Lay member’s lesson for Jan 15 reading. Marie Wise touched our minds and hearts.


Dear Lord, I pray that the words I am about to give are the words you want your people to hear. I believe that each time I got confused about the message, you brought me back to the path. Please bless all attended here and may the find the message useful to their own ministries.  Amen

When asked to speak today, I was given a couple of choices epiphany or baptism. I immediately was drawn to  baptism.

Matthew 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 

14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

I have been baptized twice in my lifetime, once as an infant in the Catholic church and later as an adult in a small Baptist church in Indiana. I have no recollection of the first baptism, but I do remember the second. As I came up out of the water there was a rush of lightness. Not a glowing light but weightlessness. It was like a burden had been lifted. I felt clean, exhilarated, energized. Like an adrenaline rush. Perhaps the Holy Spirit feels like adrenaline. 

Even though I have been baptized, I have always had questions about baptism, so this was the perfect opportunity to find some answers. I wanted to know how this ritual started. Why did John the Baptist choose this ritual? Why did Jesus need to be baptized? So, I dove into my Bible and though the event is recorded in all four of the gospels, the answers to my questions were not obvious. I had to find more resources. As I studied my notes became a jumble of puzzle pieces begging to be put into sensible order. All I can say is thank God for the internet, a couple of online rabbis, and one of my former pastors, Scott Distler, for direction and focus.

To answer the first question, how did it all start should perhaps be combined with the second question, why John chose this method of purification. John and Jesus were Jews. They would have been familiar with “tevilah, immersion of the entire body for the purpose of removing ritual impurity.” (Adler) This ritual has been practiced for over two millennia so, I think it makes sense that those gathered on the banks of the Jordan River were familiar with the ritual. They wanted their impurities or sins to be cleansed.  The only other way to atone for sin, at that time, was to make a living sacrifice of an animal; perhaps a lamb if you were fortunate or doves if you were poor. The Torah, our Old Testament, has quite specific instructions on cleansing with water in Leviticus 11. In Numbers 19 verse 9, specific water is to be used by the Israelite community for cleansing, for the purification from sin. It had to be living. In other words, it had to move or flow like a river.  Today, Jews still go to a place called the mikveh to ritually cleanse themselves.

Now, at that time, John was called out of the wilderness, the Desert of Judea, which surrounds an oasis along the Jordan River to a place called Bethabara (Bethany). He was busy preaching repentance to prepare people for the kingdom of heaven when he heard a voice telling him to “Prepare the way for the Lord.” (Matthew 3:1-3)

At the same time, Jesus made his way from Nazareth, which is in Galilee to Bethabara (Bethany), which is about 85 miles away. (Matthew 3:13) There the cousins greeted each other. I do not know how long it had been since they saw each other, but I can imagine hugs, slaps on the back, kisses on the cheeks and huge smiles until Jesus tells John that he has come to be baptized. 

John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” 

Then John consented. (Matthew 3:14-15)

What happened next was amazing! Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all saw it. They all heard it. They all recorded it.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was 

opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a 

voice from heaven said, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 

(Matthew 3: 16-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22)

God approved and he let everyone know it. It was like when your kid hits a home run and you excitedly tell the guy next to you, “Hey, that’s MY kid!” Jesus hit a homerun that day and his father was delighted. He let everyone know Jesus was his son and he was proud of him. This was even prophesized Isaiah 42:1. 

Behold, here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight. I will 

put my spirit upon him and he will bring justice to the nations.

This brings me to my last question. Why? Why did Jesus, the son of God have to be baptized? He did not have to. Baptism was for the repentance of sin. Jesus had no sin. But three reasons come to mind. 

First, Jesus needed to relate to and set an example for people. He needed to show that he was like any other man. He also needed to be identified. Jesus was not the only one baptized that day. Along with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, there were crowds of people coming to be baptized. (Luke 3:7) They all saw what happened, but it was John who understood. 

