I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
(Matthew 3:11 ESV)
Over the past few days we’ve been studying the words of rebuke spoken by John the Baptist towards the religious leaders of Israel. John called them out for being filled with pride and self-assurance of their own salvation simply because they were descendants of Abraham. In today and tomorrow’s verses John turns from rebuke to hope.
John tells them that someone is coming whose baptism is more powerful than the one he was performing. John was baptising truly repentant people in water – a symbolic gesture. Jesus, though, would baptize [people] in one of two different ways: either with the Holy Spirit or with fire.
God had promised back under the Old Testament to send His spirit to His people [Joel 2:28; Ezekiel 36:25-26]. After Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after rising from the dead, proving He had paid the penalty for sin, God did fulfill that promise by baptizing the initial believers with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4].
Since that day every person who truly repents of their sin and accepts Jesus’ death as 100% necessary and complete for the forgiveness of their sins likewise receives (i.e. is baptized with) the Holy Spirit.
The presence of the Holy Spirit in the earthly body of a believer is proof that a person has been freed from the penalty of their sin and is the guarantee that that person will go to heaven [2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5]. Such a person will not have to face judgement for their sins because the penalty for those sins has already been paid-in-full by Jesus.
On the other hand, anyone who sins have not been paid by Jesus – because they refused to repent and accept the forgiveness God offers – will not be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Instead that person will face baptism of fire. That is, they will face God’s judgement.
John the Baptist’s message of truth towards the Pharisees and Sadducees is applicable to everyone living today. We are sinners. We cannot save ourselves through our own so-called good deeds, heredity, or rituals.
Likewise, the choice John the Baptist presented to the Pharisees and Sadducees is also applicable. It is the very same choice every man and woman faces with our own lives.
We can either repent (i.e. agree with God that we are sinners who don’t deserve to be in God’s presence) and escape God’s judgement. Or we can hold onto our pride and our sin and face that judgement.
This would not be a wise decision, however. Anyone whose sins have not been paid for by Jesus will have to face the consequences of their sin which is separation from God for all eternity with no hope of reconciliation. We call that hell.
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