The Baptism That Jesus Commands
March 21st, 1982 @ 8:15 AM
THE BAPTISM THAT JESUS COMMANDS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-21-82 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the great throngs of you that are sharing this hour with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas on radio. This is the pastor bringing the message. It is one in a series of doctrinal studies, the "Great Doctrines of the Bible." The section in which we are now employed concerns the church, the doctrine of the church, ecclesiology. And right now we are speaking from the Bible on the ordinances of the church. Next Sunday the message will concern the recurring church ordinance, the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup, The Memorial Supper. And this morning the message concerns the initial ordinance, the introductory, beginning ordinance of the Christian life: the ordinance of baptism. And the message is entitled The Baptism that Jesus Commands.
The Gospel of Matthew ends, [chapter] 28, verses 18 to 20, with what is universally referred to as the Great Commission. And in the middle of that commission is this mandate that we baptize our converts. The Great Commission reads like this:
Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the 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.
As we read the Holy Scriptures, there is one thing that is very apparent: namely, that the new dispensation, this age of grace, the new testament, the new covenant – if you have a Greek New Testament, on the outside you will find the words "He Kaine Diatheke," the new compact, the new covenant – this new age, this new dispensation begins in a holy ordinance; namely, the ordinance of baptism. It is announced by and introduced by a baptizing preacher.
· Matthew says 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" [Matthew 3:1, 5-6].
· Mark speaks of it like this: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptisma of metanoias," the ordinance of baptism of the changed life, repentance, "And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins" [Mark 1:1, 4-5].
· And the apostle John speaks of it 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,And there came a committee from Jerusalem, and asked him, Why baptizest thou?" [John 1:1, 6, 25].
It is very evident when you look at the Holy Scriptures that the new era, this new dispensation, this age of grace, this new covenant, the New Testament begins with a baptizing preacher; it begins with this new ordinance commanded from heaven.
"There was a man sent from God, whose name was John" [John 1:6]. God gave him the name John. In the first chapter of Luke is one of the most unusual stories in the Bible. The angel Gabriel said to Zecharias the priest, "You and Elizabeth in your old age shall have a son filled with the Holy Spirit from the day of his birth. And you are to call his name John," in Greek Ioannes, Ioannes; in Hebrew Jochanan; in English "God is gracious," Jehovah, Yahweh is gracious. "You are to call his name Ioannes, Jochanan, John" [Luke 1:13-15]. Now Zecharias couldn’t believe such a promise; he was old, and Elizabeth his wife was old [Luke 1:18]. So the angel said to him, "Because you doubted the word of God, you will not be able to speak till this promise comes to pass" [Luke 1:19-20]. And according to the season and the time and the Word of God, the baby was born [Luke 1:57]. And when they presented him to the Lord to be circumcised on the eighth day, all of the priests and the neighbors gathered round and said, "The new baby’s name shall be Zecharias, after his father." And the mother said, "No, no, his name is to be John." "Nobody in your family or acquaintance is named John," so they asked his father, and made signs to him, "What shall the baby’s name be?" And he asked for a tablet, and he wrote on it, "The baby’s name is John." And when Zecharias wrote that, his tongue was loosed and he magnified the Lord [Luke 1:58-64]. That’s God. And that’s this first prophet of the new covenant, the new dispensation.
God called him John. The Holy Spirit gave him the name "Baptist": Ioannes ho baptistēs, John the one who baptizes, John the Baptist [Matthew 3:1]. It’s an unusual thing when you read the Holy Scriptures: three times is the word "Christian" used; fourteen times is the word "Baptist" used. He belongs to the new dispensation. In Luke 16:16, "The law and the prophets were until John: and since then, since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it." "The law and the prophets were," and there are two readings there in the Greek text: one is heos, heos, the other is mechri. Both of them mean – they are adverbs of time, they mean "until, until that time." Whether it is heos or mechri, "The law and the prophets were until that time, until John" [Luke 16:16]; but when John came preaching in the wilderness of Judea [Matthew 3:1], it was the beginning of a new dispensation, a new era. He announced, and was the first preacher of this day and age of grace, and he started it with an amazing new ordinance, baptism [Matthew 3:5-6].
