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“Baptism: Saying Sorry, Soaking Spirit”

Jan.15, 2017 – Matthew 3:7-17


Would you say that, sitting here today, you are “under the influence”?

             Usually that’s been a euphemism in English for being drunk, intoxicated due to alcohol. It IS a factor to contend with. For example, from November 21 to January 7, Huron OPP set up 264 checkpoints as part of their “Festive RIDE” campaign. They netted a 5% catch (to look at it one way), or 13 unhappy souls out of 264 checkpoints: 5 motorists were given ‘warn range’ suspensions, while another 8 drivers were charged with Over 80, Impaired or Refusal offences. We’re reminded if we suspect someone is driving or about to drive impaired, we’re to call 911 to report it. Help keep the roads safer for everyone!

             But there are other ways of being “under the influence” – more positive ways. There’s being DRUNK – then there’s being DUNKED! Have you ever considered baptized believers as also being “under the influence”?

             Commentator Myron Augsburger explains... “The word ‘baptism’ means to be brought under the control of a superior power or influence.” [READ AGAIN – now how many would classify as “under the influence”?!] He continues, “There are 5 uses of the term ‘baptism’ in the New Testament. There is the baptism with water, which symbolizes being initiated into the church or being brought under the influence of the covenant community. Second, there is the baptism with the Holy Spirit, which means to be brought under the control and influence of the presence of the Spirit of God. Third, there is the baptism with suffering, which means to be brought under the influence of a suffering, purging experience. Fourth, there is the baptism with fire, which means to be brought under the influence of a judging, refining, searching experience. And fifth, there is the baptism into the Body of Christ (1Cor 12:13), which means to be brought under the control of the Head of the church which is Jesus Christ, and to be made a part of His Body.”

             Consider all those ways in which baptism brings a person “under the influence”: the influence of - the covenant community; the Holy Spirit; suffering; refining; and, Jesus Himself. Perhaps instead of “driving under the influence” we should reclaim the initials DUI to mean “Disciples Under the Influence”!

             Today as we examine Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan, we find that baptism as a symbolic ritual, when viewed rightly, has profound implications for not only what’s INFLUENCING us, but also our IDENTITY – who we are as a person. How you perceive who you are affects how you conduct yourself.


John the Baptist, in preparing the way for the Messiah, building up the road and cutting through mountains metaphorically, was a great LEVELLER. Baptism had long been used as a ritual by which non-Jewish proselytes were formally welcomed into the Jewish religion. Jews in general usually would have thought they didn’t NEED to be baptized in order to be acceptable to God: that came with their heritage, they were ‘born into’ the Old Testament covenant community by virtue of their ancestral lineage. John must have opened quite a few eyes when he co-opted this ritual originally meant for proselytes, and called even Jews as well to be baptized for repentance. We can see this especially in Mt 3:9, “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” John was insisting that ethnic origin alone was not enough to get people into God’s Kingdom. It was more than a matter of just having the right parents, or the right tribe, or the right nation. Each person needed to repent and confess their sins, before they could be washed clean and accepted by a Holy God.

             Did you have godly parents? Do you feel you were raised on “the right side of the tracks”? Praise God for that background – but don’t feel it exempts you from the need to repent for the sins you have nonetheless undoubtedly committed. God has no grandchildren! Faith and trust are necessary from each person, without regard to ancestry. So even those with backgrounds of which they might be ashamed are on an equal footing at the base of the cross. Fess up! Those who are landed gentry need the fresh start God offers every bit as much as those who don’t have a penny to their name.

             Pointing to the rocks along the shore of the river, John’s point was that physically-speaking, those rocks had just as much chance of becoming acceptable to God as those people who had ‘good breeding’ and took pride in their physical background. It wasn’t about flesh and blood or anything material, but about faith: if even a rock could have faith, it would qualify in God’s eyes to be considered a son or daughter of Abraham.

             Besides the general population, John noticed two classes of higher-ups coming to check him out. V7 “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” The phrase ‘brood of vipers’ is now so classic it has lost some of its impact. John’s calling these folks literally ‘offspring of snakes’! They were deceived, and as leaders, deceiving others.

             The name Pharisees means “separated ones”, not mixing with the half-breed population that was in Israel after the Babylonian exile. They were nationalists, wanting to keep Israel pure; legalists, hypocrites, sticklers adhering to the letter of the religious law while ignoring some of its main emphasis. Jesus criticized them harshly for allowing human tradition to trump what should have been plain Scriptural teaching. And they loved money.

