The Baptism of John

The Baptism of John

April 7th, 1998 @ 12:00 PM

Matthew 3

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. But John forbad 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 fulfil 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.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Matthew 3

4-7-98    12:00 p.m.


Remember this is your lunch hour.  You come when you can, and leave when you must, and we will all understand.  The theme for this year is “God’s Witness to the Earth.”  And yesterday it was The Broken Heart of Isaiah the Prophet; and today it is The Baptism of John the Baptist.

Reading from the third chapter of Matthew:

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea,

And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…

Then Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan, went out to him,

And were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

[Matthew 3:1-2, 5-6]

Then verse 11, he says:

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry: He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire.

[Matthew 3:11]

The coming of John the Baptist, Iōannēs ho baptistēs, was a startling thing to the whole earth.  For four hundred years there had never been a prophet in Israel or in the world.  Then suddenly there appears this man sent from God.  And he came, it is translated here “preaching,” kerussōn; the word actually means “proclaiming, heralding” [Matthew 3:1].  And you could hear him in that part of creation.  You could hear him in Judea, hear him clear up to Jerusalem, hear him clear up to Samaria, hear him on the other side of the Jordan River, kerussōn, heralding, preaching!  And the word that he brought was twofold: number one: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” [Matthew 3:2]; and the other a sign of that change and repentance, to be baptized in the name of the Lord [Matthew 3:6, 11].

So we follow exactly as this Holy Word presents him.  “And he came preaching and saying, “Metanoeō, metanoeō,” literally meta, “change,” noeō, “your mind.”  “Change, change, turn, repent” [Matthew 3:1-2].  There are many who take that word metanoeō, repentance, to refer to sorrow and sadness and regret; but it has no meaning like that at all.  In the Greek there is a word for that: metamelomai.  Paul plays upon that word in 2 Corinthians chapter 7: “I wrote you a letter,” and he used the word metamelomai, “it made you sorrowful, and sorrowful unto repentance” [2 Corinthians 7:8-9].  Also the Bible says that Judas, who betrayed our Lord [Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50], went out and hanged himself [Matthew 27:5], metamelomai, sadness, regret.

There are also those who say that word metanoeō refers to a confession of sin.  Metanoeō: the hardness of Pharaoh, the double-mindedness of Baalam, the two-facedness of Achan, and the insincerity of Saul—but the word actually means “to turn, to change.”  You’re going this direction, metanoeō, going this direction.  You’ve been thinking these thoughts and giving your life to these things; metanoeō, turn, and give your life to the great plan and call of God for you.

The Bible has some brilliant, moving illustrations of that word metanoeō, “change,” “turn.”  One of them is about Jonah: when finally God forgave him and sent him on his mission to Nineveh, he started at the beginning of the city, three day’s journey, preaching, “Repentance, repentance, change!”  And when the king of Nineveh heard the message from God, he took off his garments, he dressed himself in sackcloth and sat in ashes, and the entire city repented with him.  And when Nineveh changed, God changed.  When Nineveh turned, God turned.  When Nineveh repented, God repented [Jonah 3:1-10].

You have another moving, brilliant illustration of that metanoeō, that change, that turning in the story of Naaman in the fifth chapter of 2 Kings [2 Kings 5:1-14].  Do you remember it?  Upon a foray, down into Israel, on the part of the Syrians, they took captive a little Israeli maiden girl; and she served Naaman’s wife [2 Kings 5:2].  And Naaman was a great man with his master, never lost a battle; but he was a leper [2 Kings 5:1].  And the little maid said to his wife, “I wish that he could be down in Israel.  There’s a prophet there that could heal him of his leprosy” [2 Kings 5:3].  And the word came to the king, and he gave Naaman thousands of pieces of gold, thousands of pieces of silver, ten changes of raiment, and sent him down to Israel, that the prophet might heal him of his leprosy [2 Kings 5:5].  Elisha the prophet did not even go out to see him: he just sent his servant Gehazi, and told him, “You go down to the Jordan, and dip yourself, baptize yourself, in the Jordan, and you will be clean” [2 Kings 5:9-10].  And Naaman was wroth, and he turned away in a rage [2 Kings 5:11], and said, “I thought surely the prophet would come out and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the leprosy and heal me!  Are not Abana and Pharpar”—and I’ve been in both of those rivers—“Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers in Damascus, 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” [2 Kings 5:11-12].  And as he was driving his chariot back, still a leper, one of his servants came to him and said, “My father, my father, if the prophet had told thee some great and mighty thing, wouldst thou not have done it?  How much rather than when he says, Wash, and be clean?” [2 Kings 5:13].  And Naaman pulled up his chariot, and turned it around—that’s it—and turned it around, and went down into the muddy Jordan, dipped himself seven times; and when he came up the seventh time, his flesh came back like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean [2 Kings 5:14].  Oh what a turning!  What a change!  What a metanoeō!  What a repentance!

