The Baptism of Jesus
By M. E. Dodd, 1916
Continuing our investigation of the principles and practices of our Baptist people which we are studying in this series of Sunday morning sermons, we come this morning to the subject of Baptism. I am going to talk to you this morning in a very simple way about the baptism of our Lord as an example for us to follow. I trust I may speak in the Spirit of Christ and in no controversial attitude but with only a simple, humble desire to interpret the Word of God to the mind of the people as is my duty as a gospel minister.
It is sometimes said that Baptists overemphasize the subject of Baptism. A simple investigation of the subject will reveal the fact at once that Baptists emphasize baptism less than any other body of Christian people because many other bodies, in fact most of them, attach to baptism a saving efficacy while the Baptists have always rejected that idea.
It is the business of every preacher to interpret the word of God and that is what I seek to do this morning.
Matthew, third chapter, verse 13, following:
"Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John to be baptized of him. "But John forbade him, saying, ’I have need to be baptized of Thee and comest Thou to me?’
"And Jesus answering said unto him, ’Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered him.’
"And Jesus when he was baptized went up straightway out of the water and lo, the heavens were opened unto him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him;
"And, lo, a voice from Heaven saying, ’This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.’ "
Surely no Baptist has ever emphasized baptism so much as God has for of all the instances in the life of our Lord or in the history of God’s people, this is the one, sole, solitary incident when all of the trinity is gathered together to pay respects to a glorious ordinance. God, the Son, is being baptized; God, the Holy Spirit, comes out of the skies and lights like a dove upon Him, and God, the Father, speaks in audible voice and says: "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased." I am quite sure that the Heavenly Father may say it of every child of his who in loving, reverent, humble obedience follows the example of his beloved Son and goes down into the baptismal waters.Mark, chapter 1, verse 9:The baptism of Jesus was important enough to be recorded in four of the gospels. The Bible is the best interpretation of the Bible and so I am going to turn over and read some verses from the Acts of the Apostles which may be considered as a commentary on the Scriptures which I have just read and which will interpret to us the attitude which the disciples of the Lord took toward his baptism and toward his command for them to be baptized.
"And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in the Jordan.
"And straightway coming out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him;
"And there came a voice from heaven, saying, ’Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’"
Luke, chapter 3, verse 21:
"Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized and praying, the heaven was opened,
"And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him; and a voice came from heaven, which said, ’Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.’ "
John’s gospel, chapter 1, verse 31:
"And I knew Him not: but that He should be made manifest to Isreal, therefore, am I come baptizing with water.
"And John bear record, saying, ’I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.’ "Acts 2, verse 41:Now if I should stop right here and leave these Scriptures before you, I would perhaps have said sufficient. It is the deep conviction of my soul that any individual without prejudice or malice or antagonism who will read the simple verses of the New Testament on the subject of baptism will come to the same position which I am now going to announce.
"Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
"And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread and in prayers.
"And fear came upon every soul."
Acts, 8th chapter, 36th verse:
"And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, ’See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?’
"And Philip said, ’If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.’ "
"And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
"And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, and the eunuch saw him no more."
Romans, chapter 6, verse 4:
"Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism unto death; but like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even we also should walk in newness of life."
In this baptism of our Saviour there are four things connected with it which it is well for us to look into. Thirteen times in the New Testament, Jesus said, "Follow Me." If we are to follow Him in the ordinance of baptism there are four things that we will find in our baptism and in the baptism which we administer. These four things in the baptism of our Lord are:First - It was God’s child that was being baptized. If that was so when I was baptized then I, that far, have Christian or Christ-like baptism.Christian baptism is Christ-like baptism and Christ-like baptism has these four things in it and the absence of just one of them will invalidate or make void the baptism. We may have two or three of these four things, one of them being absent, and it will not be a Christian baptism for it would lack that much of being Christ-like. Let me illustrate: The chemical formula for sulphuric acid is H-2, SO-4. It means that two elements of hydrogen, one of sulphur and four of oxygen combined in that proportion makes sulphuric acid. Now if one of these elements is left out, or one part of these elements is left out and the combination is made without it, there will be a result, but it will not be sulphuric acid. The baptism of a child of God by a duly authorized administrator for the fulfillment of God’s own purpose and in God’s divinely appointed way, is Christian baptism. If one or another of those elements, or any part of them is left out, we will have a combination but not a Christian baptism.