It must have been an electrifying and a startling development when John appeared in the wilderness on the banks of the Jordan River, announcing the new dispensation. He emptied Jerusalem; all Jerusalem was there. The towns of Judea and Perea on the other side of Jordan, and all of the region of the Jordan, the towns were silent and empty and vacant; they were down there by the thousands, surrounding this Baptist preacher on the banks of the Jordan River [Matthew 3:5-6]. Do you remember this in the teaching of our Lord: in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Matthew, the Lord asks the crowd, the throng around Him, concerning John, "What went ye out in the wilderness to see?" Matthew 11:8, "What went ye out for to see?" Then he repeats it in verse 9, "But what went ye out for to see?" [Matthew 11:9]. They had all gone, everybody, the whole world around Israel, they’d all gone; they were down there at the Jordan River. They were there by the thousands, listening to this prophet announce the new dispensation. And among those who went down to the Jordan to listen to that, to that strange prophet of God who appeared like Elijah, looked like Elijah, suddenly he was there like Elijah, there was sent, according to the first chapter of John beginning at verse 19, "There was sent a committee from Jerusalem, Pharisees, Levites, and priests, and they asked him, Who are you? Are you the Christ?" He said, "No."
"Are you Elijah?" He said, "No."
"Are you that Prophet, the One that Moses said should follow him?" He said, "No." Then they answered him, "Then who are you?" [John 1:19-22]. Then John quotes Isaiah chapter 40, verse 3, "I am a voice crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord" [John 1:23]. Then they asked him, "Why do you baptize if you are not the Christ? Where did you get this authority if you are not Christ, if you are not Elijah, if you are not that Mosaic Prophet?" [John 1:25]. And he says God sent him with this unusual ordinance in order that he might introduce Christ to the world; the new dispensation [John 1:33].
Now what is this that John was doing in the Jordan River? What is that ordinance? You don’t have it translated here in any of these Bibles we use. It’s a Greek word Anglicized: the Greek word is baptizo, b-a-p-t-i-z-o. And the translators, being Anglicans, refused to translate it. So they Anglicized it; they put an "e" on the end of it, b-a-p-t-i-z, the Greek is an "o," baptizo, but they Anglicized it and put an "e" on it. He did b-a-p-t-i-z-e. It’s a Greek word. What was John doing in the Jordan River? What is this ordinance that he says he got from God? It came from heaven. And the Lord God sent him to announce the new dispensation with this ordinance. What is that word? Well, all we have to do is to look through Greek literature for a thousand years – and I’m going to let you translate it – you translate it for me.
We’re looking at this word baptizo, what John was doing in the Jordan River. Hippocrates lived from 460 to 337 BC, and he’s called the father of medicine. The Hippocratic Oath is what all these doctors subscribe to. Describing the respiration of a patient affected with inflammation and swelling of the throat, he wrote, and I quote from Hippocrates, "She breathed as a person breathes after having been baptizo." Aristotle lived 384 to 322 BC, the great philosopher. He wrote, quote, "The Phoenicians sailing beyond Hercules’ pillars," Gibraltar "came to a land uninhabited, whose coast was full of seaweeds, and is not laid unto water at ebb; but when the tide comes in it is wholly baptizo." Just an ordinary Greek word meaning something, and you’re going to translate it. Here is a sentence from Heraclites who flourished about 325 BC. He wrote the Homeric allegories. He was a disciple of Aristotle, and while moralizing on the fable of Mars being taken by Vulcan, 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 baptizo in water, the heat is repelled and extinguished."
Polybius lived 204 to 122 BC, he was a great historian. In describing a spear, Polybius says, and I 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, the iron part, is baptizo by the weight, the rest is buoyed up and it is easily recovered." When you throw a spear and it falls in the water, the iron will baptizo, but the handle will float, and you can easily seize it and recover it. Now Polybius, in his history, describing the passage of soldiers through the River Tebia, which had been swollen during the night by heavy rains, says, and I quote from Polybius again, "They crossed with difficulty; those on foot baptizo as far as the breast."