You know, I have so many years in my memory of the Indians in the territory of Oklahoma.  And up there, there was a marshal of the federal government that had brought together a group of outlaws and robbers and murderers; there were ninety of them in that compound.  And there was a preacher—God bless him—there was a preacher who came to the compound, and I read now what happened.  He says:

“I am going to preach and I’ll try to teach

To the ninety men in here,

Of the words of love from the throne above,”

And his voice was loud and clear.

“I preach to you of a Savior true

And a happy home on high.

Where the angels dwell all saved from hell

And the righteous never die.”

And it seemed to me no one shall see

A scene so great, so grand

As the white and the red on their blanket bed,

‘Round the Christian one did stand.

While the night came down like a silvery crown,

And a promise gave to all,

For the ninety men in the marshal’s den

Heard only the Master’s call.

And he prayed a prayer in the prison there

As the ninety bowed their heads;

The bold Choctaw and the Chickasaw

The white, the black, and the red.

He prayed for the chief with his unbelief,

For the dark highwayman bold,

For the robber too, and his bandit crew,

For the criminals young and old.

Then he sang an hymn in the prison grim.

He sang “Turn, sinner, turn!

It’s not too late to reach God’s gate

While the lamp holds out to burn.”

Then from his bed ‘Tween the white and the red

Up rose an outlaw bold.

With trembling step to the parson crept

All shivering as with cold.

And a vicious flash of the lightning’s crash

Showed his features pale and stern.

And he bowed his head and slowly said,

“I am resolved to turn.”

And it seemed to me no one shall see

A scene so great, so grand;

As the white and the red on their blanket bed,

‘Round the Christian one did stand.

While the night came down like a silvery crown,

And a promise gave to all,

For the ninety men in the marshal’s den

Heard only the Savior’s call.

[“The Criminal Convert,” Clarence B. Douglas]

That is repentance!  That is metanoeō.  That is the turn and the change that comes to the heart that hears the call of God.

So Iōannēs ho baptistēs, John the one who baptizes, preached the gospel: “Turn, change, and be saved” [Matthew 3:1-2].

Now for a moment, the other, the baptism: that is a sign of what has happened in the heart.  “I want to be baptized.”  Do you remember the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts?  The eunuch who had been into the temple in Jerusalem to pray was returning home to Ethiopia; he was a great man.  And as he drove down in his chariot through the desert, returning to Ethiopia, God sent Philip the evangelist to stand there and wait until the chariot passed by [Acts 8:26-27].  And as the chariot passed by, Philip began walking by the side of it and listening to that eunuch as he read from Isaiah 53 [Acts 8:28; Isaiah 53:3-7].  Then he said to the eunuch, “Do you understand what you read, this Servant of God who is going to suffer and give His life for us?” [Acts 8:30].  And the eunuch replied, “How can I, except some man should guide me?” [Acts 8:31].  And he invited Philip to come and sit with him in the chariot [Acts 8:31].  And as they read, the eunuch said to Philip, “Is he speaking here in Isaiah 53 about that One who suffers for us—is he speaking about himself or of some other man?”

And Philip began at the same Scripture and preached unto him Jesus.

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?