The Second thing is that God’s divinely appointed man was administering the baptism. If that was so in my baptism, then I have Christian or Christ-like baptism.
The Third thing is that God’s purpose or design was being fulfilled when Jesus was baptized. If that was so in my baptism, then I have Christian or Christ-like baptism.
The Fourth thing is that God’s method, or mode, or plan of baptism was being carried out in the baptism of Jesus, and if my baptism had that in it, it was then a Christian or Christ-like baptism.
Let us examine, then, these four things about the baptism of our Saviour.
He is at once the example to us for the subjects of baptism. He was a conscious, personally responsible child of God when he was baptized. We, then, are to baptize only conscious, personally responsible, children of God, and in all the book of God, we search in vain to find a single example of where any other kind of person was ever baptized. Bible scholars of all denominations agree to this statement which I have just made. Dean Hodges, of the Episcopal Theological School in Massachusetts, in his book "The Episcopal Church." page 51 says:"The recipients of baptism seem originally to have been persons of mature life. The command ’Go teach all nations and baptize them’ and the two conditions, 'Repent and be baptized' and 'He that believeth and is baptized,' indicates adults."If all scholars of every denomination are agreed that so far as the Scriptures are concerned and examples of the first few centuries of Christianity that nobody was ever baptized who was not a conscious, personally responsible believer in God as Jesus was when He was baptized, then whence originated the custom of baptizing others besides those that are authorized in the Book of God? It is an interesting study. In this same book on the Episcopal Church, Dean Hodges says, giving us an insight into the origin of baptism of others than believers:
And again, page 52:
"The fact, however, that various eminent Christians of the fourth century were not baptized in infancy suggests that adult baptism was the common rule."
"This doctrine which populated Hell with infants 'not a span long' (referring to the doctrine of infant damnation which was taught by the Catholic church) was easily applied by a childless clergy to other people’s children. It frightened people into the baptizing of their infant children."
Themselves being witnesses, the custom did not have a very beautiful origin, originating in the doctrine of infant damnation which frightened parents into baptizing their infants lest they should be lost.
Martin Luther says:"It cannot be proved by the sacred Scriptures that infant baptism was instituted by Christ or begun by the first Christians after the apostles."The first and second centuries come and go without any record at all of the baptism of any except believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. The baptism, then, of any other than that required or sanctioned in the word of God has four charges against it.
It makes void Christ’s command to baptize believers.
It robs the individual of the inherent right to conscientiously obey God for himself. Every one who has done so will testify to his great joy and blessing in conscientiously obeying Christ in the ordinance of baptism. And to perform the act upon an unconscious infant is to rob him of that joy and blessing and privilege which is inherently his in after life.
The baptism of others than believers has occasioned the severest persecution of all the centuries. Our Baptist forefathers in Germany, in England, in New England and in Virginia, being called Ana-Baptists (that means re-baptizers; the baptizing of adults after they conscientiously believe in Christ, who had been sprinkled in infancy) have actually run rivers of blood at the hands of persecutors, who have fought for the defense of that which they themselves admit has no ground in the word of God.
The Second thing about Christ’s baptism was that it was administered by a man divinely appointed and duly authorized to perform the ordinance. "There was a man sent from God whose name was John." He was duly and divinely authorized of God to perform this ordinance, and he is the only one in all the history of Christ’s cause who has the divine sanction and authorization to perform the act who, in the first place, has not received the same baptism himself. How can one give to another that which he himself has not? In other words, how can one who has not been Scripturally baptized, according to the baptism of Jesus, duly administer the same thing to somebody else?
