After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17 NASB)
The story of Jesus’ baptism marks the beginning of His ministry in all four of the gospels. Should it concern us that the common practice of the Christian Church today is to mark baptism as our crowing goal for an individual? Think about it; the common evangelical goal is to “lead people to Jesus”. We have taken everything that is found in the sixty-six books of the Bible and boiled it down to the task of leading people through a prayer for salvation and into the water for baptism. How often do we count our success, as a church, by how many people we have “led to Jesus”? I want to be careful, and very clear, that these are great things—they are vitally important However, our minimalization of the gospel has caused a great harm to the Church. It has left the Bride of Christ reduced to a recruiting office for the sake of keeping people out of hell and the survival of a religion. The Bride of Christ was not meant simply to survive; she is sanctified so that she would bear witness of the entire gospel to the world around her.
John the Baptist wasn’t practicing some new Christian ritual in his ministry. Baptism did not start with him, not by a long shot. He was a great Jew who practiced Jewish rituals and practiced them in accordance with Mosaic Law. John the Baptist had an understanding that the God, Yahweh, wanted more out of the people than religious motions. John, a priest by lineage, was simply being the best priest he could be. Baptism was a basic religious ritual found in the Levitical Laws. It was a ritual that signified being cleansed with a purpose—for the sake of properly worshipping God. What made John’s baptism different was simply that John demanded that the participants genuinely seek to be holier in their lives. John was focused on a washing of the heart before the washing of the flesh. All of this, not for salvation, but in order to properly worship God.
John, while imprisoned, later sent men to ask Jesus if He was the Messiah that God had promised.
“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. (Matthew 11:3-5 NIV).
How was John to know that Jesus was the Messiah, the King that God sent to establish His Kingdom? It was not by Jesus leading people through a prayer and baptism, but by tending to the actual needs of others in response to His love and faith in God. This was His perfect act of worship (James 1:27). This is the minimal requirement of the one who professes to follow Christ—that is, the Christian. But today, we have made baptism the minimal requirement for being a Christian, for being a member of the Church. How sad. From the time God gave us the practice in the Levitical Law, it was meant to prepare us to worship God, not to be saved from His wrath. We have focused so much on “salvation by faith alone” that, very often, we forget what salvation is for.
When we focus on salvation as our final goal as evangelists, we miss the fullness of the gospel. We become more concerned with keeping people out of hell than we are with simply being Jesus to them the way Jesus was to others. The Church, the Bride of Christ, should be the hands and feet of Jesus. We should realize that our task begins, not ends, at baptism.
When Jesus came out of the water, He represented the people that God wants us to be: obedient to God’s word for the sake of preparing us to share His love with the world. This is what pleases God, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, freeing the oppressed, and bringing hope to the hopeless. Jesus began changing this world after His baptism. We would do well to follow His example.
Please come join us as we fix our eyes on Jesus. We meet Sundays at 9 a.m. for Sunday school and 10 a.m. for worship. Everyone is welcome!