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Mark 2 – Baptism
Matthew 28:16-20
June 9, 2024

As we thumb through the pages of the Scripture and we consider those passages where a prophet or an apostle or Jesus Himself talks about doctrine, we find a very consistent pattern in how Scripture confronts false teaching. It’s not a pattern we like.

But what we must understand is that God is dead serious about His Holy Word. He does not like His Word messed with; He does not like when people stubbornly refuse to believe His Word or when people arrogantly change His Word. He doesn’t like it.

In fact, the Scripture warns us, both throughout the old and new testaments, to “beware” of false teaching and false teachers. In the Old Testament, false teaching is connected to idolatry, making a god of something, someone, or some teaching that is not God or from God. And idolatry in the Old Testament is very much the same as adultery against the Lord.

In the New Testament, the same degree of warning is given, that we must “beware,” of false teachers and false teaching, that we must mark and avoid those who do not teach the truth, that in the last days, many will run from sound teaching and follow false teachers who tickle their ears, who tell them what they want to hear rather than the truth.

Today we’re going to consider the second mark of the church, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, and I want you to understand that false teachings abound when it comes to baptism. And false teachings are born when someone asserts some idea or conviction about a topic, like Baptism, and then creates the doctrine to protect his conviction. He may even quote the Scripture. But if the assertion is wrong, then it matters not how much rhetoric or how many biblical citations one makes, it’s still wrong. And this is most often why the doctrine of baptism is misapplied and misunderstood in a lot of western churches. Someone along the way made an assertion…and then doctrine was created to protect and make the assertion sound biblical, and the masses believed it because it sounded right.

But this is not how we go about the business of reading the Bible. We don’t use Scripture to look for things that seem to support what we believe. Instead, we read the Scripture and by the work of the Holy Spirit, our beliefs reform to what is taught.

To rightly and faithfully understand baptism, let’s start with the word itself. And to rightly understand the word baptism, we have to travel back some 2,000 years or more; we have to leave the Lutheran church, the western church, the Evangelical church world, back before the great Schism, before the writing of the Creeds, even to a time before Christ and the Apostles, back to a time when the word was used in normal, day-to-day life in Jewish religion.

In fact, we could go even further back, even to the time of Moses where the people and the sacred vessels and walls of the tabernacle were consecrated, set apart, made clean by the sprinkling of water and blood. It was more like dousing from a hyssop branch which was drenching everything and everyone in this water and blood mixture.

In fact, in the Mosaic Law and ceremonial system, the use of water was always for purification, blood was the sign of the covenant, and oil was the sign of anointing for priestly positions or kingly positions. Each substance had a purpose and water was the most-used substance, used whenever a person had to be made ceremonially clean.

The use of these substances carried on for centuries. It was during the Alexandrian Empire, during the time of Hellenization where all the citizens of that great empire were taught a common language – ancient Greek – and this included the occupied people of Israel – the Jews. It was here where they began to use the word “baptize” in connection to their ritual washings. And for a few hundred years the word took on life and meaning.

When John the Baptizer arrives baptizing people in the Jordan river, the people were well-aware of this washing as most of the people who came to him had been baptized or taken part in baptisms many times before. If any of the religious leaders were baptized by John, it’s quite likely that they had already done many other baptisms in accordance with the law of Moses.

John’s baptism, however, was not exactly the same as Moses’ baptism, and it wasn’t exactly the same as the Baptism Jesus institutes after His resurrection. But the one thing that was certainly the same: baptism was with water because that’s what the word meant. It was all about the use of water in some way to wash, cleanse, immerse, sprinkle, pour, make clean, etc.

Sometimes you’ll hear people insist that baptism has to be by full immersion, or it isn’t really baptism. How do they draw this conclusion? Well, they look at original meaning rather than colloquial use. So, they look at the word “baptize” and go to its Greek root word, baptid, which means “dip” or “immerse,” and then insist baptism must be by immersion.

And for the “radical reformers” who came during the time of Luther, full immersion was vitally important because it was radically different than how the Roman Catholics normally baptized by use of pouring or sprinkling. And they developed a theology to force the practice of full immersion.

The trouble with this approach is that it does not consider colloquial usage by the people, including the religious leaders, during Hellenization and early New Testament times. I mean, just think of a word today that we use regularly that doesn’t exactly follow its formal definition. Think of the word “store,” for example. Much of the time when we use the word “store,” we’re referring to a place where we go to buy stuff. The “grocery store,” or the “convenience store,” or the “clothing store,” right? This is colloquial use and it’s perfectly fine. But the word “store,” if we look at original meaning, has very little to do with where we shop for food or gas or clothes. In fact, the word’s original use concerned a place where military items were kept and retrieved such as weapons and other armaments. But time added additional meaning to the word and today we use the word “store” for a whole wealth of places where regular people, not just military folk, go to buy goods and services.

Same with the word baptize. The original use of the word, sure, was dip or immerse, but as the word found its way through Hellenization and day to day use, it took on new life and it wasn’t a word which was strictly used for full-immersion ceremonies, but also for pouring, sprinkling, partial immersion. It was one of the go-to words for any action which included water with some method of washing in religious ceremonies. And we know it was used the same way among early Christians because there are writings from the 1st and 2nd centuries which describe baptism as not just immersion but also pouring and sprinkling.

