The Baptism That Jesus Commands
March 21st, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
THE BAPTISM THAT GOD COMMANDS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3/21/82 10:50 a.m.
And welcome the multitudes who are sharing this hour with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas, some of you watching on television, some of you listening on the radio. This is the pastor of the church bringing one again, one of the sermons on the
“Great Doctrines of the Bible.” The whole series is divided into fifteen sections, and the section we are now in is entitled ecclesiology. It is made up of sermons, messages from the Bible on the church: ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church.
We are not now in that series speaking on the ordinances of the church. Next Sunday morning, the message will concern the recurring church ordinance: The Memorial Supper of the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup. This morning, the message concerns the initial, beginning ordinance of the church: the ordinance of baptism. And the message is entitled The Baptism That Jesus Commands, the mandate of our Lord.
All of us since children memorized the Great Commission. It is composed of the last verses in the last chapter of Matthew:
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All authority—
translated here “power”—
is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore—
on the basis of that authoritarian, sovereign majesty of our Master—
Go ye therefore and mathēteusate—
an imperative, a command—
make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age. Amen.
In the heart of that Great Commission, you see and hear the mandate that the disciples who are won to Christ are to be baptized [Matthew 28:19]. That’s the initial church ordinance, the first one we are commanded to keep.
As I study the Bible—and these messages are summations of the great doctrines of the faith—as I study the Bible, it is very apparent that the new dispensation, this new age of grace, this New Testament, this New Covenant; if you have a Greek Bible, on the outside will be printed Hē Kainos Diathēkē, the new commandment, the new compact, the New Covenant. It is manifest in the Scriptures that this New Testament, this new dispensation, this new diathēkē, began with a holy and commanded ordinance. It began with a baptizing preacher.
Matthew starts it like this:
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea.
Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan,
And were baptized of him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
[Matthew 3:1, 5-6]
The Gospel of Mark, the second one, begins it like this:
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
John did baptize in the wilderness, and preached the baptisma of metanoeō, the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
And there went out to him all of the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and they were all baptized of him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins.
[Mark 1:1, 4-5]
The sainted apostle John began that new dispensation, that new kainos, diathēkē like this, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…There was a man sent from God, whose name was John” [John 1:1, 6]. And a committee from Jerusalem came and asked him, “By what authority do you baptize, do you introduce this new rite, this new ordinance, this new ceremony?” [John 1:19, 24-25]
So it started with a baptizing preacher. And God gave him the name of “John” [Luke 1:13]. In Greek, Iōannēs; in Hebrew, Yohanan; translated into English, “God Is Gracious.” When the angel Gabriel appeared to the priest, Zacharias, in the temple, he said to him, “In your old age, and in the old age of your wife, Elisabeth, you shall have a son” [Luke 1:7, 13]. And Zacharias couldn’t believe such a promise, in his age and in her age [Luke 1:18]. And the angel Gabriel said to him, “Because you doubt the Word of God, you will be dumb. You will not be able to speak until God brings it to pass” [Luke 1:20].
According to the time of life, the son was born [Luke 1:57]. And on the eighth day, when they carried the child to the temple, to be dedicated to God, the priest and all the friends and neighbors put his name down as Zacharias, like his father [Luke 1:59]. And the mother cried out saying, “No, no, his name is John” [Luke 1:60]. And they said, “There is no one in your family by that name” [Luke 1:61]. So, they made signs to the muted father, Zacharias: “What is the name of the child?” And he asked for a tablet. And he wrote on the tablet, “His name is John.” And immediately God loosed his tongue, and he magnified the Lord [Luke 1:62-64]. “There was a man sent from God, and God said his name is John” [John 1:6].
The Holy Scriptures give him another name. He is called, Iōannēs hō Baptistes—he’s called “the Baptist.” It’s a strange thing when you read the Bible; three times is the word “Christian” used in the New Testament, fourteen times is the word “Baptist” used in the New Testament, and according to the Word of God, he belongs to this dispensation, this age of grace. He belongs to the Christian ministry. He was the first great preacher of the kingdom of our Lord.
