THE BAPTISM OF JESUS AND JOHN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-15-87 8:15 a.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Baptism of Jesus and John. In our preaching through the Gospel of John, last Sunday we began in the fourth chapter of the book. The sermon was entitled Jesus is Different, and it was based on the little word in the fourth chapter, that, “Jesus must needs go through Samaria” [John 4:4]. No faithful Jew would put foot in Samaria; but Jesus is different. Now what has happened is, I did not speak, did not prepare a message, on the latter part of the third chapter of John. I went to the fourth chapter. But there is a little aside, a little incidental, a little inconsequential, just a little addendum in the third chapter that I debated whether I would prepare a message concerning it or not; week ago, decided not to, then this week decided to. So we are going back to the third chapter, to that little incidental. And it is found in the twenty-third verse of that third chapter.
Now the context is this, verse 22: “After these things Jesus came and His disciples into the land of Judea; and there He tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized” [John 3:22-23]. And that little aside is, John is there “because there was much water there, much water there” [John 3:23]. A little incidental, descriptive word: “He is baptizing at Aenon near to Salim, because there is much water there.”
It is a strange thing how truth and untruth are distinguishable. If a man is telling the truth, he can talk forever; and every little incidental syllable that he says will fit into the whole perfectly. He does not have to remember what he says; if he’s telling the truth he can talk and talk and talk, and every detail, every slightest aside will fit just exactly. But if a man is not telling the truth, if he’s telling an untruth, no matter how genius he may be, or how gifted he may be, let him talk, and finally there will be little things that don’t fit; they just don’t. And he can’t make them fit if he talks and if he talks. So it is in all of the areas of life: if a thing is true, every little detail will fit perfectly. And this is a good example.
The authority, the Gospel writer, is not particularly describing the mode of baptism; I’d say that’s the farthest thing from his mind. Yet in talking about John and about Jesus, and about baptistēs, about “the Baptist,” he just puts that little aside there, which fits perfectly when we think of the mode of baptism. “John is at Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there” [John 3:23]. You see, you can’t baptize out of a teacup, or out of a glass of water, or out of a shallow one-inch baptismal font: you have to have water; you have to be buried in it, and you have to be resurrected out of it [Romans 6:3-5]. And that’s why John was at Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there; and it lent itself to the initiation and introduction of this great rite and ritual of the Baptist preacher [John 3:23].
It all began in his sudden and startling appearance. For four hundred years there had been no prophet. The heavens were brass and the earth was iron. Religion was sterile, it was redundant, it was ritualistic, it was formal; the Bible calls it “the tradition of the elders” [Matthew 15:2]. And for those centuries and centuries there had been no voice from God. Then suddenly, like Elijah, this John appeared out of nowhere. He was hid until his showing forth unto Israel. And when he came, he came with a voice of thunder. He rent the stagnant air. The Bible says, “In those days came John the Baptist kerussōn, kerussōn, heralding” [Matthew 3:1]. Down there in the Jordan River you could hear him clear to Jerusalem. It was an amazing, startling development in the life of the people of God. And the electric sensation he caused reverberated from one end of the nation to the other. His dress and his manner of life were prophetic [Matthew 3:4]. And his message was one of burning call to repentance and to preparation, getting ready for the messianic kingdom, the coming of the Lord [Matthew 3:2].
Now the amazing thing attendant upon the ministry of this Baptist preacher was a rite and a ritual that the world had never seen before. It was new, and it was amazing: it was baptism [Matthew 3:5-6]. The Jewish people had many, many washings, many dippings, many baptisms, many of them. They baptized, they washed, they dipped their pots and their pans; they washed their heads and their hands and their feet; and in some of their rituals they washed themselves all over, they’d baptize themselves all over. But in every one of those ritualistic practices, every one of them, without exception, every one of them the man did it himself. He washed his feet, he washed his hands, he washed his body, he washed his pots and his pans; he did it himself. The first time in the history of the world and of creation that one man ever took another man and dipped him, washed him, baptized him, was when John the Baptist came and introduced that new and amazing rite [Matthew 3:5-6].
So astonishing was it, that the Sanhedrin from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites and Pharisees and Sadducees, representing their government, their religious practice, they sent from the Sanhedrin a committee down there to the Jordan River and asked him, “What is this thing? What is this?” [John 1:19-28] They began by referring first to him himself: “Who are you? Who are you? Are you the Christ, the Messiah?” And he said, “No” [John 1:20].
“Then are you Elijah the prophet who was to come?”
“No” [John 1:21].
