Hebrew Highlights 114 – Baptism
MAR 1:4-11, “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey. And he was preaching, and saying, "After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. "I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." And it came about in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: "Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased."
Now here’s a shocker for you. John the Baptist was not a Christian. In fact, he never became a Christian, because the term was not coined until long after Jesus’ resurrection. He was Jewish, born to the righteous temple priest Zacharias, and his wife Elizabeth, who was a direct descendant of Aaron. He was sent by God the Father to prepare the way for His Son Yeshua, who also happened to be John’s cousin.
So why was this good Jewish young man baptizing people for the forgiveness of sins? Well, actually, it was, and still is a very Jewish thing to do. Usually called a “mikveh”, ritual purification has been performed throughout Jewish history. As an example, in the law of Moses, women were required to go to the mikveh each month after their period. The pool, or building which houses it, are called by the same name.
The first mention of the word mikveh, which literally means gathering, can be seen very early in the Bible in GEN 1:10, “And God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good.” Because of this scriptural reference, the ocean is seen as a legitimate place of purification until this day.
The form of the word “baptize” in Hebrew is interesting in itself. To be baptized, or “lahitabel” in Hebrew, rhymes with the common word, “lahitpalel”, or to pray. This verb form unmistakably calls for someone to be caused to do something “to” or “for” one’s self.
Now obviously, no one holds your head down when you pray. In a like manner, although it is clear in the scriptures that witnesses are present, you actually are to go into the water and immerse “yourself”.
Here in Israel, where we like to follow the Word of God as literally as possible, that is exactly what is done. No pastor actually places his hand on the person being baptized.
Following this line of thought, and continuing with the statement “having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith,” from Colossians 2, we can quickly understand that infant baptism is impossible. A baby can neither dunk himself, nor have faith in the process.
John’s baptism was one of repentance. Each person entering the water had heard the Word of God being preached, realized his spiritual separation from God, and made a firm decision to do anything required to right the matter.
There are of course other baptisms. The baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the baptism of fire, are well known, though the latter be less understood.
Is the baptism of repentance important? Well, according to the Bible, it was mentioned in Yeshua’s last paragraph spoken on this earth. MAT 28:18-20, “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. "
I fear that sometimes we rephrase that a little, to say something like this, “Go therefore and make converts of all the nations, get their number and e-mail address, and suggest to them to find a church or prayer group.”
Anyone who has gone through baptism in faith will tell you that something very real happens in the spirit. We do not become instantly perfect; however, we do find a new power within to both resist temptation, and grow spiritually. The authority is actually stripped away from our old fleshly man, and our new man can always prevail, if we let him. When Yeshua said, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you,” He knew that the real secret to resurrection, is obedience to the point of death, and taking up our cross.
I could, of course, could not end this treatise without mentioning ROM 6:1-6, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.
Many baptisms I have attended, including my own, people shoot up out of the water like a surfer breaking through a great wave. The power and resurrection are obvious to anyone observing. I’ve always enjoyed how God chooses acts which cause us to do something humble in order to show His might.
Getting wet in front of a crowd of witnesses is a little embarrassing. But as you pop back up into the sunlight, you are ready to tell the whole world!
Shalom, Shalom from Jerusalem