For example, in Luke, chapter 16, verse 16, our Savior says, “The law and the prophets were”—one of your Greek texts will have heōs; another of your Greek texts will have mechri. Either one of them, they are both adverbs of time and they refer to “as far as,” or “until,” or “extended to.” The law and the prophets were as far as, extended up until John: but since him, the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” [Luke 16:16]. So John belongs to this dispensation. He belongs to this age of grace. He is the first preacher of the kainos diathēkē, the new compact, the new covenant.
I don’t suppose it is possible for us to enter into the excitement, the startling, electrifying, sudden, Elijah-like appearance of this wilderness, baptizing preacher. All Jerusalem emptied itself and came to hear him. All of the towns in Judea and Perea on the other side of the Jordan, and all the surrounding Jordan came down to the river to listen to John the Baptist announce the coming kingdom [Matthew 3:1-6; Mark 1:1-5]. I just can’t imagine the electrifying, startling effect of such an announcement as that. They all were there by the thousands and by the thousands.
For example, our Lord, in the eleventh chapter of Matthew, in talking about John, as the Bible says, concerning John, our Lord will say in Matthew 11:8: “What went ye out for to see?” [Matthew 11:9]. And then, in verse 9, He presses the question: “But what went ye out for to see?” They had all gone, all of them. The whole countryside and the whole cityside had joined together in listening to this man of God, the prophet sent from heaven to announce this new dispensation [John 1:6].
And according to the first chapter of the Gospel of John, among the thousands who were there was an officially appointed committee of the Sanhedrin to ask him, verse 19: ““Who art thou?” [John 1:19]. And he denied not and confessed, “I am not the Christ” [John 1:20]. Then they said, “Who then are you? Are you Elijah, the promised prophet who was to precede the coming of the Messiah?” And he said, “I am not Elijah.” Then they said, “Art thou that Prophet, the one spoken of by Moses, who should follow him?” And he said, “No” [John 1:21]. Then they said, “Then who are you?” He said, “I am a voice crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord” [John 1:22-23].
Every preacher ought to be like that. He doesn’t invent his message, if he’s a true preacher. He’s an ambassador from the courts of heaven, and he delivers what God says. If I invent my message, I’m not a true preacher. I am a voice. I am an echo. I just say and repeat what God has written here in the Bible. John said he was like that. He was a voice crying in the wilderness, “Make ready the way of the Lord” [John 1:23].
Then they asked him, “Where did you get this ordinance? Why baptizest thou then? And by what authority? If you are not the Christ, if you are not Elijah, if you are not that Mosaic Prophet, where did you get it?” [John 1:25].
And John replied, “I got it from heaven. God sent me to baptize” [John 1:33].
This is the initial ordinance of the kingdom of our Lord. It began in that symbol of the resurrection power, the recreating ableness of Jesus, our Lord.
Now, we’re going to look at something. In this Bible, in your Bible, in all of these Bibles, there is a Greek word untranslated. And it’s the Greek word, b-a-p-t-I–z-ō: baptizō. Why is it not translated? Because the translators belonged to the Anglican Church, and they took it to the king and said, “What shall we do with this word?” And the translators and the king agreed they would not translate it, but, they would Anglicize it. The Greek word is b-a-p-t-i-z-o, and they “Anglicized it, and made it b-a-p-t-i-z-e, “baptize.”
What does it mean? What was John doing down there in the Jordan River, when it says he was “baptizing” [Matthew 3:5-6]. Now, the word baptizō, what John was doing in the river is a common Greek word. And for thousands of years it has never changed. It means the same thing today in Greek as it did one thousand years ago in Greek, as it did two thousand years ago in Greek.
Now I’m going to let you translate it; I’m going to read out of some of these great Greek historians, and geographers, and professional men, and philosophers. And then I’m going to let you translate it. When I come to the word I’m just going to use the Greek word.
Hippocrates is the father of medicine. He lived 460 to 377 BC. Any physician has on his wall, and has taken the Hippocratic Oath. Hippocrates is describing, in this Greek passage, a patient who is affected with inflammation and swelling of the throat. And here’s his sentence: “And as she breathes, she breathed as a person breathes after having been baptizō.”
The great philosopher, Aristotle, lived 384 to 322 BC. And this is a sentence out of Aristotle quote: “The Phoenicians, sailing beyond Hercules’ Pillars, beyond Gibraltar, came to a land uninhabited, whose coast was full of seaweeds, and is not laid under water at ebb, but when the tide comes in, it is wholly baptizō.”
