Baptism of Christ – Rev’d Christopher Miles

Sermon at St Mary Hadlow –Baptism and the Spirit– 11th January 2015

 

Acts 19 vv 1 – 7  Believers in Ephesus are re-baptised and receive the Spirit

Mark 1 vv 4 – 11   The baptism of Jesus

 

  1. Introduction. In today’s readings for the festival of the Baptism of Christ we are faced with a paradox; with an apparent contradiction.   Jesus is baptised by John and receives the Holy Spirit.   Twelve Christian believers in Ephesus had been baptised with John’s baptism but have to be re-baptised because they have not received the Holy Spirit.   My hope is that this morning we can not only reconcile the paradox but also learn from both these events and so progress as individual Christians and as a Church. Let’s consider each of these baptisms in turn, their outcomes and scriptural teaching in relation to the way the Holy Spirit works in the individual and in the Church and then see how it all applies to ourselves.

 

  1. Jesus’ baptism. Let us then consider the nature of Jesus’ baptism.   I see broadly three main points of significance:
  • Identification.   The first of these points is Jesus’ identification with sinful humanity.   John the Baptist is initially very reluctant to baptise Jesus because John’s baptism is to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah, or Christ to use the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew. The purpose of this preparation is to turn people from sin, to have hearts receptive and open to recognise and respond positively to their Messiah.   How can such a baptism be applicable to the Messiah himself, who is sinless? However Jesus knows that he will in due course take upon himself the sin of the world, he has come as a Saviour to save people from their sinful nature. How much we need his saving grace in today’s troubled world!   He can be our Saviour fully only by receiving John’s baptism and in so doing fully identify himself with sins of humankind. The discussion between Jesus and John on this point is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel.
  • The second point is that in being baptised, Jesus is publicly revealed to the Jewish people as their Messiah.   The technical, Church, word is ‘Epiphany’ – a revelation, a showing forth.   The Apostle John makes this point about Jesus’ baptism when he records John the Baptist as saying, “I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptising with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” and he goes on to record God as saying to the Baptist, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.”
  • Thirdly Jesus’ baptism by John occurs prior to Jesus public ministry and may be seen as a commissioning for this ministry.   In the early Church Some heretics, called Adoptionists1, saw Jesus’ baptism with the descent of the Holy Spirit as the point at which Jesus became divine.  This is not so. One sees the work of the Spirit right from the outset; from the moment of conception in Mary’s womb. In a very practical sense one sees the Spirit at work in Jesus’ discussions at the age of twelve with the nation’s leading authorities in the temple.   Immediately prior to this event of Jesus in the temple, Luke records that “The child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon him”. This descent of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism is rather akin to our confirmation, particularly as it has developed with its separation from admission to communion. Although John the Baptist would not have used the term ‘commissioning” because that is usually done by a more senior and experienced person than the one being commissioned, that is in effect one of the significant points of Jesus’ baptism.

 

Thus identification with people and their sinful nature, revelation as the Messiah and commissioning for public ministry are the three main points of Jesus’ baptism. In relation to the second point of revelation, clearly, at least at the time of John baptising, there is an essential uniqueness about Jesus’ reception of the fullness of the Spirit.   If other people were receiving the Spirit in this way then it would not have uniquely revealed Jesus as the Messiah.

 

  1. The Ephesian baptisms. We turn now to the baptisms in Ephesus.   In the first century A. D. Ephesus was a sizeable city with a population of perhaps ¼ million people; an important port and commercial centre on the West coast of Turkey.   Many people were Greeks.   It is perhaps not surprising that in the large city there was a small group of Christian believers who knew only the baptism of John and had not even heard of the Holy Spirit.   We learn from the previous chapter that Apollos who had baptised them, was a Jew, a learned man with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, from the city of Alexandria in Egypt. Priscilla and Aquila had privately filled in Apollos where his knowledge of the Christian Faith and Way were deficient. We have already seen that it was an inherently unique feature of John’s baptism that Jesus alone should receive the Holy Spirit in this way.   By the time of Paul’s arrival in Ephesus, Apollos had already moved on to Corinth, without ever linking up with the 12 disciples in the city of Ephesus who had not received Christian baptism. So it takes place that Paul baptises them in the name of Jesus and they receive the Holy Spirit, the evidence for this is that they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