And then again, we must acknowledge that there must be authority behind the performance of legal acts. Suppose I were to call a man up here and put him on oath to give testimony and I were to ask him to hold up his hands and give his oath, what would that be worth in the eyes of the law. Nobody questions my character or my sincerity but they question my right to administer that oath and you say at once, "That isn’t legal." Suppose a young man and a young woman comes over here to one of the deacons of this church and say, "We want to get married." And he goes ahead and says the words like I would, "I pronounce you husband and wife" and sends them away. Because he is sincere and a good man is that a duly authorized marriage and will the law and the church and the community recognize it as such. Why, we all at once throw up our hands and say "No!’ because he did not have the authority to do it from the law of the state.
There are two Christian boys down in the river swimming. They are both good, Sunday School, Christian boys. One of them has not joined the church and the other has. One of them says, "Come on and we will have baptism right here" and the other boy stands up. The Christian boy, who is a member of the church says the Christian ceremony and immerses him. Is that a Christian baptism? We say "No" at once. There must be a due and divine authority for the performance of the act, and unless a church that has submitted to this same divine ordinance by vote authorizes the administration of it, ten thousand immersions would not make a Christian baptism.
The Third thing in the baptism of Christ is that his baptism was the fulfillment of God’s own purpose, or design. Was Jesus baptized in order to make him God’s child. No! He was already God’s child. Was Jesus baptized in order to wash away his sins? No! He never did any sin. Was Jesus baptized in order that by that baptism he might go to heaven? No! for he was assured that by his relationship to God. He was God’s child. Then am I to be baptized in order to make me God’s child, as many teach? No! Not if I am to be baptized as Jesus was. Am I to be baptized in order to wash away my sins? No! Not if I am to be baptized like Jesus was. Am I to be baptized in order to go to heaven? No! I can go to heaven without baptism, and I am not to be baptized for that if I am to be baptized like Jesus was. All of the baptismal waters of all the centuries cannot wash away one stain of sin. The blood of Jesus Christ, and that alone, can do that.
Why, then, are we baptized. Jesus said to John, "Suffer it to be so now for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness," all the commands of God. Why, then, ought every believer to be baptized? Because Jesus Christ gave us the example to do it and God the Father commands it and He has a right to expect it out of loving obedience to what He desires.
The Fourth thing about the baptism of Jesus is that it was done in God’s way. (Now this is all so elementary and so simple that I feel like I am insulting your intelligence by even discussing these A B C’s of this glorious ordinance of Christ. And yet, until we come to recognize it as authoritative and as an expectation upon God’s part for us to do, we haven’t even learned the A B C’s.) Christ’s baptism was performed in God’s way. He walked seventy miles from his home in Galilee to the lower part of the Jordan river that he might be baptized of John in the Jordan.
Now I am not going to take up all the objections that have been made against this. They are many and varied and they change as circumstances have demanded. It used to be said that He could not have been immersed in the Jordan because it was so small a stream that it could be stopped up with one’s foot. But since so many people have gone and seen it and found it to be different, that argument has been put aside.
Then it was said that the river was so muddy that a decent man would not have gone into it. It is a well known fact that some of our leading churches in the world, Presbyterians and others, have themselves immersed believers in the Jordan river. Dr. Talmage himself travelled across the ocean and administered to a believer the ordinance of baptism by immersion in the Jordan river.
That the baptism of Jesus was by immersion is plain for five reasons:
The place of the New Testament baptism "In the river," "because there was much water there," or in the pools, all indicate that the baptisms were by immersion.
The word that is used referring to baptism indicates that it was by immersion and no other way. There is a word in the Greek language for sprinkle. It is rantidzo. It is never used with reference to baptism. There is a Greek word for pour. It is cheo. It is never in a single instance used in connection with the ordinance of baptism. There is another word in the Greek language, baptidzo, and I have here the statements of more than forty different Greek scholars from every denomination saying that the word means to dip, to immerse, to submerge, and every time, without a single exception, that is the word that is used when this ordinance of baptism is referred to in the New Testament.