Now here is a sentence from Heraclides, who flourished about 325 BC. He wrote the Homeric allegories. He was a disciple of Aristotle, and he’s moralizing in this Homeric allegory on the fable of Mars and Vulcan. Then he says” “Neptune is ingeniously supposed to deliver Mars from Vulcan to signify that, when a piece of iron is taken red hot out of a fire and baptizō into water, the heat is repelled and extinguished.”
Polybius is a great Greek historian. He flourished 204 to 122 BC. In describing a spear, Polybius says, quote, “Even if the spear falls into the sea, it is not lost, for it is compacted of oak and pine, so that, when the heavy part is baptizō by the weight, the rest is buoyed up, and it is easily recovered.” A fellow throws a spear from a ship and it hits the sea. Well, the iron part will baptizō, but the wooden part will float. And you can seize it and recover it. Polybius, in his history, describing the passage of soldiers through the River Trebia, which had been swollen during the night by the heavy rains, says that, “The soldiers crossed with difficulty, those on foot baptizō, as far as the breast.”
Diodorus was a Roman historian who lived in 60 BC. See, we are just going through the centuries. He wrote in Greek, and here are two sentences from Diodorus: “The river rushing down with the current increased in violence, and baptizō many.” Again, “Most of the wild animals surrounded by the stream perished, being baptizō, but some, escaping to higher ground, were saved.”
Strabo is the most famous geographer of the ancient world. He was a contemporary of the Lord Jesus. Writing Greek, he said: “One who hurls down a dart from above into the channel, the force of the water makes it so resistant that it is hardly baptizō.”
Then writing again, in his Geography about Alexander’s soldiers, he says, “Upon one occasion they were passing between the mountain climax and the Pamphylian Sea.” The land was subject to overflow during heavy storms. And now the sentence: Strabo says, “It happened that the whole day long the march was made in water, the men being baptizō, up to the waist.”
Flavius Josephus, Josephus was the illustrious famous Jewish historian who lived in the times of the apostles Peter, Paul, James, and John. He wrote his histories in Greek, Antiquities of the Jews, The Wars of the Jews, those great books that any seminary student studies all the time. In describing the murder of a ruler, Josephus says, quote, “And stretching out the right hand so as to be unseen by any, he baptizō the whole sword into his body.”
Now here’s an instance from the Greek poet, Julian. He’s describing love. And he says that it’s an all-overishness of something that tickles you on the inside. Now this is the way he says it, beautifully, as those Greeks would write. This is Julian, “As I once trimmed a garland, I found Cupid in the roses. Holding him by the wings, I baptizō him into wine, and took him and drank him. And now within my members he tickles with his wings.” Now isn’t that pretty? Falling in love is the feeling of tickling on the inside of you with Cupid’s wings.
Now you translate the word. There is no exception to that. In the thousands of years of Greek literature, the word is used again and again and again. I’ve chosen just a few instances. You can’t translate it any other way. It’s ridiculous if you do.
What John the Baptist was doing in the Jordan River, he was baptizō. He was burying those people in the water, and he was raising them up to a new life in the kingdom of our Lord [Matthew 3:5-6; Mark 1:4-5]. And that’s the first time the world ever saw that ceremony. The Jews had many oblations. They had many washings. They washed their pots and pans. They washed their feet and they bathed their hands and bathed themselves all over. But, always, in the Old Testament, in the Apocrypha, in Philo, in Josephus, always, the man is doing it to himself. But the first time the world ever saw one man take another man and wash him, baptize him, was when Iōannēs hō Baptizō, when John the Baptist did it in the Jordan River. That’s why the committee from Jerusalem said, “Where did you get this new ordinance? Why? By what authority do you introduce this new rite?” [John 1:24-25]. John replied, “I got it from God” [John 1:33].
Repeating, the new dispensation, the kainos diathēkē, the new covenant, the new testament, began with a baptizing preacher. It began with this holy ordinance of baptism [Matthew 3:1-17].
Second: our own experience; when we are introduced into the kingdom of our Savior, it begins with that symbolic rite. It starts, it begins, the new life in Christ begins with that initial ordinance of baptism [Acts 2:38].
