Christ Covenant Church
Rev. Marq Toombs
17 June 2018
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost / Ordinary Time
Photo by Oliver Sjöström via Pexel / WordPress Free Photo Library
Sermon: Luke 3
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee…the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.”Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ,John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people…Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened,and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
The word of the Lord.
[ Sketch Notes ]
Reason for writing = that you may know the certainty of the things you have learned, the true truth of your catechesis.
Theophilus = lover of God
Two weeks ago we learned about the birth of John. Today we get to see what John became when he grew up.
We all know that John was known as the Baptizer. We’re going to talk about why in just a moment, but first, I want to point of some lesser known facts about him.
John was also a Nazirite. This means he was set apart for God’s purposes all the days of his life. He was not allowed to drink wine or beer or even grape juice. He was not allowed to eat grapes or raisins. He was not allowed to ever get a hair cut, so the locks of hair of his head grew long. Can you imagine? By the time he was full grown man he was probably really hairy! He was not allowed to go to funerals — not even for his mommy and daddy. All the days of his life he was set apart as holy to the Lord.
John was a priest. His daddy was a priest, and he was born into a family of priests. A priest was a kind of minister. He spent his life serving God and God’s people. He made sacrifices, prayed, and taught God’s word for God’s people. From the mouth of a priest people were supposed to seek knowledge — and that is exactly what people are doing in the story we just read. “Teacher, what shall we do?”
John was also a prophet. A prophet was a preacher with a special message and mission from God. John called people to repent — to change their way of life, to turn back to God, and to do the right things. As you know, prophets used graphic word pictures to make the message stick. That’s why he called people snakes and stones and spoke about God’s wrath and judgment.
[Side-note: John echoes the imagery of Genesis 3 — brood of vipers refers to the seed of the serpent; like their father, these vipers are linked to a tree — a dead and fruitless tree; as with their father, the enmity between them and the seed of the woman will culminate and climax at a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. that shall be cut down and burned in the fire.]
Even though John was a priest, he did not dress like others priests. Why? He was the prophet who came in the spirit and power of Elijah. As it is written in Malachi:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4)
In that same spirit, we have spent the past fews years — and the past couple weeks — turning our hearts to our children and turning their hearts to us.
So, John grew up and became strong in spirit, and (like his forefathers) he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
That when he started preaching and stirring the waters.
Everyone was trying to figure out exactly who or what he was. The religious leaders were concerned about John because of his ministry.
So they sent some priests and Levites (who might have even known his father) to ask him some questions.
They wanted to know, given John’s family history, just who in the world he thought he was and what he was doing.
“Are you the Christ?”
What a question to ask someone!
Are you the Christ?
Christ means Anointed One. It’s a simple way of saying Are you the Prophet-King-Priest that God promised to send us?
The priests and Levites who questioned John knew the scriptures. And the scriptures said that the Christ would come from the tribe of Judah. Since John came from the tribe of Levi there was no way he could be the Christ. So John confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
Now, why would they ask John if was the Christ? Was there something about him that made them think he might be the Christ?
Was it his clothes? No! His long beard? No. His family tree? No.
Was it his preaching and his ministry? Yes!
That fact that John came out of the desert preaching and baptizing with water made lots of people think he was the long-expected Christ.
Two things to note: The place where John was baptizing and the priestly way he performed baptism made everyone wonder if he might be the Christ!
Place: The Jordan River
As for the place, John was baptizing people at the Jordan River — the same place where Joshua and the priests led Israel to cross over from the desert into the promise land. (Joshua 3)
It was the same place where Elijah the prophet had crossed the river before he was taken away into heaven by a whirlwind in chariots of fire (2 Kings 2:6-12).
That was also the place where Elijah passed the mantle to Elisha. Once again, “Elijah” is here and change is going come. John will pass the mantle to Jesus at Jordan river; for Jesus must increase, but John must decrease.
The Jordan was also the same river where Naaman the leper was sent to dip himself seven times. He was washed clean and his skin became like a newborn baby. (2 Kings 5:14 LXX = καὶ κατέβη Ναιμαν καὶ ἐβαπτίσατο ἐν τῷ Ιορδάνῃ) Now, all Israel are like the unclean lepers who must be washed and cleansed to prepare themselves for the way of the Lord.
Mode: Sprinkling and Pouring
As for the way John performed baptism, John baptized the same way the priests before him did it — and he baptized in the same way the Christ was going to do it.
Now, all of have seen movies depicting John as dipping people in water. Many of us were baptized by total immersion ourselves. Some of us even more than once.
But there are some biblical and historical reasons which indicate that John the baptizer (likely) administered baptism in a different way — by sprinkling or pouring water on those who came to be baptized.
Historically, this is how Christian artists often portrayed baptism in their paintings on the walls of the catacombs — a minister standing in knee-deep water pouring water from a shell onto the head of the one receiving baptism or waving a wet hyssop branch over people.
