15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. 19 But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother's wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:15-22 (ESV)
“I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
Thus John answers the question that was on the hearts and minds of the people concerning who he is. They think he is the Christ because he is baptizing, and baptizing was something they associated with the coming of the Christ because of Ezekiel 36:25 and following, where God says he will sprinkle clean water upon Israel. “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. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27 (ESV) Its really one of the most powerful passages of the Old Testament. That explains just what God does to us through baptism and in baptism, the baptism in which we as baptized Christians walk, because we have been baptized not by John, but by he whose sandal John was unworthy to untie, by him who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Baptism is cause for lots of confusion in the church today. So many don’t understand it. There are also many false things taught about baptism that take baptism out of the realm of gospel and put it in the realm of law. And much of it stems from failing to make the distinction that John himself here makes concerning the difference between his baptism and the baptism with which Christ baptized you and me when at his command and at his behest water was poured over us in accordance to his parting words to the apostles, All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me, go therefore and make disciples baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It was there that the baptism of the gospel was instituted, after he accomplished the baptism of which he speaks in the twelfth chapter of Luke when he says: “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50 (ESV) And here he speaks of his death and resurrection, which was necessary for Christian baptism, because it is into this baptism that we are baptized. As Paul says in Romans 6 our Epistle lesson. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefor with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life.” This is why all talk of the thief on the cross is rather irrelevant to any discussion on the necessity of baptism for the Christian life. He died under the old covenant as a circumcised Jew who came to believe in the Messiah at the last moment. Had he lived, his faith would have led him to baptism as it did for the disciples and the three thousand on Pentecost, and Apollos, and the disciples in Acts chapter 19 who had been baptized by John, but had not been baptized into Christ, and thus had not received the Holy Spirit. And this would add just a little more weight to the argument that Christian baptism is not John’s baptism. One who believes in Jesus Christ, heeds his word and longs for the promise of salvation that Jesus himself attaches to baptism, longs to walk in the newness of life that Jesus attaches to baptism through his servant Paul.
And so, brothers and sisters, this we do. You and I, we walk in the newness of life, no longer as slaves to sin and death, but as heirs, coheirs with Christ. Heirs of the kingdom of God who know that this world is passing away, so that we are given over to a love for God our Father and for the world to come. Here in baptism God was at work, sprinkling us with clean water, that is, a water that would cleanse because it came with the Holy Spirit that is a Spirit that makes us Holy. Here we have been sanctified by the washing of the water with the word as it says in Ephesians 5. Here we were made Holy that we would live holy lives cleansed from all our idols. It is perhaps a reality we do not always see, it is a life lived by faith. We look at ourselves and we see our sins, the many and various ways in which we show to God and to ourselves that there is someone or something that we fear, or love, or trust in more than him. And yet he is steadfast and faithful to forgive our sins, with him there is forgiveness and therefor he is feared. And so we remain in our baptisms, daily repenting of our sins, daily putting to death the old Adam within us, and daily learning to trust less in ourselves and our commitment to God and evermore in God, and his commitment and love for us which he showed through his son whom he gave on the cross as a propitiation for our sin, and which he bestowed upon us in the waters of baptism.