“Then are you that Prophet of God that Moses said would follow him? Are you that Prophet?” And John said, “No” [John 1:21]. Then they said, “By what right, by what prerogative, and by what authority do you introduce this new rite and this new ritual, baptism?” [John 1:22, 25]. And John replied, “I got it from heaven. He that sent me to baptize, God did it. God invented it. God gave it to me” [John 1:33]. And in the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord Jesus says, “The baptism of John is from heaven” [Matthew 21:25]. Its rite, its ritual, its form, its meaning, all are from God.
To John it was a sanctification [Matthew 3:1-12]. I know that from the discussion in the third chapter here. It was a purification; it was a sign of repentance, a turning, a metanoia, a getting ready for the messianic kingdom [Matthew 3:2]. But to God, and finally revealed in the Scriptures, it is as burial and a resurrection [Romans 6:3-5]. And in keeping with that invention, that innovative ritual from heaven [Matthew 3:2], it is identified with an open, unashamed confession of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ [Romans 10:9-10]; a commitment to Him and His messianic kingdom.
In the sixth chapter of the Book of Romans, that baptism became a sign of our death to the world and our burial with Christ, and our resurrection to a new life in Him [Romans 6:3-6]. And in the tenth chapter of the Book of Romans, verses 9 and 10: “If thou shalt confess the Lord Jesus, your Savior, and believe that God raised Him from the dead,” the sign of which is your resurrection out of a watery grave, “thou shalt be saved” [Romans 10:9-10]. And that rite and that ritual of John the Baptist was placed in the heart of the church.
Jesus baptized; baptized more disciples than John, though, He Himself [not] but His disciples [John 4:1-2]. Jesus’ disciples baptized their converts. In the Great Commission it is placed in the very heart of it: “Preach the gospel to every creature, baptizing them in the name of the triune God” [Matthew 28:19]. And the church faithfully followed that commandment and that example of our Lord. At Pentecost, they that gladly received the word of Simon Peter, listened to his message, turned in repentance and faith [Acts 2:14-40], they were baptized; and that day God added to His people three thousand souls [Acts 2:41]. In the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, when the Ethiopian eunuch listened to the word of salvation from Philip the evangelist and the deacon [Acts 8:35], coming to a body of water, the eunuch says, “See, here is water, I want to be baptized” [Acts 8:36]. The first response of a man who listens to the gospel of Christ and receives it in his heart is that:
I want to be baptized. What hinders me to be baptized? And Philip said, If you believe with all your heart, you may. And he said, I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of my soul. And they went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he immersed him, 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 his way rejoicing.
In the next chapter, God has sent Ananias to a blinded Saul of Tarsus, having seen the glory of Christ. No man can see the glory of Christ and not be blinded by the light of that marvelous Somebody from heaven! And Ananias says to him, “Arise, be baptized; wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. He was baptized that hour” [Acts 9:10-18, 22:16]. In the next chapter, in chapter 10, when the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles, for the first time, God’s inclusive kingdom puts arms and invitation around us: we also are now in the household of faith and in the covenant of the promise [Acts 10:44-46]. When the Holy Spirit fell upon those Gentiles in Caesarea, Simon Peter says, “Can anyone, anywhere, forbid these, that they be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit the same as we?” [Acts 10:47]. And through the years, and the years, and the years, this great rite and ritual has been at the heart and at the center of the true people of God.
My family was baptized; my father and mother. And upon a confession of faith, I was baptized: buried with the Lord and raised with the Lord; a beautiful, open, unashamed commitment and confession of my faith in the ableness of God in Christ Jesus to raise me from the dead [Romans 6:3-5]. Dead in sins, someday dead in body, but made alive unto God through His saving grace and loving kindness [Ephesians 2:1].
When I was the pastor of a little country church, little tiny village church, there was one grocery store, there was one store in the little community, just one. And the man who owned that store was the leading citizen in the community. And he felt the pride of being that number one leader in the life of that little group of people out there in the country. He was not a Christian. And it was a handicap and a hindrance. Well, upon a day, upon a Sunday, like this Sunday, preaching there in my little village church, when I gave the invitation, down the aisle he came and gave me his hand. And he said to me, “Young pastor, today I accept Jesus as my Savior. I have opened my heart to Him, and I have received Him this day in my heart as my Savior; and I ask Him to forgive my sins, write my name in the Book of Life, and to save me. I accept Him as my Savior.”
Oh! how glad and how thankful to God I was. Then he said to me, “I’m going back to my seat.” I said to him, “You cannot do that and be saved. You can’t go back to your seat and be saved. You have to come here before our people and openly confess the Lord.” He said to me, “All of my life I have said I will never sit on that front seat, and I’ll never be in that baptistery, never.” I said to him—as a young pastor, I was just twenty-one years old—I said to him, “If you go back to that seat, you’re going back as a lost man, and face the judgment and damnation of hell. You can’t be saved and not sit down on that front seat and not be in that baptistery.” Whether that’s good theology or not, I’ll leave that to God. I just told him that: “You can’t be saved and not stay here and openly confess the Lord and follow Him in baptism.”