 

  1. Christian baptism. What then are the essential features of Christian baptism?   I see three features with similarities to, but differences from, Jesus’ baptism.
  • The first feature is that of sin. A cleansing from sin and a rejection of evil ways.
  • Secondly baptism has a feature of identification, both with Jesus and with the Church as for example in the questions in our modern Common Worship service:

“Do you accept Christ as Lord?”

“Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of        bread and prayers?”

  • The Spirit. Thirdly the baptism is, in accordance with Jesus’ Commission to the Apostles, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  There is a specific question, “Do you believe and trust in the Holy Spirit?”, addressed to the candidates and in fact to the whole congregation.

 

  1. The outcomes of the baptism. It is instructive to note the outcomes of the baptisms. In the case of Jesus, the next verse after today’s gospel reading tells us,

“At once the Spirit sent Jesus into the wilderness.” (Mk 1 v 8).   This was a very important period during which Jesus prayed and thought through the policy for his forthcoming ministry. We have already noted that, following Paul baptising the Ephesians, they spoke in tongues and they also prophesied. The Spirit brought them into a living relationship with God, expressed in exuberant praise and worship.   What different ways the Spirit works in the lives of believers then and today!   One sees something of this in Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians (Ch 12) and Ephesians (4 v 11) about the different gifts of the Spirit and in Galatians where he lists nine fruits of the Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, faith, meekness temperance, long suffering, gentleness and goodness (Gal 5 vv 22, 23) – should be present in every Christian but they will be in a different balance.   One person will be full of joy, another will have great faith and so on.   I note that it is not recorded that Jesus ever spoke in tongues. He had such an intimate relationship with his Father that he had no need of such a gift.   In speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus says that we all need to be born of the Spirit (Jn 3 v 7) but also that we cannot pin the Spirit’s working down in some formulaic way for, “The wind blows wherever it pleases.   You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Jn 3 v 8).

 

  1. Application. How then do we apply all of this to our own lives and the life of the Church today?   By being open to the Spirit’s guidance in the way that we serve God.   I suspect that Nurse Pauline Cafferkey and Dr Martin Deahl who went to Sierra Leone to treat Ebola victims went because they were open to God’s guidance. Nearer to home Marilyn Baker and Tracy Williamson from Hadlow went to India last Autumn in response to God’s call, confirmed in different ways. We shall have the opportunity at the 10 a. m. service on 22nd February to hear about their trip.   We should also be deepened in our worship by the Spirit’s inspiration.   The service of Morning Prayer opens with the prayer “O Lord open our lips” and the congregational response, “and our mouth shall proclaim your praise”.   That lovely Psalm, 103, opens with the prayer, “Praise the Lord O my soul; all my inmost being praise his holy name.”   Worship may be exuberant or in stillness, in singing or silence. I think that Anglican worship tends to be too cerebral and wordy. It is not an intellectual exercise.   It should involve the whole personality.

 

  1. Conclusion. In conclusion we see good reason for the descent of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism by John to be a unique occurrence in John’s baptism, hence the need for the Ephesian believers to be re-baptised.   The gift of tongues is not an essential aspect of the Christian life, albeit it can be helpful. What is important is that we are open to the Spirit’s inspiration in our worship and in guiding us in our daily life and service.

 

1650 words

 

Notes

  1. From Wikipedia
Adoptionism Belief that Jesus was born as a mere (non-divine) man, was supremely virtuous and that he was adopted later as “Son of God” by the descent of the Spirit on him. Propounded by Theodotus of Byzantium, a leather merchant, in Rome c.190, later revived by Paul of Samosata Theodotus was excommunicated by Pope Victor and Paul was condemned by the Synod of Antioch in 268

 

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