There is a quote I came across during my education studies, “I hear, and I forget. I see and I remember. I do, and I understand.” John heard God telling him to prepare the way for Jesus, and he heard God’s voice that day. He saw the dove, a symbol of sacrifice as he performed the ritual. He understood.  John later says,

I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have 

known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The man 

on whom you see the spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy 

Spirit.” I have seen and testify that this is the Son of God. (John 1:32-34) 

Next, Jesus’ baptism served as his inauguration ceremony. An inauguration is a beginning, and this marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It is immediately after this that Jesus enters the wilderness for forty days and nights where he is tempted in many ways. When he emerges, he heads straight back to Bethabara and begins to assemble his team, perform miracles, and tell people how to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Finally, Jesus’ baptism served as a representation of his birth, his death, and his resurrection. This was important because after Jesus’ resurrection he returned, for a short time, to his ministry.

When Jesus taught people about eternal life and salvation before His death, He included 

teachings found in the Law of Moses (Matt. 19:16-22). However, after His death, He 

included the teachings of the new covenant, which involves water baptism “for the 

forgiveness of sins” (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). Jesus could not  

have preached this baptism until after His death, since it corresponds with His death, 

burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-7). (Lance Mosher)

Think about it, on that day, the signs were all there, Jesus was proclaimed the son of God, the one who would sacrifice himself for all people. God said so in a voice that everyone could hear. The dove that came down would show that it was for all people not only the ones that could afford it. And he was baptized in “living water” so that he could give living water or salvation to others. 

Baptism was important to Jesus’ ministry.  It was so important that after his resurrection he came to the disciples and told them to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son , and the Holy Spirit. (Matt 28:19) We are part of the “all nations”. Imagine that! Jesus was thinking of us even before we set foot on this earth. Baptism was not only important for Jesus’ identification but, it is also important for ours. It cannot take away our sins. I believe only Christ Jesus can do that. But it can identify us as believers and fill us with a Holy Spirit. It can help us to become disciples in our own way and can help us when we are tempted just like it did for Jesus.  

Will not being baptized keep you out of Heaven? I don’t think so and here is why. Awhile ago, in 1980, my Grampa Wise was in and out of the hospital many times. I worked there so, every day, at the end of my shift, I’d pop up to see him. You see, I didn’t know him very well since I pretty much grew up in Massachusetts and he lived in Indiana. So, by my daily visits I was able to get to know him a little better. 

On his last visit to the hospital, I noticed something had changed. Up until that point, he’d be in pretty good spirits. Now he wasn’t so, I asked why he was so depressed. He said, “Depressed? I’m not depressed. I’m scared.” When I asked what he was scared of he told me he was going to die. That startled me for a moment, but something moved in me. I immediately responded with, “You don’t need to be afraid.”  He wanted to know why not, and it was as if the gate was open. I was able to explain to him how Jesus loved him and would keep him if he only believed. I believed the Holy Spirit was helping me then.

He told me that as a little boy his mom took him to revival meetings, and he wanted to let Jesus into his heart way back then but was afraid because there were so many people and he thought he would get lost in the crowd. All those years ago, a seed had been planted. 

It was a precious thing when we prayed together, and Grampa said he did believe and that he wanted to live with Jesus. After that his fear was gone. He looked forward to his death. He only wanted one more thing and that was to be baptized. I tried to arrange it, but we ran out of time. 

But here is the amazing thing. Shortly before he left us, Gramma was sitting by his bed while he dozed off and on. At some point she looked over and she saw him reaching towards the window by his bed. When she asked him what he was doing, he told her he couldn’t quite reach it. “Reach what?” “That hand. It’s reaching for me, but I can’t reach it.” She saw nothing but we both agreed that he had a sign from Heaven that he was indeed welcome. He passed away a day or two later at the age of 80. 

In conclusion, I believe Jesus wants us to be baptized. Through baptism we are recognized as believers and the Holy Spirit can come to us and help us become better disciples of Christ.