Are You Fireproof?
January 13, 2019*
Baptism of Jesus
By Pastor John Partridge
Isaiah 43:1-7 Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 Acts 8:14-17
For those of you old enough to remember, from 1981 to 1986, actor Lee Majors starred as a stuntman in a successful television show called, “The Fall Guy.” A number to times, that show featured stuntmen doing fire stunts. And if you have ever watched action movies, like James Bond, or something with Arnold Schwarzenegger, you have probably also seen the same sort of thing. Fire has a way of capturing our imagination like few other things can. And so, our question for today, “Are you fireproof?” probably also stirs our curiosity. But that title isn’t just marketing, it’s a real question that’s asked by today’s look into scripture.
At the same time, while you may not know it, this is another special Sunday. It is lesser known than Christmas or Easter, and even lesser known than Epiphany, but this is the week that we traditionally set aside to read and remember the baptism of Jesus. There are several reasons for this, but primarily our need for a regular remembrance is because, like many other things, we are forgetful and need to remind ourselves why this event is important, and what it means to us.
We begin, once again, in the book of Isaiah where we hear more about the messiah that is to come (Isaiah 43:1-7.)
43:1 But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.
4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.
5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.
6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
Isaiah describes a messiah who would redeem and bring back the children of Israel that had been carried away into slavery, or forced from the land by famine, pestilence, warfare, or poverty. But he also talks of how God will be with them, and protect them, they will pass through the water in safety, they will walk through the fire and not be burned, and the flames will not set them ablaze. God is saying, at least allegorically, that they will be fireproof.
Clearly, in the near term, God is promising that there was hope. This was a promise that the people who had been (or soon would be) carried into captivity, or their children, would eventually return to Israel. God was promising that despite the chaos and warfare that surrounded them, that he would watch over them and protect them, and bring them home.
But in the longer term, Israel understood that this scripture also applied to the messiah that was to come. This was a promise that one day there would be an even bigger return of God’s people to the nation of Israel and that throughout the centuries, and even millennia, God would continue to watch over his people, protect them, and love them.
That expectation for the coming messiah endured. It was passed on from generation to generation and to each generation it brought the hope that God cared, that God was watching over them, that God had a plan for them, and that there would, eventually, be a rescuer. Filled with this hope, the people continued to keep watch and we see that expectation as we read Luke 3:15-17, 21-22.
15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
The people saw John, they saw that he was dressed the way that some of the Old Testament prophets had dressed, he lived in the wilderness as some of them had, and he preached with an intensity and a passion that hadn’t been seen in Israel for generations. And when they saw these things, combined with their continued expectation and hope for a rescuer, redeemer, and messiah, they wondered if John was the one. But John answers and explains that he is not the messiah but had been sent to announce the arrival of the messiah.
While baptism had become symbolic of purification and reminded the people of their passing from slavery in Egypt to freedom through the waters at the Red Sea and crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land of Israel, John proclaims that his baptism was only to prepare the people for the arrival of the God’s messiah. The coming messiah would not only baptize with water but would also baptize with fire. And John warned that the messiah would come not only to harvest God’s people, but to burn up the useless chaff with fire.
But the coming of the messiah meant more than the rescue of the Israelites two-thousand years ago. In Acts 8:14-17, we hear the story of how baptism spreads beyond the borders of Israel into Samaria.
14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Remember that Samaria was not Israel but was almost a country within a country and sat between Jerusalem and Galilee. But the Samaritans were not, strictly speaking, Jewish. They had intermarried with outsiders and foreigners during Israel’s seventy years in captivity and were despised by the Jews as “half-breeds.” But we also remember that Jesus stopped in Samaria as he passed through, met a woman at a well, and stayed to preach and to teach his message to the entire village. And so here, in the book of Acts, the disciples hear that the people of Samaria had accepted the word of God and had already been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus but had not yet received the Holy Spirit. Peter and John, despite the hostility that they had once had for the Samaritans, went to Samaria, laid hands on those who had believed in Jesus Christ, and the people received the Holy Spirit.
Like the story of Epiphany, this story reminds us that the message of Jesus Christ, as well as the baptism of both water and of the Spirit, wasn’t something old fashioned that only happened two thousand years ago, and it wasn’t something that was exclusively reserved for the Jews or the people of Israel, the baptism of Jesus Christ and the baptism of the Holy Spirit is open to all who believe, and that means that it was open to the hated Samaritan half-breeds in the first century as well as to gentiles of the twenty-first century like us.
Our baptism symbolically welcomes us into God’s family and represents our death to sin and resurrection with Christ into a new life in him. We become fireproof in the same sense that Isaiah taught, that now, through Christ, we have hope and we know that God watches over us, cares for us, and loves us. But we also know that through the influence, guidance, and help of the Holy Spirit received at our baptism, we are drawn, daily, closer to Jesus Christ so that we will be fruitful and not become useless chaff that is burned in the fire. We are also comforted as we remember the story of Jesus’ baptism when we notice God’s words of blessing, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” We are comforted when we realize that at the moment of his baptism, Jesus had not yet begun his ministry. He had not yet called all his disciples, and he had not yet done much of anything at all to earn God’s favor or his love. And yet, this was the moment that God chose to publicly state his love for Jesus. We are comforted because this reminds us once again, that there is no need for us to try to earn God’s love. God loves us, and has always loved us, long before we were able to anything to please him.
Doesn’t it feel good to be fireproof?
But, if you haven’t yet been baptized, and you would like to have this confidence and this hope, please come and see me.
Because the people of God should be… fireproof.
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