             Are you a Pharisee, priding yourself on how well you keep all kinds of religious “dos and don’ts?” Churches are well stocked with Pharisees, especially more conservative, evangelical churches. And it does damage. This past week I began attending the Conquer Series put on by Huron Chapel at Auburn; a 5-week series designed to help men conquer pornography and other sexual sins. In the first chapter, it noted 60-70% of men, 50-58% of pastors, and 20-30% of women in evangelical churches are sexually addicted. But what’s even more surprising is this statement: “The majority of sex addicts in church come from rigid, disengaged religious homes dominated by rules and lacking in relationship.” Rigid - religious - an emphasis on rules: that sounds like the Pharisees to me!

             The other group of onlookers was the Sadducees. This smaller group came from the priestly tribe and controlled the Sanhedrin. They viewed only the first 5 books of the Bible as authoritative, and denied doctrines such as angels and an afterlife. If the Pharisees were the purists, Sadducees were the pragmatists; they compromised with the Romans in order to control the temple and have political influence. John MacArthur writes: “Pharisees were ritualists; Sadducees were rationalists. Pharisees were legalists; Sadducees were liberals. Pharisees were ritualists; Sadducees were compromisers and political opportunists.” Yet neither group welcomed John or his message.

             Which category do you tend to identify with? Do you tend toward legalism, or more liberal views? More conservative/fundamentalist, or mainline?

             John insisted both groups needed to do a radical re-think. Religion in itself was not enough; one needed to repent in order to become rightly related to God. Where’s the FRUIT? Vv8,10 “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance...The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” V12 the ‘coming One’ John says will be “burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

             Fire – wrath – v7, “the coming WRATH” – John was issuing a wake-up call announcing God’s extreme displeasure with sin and self-reliance. No righteousness without repentance. The attribute of God’s HOLINESS prompted this emphasis in John’s preaching. Unfortunately much preaching today, wanting to be popular and to produce an attractive message, focuses on God’s grace and love at the cost of overlooking His divine immutable holiness. Ps 96:9 “Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.” Ezekiel 36:23 “I will show the holiness of my great name...Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.” Heb 12:14 “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

             The Pharisees and Sadducees prided themselves on their piety or their pedigree. One of the IF videos in the Freedom Challenge this week was talking about the idols we allow into our lives; before long the idols start to demand sacrifices, perhaps the idol of workaholism demands the sacrifice of family time. We can’t rely on our own ability, our own performance or breeding or productivity. Those are false hopes. To be free from idols, we need to repent.


What is the fundamental Christian profession of faith, the “gospel in 3 words” as Bruxy Cavey of The Meeting House likes to put it? “Jesus is Lord.” Rom 10:9 “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” And 1Cor 12:3 “Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”

             To acknowledge that Jesus is Lord involves submitting ourselves to Him, giving over to Him control of our lives, allowing Him to ‘call the shots’ from now on. So it’s appropriate that baptism, the initiating rite of Christianity, involves humbling, submitting, being swept off our feet, falling back into the water, relinquishing our own control. If repentance is a response to God’s HOLINESS, submission is the appropriate response to the POWER of the Almighty.

             We see submission in Matthew’s account in a couple of ways. 3:13-14 “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"” John has just finished highlighting how Christ’s baptism with the Holy Spirit would be superior to his own method of baptism using water for symbolic washing; and now here’s Jesus, asking John to baptize HIM?! John knows he’s a sinner and Jesus is sinless, so of course objects – this is the wrong way around, so it seems. John demurs to Jesus, he makes it clear he is at Christ’s service and does not deserve the privilege of performing the baptism.

             Yet Jesus also exhibits submission for a higher purpose. V15 “Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.” BBE renders Jesus’ words, “because so it is right for us to make righteousness complete.” One might paraphrase, “Don’t worry, John, it’s all right – this is the right way ‘round.” John had maintained earlier he wasn’t worthy of even carrying Messiah’s sandal, but Jesus reassures him it’s fitting for John to do the baptism. Not because Jesus had sinned, but because Jesus had come to identify with a sinful humanity. He in solidarity with the masses of transgressors is being sunk into death on their behalf to make payment for their sins.

