Grace and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let's talk again about John the Baptist. Last Sunday we talked about who was John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus Christ, the last prophet that God sent to the people of Israel, he of whom the prophet Isaiah prophesied, "A voice crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord" (Isaiah 40:3), he of whom Jesus said, "Among those born of women there has not risen a greater than John the Baptist" (Matthew 11:12).
Our Lord also said that the work of John was preparing the way of the Lord (that is, Jesus Christ Himself). In what way did John prepare the way of the Lord? For our answer, we will focus on the question of the Pharisees in our text for today: "Why then baptize if you are not the Christ?"
It is important to understand this question in context. For the Jews, baptism meant a rite of purification. According to the law of Moses, if a Jew touched a corpse or a leper, he had to wait eight days and then be washed in a purification ritual before entering the temple of God. The law said if a Jew touched something unclean or dirty, he could not enter into the presence of God Almighty.
Note, first, neither John nor Jesus Christ invented the concept of baptism. The Jews practiced a kind of baptism before John or Jesus. Furthermore, if a foreigner wanted to join the people of Israel, to share in the covenant God made with Israel, he or she had to be baptized. Of course, a man had to be circumcised, according to the covenant God made with Abraham and the patriarchs.
Circumcision is a surgical procedure performed on the male member. Today in most hospitals, boys are circumcised for health reasons. If anyone wants more details of circumcision, talk to me later.
The point now is to convert to Judaism, both men and women needed baptism. Not only because of their possible contact with the dead or leprous, but also because the impurity of their sins. And not only adults, also young people and children.
Pentecostals and Evangelicals say the baptism of children is not valid. The baptism of children was invented by the Catholic Church and no evidence of it before the fourth century or so they say. But this is not true. Here's evidence: Among the Jews, the children were baptized.
However, the Pharisees asked John, "Why baptize?" because there was a difference between the practice of baptism among the Pharisees and the disciples of John. The Pharisees believed that they did not need baptism because they had not touched anything unclean. They were circumcised descendants of Abraham circumcised and clearly needed no cleansing from sin because they believed they were justified by their good works.
But John called for a baptism of repentance for all his people. They were all sinners, so they needed the spiritual cleansing in preparation for the Messiah, the promised Savior.
In our catechism classes, we discuss the three uses of God's law. That means, God has given us His law for three purposes.
First, the law restricts, to some extent, the manifestations of sin.
Second, and foremost, the law teaches people the true knowledge of their sin.
And third, the Law teaches Christians which works are really good.
God has given civil government the authority to use force of arms to detain and punish wrongdoers. This is an example of the first use of the Law
The work of John the Baptist was a pure example of the second use of the law, to call people to repent of their sins. Therefore, John was a prophet of the old covenant, the covenant of the Law.
However, the Law itself is not sufficient to save sinners. In the Law there is no forgiveness of our sins, only condemnation. God offers us forgiveness of our sins only in the gospel, the good news that we are freed from guilt, punishment, the power of the devil, and are saved for all eternity because Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law, suffered and died on the cross, and rose for us.
This is a difference between the baptism of John and Jesus, and why John sent his last disciples of Jesus to receive the blessing of the water and the Holy Spirit. Christian baptism not only signifies a contrite and humble heart, though that is required to receive the forgiveness of our sins. Baptism is not a meritorious work to gain the favor of God. In baptism the Holy Spirit is active in the application of water, as mandated by Jesus Christ, and the Word. In baptism, we receive the gift of faith and eternal life. We are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, then we need not be concerned for our salvation if we touch a corpse or a leper. We enter the presence of God not by our own purity and holiness, only holiness of Jesus Christ.
Another difference between the baptism of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ: Christian baptism is not just for Jews but for believers of all nations. All who believe in Jesus Christ and are baptized can live as children of God. This is the most precious Christmas gift! And it is the reason why we baptize.
May the peace in Christ which surpasses all understanding be with you. Amen.
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