It is an unusual thing that Mark writes in chapter 1, verse 4: “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preached the baptisma,” the ordinance of baptism of “metanoia,” translated “repentance,” “for the remission of sins” [Mark 1:4]. John did baptize,” preaching the baptisma, that ordinance, as a sign and a symbol of metanoia, the change, the decision, the turn, when a man faces Christ, when he gives his heart to the kingdom of our Lord. It is not the change itself, it is not the metanoia itself, it is a sign of, it is a symbol of it, as when a man wears a wedding ring. That is not the marriage; it is a sign of a marriage.
As when we see the flag raised, the flag is not the nation; it is a symbol of the nation. As when we see a soldier marching by, the uniform is not the soldier; it is a sign and a symbol of the army under whose orders he marches. So with the ordinance of baptism, it is not the instrument of change; it is not the change itself; it is a sign and a symbol of the metanoia, of the change, the decision, the commitment that the man has made in his heart and in his life.
You see that throughout the New Testament. In the eighth chapter in the Book of Acts, Philip, guided by the Holy Spirit, is sent to this Ethiopian treasurer who is reading the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah [Acts 8:26-30]. And as he reads the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, Philip says, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he says, “How could I, except a man guide me” [Acts 8:30-31]. You remember the passage: “All we like sheep have gone astray . . . and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” [Isaiah 53:6]. Who is he speaking of? [Acts 8:34]. And the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts says that Philip began with the same Scripture, and preached unto him Jesus [Acts 8:35]. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? I want to be baptized” [Acts 8:35-36]. It’s the sign of the change in the man’s heart: the acceptance of our Lord. “See, here is water. I want to be baptized.” Philip answered and said, “If you believe with all of your heart, you may.” And he said, “I do believe” [Acts 8:37]. He commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch: and he baptizō him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, and the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way, praising God and rejoicing [Acts 8:38-40].
When a man is saved, when he meets the Lord, the first thing in his heart, “I want to be baptized.” I cannot imagine a man who is hungry who wouldn’t want to eat. I cannot think of a man who is thirsty who doesn’t want to drink. I cannot conceive of a man who is freezing to death who doesn’t want to be warm. Nor can I think of a man who has met Christ and he doesn’t want to be baptized.
That’s the first sign. “I want to be baptized.” It symbolizes our death to the world, “buried with Him,” and our resurrection to a new life in Christ” [Romans 6:3-5]. And it symbolizes our obedience to the Savior [Matthew 28:19-20], who died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3]. Jesus came to John and said, “I want to be baptized” [Matthew 3:13], that He might identify Himself with us lost sinners. Every apostle had to be baptized by John the Baptist in order to qualify to be an apostle [Acts 1:22].
In the passage you just read, Ananias said to Saul, “Why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized” [Acts 22:16]. In the second chapter of the Book of Acts, they cried, saying to Simon Peter at Pentecost, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” And Simon Peter replied, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ because: e-i-s, because of the remission of your sins” [Acts 2:37-38].
It’s the first, beginning ordinance, obedience, rite, ceremony, of us who have found new life in Christ [Matthew 28:19-20]. “I want to be baptized.” What I’m saying is this. The new dispensation began with that ordinance, and the new experience we have in accepting Christ begins with that ordinance. That’s how our new life begins [Acts 2:38].
One other thing: in the providences of God, in those strange and unusual providences of the Lord, how God does things, He inherently placed in that ordinance a powerful witness for Christ. It is dynamically evangelistic. It has a powerful testimony. And they asked John in the first chapter in the Gospel of John, they asked John the Baptist, “Where did you get that authority, and why do you baptize?” [John 1:24-25]. And he replied, “He that sent me to baptize, said to me the One upon whom you see the Spirit of God descending, the same is He, the Savior of the world. I knew Him not: but that He should be manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water” [John 1:31-33].
John says the purpose of his baptizing, of that holy ordinance, is to manifest Jesus to Israel and to the world [John 1:31]. The purpose of the ordinance is evangelistic. It is to lift up Christ. It is to bring us to Him. You see that in that Great Commission [Matthew 28:19-20], in the heart of it, discipling and baptizing are together: make disciples, win them to Jesus, baptizing them. It is together, side by side. It is God’s way of building up His kingdom and extending the powerful saving grace of His church. It’s an instrument. It’s a vehicle with inherent power of witnessing and salvation. That is baptism.