             John MacArthur comments, “Through His baptism, Christ identifies with sinners. He will ultimately bear their sins; His perfect righteousness will be imputed to them (2Cor 5:21). This act of baptism is a necessary part of the righteousness He secured for sinners...(1) it pictures His death and resurrection (Luke 12:50); (2) it, therefore, prefigures the significance of Christian baptism; (3) it marks His first public identification with those whose sins He would bear (Is 53:11; 1Pet 3:18); and (4) it affirms His messiahship publicly by testimony directly from heaven.”

             Lordship implies submission, a new identification with Someone who is greater. When I become a Christian, I need to yield or suspend my own assumptions about how the universe should operate (in short, everything orbiting to serve ME). I acknowledge Jesus is King, and from now on my purpose is to live for Him, in Him, unto Him.


Soon this month, the President-elect south of the border will receive his official inauguration and be sworn-in as President. That’s a momentous occasion! In the popular Netflix series The Crown, a big deal is made of Queen Elizabeth’s enthronement ceremony. It’s the official ritual marking the kick-off of her reign. In Jesus’ case, there’s no big fanfare of trumpets or procession with gilded carriage: instead His baptism serves as the official event commemorating the inauguration of His ministry, His reign.

             Matthew records three main happenings that set apart this occasion as special: the heavens opening, the Spirit descending, God’s voice affirming. 3:16-17 “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."”

             The heaven was opened: we don’t know exactly what this looked like, but perhaps glory was streaming down sort of like when you see the sun piercing through in the distance on a cloudy day. But much much brighter! Sort of like a divine spotlight focusing attention on His dear Son.

             The Spirit descended like a dove and alighted on Jesus. I’m so glad our Heavenly Father included this visual! Jesus’ identity is unquestionably wrapped up in God’s identity; we see all three members of the Trinity interacting in these verses. John had said the Coming One would baptize with the Holy Spirit instead of water, meaning He would actually confer Holy Spirit on the recipient, plunge or sink us into God’s very nature. 2Peter 1:4 “...he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” 1John 3:2 “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him...” Isn’t that mind-blowing? We get to share God’s actual being? Be growing in His likeness because we here and now share in His divine nature?

             Jesus is so much more than just a great moral example for us. He chooses to actually GIVE US HIMSELF through the agency of the Holy Spirit.

             And at Jesus’ baptism, the Father’s voice affirms Him. This is the official announcement of the Kingship begun, the royal proclamation. “This is My Son, whom I love” – this reverberates the enthronement of God’s Anointed One prophesied in Psalm 2:6-7 - “‘I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.’ I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’” It’s followed closely by a declaration of the Father’s pleasure in His offspring: “With Him I am well pleased.”

             So for the believer, in baptism we are assured of God’s acceptance of us through washing with the water according to His word, on the basis of His Son’s atonement for our sins. The effective ingredient is not our own personal righteousness or deserving, but Jesus’ self-giving for us: 1Pe 3:21 “and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also— not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ...


Jesus identifies with us in baptism, so we through trust in Him may receive a new identity in Him, pictured graphically by the drowning or death of the old self. Ours too become the words, “This is my son (or daughter), whom I love; with him/her I am well pleased.” Paul puts it this way in Colossians 2:10-12 “...you have been given fullness in Christ...In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature...having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”

             Baptism does involve repentance, saying sorry for the bad things we’ve done, acknowledging the sinner we are inherently in our fallen nature. We admit we need God’s help. But Christian baptism also pictures God’s wonderful gift of a completely new, forgiven, blessed identity in union with Jesus; we are a person upon whom God’s favour rests, He’s PLEASED with us as His precious son or daughter!

             This has major implications for being able to overcome temptation and sin. We are no longer trapped in a cycle of shame and failure. The Conquer Series material identifies the role past wounds and shame play in an addiction cycle...

             “The majority of men trapped in sexual bondage have wounds from their past.” “It is important to discover the root – the wounds in our lives – in order to find true healing and freedom.The place where you were wounded is where the enemy has inserted a lie about yourself.” “Many men cannot understand why they cannot beat sexual bondage, despite trying harder, but the problem is not in will power – they’re dealing with a wounded heart.They’re carrying shame within their soul.Shame is different than guilt.To use a football analogy: Guilt – you stepped out of bounds. Shame – you can’t get the ball in the end zone no matter what you do; you’re convinced there’s something wrong with you.”

             Praise God that through repentance and trusting Jesus, symbolized in baptism, He gives us a brand new nature, forgiven and clean, pleasing and precious to Him, no longer shrouded in shame! It’s a fresh start. Let’s give His Spirit freedom to go on and transform us and produce the “good fruit” that’s proof of real regeneration. Let’s pray.