January 2, 2002

John’s Baptism

Category: Bible - NT - John :: Permalink

I’ve been working on John 1:29-34 and thinking about John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism by John and Jesus’ baptism of others with the Holy Spirit.

In Ezekiel 36, God makes this promise:

I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities…. I will put my Spirit in you, and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God (Ezek. 36:24-28 NIV).

This promise combines several elements: new exodus and restoration from exile, baptism and cleansing from uncleanness, and the Spirit’s presence and new obedience. And those elements also show up in connection with John’s baptism.

When John the Baptizer calls the Israelites away from their homes to the wilderness, he’s calling for a new exodus, only this time the people are being taken out of Israel itself, with its corrupt leadership. The people are being washed: baptism is a form of ceremonial washing from uncleanness, like the washings for those who were leprous or who touched dead people, allowing the people to return to life in the covenant community. And John baptizes specifically in the Jordan, the river Israel crossed when entering the land in the first place, and is therefore a symbolic re-entrance into the land, a restoration from exile.

But what about the LORD’s promise to put His Spirit in His people? That happens, too, in connection with John’s baptism. But it happens to only one person: Jesus.

When Jesus is baptized, the Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove, which ought to remind us, I submit, of what happens after the flood. Noah sends out a dove and the dove flies back and forth over the water, landing only when there is sufficient dry land to allow Noah to leave the ark. The dove’s presence — and the dove’s landing — speak of new creation. (Think, too, of the Spirit hovering like a bird over the waters in Genesis 1.)

The Spirit descends on Jesus and remains on Him. In Him, P. H. R. van Houwelingen says, the dove of peace finds fixed ground. But that’s what Israel expected for herself. Add to that the fact that God’s voice identifies Jesus as God’s beloved Son. “Son of God” was a title that applied to Israel. God told Pharaoh to let Israel go because Israel was His firstborn son. (Adam, too, is God’s Son.)

By the Voice from heaven, Jesus is identified as God’s Son, which means in part that He is taking on Himself Israel’s role. By the Spirit’s presence, Jesus is identified as the Israel who experiences the fulfilment of the LORD’s promise in Ezekiel 36. By the Spirit’s power, then, Jesus goes to do what Israel could not do for herself (and what Adam, God’s son, couldn’t do.) He lives obediently and dies obediently, as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the final sacrifice whose death brings about divine forgiveness for those who belong to Him.

But then He also bestows the Spirit. The bearer of the Spirit, van Houwelingen says, is the giver of the Spirit. John the Baptizer pointed people to Jesus as the one who would baptize with the Spirit. He’s the one who would complete and fulfil John’s own baptism, who would bring about the reality of Ezekiel 36, the reality of restoration from exile, forgiveness of sins, renewal by the Spirit and the power to obey.

But who experienced those things? Not all the people who had been baptized by John, but those who also went on from John’s baptism to put their trust in Christ. (Is this what being “born of water and the Spirit” in John 3 means?) Jesus gathered disciples around Himself and when He ascended He poured out His Spirit upon them, baptizing the whole church with the Holy Spirit.

So now who shares in that baptism and in the fulfilment of all that God promised His people? Who has the power to walk in God’s ways and to keep His commandments because they have the Spirit? Those who are members of Christ’s church, who’ve been baptized into Christ.

Or to put it another way: If you’ve been baptized, you’re a member of the church Christ baptized with His Spirit. God has promised His Holy Spirit to you in Christ. And you can grab hold of that promise and start to live according to His commandments, trusting that you have the Spirit’s power at work in you, just as God said.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:17 pm | Discuss (0)

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