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"Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him. ’Why then do you baptise if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah nor the Prophet?' 'I baptise with water,' John replied, 'but among you stands one you do not know.
"'He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.' This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan where John was baptising." John 1:24-28 (NIV).
Did John, the apostle, ever have an opportunity to chat to John the Baptist? This conversation between John the Baptist and the Pharisees who were sent to interrogate him does not appear in the other gospels. so how did the writer know about it? It was not curiosity or interest that prompted their questions. They wanted to know because they had to report back to the powers-that-be.
Why did John baptise? First of all we need to dissociate baptism from Christianity as an exclusive rite. Baptism was a common practice in Judaism. They practised mikvah, ritual washing, for many different reasons. Before a groom-to-be formally proposed to his bride-to-be, he instructed her to wash (mikvah) which indicated his intention and ritually prepared her for his proposal.
A young priest was initiated into the priesthood in the footsteps of his father by being acknowledged by his father ("This is my son") and by being baptised into his office.
Why was John baptising? He was initiating people into the new era of Messiah, preparing the way by calling people to repentance and identity with Messiah and what He stood for through baptism. They were "washing away" the old life and taking on a new role, just as a bride-to-be was washing away her single life and taking on the role of the betrothed and soon-to-be wife. Through baptism she was separating herself from all other men to the one man who had chosen her.
Unfortunately, those who "baptise" infants have placed a different meaning on the ritual and have missed the real significance of both John's and Jesus' baptism. Baptism is not a new kind of circumcision. God has given us His Spirit as the sign of the New Covenant -- the counterpart of circumcision, if you like. "When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit." Ephesians 1:13b (NIV).
Just as circumcision was a sign of belonging to Israel and the guarantee of participation in God's covenant, so also the Holy Spirit is the sign and guarantee that we belong to God, that we are His children and have the right to share in the blessings of the New Covenant.
"For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him we cry, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." Romans 8:13-16 (NIV).
Baptism is also a sign of separation. A young woman separated herself from other men. A priest was separated to his priestly office. A believer is separated from his old life by a ritual dying, to his new life in Christ. Jesus was separated to His Messianic office and finally separated through His baptism of suffering and death to His eternal high priestly office for us.
Baptising babies to include them in the covenant people of God cannot do that because the Holy Spirit takes up residence in those who believe, not those who are sprinkled with water. Paul even made it clear that the children of Abraham are not those who are natural descendants of the patriarch but spiritual descendants who have become part of spiritual Israel because of the their faith.
"Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham, 'All nations will be blessed through you.' So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith." Galatians 3:7-9 (NIV).
Why was John baptising? There was one coming, right on his heels, to whom he was pointing. He was alerting the Pharisees and religious leaders as well as all who would heed his message, that He was here to usher in the new era of God's rule in the hearts of His people. If they responded by trusting Him, they would have the privilege of becoming a part of an entirely new way of doing life, God's way energised by God's Spirit.
Are you in or out?
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