Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
(Matthew 3:5-6 ESV)
Today we read about John the Baptist’s ministry. His ministry had a wide reach. People from Jerusalem, Judea and all around the Jordan went to him. As we learned a few days ago, this was a considerable inconvenience. Therefore we know that John’s message was powerful.
The result was that people were baptized by him which is why he is called John the Baptist. This is interesting because baptism was not unknown by the Jews. But it was never practiced by the Jews themselves. Instead, it was a ceremony in which a Gentile baptised himself in order to become Jewish (a male would also be circumcised). Baptism represented an outsider coming into God’s family.
But Jews believed that they were already a part of God’s family. So for a Jew to be baptized was an amazing admission that their heritage and place as God’s chosen people was not enough to save them from the penalty of their sins.
It would have taken a lot of humility for a Jew to be baptised because baptism was a public declaration that a person repented, confessed they were a sinner incapable of earning their way to heaven, and instead trusted in God to save them. Baptism has the same purpose today.
The actual act of baptism – being submerged into water and then brought out again – symbolizes the death and burial of the old self, and the rising up to walk in newness of life [Romans 6:4-6; 2 Corinthians 5:17]. During baptism a person is symbolically cleansed of sin. Notice that unlike Gentile baptism which is self-enacted, biblical baptism is performed by another person. Just like we need someone to baptise us, we need Jesus to remove our sins; we cannot save ourselves.
If anyone is a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ [John 1:12-13] then God wants you to be baptised. He wants you to be willing to proclaim publicly that you are a sinner in need of His grace and mercy [Romans 1:16]. This is a great testimony to others. Baptism like this often takes place in a church but can also take place in a pool, a lake, or the beach.
Note that we can do nothing to earn salvation [Ephesians 2:8-9] and, hence, baptism does not save anyone or guarantee anyone admission into heaven. This is in direct contrast to the false-teachings of some churches including the Catholic Church. A person is saved from their sins first by repenting and accepting God’s only path to forgiveness – the death of His Son [John 14:6]. Baptism is a subsequent, voluntary (although highly encouraged by God), public declaration that such repentance and forgiveness has already taken place.
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