’m on the way.” Some of you to put your life with us in the church, some of you answering some other call of the Spirit, whatever God speaks tonight, answer with your life, “Pastor, I am coming.” Just one somebody you, or, “Two of us are coming, pastor.” Or, “Here’s my wife and my children, the whole family of us, we’re coming tonight.” God bless and speed you in the way. May angels attend you as you answer, while we pray, while we wait and as we sing this hymn of invitation.
FOLLOWING JESUS THROUGH WATERS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
recorded step Jesus made in His public ministry
time in history all three Person of the Trinity seen and heard
pledge to go all the way to the cross to accomplish our redemption
made a sacred pilgrimage back to the Jordan
to fulfill all righteousness
manifest Jesus to the world