Saturday, March 26, 2016

Jesus' Baptism

Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?" But Jesus answering said to him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he permitted Him. And after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." (Matthew 3:13-17)
What did Jesus mean when He said, "It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" (v. 15)? Righteousness is a legal term. It differs from holiness. Holiness has to do with our inward purity, while righteousness involves our relationship to the law, whether we have done what the law requires. Jesus is our Great High Priest. In fact, He is the only real Priest who was ever in the world. Aaron's priesthood was only a representation of Christ's, so Aaron and his descendants may be called representative priests, and Christ called the real Priest. The Aaronic priesthood involved only the tribe of Levi, who were all descendants of Aaron. But look at what the writer of Hebrews says:
For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. (7:12-14)
In verse 12, the author states, "For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also." When the priesthood of Aaron was first instituted, the tribe was formally consecrated to be set apart for their high calling. Whether every priest from then on was set apart this way we do not know. But when a change took place as great as the one Hebrews speaks of, such as a change to another tribe (in connection with which, we are reminded, Moses said nothing about priests), then it would certainly be necessary for this new priest to comply with the law of consecration. It was this law that Jesus referred to when He said, "It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." We find this law of consecration in Numbers 8:5-7.
Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Take the Levites from among the sons of Israel and cleanse them. And thus you shall do to them, for their cleansing: sprinkle purifying water on them..."
How is it that Jesus was likely baptized? By immersion? That is assumed by sheer speculation. Let us examine the larger events of baptism in order to develop a right understanding. John the Baptist's ministry lasted about six months. We can estimate that he baptized about two or three hundred thousand people. That is an average of 1,500 per day! But, for argument's sake, let us say he baptized 10,000 during his ministry. Let us suppose that during his ministry John spent four days each week baptizing. In those hundred days, if he averaged 100 immersions per day, allowing three minutes per immersion, he would have had to stand in the water for five hours straight each day. What do you think the likelihood of that was? It is almost certain that no one could endure that kind of exertion for such a long time. John's method of baptism would have no doubt been based on some corresponding ceremony in the Old Testament. Hebrews 9:19 helps to provide the likely answer:
For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people.
John probably baptized using a hyssop branch. This branch was particularly well-suited, and often used, for that purpose. Using this method, John could have easily baptized thousands of people in a day without strenuous effort. But let us look at another example. On the day of Pentecost, 3,000 people were baptized and added to the church. Peter's sermon started in the morning. We do not know how long it lasted. If they were given six hours with which to baptize all these people, each of the 12 Apostles would have to perform 42 baptisms every hour. That is one immersion every 90 seconds! If we allow three minutes per each immersion, it would have taken 12 hours. What do you think the likelihood of that was? Remember that the majority of the Jewish people and leaders were enemies of the Christians. There would have been at least two obstacles for them to overcome: first, finding a place that could accommodate so many immersions; and second, being allowed to perform them once this place had been found. Not to mention preparing the amount of water they would require beforehand. Circumstantial evidence simply does not bode well for immersion. These logistical difficulties destroy the credibility of immersion.

When Scripture says "Jesus went up immediately from the water" (Matt. 3:16) or "And immediately coming up out of the water" (Mark 1:10), it simply means that He walked out of the water. People assume by their reading of Matthew and Mark that as soon as Jesus rose from His immersion that the Spirit descended upon Him. Nowhere does Scripture say Jesus went under the water. Luke's account helps us prove this by giving us further information: "Now it came about when all the people were baptized, that Jesus also was baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, 'Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased'" (v. 21-22). Furthermore, let us examine two Greek words that appear in the accounts of Matthew and Mark. The Greek word anabaino (αναβαινω) translated as "went up" and "coming up" means "to go up, ascend up, climb." The Greek word apo (απο) translated as "from" and "out of" can also be translated as "away from." In other words, both passages make complete sense when we understand they are speaking of Jesus walking up onto the shore away from the water, where He would then pray and the Holy Spirit descend upon Him: "Jesus ascended immediately away from the water" and "immediately ascending away from the water."

If we consider this information from an a priori standpoint, what we might expect or anticipate about things beforehand, based on the nature of how they are, it will help us greatly in our understanding. The requirements in the Old Testament were often taxing, requiring great effort and self-denial on the part of the worshipers. The New Testament demands much simpler service, and the sacraments are easier to administer. Compare the Passover to the Lord's Supper. Also, compare circumcision to baptism.

Tell me what is wrong with these real-life examples (we have all read or heard of such cases). There are people who, in the dead of winter, will travel miles from the location of their church and chop holes in the ice just to be able to immerse people. There are other people who will travel dozens of miles from the location of their church just to be able to immerse people. Stories of immersions can get more and more complicated and require people to undergo more and more hardship to contend with the inconvenience. Where is the simplicity of worship in such actions? Anyone willing to perform this sacrament under such trying conditions deserves great credit, and this spirit of self-righteousness is one of the things that makes immersion appeal to people the way it does. Immersion is much closer by practice to the law of Moses, or even the Pharisees, than the simplicity of worship in the New Testament. The purpose of baptism is to symbolize the gift of the Holy Spirit. This process is best symbolized by the application of water.

Based on the circumstantial evidence and logistical difficulties, Jesus would have been baptized by John using a hyssop branch, dipped in the water and sprinkled over Him. The water descending upon Him symbolized the descending of the Spirit, which would soon transpire. Simplicity of worship. Not strenuous exertion.