Read Matthew 3
Let’s begin with a review of all of the Bible verses in the Old Testament about baptism. Do you remember in which part of the Torah we find the instructions on baptism?
Exodus? Leviticus? Or did those instructions not come until Joshua entered the Promised Land?
There is no biblical instruction on baptism available to us from the Old Testament; yet, this chapter begins with John the Baptizer earning his title. He was baptizing at the Jordan.
His baptism was one of repentance. Now repentance was and is a concept that we can get our heads around with Old Testament precedent. Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh because the people there might repent and turn away from their evil ways and God would spare them the punishment and destruction that they so richly deserved.
But there is no mention of baptism. Wearing sack cloth and putting ashes on your head might have been the thing to do, but baptism never entered the conversation.
Repentance was a dry land experience as far as the Old Testament goes. John does something different, but obviously familiar to the people of that age.
The Scribes and Pharisees say nothing of the fact that John is baptizing people. Somewhere along the way, baptism became a part of Hebrew life. The New Testament is full of baptism references, but John is the first instance that we note of this practice.
John baptized with water. He promised one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. John’s mission was to prepare the way for Jesus.
How do you prepare the way? If a king was coming, you fixed the roads. If the tin horn had washed away, you got a new one and smoothed out the crossing over the gulley. Detours were not acceptable to the king. He would not want to go around the problem. You were supposed to fix the problem before he got there.
Get rid of the detour and keep the road straight.
Today we complain about our roads and then we complain about construction when somebody starts to fix them. While I’m sure that the new Diamond Interchange makes it easier for trucks and large vehicles to access and exit (especially left turns); I don’t think it fits the model of make straight the way.
John prepared the way for Jesus by calling all to repent of their sins. If you want salvation, you must first repent.
We must still prepare the way to receive our Lord and Savior. Sometimes that takes years. Sometimes it is a moment, but however long, we must realize that our life lived only for ourselves is not one that has readied the way for our Lord.
We are not ready for grace without repentance. The world wants that. The world wants sin in one had and forgiveness in another. While God is a forgiving God; we must not become cavalier to his lovingkindness.
We are called to repent.
John called all and baptized those who came to repent of their sins. The One greater than him who would come after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit, but would also call for repentance. As we will see in the next chapter, Jesus called people to repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.
And I can’t leave out John’s treatment of the Pharisees and Sadducees who had come just to watch. They were spectators and arm-chair quarterbacks but we know of none who came to repent or for baptism.
Why should they repent? They were sons of Abraham. They had their ticket punched. Or did they?
John warned these snakes—you brood of vipers—that God could take the rocks around them and make new children of Abraham if he so desired.
John warned them that they better invest less in their lineage and more in their lives proved worthy by the fruit they produce.
John came before Jesus and would continue his ministry concurrently with Jesus for a time and at different locations, but the message remains for all.
Prepare the way for the Lord. How? Repent of your sins.
What is the message that you hear from me at Ash Wednesday? It’s a reminder. There is no Ash Wednesday in the Bible. The apostles didn’t partake of Ash Wednesday. The ashes have no power.
The message of that time which I believe is a reminder to us should be life for the world.
REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOOD NEWS!
We should not only hear these words but share these words with this lost world. Amen.