1While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
4Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7There were about twelve men in all.
(Acts 19:1-7, NIV)
11“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
16As 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. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:11-17, NIV)
The Daily DAVEotional
Have you ever wondered about baptism? What exactly is the meaning of this ritual and why is it performed? Is there some sort of efficacious grace administered via baptism or is it merely a symbolic event?
This week, in my Grant Horner Bible reading, I encountered two different passages (Acts 19 and Matthew 3) on consecutive days, both dealing with the topic of baptism. As I’ve mentioned before here and here, one of the advantages of this system is you encounter these exact scenarios where you see scripture commenting on other parts of scripture, often allowing you to make theological connections that you hadn’t noticed before.
A few days ago, I came across the passage in Acts, where Paul encounters some disciples and asks them if they’ve received the Holy Spirit. They don’t know what Paul’s talking about because they’ve never heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul then asks them what baptism they received and they tell him that they received John’s baptism.
The very next day in my reading plan, I encountered Matthew 3 and Shazam…there’s John out in the desert baptizing people! And then something really interesting happens…Jesus comes along and asks John to baptize him.
What in the world is going on? What is baptism all about and why in the world would Jesus want or need to be baptized?
If you’re like me, you probably have been conditioned to think of baptism in a certain way based on the tradition in which you were raised.
If you were raised in the Catholic or Orthodox tradition, you likely view baptism as a sacrament that is given to infants that delivers grace to them and preserves them until they are old enough to be confirmed and partake regularly of the other sacraments such as confession and Holy communion.
If you were raised in a Protestant tradition, you probably view baptism as an event that occurs at some point after you’ve made a personal decision to follow Jesus – a sort of declaration of your intent to follow Jesus.
But what is the meaning of baptism and why are there different baptisms?
The confusion with baptism is likely because in our minds we can associate baptism with the salvation process. If this is true, it would seem unnecessary to have different baptisms.
The truth is that the main idea behind baptism is not cleansing or salvation but identification. In the New Testament, people were baptized as a way of identifying with a message or a person. A few days ago, I wrote a post entitled “Name Dropping in the Early Church” based on a passage in 1 Corinthians 1, in which Paul says that he is glad that he didn’t baptize anyone in that church.
Why would he say that? Because the people were all aligning themselves with different leaders and Paul did not want people identifying with him; he wanted them to identify with Jesus alone.
So if you look now at the passage in Acts 19, we can see that these “disciples” that Paul runs into were not disciples of Jesus, they were disciples of John. They had been baptized by John, meaning that they had identified themselves with John and his message of repentance. Paul uses this knowledge to explain that John’s message was for people to believe in the one who was coming after him, Jesus!
After hearing this message regarding Jesus, they were baptized into Jesus, which means they accepted the message Paul shared and they chose to identify now with this message of salvation regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection. Essentially, they became believers. It is at this point that they receive the Holy Spirit, which is an indication that they are now a part of the family of God.
So why was Jesus baptized? He didn’t need to repent, for he had never sinned. So then what is the purpose of him being baptized by John?
Jesus came to redeem mankind by bearing the sins of the world on the cross. When Jesus was baptized, he was publicly identifying with sinful mankind, whom he would ultimately die for. This act of identification administered by John the Baptist was the formal beginning of Jesus’ ministry and mission to seek and save the lost.
Since John’s message was for people to follow the one who would come after him, Jesus’ baptism by John served as the official transition, inviting people who had identified with John’s message to now identify with Jesus and his message. From that point forward, John would declare “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30, NASB)
Finally, Jesus’ baptism served as a means of receiving affirmation and authentication from the Father and the Holy Spirit.
What has been your understanding of the meaning and purpose of baptism?
In what ways has your views and understanding of baptism been affirmed or changed from this devotional?
How would you explain the concept of baptism to someone who has just come to faith in Jesus?