John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:4-8 (ESV)
“After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirt.”
All of Israel is waiting for the man of whom John speaks, Jesus, the Christ, the messiah. All of Scriptures speak of him. All of Israel’s history has been one of waiting for him. The one who would come and baptize with the Holy Spirit as Ezekiel prophesied when he said: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27 (ESV) Then John appears in the wilderness, baptizing, sprinkling water on people as they confess their sins, preaching the word of God with a fury of conviction. He lived a life so harsh it seemed inhuman. It was the kind of life people are prone to expect from a holy man, one of fasting and seriousness, it was what they expected of the messiah, a man who as Jesus said came not eating and not drinking. He lived a life so sever some thought he had a demon. But he wasn’t the messiah, nor was he like the messiah. The messiah, Jesus, came eating and drinking, and the same people who said John had a demon called Jesus a glutton and a drunkard, a condemnation for which Deuteronomy demanded a rebellious son be brought out the gates and stoned by the elders of the village. Truly these people were as children calling in the streets, we played the flute for you and you did not dance, we sang a dirge and you did not weep. (Luke 7:32) But to John, the voice in the wilderness the people came, they heard him preach, they confessed their sins and submitted to baptism as the waters of the Jordan pouring from his hand, and spilling through his fingers.
John’s baptism, was it from heaven or from man? Jesus asks this question of his accusers in the last days of his life, the ones seeking to kill him outside the city gates, the ones who condemned him as a glutton and a drunkard. They refused to answer, afraid the people who held this John to be the prophet he was would drag them out of the city to be stoned themselves. He was a prophet, and his baptism, as the word of God for repentance, came from heaven. Even God himself in Jesus Christ would submit to it, so as to identify with sinners and fulfill all righteousness, to prepare himself for the baptism of his death and resurrection of which he likens to fire in Luke 12. But John himself says curious things about his own baptism. Things that are often ignored today. It may have been from heaven, but it had its limitations. These things are even here in our text. It is not the same baptism as that which Jesus would institute in his resurrection. John himself says that his baptism is of water. It didn’t have the Holy Spirit, or at least not in the same way as Jesus Baptism. In the 19th chapter of Acts, we learn that when Paul comes to Ephesus he meets disciples who had been baptized by John, and did not know there was a Holy Spirit. So Paul baptizes them in the name of Jesus and they receive the Holy Spirit. There seems then to have been a difference between the baptizing John did in the wilderness, and the baptism he proclaimed, the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, the baptism with the Holy Spirit, the baptism of Jesus.
See, John could prepare the way with the law, he could show us our sin, he could demand repentance and confession of sin, but it could not save. For salvation something more was needed, here was needed the baptism of Christ, the baptism of fire that Jesus had to undergo, his death and resurrection. This is the baptism into which he baptizes you. It was this baptism he had to do in order to accomplish your salvation, this baptism he had to complete before he could return to His Father, to sit at his right hand from whence he sends The Holy Spirit to you with the forgiveness of sins. Because when the messiah comes he doesn’t come with more law, which even John the greatest of those born of women could not accomplish with a severe diet, a life time of fasting. No, when the messiah comes he comes with grace and mercy, love and the Holy Spirit, and he is the one who comes to you in baptism, word and Holy Communion. He comes to you today, who knows your sin, your unworthiness to untie his sandal, and washes your feet here, who have been washed in his baptism, bestowing upon you grace and mercy, the forgiveness of sins in the sanctifying power of his blood.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.