The design of baptism indicates the mode. I read in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, and in Colossians that we are "buried with him by baptism into death that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." Baptism is to symbolize, according to the Scriptures, the death of the old nature in us and resurrection of the new life in Christ Jesus. It is to symbolize the burial of the Lord, Jesus Christ and his resurrection to infinite glory by the power of God. It is to symbolize our faith, our living faith that when these mortal bodies are no longer inhabited by the living spirit, that one day by the divine power of God, they will be brought to life again in the morning of the resurrection. And nothing else but immersion can symbolize those glorious teachings of the word of God.
The Christian world is agreed that immersion is Christian baptism and that for several centuries there was nothing else practiced. I will read just a few words from Dean Stanley, a leading scholar of the Episcopal church:"For the first thirteen centuries the almost universal practice of baptism was that of which we read in the New Testament and which is the very meaning of the word "baptize," that those who were baptized were plunged, submerged, immersed into the water. The change from immersion to sprinkling has set aside the larger part of the apostolic language regarding baptism, and has altered the very meaning of the word."John Calvin, the founder of the Presbyterian church, says:"The very word baptize itself signifies to immerse; and it is certain that immersion was observed by the ancient church."John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, commenting on Romans 6:4, the verse which I have just read, "buried with him in baptism," says:"We are buried with him, alluding to the ancient manner of baptism, by immersion."Martin Luther says:"For to baptize, in Greek, is to dip, and baptizing is dipping. Being moved by this reason, I would have those who are to be baptized to be altogether dipped into the water as the word doth express and as the mystery doth signify." Martin Luther’s Works, Vol. 2, page 79.Cardinal Gibbons, a Roman Catholic, says:"For several centuries after the establishment of Christianity, baptism was usually conferred by immersion; but since the 12th century the practice of baptizing by affusion has prevailed in the Catholic church, as this manner is attended with less inconvenience than baptism by immersion."I may say for the Catholics that they are entirely consistent, believing that they have the divine authority to change ordinances according to their convenience or desires. They have, therefore, used that supposed authority for the changing of this ordinance. But Baptists believing that we have not that authority nor that right, insist that we must cling to what the New Testament itself says.
The Encyclopedia Brittanica, Volume 3, page 351, says:"The usual mode of performing the ceremony was by immersion. The Council of Ravenna in 1311, was the first council of the church to legalize sprinkling by leaving it to the choice of the officiating minister."I might stand here until the sun goes down and read from lexicons, from Bible dictionaries, from classical Greek scholars, from the poets, and from every possible source in Greek literature and theology towards confirming the statements which I have just made, that baptism was originally by immersion and immersion only. "Now, my friends, if Jesus thought enough of that glorious ordinance and if He in response to God’s expectations, walked seventy miles through the desert sands and burning sun to receive it at the hands of John in the River Jordan, how much do we love God in proportion, if after knowing what God says and knowing what the great scholars of the world from every denomination say about it, we are unwilling, with all our conveniences at hand, to submit to what Jesus Christ has commanded and what he has a right to expect of us.
Jesus is Lord in Zion. His voice will we hear and to Him do we submit.
"There is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey," we sometimes sing. I have seen saints of God put off submitting to this beautiful ordinance on account of this or that who in the strength of a new born hope have gone out boldly to follow their Lord as He wanted them to do and to come out of the baptismal waters with a shining face and a rejoicing heart saying, "This is the first time in all my Christian life that I have ever felt like shouting." There is a joy in obedience and in believing and a delight in submitting to God’s command, in the ordinance of baptism as Jesus submitted to it, as your example and as mine to be followed.
[From a series of Sunday morning sermons preached by M. E. Dodd at First Baptist Church, Shreveport, Louisiana. It is chapter 5 in Dodds' book Baptist Principles and Practices; via On-line edition. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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