And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. Mark 1:4-5 NIV
What’s the most inspirational baptism that you have ever experienced? For many, it will be your own baptism when someone put you underneath the water and then you came up for air. Some have had the opportunity to be baptized in the Jordan river while on tour in Israel. If you were a child, you may not remember the experience too well. Others have knowledge of routine baptisms on Sunday nights.
Years ago our church made a conscious decision to engage in ministry to international students attending the University of Alabama. My dear friend, Dr. Shelby, participated in leading the baptizing of the first convert of this endeavor. She was a student from Japan and we held the baptism in early May. It is very hard to explain the joy and glory that swept over our congregation as she came up out of the water. Her newness of life was like the first fruits of many changed lives to come. A holy awe fell over us. Even now I feel a sense of amazement that was ushered in through that baptismal service.
Reflections points about today’s verses.
- Baptism is a response to preaching. John preached and people were baptized. Jesus preached and his disciples baptized those who wanted to follow. Peter preached at Pentecost and the people were baptized. Phillip preached to the Ethiopian and he was baptized. Preaching is not limited to the pulpit, but it is a declaration of the need that everyone has for the good news of salvation through Jesus.
- Repentance is intrinsically tied to baptism. Paul illustrates this concept by the concept of burying the old life and rising out of the water into a new life. John did not just preach how bad people were, he gave them a way to change. He recognized the limitation of his method for lasting change. So he also, declared about the coming Messiah who would inaugurate the eternal change that was needed.
- Preach Repentance. John called for the people to repent. He did not sidestep the issues. He spoke candidly to the most respected Jewish religious leaders about their hypocrisy. John was even known to call out King Herod’s sexual misconduct.
- The preaching of repentance has gotten a bad rap in this cultural climate. They say it makes Christians sound mean and hateful. Pointing out sin is only half of the message, but it is part of the message. It takes a strong humility to call others to repentance, for all have sinned including the one giving the message. This was the strength of John the Baptist. He was living what he was preaching.
- If you want to have a spiritual authority to call others to repentance, you must live it yourself. A truly repentant proclaimer is much more compassionate than angry or stern, for he knows full well of his own failures. Still, he declares that God expects us to turn from our wicked ways. Do you know some John the Baptist types? Could God be calling you to preach repentance?
- Confession of sin is still in vogue with God. One of the last sins to fall in our lives before salvation is pride. We don’t really want to be identified with the murderers, adulterers, thieves, liars or whatever sin you place on your “really, really bad list.” But our sins are just as filthy as the next sinner in need of repentance. Why don’t we confess our sins one to another as a regular basis? What would happen if confession of sin was incorporated into our baptismal services?
- Confession of sin brings the light of Christ into the dark areas that need freedom. We can not receive peace from God in any other way. We can’t earn peace, trade out good works for peace with God, or buy it with any other means.
- Confession flows forth from the gut and conscious. Jesus gave a good illustration about true repentance in his story about the tax collector, one of the most deplorable professions for a traitorist Jew. This mans said all that needs to be said that issues from the heart…But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Luke 18:13 NIV
Not everyone repented when John preached, but they came to hear his message. Just telling someone that they are sinners is not the whole message of preaching of repentance. Everyone knows that they are not perfect. They want to know where to turn for hope. That is the joy of the message of the good news of Jesus. We turn from our wicked and selfish actions and receive grace from Jesus who forgives our sins and grants us new life. Most get stuck, because they want to turn in some other direction other than Jesus to try to clean themselves up. Following Jesus model of repentance for our sins and living differently is just like the new life pictured in baptism.
Blessings Love y’all
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