Diadorus was a Roman historian who lived in 60 BC. Here are two sentences from him, quote, "The river rushing down with the current increased in violence, and baptizo many." And another quote from Diadorus: "Most of the wild animals surrounded by the stream perished, being baptizo; but some escaping to high ground were saved." Strabo was a great geographer as well as an historian. He was a contemporary of Jesus. Writing in Greek, Strabo says, quote, "One who hurls down a dart from above in the channel, the force of the water makes so much resistance that it is hardly baptizo." Then again in his geography, he’s describing the march of Alexander’s soldiers between the mountain climax and the Pamphylian Sea, and the land was subject to overflow during a heavy storm, so Strabo says, "It happened that the whole day long the march was made in water, the men being baptizo up to the waist." Flavius Josephus was an illustrious, famous, noted Jewish historian who lived in the times of the apostles, Peter, Paul, James, and John. He wrote his histories in Greek; The Wars of the Jews, The Antiquities of the Jews. From Josephus we could take many illustrations; I take one sentence: he’s describing the murder of a ruler, and he says, that, "This assassin, stretching out the right hand, so as to be unseen by any, he baptizo the whole sword into his body."
Then I have an instance from Greek poetry. There is a famous Greek poet named Julian. And he is describing how it is to fall in love, how you feel with all of the inside overishness of tickling. And he puts it like this, "Once I trimmed a garland, and as I did so I found Cupid in the roses. Hold him by the wings, I baptizo him into wine, and took him and drank him. And now within my members he tickles with his wings." That’s his description of how it feels to fall in love, you have a tickling on the inside.
I’ll let you translate those words. In all Greek literature there’s no exception; it is a plain, simple Greek word meaning "to immerse." And that’s what John was doing in the Jordan River. He was immersing, he was baptizo, all of his converts, announcing the kingdom of heaven [Matthew 3:1, 5-6].
The Jews had many ablutions. In the Old Testament, in the Apocrypha, in Philo, in Josephus, you read of them again and again. But always the ablutions were done by the man himself, always. They washed their pots and pans. They washed their hands, their faces, their heads; they bathed themselves all over. The ablution in all of Jewish custom was done by the man himself. The first time a man ever took another man, and washed him, was when John the Baptist did it in the Jordan River. It was a new rite. It was a new ceremony, the first time the world had ever seen it. That’s why the committee from Jerusalem came to John and said, "By what authority do you introduce this new ordinance, this new ceremony, this new rite?" [John 1:22, 25]. And John says he got it from God; God sent him to do it [John 1:33]. Now, not only was the new dispensation, this new era of grace, this New Testament introduced by that baptizing preacher, the sign, the symbol, this ordinance of baptism, but it is also the sign and the symbol of our birth, introduction into the life of Christ.
It is a sign of a change and a choice in us. While ago I read in Mark 1:4, "John did baptize in the wilderness, and preached the baptisma, the ordinance of baptism, of metanoias, repentance for the remission of sins." It is a sign of our change, our conversion, our repentance, our new life. It is not the change itself. It is a symbol; it is a sign of the change. As a wedding ring is not the marriage, it’s a sign of the marriage; as a flag is not the nation, it is a symbol of the nation; as a soldier’s uniform, the uniform is not the marching soldier himself, it’s a sign of the army; so with baptism, the baptisma of repentance: it is not the thing itself, but it is a sign of it. And when anyone comes to Christ, when he repents, when he accepts the Lord as his Savior, the sign of it will be, "I want to be baptized."
Isn’t that true in the story of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, in Acts chapter 8? Preached unto him Jesus, starting at Isaiah 53:
And as they came to a certain water, the eunuch said, See here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? I want to be baptized. Philip said, If you believe with all your heart, you may. And he replied, I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand stil: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptizo him.
It is a sign of a changed heart, of a commitment to Christ. I could not conceive of a man being hungry and not wanting to eat. I cannot think of a man being thirsty and not wanting to drink. I cannot imagine a man freezing to death and not wanting to be warm. Nor is it possible for me, reading the Scriptures, and in my own experience, to think of a man accepting Christ and not wanting to be baptized. It is a sign of the changed heart.
It is a sign of our commitment to the Lord, as Romans 6:3-5, "We are buried with Him, dead with Him, and raised with Him." It is a sign of our submissive obedience to the great Master in heaven. Jesus said to John, "I want to be baptized" [Matthew 3:13]. He identified Himself with us. In order to be an apostle one had to be baptized by John the Baptist [Acts 1:22]. In the passage you read, when Saul of Tarsus was converted, Ananias said, "Why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized" [Acts 22:16]. It is a sign and a symbol of our new life in Christ; the metanoias, the change, the choice in our hearts.