Well, you could see the struggle in his soul written on his face as he stood there, holding my hand. In his heart accepting the Lord as his Savior, and yet fighting the war of his life. “Will I humble myself, and deny what I have avowed all through the years and the years, I’ll not sit there, and I’ll not be in that baptistery.” Thank God, praise the Lord! The Holy Spirit won the battle in his soul. And he sat down, and he confessed the Lord, and I baptized him.
It is the same thing exactly as we read in God’s Holy Word. There was a great man in Damascus named Naaman. He was a mighty man of valor; he was a military genius. And by him Syria overwhelmed all of her enemies. But he was a leper [2 Kings 5:1]. The armies of Syria had captured a little Israelitist maid who waited on Naaman’s wife, who was sympathetic with the hurt in the family. This great man of valor and of victory was a leper. And she said, “Would God, would God, he were with the prophet in Samaria, Elisha, for he’d heal him of his leprosy” [2 Kings 5:2-3]. And it was told to Naaman that the little maid said such and such. So it came to the ears of Ben-Hadad, king of Syria. And he sent Naaman, laden with gold and silver and changes of raiment to Syria, to Jehoram the king of Israel, saying, “Herewith have I sent Naaman, my mighty man, that you’d heal him of his leprosy.” Jehoram rent his clothes, saying, “This is none other than a provocation to war!” [2 Kings 5:4-7]. But Elisha the man of God heard, sent word to the king, saying, “Send him unto me,” and Naaman came with his horses, and with his chariots, and with his retinue, and with his men of war, laden with gold and silver and changes of raiment, and came before the house of Elisha to be cleansed of his leprosy [2 Kings 5:8-9].
Elisha never even went out to see him; he never even went to the door to greet him. Elisha sent Gehazi his servant out to the front and said, “You tell Naaman to go down to the Jordan River, and dip himself—the Greek is baptize himself—seven times in the Jordan River, and he will be clean” [2 Kings 5:10]. When Gehazi came before Naaman with that word, Naaman turned into a fury! [2 Kings 5:11].
Here I am, the greatest military leader in the world, here I am under the king of Damascus, the victor of every battle I’ve ever fought, and here I come with my gold and silver and retinue, surely I would have thought this prophet would have come forth and stood and dramatically call on the name of the Lord his God and strike his hand over the leper and he be clean. Instead he doesn’t even speak, doesn’t even come out, doesn’t even greet me, and worse, says go down in that muddy Jordan. Are not all the rivers of Damascus, Abana and Pharpar, clear flowing out of the snows of Mount Hermon, are they not better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them and be clean?
And he turned and went away in a rage! a leper, a leper [2 Kings 5:11-12]. Turned in a rage, “Think I’m going to humble myself going down in that muddy Jordan?”
While he was furiously driving away, one of his servants in the chariot put his hand on his arm, and said, “My father, my father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great and mighty thing, like subdue the Sudanese, or conquer Ethiopia, or conquer the cities of Phoenicia, or come with ten thousand talents of gold, would you not have done it? How much rather than when he saith unto thee, Wash, and be clean?” [2 Kings 5:13]. And Naaman pulled the reins of his steeds, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. And he turned them around, and went down into that muddy Jordan, dipped himself,” the Greek is, “baptized himself, one time and two, three times and four, five times and six; and when he came up out of the water the seventh time, behold his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. He was clean” [2 Kings 5:14].
Wash and be clean. Believe and be saved. Turn and be redeemed.
“Preacher, you think I’m going to be baptized? Not I. You think I’m going to humble myself and follow that ritual? Not I. You think I’m going down that aisle and confess my faith in the Lord? Not I.”
How much better when the prophet says, “Wash and be clean” [Revelation 7:14; 2 Kings 5:10-14]. How much better, “Believe and be saved” [Acts 16:30-31]. Humble yourself and feel God lift you [1 Peter 5:6]. That’s the Lord. And blessed is that man, that family, that woman, that youth, that somebody who bows in his heart, and humbly says, “Lord, Thy Word is my highest commandment; and here I come, and here I stand, openly confessing my faith in Jesus, and following Him through the waters of the Jordan.”
Will you do it? Will you do it? In this moment when we sing, to come forward, “Pastor, this day, upon an open confession of my faith in Christ [Romans 10:9-13], I want to be baptized; following my dear Lord in obedience to His Word, here I stand” [Matthew 28:19-20]. Or a family you, coming into the fellowship of the church; or giving your heart in a new way to Christ, answering His call from heaven; as He shall say, as God shall say, answer with your life. Do it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.