You know, it is hard for me to believe that my father used to tell me about the raid of Comanche Indians in Texas? He lived during those days. I can hardly believe that my father lived in those days. But I can certainly remember listening as a boy to those old frontier preachers. I lived out there in the western part of the state, and those rough preachers, oh! what a price they paid to deliver the message of Jesus. And some of the things those old pioneer preachers told about are as indelibly incised in my soul as though they were burned in memory with a hot iron.
Here is one. In the days of the rugged pioneer in Texas, the preacher had won to the Lord and to the faith the beautiful precious wife of a vile, rough, and wicked man. And when the day came for the baptism, he said, “If that preacher baptizes my wife, I will beat him to death with a rawhide whip,” with a bullwhip, with a blacksnake, we called it. Those long whips that crack, “I’ll beat him to death.”
And the baptismal day came, and the preacher is in the water with a Bible in his hand, preaching the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. Then he comes to the edge of the water, and they sing a song: “Jesus, I my cross have taken, all I leave to follow Thee.” And there comes to the edge of the water Mary, the beautiful wife of that rough and rugged and wicked man, dressed in white to be baptized.
Coming out of his buggy and making his way down to the front is that vile husband with that long bullwhip, that rawhide blacksnake in his hand. That beautiful princess wife enters the water and walks out, and the pastor lowers her into the watery grave and raises her up into the new life in Christ. And the crowd that had gathered there from the ends of the country to see the preacher whipped, gasped when she came to the edge of the water.
But the bullwhip somehow loosed itself in the hand of that vile and wicked man and fell to the ground. And taking the robe from a sister in the church, he put it around his wife, Mary, and lifted her up in his arms and carried her to the buggy. Then turning back, he came to the edge of the water and said to the pastor, “I ask you to forgive me. I ask God to forgive me. I have repented, and I’ve been saved. I accept Jesus as my Lord, and I want to be baptized. I want to be baptized.”
As though you might think that is very unusual, in my country church, in my beginning pastorate, up there we called it Burt Hollow, up there lived the old patriarch Will Burt, his large family, his brothers and their families, the whole hollow, Burt Hollow, I’d visit and pray and plead. They were hard in hearts. Preaching under an arbor, at the end of the revival I was baptizing my converts in the Leon River. It’s a large creek.
And as I always did, I stood out in the middle of the stream with my open Bible and preached to the throngs on either side of the river. Then after I preached, standing out there in the middle of the water, I came to the water’s edge and made an appeal for Christ. We always sang,
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away!
He taught me how to watch and pray
And live rejoicing ev’ry day
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away.
[“O Happy Day, That Fixed My Choice,” Philip Doddridge, 1755]
We always sang that, and that was my invitation. And as I stood there on the banks of the water, down through the throng came Will Burt the patriarch, and his wife, and his family, and his brothers, and their families, and the whole hollow, all of them down there to the water’s edge. “Pastor, we want to be baptized. We have found the Lord. We have given our hearts to Jesus. We want to be baptized.” Inherently in the ordinance is a witness for Christ that is beautiful and precious and powerful. Why, I remember my baptismal service as though it were yesterday and that has been sixty-two years ago.
That’s God. That’s the will of God for us. That’s the way we begin our Christian life with a testimony of what Jesus has done for us. He has raised us out of the old life of death and despair, and opened for us the doors of hope and of glory [Hebrews 10:20]. May we stand together?
Our wonderful and saving Lord, with what infinite wisdom did You prepare for this day, preaching the gospel: not an invention, but a proclamation, a voice, an echo, this is God’s will, and calling men and women and children and families to the Lord Jesus, and inviting them to follow our Savior through the waters of the Jordan [Matthew 3:13-17]. And what a privilege, full and rich and deep for us to obey the mandate of our Savior in heaven [Matthew 28:19-20], and may it be so today, may there be families and children and young people. God give us today a responsive heart.
And while our people pray and wait before God, you, the whole family you, come; a couple you, take her by the hand and say, “Dear, let’s go. This is God’s time for us. Gather the children and come.” Or just one somebody you, down one of those stairways in the balcony, down one of these aisles, in the press of people on this lower floor, “Pastor, today we have decided for God, and here we stand.” And our Lord, may angels attend them in the way as they come, in Thy saving grace, amen. Welcome. Welcome.