Biblically, the Scriptures portray priestly baptisms — also known as ceremonial washings and ritual cleansing — by sprinkling or pouring.
In Numbers 8:7 Moses — who was a shadow-type of Jesus Christ — was called to cleanse the priests by sprinkling the water of purification upon them.
Numbers 19:18 a ceremonially clean priest cleansed unclean people by taking a hyssop stalk and dipping it in the water and sprinkling it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there and on whoever touched a dead body.
In Hebrews 9:10, these washings by sprinkling are called baptisms.
What does all that have to do with the Christ?
God spoke about the coming of the Christ throughout the OT. According to the prophets, the Christ was going to save his people from their sins and set them apart for God’s own possession.
God spoke through the OT prophets and said in Isaiah 52:12 —
As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
so shall he sprinkle many nations.
And God said in Ezekiel 36:24-26 —
I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
Finally, when Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, he fulfilled all these prophetic words. You can hear echoes of the prophets in the words of the Great Commission. Jesus echoes the words of the prophets when he says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name.” The Christ, the servant of the Lord, shall sprinkle many nations (with water and blood — 1 Pet. 1:2) according to the Scriptures.
But that’s not all.
God also said in Isaiah 44:3 –
I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.
God’s people are the dry and thirsty land; God’s Spirit is the water and blessing poured out on them.
God said in Joel 2:28–29
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters…your old…and your young…Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. (ESV)
The apostles picked up where the prophets left off.
In Titus 3:4–6, God said through Paul,
When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. (ESV)
In Acts 2, Peter said,
This Jesus God raised up…Being exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing…therefore know for certain that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ…the promise [of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit] is for you and for your children.
So, you see that God spoke through the apostles and prophets and said that the Christ would sprinkle and pour water and Spirit on the people of God. (Not dip or plunge necessarily.)
Okay, so what does all that have to do with John the Baptizer — and Jesus Christ?
When the religious leaders — scholars and lawyers, theologians and priests — saw that John was preaching repentance at the Jordan River and baptizing with water as a priest would do and the same way the prophets said the Christ was going to do it (sprinkling and pouring) they thought, “As crazy as it might sound, John just might be the Christ!”
John denied it and confessed that he was not the Christ, but only preparing the way for Christ the Lord.
Your pastor and elders are striving to do the same thing for you — prepare you for the Lord.
Now, I can only imagine that some of you might be feeling a little anxious or even agitated or even attacked at this point. That was not the intent or goal. In case you feel any of those things, let me put your mind at ease.
Our tradition (PCA) accepts all modes of baptism as valid, so long as it is administered by an ordained Christian minister, with water, in the triune name of God.
We believe baptism is rightly administered baptism by sprinkling or pouring, but we do not require — nor do we allow — those who were immersed to get rebaptized. There is one baptism.
Some Christian brothers and sisters express concern that we do not use enough water in baptism.
Our reply: When it comes to the sacraments it’s not the amount / quantity of the element that makes a sacrament a sacrament. What makes a sacrament a sacrament, what makes it legitimate and valid, is the gracious work of God in Christ by the Spirit.
Let me illustrate what I mean by talking about the other sacrament — the Lord’s supper.
No one thinks of a piece of bread and a sip of wine as a supper. Yet that is what Christ and the apostles called the covenant meal we know as communion.
If a little bread and wine is a supper, why can’t a little water be a bath or washing?
In the supper a bigger piece of bread does not give you more Jesus; a smaller piece of bread does not give you less Jesus. Whether the piece of bread is big or small, you get all of Jesus.
Again, it’s not the amount / quantity of the element — water, bread, wine — that makes a sacrament a sacrament — but the quality of the Lord and Savior who is at work through these elements (and mystically present in the sacraments).
Now whether baptism should be administered by dipping, pouring, or sprinkling is a matter of debate and discussion among Christians. Let each one be convinced in his own mind.
I believe John baptized by sprinkling with a hyssop branch or by pouring water from his hand, a shell, or a vessel. Perhaps you believe he baptized people — hundreds if not thousands — by dipping them under water. (That seems an unlikely feat to me.)
We might have to agree to disagree on the mode. After all, the mode of baptism is not the most important aspect of baptism.*
The most important aspect of baptism is God’s gracious work to us, for us, in us and our children.
We believe a little water sprinkled or poured on the head is as much a washing as a little piece of bread and a little sip of wine in the mouth is a supper. How?
“The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments, rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither does the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him (the minister / pastor) that does administer it, but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution.” (WCF)
Note: Arguably, if John had baptized by any mode other than sprinkling or pouring, few if any would have made the connection between his preparatory baptism and the advent of the Christ. Plunging people in water just does not reflect the continuity of the scriptures from the OT to NT, nor does it capture and convey the Christological grace of cleansing from above the same way sprinkling and pouring water on people does.
For more on this topic see Jay Adams’ book https://www.amazon.com/Meaning-Mode-Baptism-Jay-Adams/dp/087552043X
Photo by Oliver Sjöströmvia Pexel/Wordpress