The Ghost of Baptism Past
January 15, 2023*
(Baptism of the Lord)
By Pastor John Partridge
Isaiah 42:1-9 Matthew 3:13-17 Acts 10:34-43
In Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by three spirits over the course of an evening. These visits, by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, serve to remind Mr. Scrooge about the real meaning of Christmas, and of life, rather than his miserly devotion to the accumulation of wealth at all costs. In a way, today’s message borrows from that format as we visit scriptures from before, during, and after the life of Jesus Christ, that tell us something about the deeper meanings of baptism in our past, our present, and in our future. We begin with God’s promise of his spirit, eight centuries before Jesus’ birth, found in Isaiah 42:1-9.
42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
4 he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
5 This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
8 “I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
9 See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”
Isaiah says that the coming messiah will be filled with God’s spirit and bring justice to the world but will be so gentle that he will not do any further damage the most fragile among us. Moreover, God will not only call his people to right living, but will hold their hands, call the Gentiles to become a part of his family, and will rescue those who are imprisoned by jailers or by their infirmities.
Last week we talked about how God would use the Messiah to open the doors of his kingdom to the Gentiles, but for our purposes this morning, take a moment to notice how Isaiah declares the promise to put God’s spirit in and upon the Messiah that he would send. And with that in mind, we move forward to the moment of Jesus’ baptism, and the moment when God fulfills that promise in Matthew 3:13-17.
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Jesus tells John that he has chosen to be baptized even though he, as the perfect messiah, had no actual need of baptism. Rather, Jesus chooses to be baptized because it is necessary to fulfill God’s promises that the Messiah would be called to righteousness and to model obedience to God for all who would follow him. And the moment that he rises out of the waters of the Jordan River, the heavens open, the Spirit of God descends, lands upon Jesus, and God audibly proclaims this love for, and his satisfaction with, Jesus and the work that he is doing.
But if the words of Isaiah speak about the spirit of baptism past, and the Spirit of God at the Jordan River appears as the spirit of baptism in Jesus’ present, then what does that leave us for the spirit of baptism future? For that, let us jump ahead another few years to a month or two after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and we find Peter as he speaks to a gathering international crowd, Jews, and Gentiles from across the known world, on the day of Pentecost in Acts 10:34-43.
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Paul’s point is that God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and then appointed us to follow in his footsteps. When we choose to follow Jesus, are baptized, and join God’s family as the brothers and sisters of Jesus, we, like Jesus, are baptized and filled with the Spirit of God. We are therefore empowered by God, to go out into the world and do the work of Jesus Christ and the work of God’s kingdom. Jesus commands us to preach to the people his future, and of our present, to tell them that Jesus is the one whom they will face on the day of judgement, that it is Jesus about whom the prophets were writing, and that forgiveness comes to everyone who believes in him and puts their faith in him.
In the story, A Christmas Carol, the overnight experience with the three spirits of Christmas past, present, and future, transformed Ebeneezer Scrooge and changed the direction of his entire life. As the followers of Jesus Christ, our experience with the Spirit of God through baptism, past, present, and future, is similarly transformational. Just as the spirits did in A Christmas Carol, God does not intend to leave us in the same sorry state in which he found us. Baptism is a transformational moment when we receive the anointing and the presence of the Spirit of God, and we are commanded by Jesus Christ to be his witnesses, to share the good news with the people around us so that they too can be rescued and adopted into God’s family.
Ebeneezer Scrooge wasn’t visited by the spirits of Christmas so that he could stay the same miserable creature that he always was. Likewise, we were not baptized to that we could stay the same as we were and do the things we had always done. Our baptism is transformational.
God does not intend for us to stay the same.
God intends for us to change the world.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™