Sam Ward looks at the words of John the Baptist in Luke 3 and explores the hope Jesus’ baptism offers.
I once got a phone call at 11pm one night from a friend who said, ‘I need to be baptised.’
‘Great,’ I replied, ‘call me back in the morning and we’ll work something out.’
‘No,’ came the response, ‘I need to be baptised now!’
I was leading an Eden team in Openshaw at the time and we were meeting for church in a local hall. There was no baptistry there so the only option available at that time of night was the canal.
I got up, got dressed and met him at the water’s edge along with my brother. My brother had brought his guitar so we sang some songs and then we climbed in. Knee-deep in silt we baptised my friend in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I was full of the joy of the Lord – it was the greatest night ever!
Someone came round the corner and I shouted, ‘Hey! We’ve just baptised this guy!’
‘Okay, well if you’re smoking something the cops are just around the corner.’
‘No, we’ve just baptised my friend in the canal!’
‘Yeah, but if you’re smoking weed the police are just around the corner,’ he replied, before shuffling off with his dog.
How exciting are baptisms? In Luke 3 John the Baptist is full of the presence of God and people are flocking to see him and to be baptised in the Jordan river. In verse 15, the people ‘were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah’. There is something of a revival kicking off. The people love his message and he speaks with power and authority. Could he be the one they’ve waited for?
But John sets the record straight. ‘I baptise 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 baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’ (Luke 3:16). John was baptising people out of their past, but the one who is coming will baptise them into their future.
If you choose the way of righteousness, then Jesus wants in
We can learn a lot from John’s humility. His ministry was booming. His popularity was off the charts. Even Jesus says later, ‘I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John’ (Luke 7:28). Is there any higher praise? He’s the best in the business, and yet he considers himself unworthy to untie the straps of Jesus’ shoes. We live in a time when society tells us that success looks like so many things – money, fame, power, lifestyle, possessions – but John gives us a glimpse of the radical alternative of God’s kingdom.
John was quick to remind his followers of his lowly position in relation to Jesus. But did you know that the lowest position wasn’t the servant who unties the sandals? There’s just one job that’s even lower than that. It’s the servant who washes feet.
Just a few years after John’s ministry, Jesus the Messiah will take his few remaining friends to an upper room where he will share his final meal before he’s taken to be nailed to a cross. He’ll take the bread and say, ‘This is my body, broken for you.’ Then, he’ll take the cup of wine and say, ‘This is my blood that will be poured out. The old has gone and the new has come.’
But before that, he’ll take off his outer garment, wrap a towel around his waist and kneel at the feet of his disciples to wash their feet.
John was baptising people out of their past, but the one who is coming will baptise them into their future
Throughout his life, Jesus says the most profound statements to describe the upside-down kingdom. He tells us that the one who is least will be the greatest, the first will be the last and that the greatest will be the one who washes feet. John knows that he’s not worthy of such a low position. He can’t say he’s the least when he knows the one who is to come is greater still. Jesus – the greatest of all time – is the least of all time.
What I love most about what we read in Luke 3 – where the Messiah himself listens to John’s words, wades into the river and submits to his baptism – is that there was no need for him to do so. Even John tells him so (Matthew 3:14). He had no sin to be washed away. But Jesus wants in. He wants to be with us and he wants to be like us. He wants to be among people who choose redemption and walk in the way of righteousness. In so doing, he is redeeming what it means to be human.
Be assured of this: Jesus wants to be with you. If you choose the way of righteousness, then Jesus wants in. If you choose to walk in holiness, then Jesus is with you. He calls us to imitate him, to live with humility, to be the least. What hope that brings. Choose it. Choose him.
Catch up with Sam’s exploration of the upside-down kingdom found in Luke’s gospel on the Message podcast: message.org.uk/podcast
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