The Ghost of Baptism Past

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.
He will not shout or cry out,
    or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
    In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

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:
“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,
to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not yield my glory to another
    or my praise to idols.
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  These messages can also be found online at .  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.™

Caring for Your Christmas Heart

Ohio has now raised our county’s COVID-19 alert level to “purple, or level four.  We are now, more than ever, feeling threatened by the pandemic as this invisible virus threatens to overwhelm doctors, hospitals, caregivers, nursing homes, and even the coroner and the county morgue.  Many of us had already felt isolated and alone, and now reason, good sense, and caution urge us to retreat even further from human contact.  We are staying in contact with our families and friends by mail, by telephone, social media, Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and anything else that we can think of, but there are no handshakes, hugs, or kisses on the cheek but we can feel our hunger for human contact gnawing at us.

Our holiday traditions are being upset, upended, and overturned at every turn.  Certainly, no one has seen such an unusual Christmas season since the Spanish Flu swept around the world, twice, in 1917 and again in 1918.  Our company Christmas parties, as well as traditional gatherings at church, social clubs, service clubs, scouts, school, sports teams, and other groups that we normally enjoy, are probably all cancelled and, as a result, we’re spending more time at home than we have since we were in diapers.

But how will we use this time?

Some of us have rediscovered crafts and hobbies that we had left behind years ago.  Many have rediscovered a love for the outdoors and for anything that can be done, away from crowds, outside of our homes.  Stores were sold out of fishing tackle and kayaks for months because everyone was trying to get out on a lake somewhere.  And I’ve heard stories that this might be a banner year for Christmas lights because everyone had time to dig things out of the attic and put them up.

But what will you do for your heart?

I’m not talking about walking or running, or any kind of cardiovascular exercise.  In the middle of our physical isolation from other human beings, I’m talking about doing what we can to prevent spiritual isolation.  In a normal year, and in a normal Advent and Christmas season, we can often rely upon our patterns of living, our habits, and our traditions to help us feel Christmas-y.  Even if we aren’t regular in attendance during the year, we often return to church in the fall, or at least after Thanksgiving, so that we can get into the spirit of Christmas.  We know that seeing the church decorated for Christmas, hearing the music, and singing the songs of Christmas stir something inside of us that we need to be stirred.  I have often been deliberate in listening to Christmas music after Thanksgiving to help me feel less like Scrooge and more like Bob Cratchit.  At church we can rely upon our Sunday school teachers, our pastor, and even our friends wearing festive sweaters, to help us feel a stirring in our souls and a closeness with God?

But all the tools that we have used throughout our lifetimes are being taken away from us as we stay home and insulate ourselves, and others, from a virus that wants to do us harm.  And so, what will we do to feel Christmas?  What will we do to feel a familiar stirring in our souls?  What will we do to draw closer to God without parties and Christmas carols?  What will we do without seeing the decorations at church, or hearing the pipe organ, seeing a parade of ugly sweaters, or lighting a candle on Christmas Eve?

Don’t panic.

Remember that while your church may not be doing things in the same way that we’ve always done them, we are trying to bring Christmas to you in other ways.  At Christ Church we decorated the church so that you can see it in our videos and we’ve already begun recording portions of our Christmas Eve service and invited you to record yourself so that we can all “see” one another, our Sunday school classes are meeting online via Zoom, and we’re doing whatever we can to make Christmas as normal as possible. 

But that may not be enough.

Many of those folks who bought kayaks discovered that to get across the lake, you may need to paddle a bit, and sometimes paddling can be hard work.  Likewise, although your pastor, church staff, and volunteers are doing what they can, much of what you feel at Christmas is up to you.  But that’s always been true.  When I started to feel too much like a Humbug, I knew that it was time to start listening to Christmas music.  What will it take to move you from Scrooge to Cratchit?  What will it take to stir your soul?  What will it take for you to draw closer to Jesus this Advent and Christmas?

Just as we bought board games, kayaks, and fishing equipment in the spring, we may need to invest something of ourselves this Christmas.  For me, it may be listening to Christmas music and watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”  But it will also mean joining with our church family on YouTube and singing hymns, sharing communion together on Zoom, and opening my Bible to the book of Luke and reading the Christmas story for the hundredth time.  Be prepared to go out and do whatever it is that you need to do to stir your soul and draw closer to Jesus this Christmas.

As much as we are starving for human contact, our souls are starving for closeness with Jesus.

Don’t push away from his fire and allow your soul to grow cold like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Do whatever you need to do to stir your soul and draw close.

As Tiny Tim said, “God bless us… every one.”

Merry Christmas.


Pastor John

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

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