Saturday 12 January 2019

The gospel passage for this Sunday is from Luke Chapter 3 v 15/17 and 21/22, which tells of the baptism of Jesus.

In the first verses John is ministering to the crowds who are waiting for the promised coming of the Messiah, and John points out he can only baptize them with water, but when Jesus comes, he will baptize with the Holy Spirit.

Likewise, a Minister of the Church can perform the Office of baptism without ever knowing if the recipient is truly worthy of undergoing the baptism. Has he/she really repented of sin and ready to commit to believing Jesus died as their Saviour? Only Jesus can know the true feelings and beliefs of the heart.

John also tells that when Jesus returns a second time he will come as judge and like a farmer uses a pitch fork to separate the wheat from the chaff, so will Jesus separate the true believers from the pretend ones. This is a form of warning of what is required from his followers.

In the second passage we come to the main message which is when Jesus gets baptized by John, marking his first step into ministry. For thirty years Jesus had lived in Nazareth preparing himself, knowing that at some time God would call upon him; now that time had come and it was time to leave the carpenter’s shop.

When royalty visit a place there are massive preparations. Roads previously left are quickly wept, red carpets rolled out, and people are organized to make sure there are welcoming crowds however insignificant the person is, nothing is spared to create the expected recognition. Civil officials in all their pomp rush to be photographed.

When you read this passage, you find none of the fanfare, all you find is the King above all kings coming from an obscure Israeli town to submit himself to a ritual which was humiliating to a Jew. The crowds were made up of common people and common sinners.

No Jew would submit himself for baptism, that was seen for sinners and Gentiles, and they being God’s chosen race and descendants of Abraham did not need baptism.

This little story of Jesus coming into human history teaches us vital points that we must grasp if we are to understand his ministry properly.

Jesus came from Galilee to be baptized by John, a ritual in which people were washed with water and publicly confessed their sins. The outward washing was symbolical of an inward change of heart as people repented, were assured of forgiveness, and the ceremony was meant to be a sacred and humbling experience; it was a public confession of receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

Baptism was to equate with Jesus death, and emerging from water to begin a new way of life, likening to Christ’s resurrection. It was never meant to be a naming ceremony, which most people see it as today; you go to a registry office to do that.

John was surprised to find Jesus asking to be baptized, they were cousins and John wanted to know why it was necessary for him to baptize Jesus. Why should Jesus who knew no sin need to do so, there was nothing to forgive; but Jesus was giving us an example to follow and revealing the human part of his nature as well as divine and showing he identifies himself with us in the clearest way.

In Jesus we see God living with us, sharing our problems and hurt, who knows how we feel, and knows our suffering for he suffered more than we could ever imagine. He was fulfilling the Old Testament’s prophecies. In the Old Testament God speaks of the coming of a king as his Son, and looked to the coming of the Messiah. Now in Matthew’s gospel God speaks directly of Jesus as that Son and long promised King

As soon as he was baptized, heaven was opened and the Spirit of God descended like a dove from heaven saying, this is my son who I love, with him I am well pleased.

When you study the Bible’s description of baptism, as we have just seen by the example of Jesus, it is blatantly clear how the Church has manipulated the Bible to accommodate society.

We seek people to bring their children for baptism and in most places without any preparation, just be there at the stated time and place. Hence another statistic for the Church.

The Introduction to Baptism in the Church speaks of ‘making serious promises on behalf of the candidates’. Anyone who has been a parent knows it is a fragile promise for a mother or father to make on behalf of their child. To speak of a child as being ‘born again’, one of the most treasured words of evangelical Christians, is ridiculous. To then ask the parents to promise to help them to take their place within the life and worship of the Church, is a monstrous betrayal of trust by a Minister of the Church when it is known neither the parents nor the child will be seen in a church in most cases until some further service of baptism, wedding or funeral is required.

We ask the parents if they repent of sins and tell them to say ‘I repent of them’, when so many are not even married. Whilst having children outside marriage is a common and accepted practice in society, it is not an accepted practice to God.

The Church at one point even suggested people getting married should bring any children to be baptized at the same time. There are other contradictions, but I leave it there.

People generally are on a collision course with God, they ignore him unless they feel he can be useful to them, but in the normal course of life can get along fine without any restrictions of religion in their lives. So why do we let God be abused in our churches.

The Bible is very clear that defiance of God will not be tolerated for ever. Jesus opened the way for us to God and made it clear he was the only to God, even if his church is reluctant to still say that. People think they can find their own way to God and will one day find out how disillusioned they were.

Imagine two cars being driven down a single-track road with neither driver willing to stop or give way; an inevitable collision will occur due to stubborn resistance. Such is the situation now, and whilst people will not give way to God, he will on the last day not give way to them.

The Bible makes it plan that the gospel is about the coming of Jesus in meekness with the spirit given to a King. Jesus has come to bring about Gods plan for the world. He will deal gently with people and the climax of his ministry will be to die for them. He is the king before whom the proud will be broken and the broken hearted will be healed. All our debts will be paid for by him.

This passage gives us a solemn understanding of just how sacred baptism should be; it should never be treated casually as it is now. Jesus saw it as a most sacred and important act and should not be treated with irreverence. Some people see it as a prelude to socializing and merriment of a most irreligious kind. This may seem churlish to say, but I can assure you it is not. I was often asked how long the service would take so the people would know what time to book the pub for, or in more exclusive circles the restaurant.

It can also be taken in a superstitious way. A woman once told me she was having the child baptized but didn’t believe in God, and was only doing it because her mother in law told her the child would die and go to hell if she didn’t.

People should approach this sacrament in faith with good intention to keep the vows they are called upon to make. The vast majority have no intention of doing so,

The baptism of Jesus is an example of preparation, obedience to God’s plan, and total commitment to Christian worship, which all who submit themselves should follow.

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