Sometimes you’ll hear an objection to baptismal regeneration in this way, “Water baptism doesn’t save.” But saying “water baptism” is like saying “food eating” or “liquid drinking” or “video tving.” It’s bad rhetoric without biblical foundation. Some will then say, “Well what about baptism with the Holy Ghost,” insisting there’s a difference between “water baptism” and “spirit baptism.”

But again, you don’t build a theology to protect an idea or assertion. You make an assertion from sound, biblical theology that already exists. So, when John says, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire,” he isn’t negating water or minimizing its use. In fact, if we just stick to the text in Matthew 3:11-17, what we discover is that John is not referring to how Christians are made. Baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire is both an eschatological, an end-times baptism, where the Lord will return on the Last Day to judge between the living and the dead, the separation of the wheat and the chaff where the wheat will be stored and the chaff burned up, where Christ Jesus will pour out His Spirit in the fullest way on the Last Day, on all who repented and abided in Him, and all unbelievers will be thrown into unquenchable fire forever, AND it is a prophecy concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost who shall rest on the head of the Apostles as tongues of fire.

But what it is not is John asserting that “waterbaptism” is somehow unimportant. I mean John is standing in a stream of water baptizing people, calling people to repent of their sins and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins while he’s baptizing them. To say baptizing with water is unimportant is just…well it just makes no sense, especially since Jesus Himself was baptized, and He preached baptism and mandated baptism in Matthew 28 where Jesus says, “Make disciples by baptizing and teaching” and here He is necessarily talking about baptism using water because there is nothing in the text to suggest otherwise.

We must not create theology in order to protect an assertion or opinion we have. Instead, our assertions must be based in sound, biblical theology.

Mosaic, ceremonial law baptism was a symbolic baptism pointing the people of Israel to Messiah. The water was the symbol of purification and even new creation, that had to be used before anyone could enter into the presence of God.

And here’s the thing, baptism and water didn’t just pop up randomly when Moses was alive. Genesis 1:1 is actually one of the loudest and clearest texts in the Scripture regarding how water – baptism – is quintessential to new creation. We find baptism in Genesis 1 where the Triune God worked through water to create all things, and we find our Lord bookending the Scripture in Revelation 22 where the waters of life flow from the throne of God bringing life and healing to people. And then Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Unless one is born anew of water and the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

In the New Testament, Jesus our Lord never instituted the use of oil, so we don’t have to use oil because He is already our anointed King and Savior. Jesus never called for the slaughtering of animals and for their blood to be hyssop branched upon the people because Jesus shed His own blood upon the wood of the cross and His blood is given to us in the Sacrament of the Altar, which we’ll talk about next week. But the one thing He instituted for conversion and entrance into the Kingdom is baptism, to be made pure in the waters which He himself purified by His Word.

And His institution is for “all nations,” as we read in Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:42. Baptism isn’t just for adults or for people who have intellectual capacity to understand it, but it is for all people, adults, children, and infants, all who need the healing bath of heavenly water for forgiveness and eternal life.

You ask, “Why was Jesus baptized?” He tells us, doesn’t he? John the baptizer objects to baptizing Jesus and Jesus says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus, the Word become flesh, who tabernacles among us like the ancient tabernacle of Israel, as we read in John 1, now come to us, not in a hidden chamber, but in the incarnation of God in the flesh, and as God the Father, Son and Spirit spoke and created all things from nothing in the beginning, Jesus’ baptism opens the kingdom of heaven and creates a new kingdom of penitent sinners, holy people cleansed and purified in the waters which God Himself made pure. Not Moses, not the priests, not the high priest by the blood of lambs or beasts, but God Himself, by His own blood shed, purifies the water which purifies the heart.

St. Peter explains this well in his first letter. He writes, “Christ also suffered once for sins in our place, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in flesh but was made alive in spirit, in which he also went and made an announcement to the spirits in prison.  These spirits disobeyed long ago, when God’s patience was waiting in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In this ark a few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water.  And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the body but the guarantee of a good conscience before God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

You see? Our Lord’s baptism and in His death where, at the piercing of His flesh, blood and water poured out like the blood and water that drenched the people of ancient times, His blood and water cleanses us today, pouring down from the throne of God, yet not as a physical cleansing but as a cleansing of the conscience – the forgiveness of sins – all guaranteed and sealed in the resurrection of Jesus. If He would have died and not been raised, none of this would matter. But because He is risen from the dead, all of it matters, every step He took and every word He said matters.

It all coalesces in Jesus. His baptism is our baptism, His death is our death, His resurrection is our resurrection, His ascension is our eternal life, and on the Last Day when He returns, He will judge between the sheep and the goats and we who are being saved will receive the full measure of the Spirit of God, while those who rejected Him will receive the full measure of the fire of judgment.

And Jesus establishes His kingdom by water. No, not circumcision, no not laws and edicts and covenants made with hands, but with water and promise…baptism now saves you.

Because, if it wasn’t true, Jesus wouldn’t have said it. Amen.