One other thing in this holy and beautiful ordinance, it is inherently a powerful evangelistic witness to our blessed Savior. "Why do you baptize?" said this committee from Jerusalem to John the Baptist [John 1:22, 25]. And John replied, in John 1:31, "That Christ might be manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water," that our Lord might be made known to the world. Inherently, inherently, in baptism there is an evangelistic, soul-saving, soul-winning appeal. God made it that way. It is that way. In the midst of that Great Commission with which I started, soulwinning and baptism are placed side by side. "Make disciples, and baptize them" [Matthew 28:19]. It is a soul-winning, evangelistic witness, this holy, initial, beautiful, beginning ordinance.
I used to listen to these old-time preachers when I was a boy, talking about as it was in the days of the frontier here in Texas. My father used to talk to me about the rage of the Comanche Indians. Can you believe that? My father, the frontier days.
One of those old time preachers described a baptismal service. The wife, Mary, was beautifully and preciously converted; and he was a vile, wicked, rough frontiersman. And he said, "If that preacher baptizes my wife, I’ll give him the worst rawhide whipping any man ever got in this world; take my bullwhip and beat him to death." So when the day came for the baptismal service, it looked as though all creation was there. They were there to see that vile, rough man, blacksnake bullwhip, rawhide the preacher who dared to baptize his wife. And the hour came. And the preacher was in the water, and he read from the Book. And then he led in a song, "Jesus, I my cross have taken, forsaking all I follow Thee." And Mary came to the water’s edge, dressed in white. And out of his buggy strode that vile, rough man, with that blacksnake, that rawhide whip in his hand. And the sweet, beautiful wife, dressed in white, went down into the water; and the preacher baptized her. And when she came up out of the water and to the edge of the pond, that rough, vicious man standing there somehow he couldn’t hold the handle of the rawhide whip in his hand. It fell harmlessly to the ground. He took the garment that a sister was holding, he took it, placed it around his beautiful wife, picked her up in his arms, and carried her to the buggy; came back to the water’s edge, and said, "Preacher, forgive me. May God forgive me! I repent. I accept the Lord as my Savior, and I ask to be baptized." There’s a power in it. God put it there.
And as though you might think how strange and unusual, in my country pastorate, up there where everybody referred to it as Burt Hollow, there lived a whole tribe of Burts. Will Burt the patriarch, his large family, his brother’s large family, all of the folks up there, Burt Hollow. I would visit, pray, talk, plead; it was like plowing in stony ground, hard and indifferent. At the end of our revival meeting, preaching out under an arbor, I stood in the middle of Leon River, just a creek. As I always did, stood out there with a Bible in my hand, and preached to the people, the large throng that had gathered on both sides of the river. Then having preached, come up to the bank of the stream, and we’d sing a song, usually "Happy day, that fixed my choice, on Thee my Savior and my God." And when I got through preaching in the middle of the river, and came up to the edge of the bank, and we sang the hymn, and I pressed the appeal, down through the throng came the patriarch Will Burt, bringing by his side his wife, his large family, all of his kinfolks, and all of Burt Hollow, confessing their faith in Christ and asking to be baptized. It’s a great sight. It’s a great feeling. It’s a happy day! And you can’t imagine what it did to the heart of that young preacher. That’s God! That’s the Lord. And that’s the sign of our beginning with Him, "Pastor, I want to be baptized. I have found Jesus as my Savior." God bless us as we follow in the way of the Lord.
Now may we stand together?
Our Lord, if we have witnessed to the truth of God, may the Holy Spirit bear it upon wings to our hearts. What a beautiful thing it is to bow in the presence of the Savior. Lord, You ask me to receive Thee by faith [John 11:26-27]; I do. You ask me to confess Thy name openly and publicly [Matthew 10:32]; I will. And You ask me to follow Thee through the waters of the Jordan [Mark 1:9; Acts 2:38]; happy day for me, Lord, to follow Thee.
And as our people wait before God in humble prayer for you, a family you, come today, "We’re putting our lives in this dear church; we’re doing it today." A couple you, or just a one somebody you, "Pastor, we’re deciding for God, and here we stand." On the first note of that first stanza, come, down that stairway in the balcony, or down this aisle on this lower floor, "This is God’s time for me, and I’m coming." In any way the Spirit shall lead and press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. And thank You, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us. In Thy precious and saving name, amen. While we sing, and welcome.