And Philip answered and said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.  And he replied, I believe, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of our souls.

And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water; and Philip baptized him.

And when they came 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.

[Acts 8:34-39]

And for two thousand years, Ethiopia has been a Christian nation.  Great God!  O God! O Lord, when Your power is exhibited in a life devoted to Thee!  So it is the open and public commitment to the Lord Jesus; what a change!  What a turn!  Great God!

In our staff is Libby Reynolds.  I was her pastor in Oakland, Kentucky, when she was four years old.  She’s been on our staff here forty years.  And this time of the year, every year, her sister and her husband come to worship with us, seated here.  I was pastor of the church in Oakland, ten miles north of Bowling Green, six years; all those years that I went to seminary.  There was in the little town a man who had a grocery store, the one little store in the little town.  His name was Claude King.  He was not a Christian.  Oh! the times that I talked to him, prayed with him: hard of heart.

Upon a day when I was preaching there in that church in Oakland, down the aisle came that man, Claude King, took me by the hand, and said, “I want to give my heart to Jesus.  I want to take Him as my Savior.  But,” he said, “I want to go back to my seat.  I’ve said in my heart I will never stand down there at the front.  I’ll never be seated on that pew, and I’ll never be baptized.  And I want to go back to my seat.”  I am a literalist: I believe this Bible.  It says in Romans 10:9-10, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus, and believe in thine heart . . . with the mouth confession is made, and with the heart one believes unto salvation.”  And I said to him, “You go back to your seat, and you’ll go back a lost man, and standing at the judgment bar of Almighty God will be consigned into everlasting condemnation” [Revelation 20:11-15].  Oh!  He stood there in front of me with a battle registering in his face, and finally took my hand again, and said, “I’ll stay.  I’ll stand.  I will confess.  And I’ll join the church and be baptized.”  And oh! what a glorious Christian he was!  He was superintendent of the Sunday school there for a generation.

My sweet people, that is a part of what it is to be a child of God, to be a Christian: openly, unashamedly to confess Him before men and to belong to the people of the Lord [Romans 10:9-10].  You will want to do it if you are actually saved.  And if it costs you your life, publicly, openly to give your heart to Him, you will not love your life unto the death [Revelation 12:11].

May I take one leaf out of the years of my pilgrimage?  I was in Kiev, in the Ukraine in Russia.  And there was a meeting that night, secretly, of the little Baptist church.  And a man came to take me to the little congregation.  I could never forget him.  He was clothed in black, black, black.  His hat was black.  He had a big brim around it that was black.  He was clothed with a garment that buttoned at the top and went clear down to his shoes, solid black.  And in the darkness of the night, he looked like a phantom to me.  He guided me to the secret place of the meeting of that little Baptist congregation.  And after we had worshiped the Lord—sung the hymns, read the Scripture, all in Russian, but I worshiped with them the best I could—after the benediction that man in black took me back to my little room where I was staying. Oh, I could never forget him!

Anyway, there came a man here from the Ukraine in Russia.  And we were talking about the days of the domination of the communists, when the Baptists were persecuted and put to death.  And I happened to mention to him that man in black.  And he said to me, “Has anyone ever told you of him?”  I said, “No, I just remember that man in black.”

Well, he said, he was betrayed by a traitor; called before the council of atheism and communism and condemned to die, and he laid down his life for the Lord.  They said to him in the trial, “Will you repudiate your faith in Jesus Christ?”

And he said, “No!”

And they said, “Will you give up your membership in that little Baptist church?”

 And he said, “No!”  And they condemned him to death, and he died.  “He loved not his life unto the death” [Revelation 12:11].

Must I be carried to the skies

On flowery beds of ease,

While others fought to win the prize,

And sailed through bloody seas?

No, I must fight, if I must reign:

Increase my courage, Lord.

I’ll bear the cross, endure the strain,

Supported by Thy Word.

[adapted from “Am I a Soldier of the Cross,” Isaac Watts]

Loving not your life unto death [Revelation 12:11], loving Him who waits for us in heaven [Acts 3:21].