Right now, our pastors and staff (and probably you, too!) are in the process of preparing ourselves for a new phase in the life of the church—you’ve probably heard it by now, but the Governor’s Office is moving the state into Phase 1 of the coronavirus response plan; which means Hyland Heights is reopening the doors soon! You can find out what Phase 1 looks like for our church at hhbc.net/coronavirus.
For me, this moment in our lives has brought to mind a moment in Scripture where we also see people preparing themselves for a new phase of ministry to take place. It’s the major account that we have of a man named John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry here on earth.
In Luke 3, we find John the Baptist out in the wilderness—specifically in the Jordan River—and all these different Israelites are coming to be baptized by him. Verse 3 tells us that John is using baptism to help the people repent—to turn away from their sins and set themselves up for the forgiveness that they can receive through Jesus. Take a look at some of the people that come to be baptized:
10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. 11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” 13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. 14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
We’ve got the poor, the rich, tax collectors, and even some soldiers—people from all different backgrounds doing all kinds of things, and yet they are all coming to John to be baptized.
Notice the first thing that each of these people does after getting baptized. They ask John what they should do next! And John basically tells them this: “Go and sin no more.” The tax collectors, for example, were taking extra money from the people and keeping it for themselves. After their baptism John calls them to repent—to turn away from their sins and stop bringing harm to others through their actions. He keeps pinpointing the sins that the people had come to repent of, and he challenges them to truly dedicate themselves to a new way of life if they are serious about repentance.
So, a summary of what’s happening so far might sound like this: all types of people are dedicating themselves to a new way of life by being baptized. Time for some critical thinking: is this the same baptism that we see in church today? That you and I would go through after we accept the truth about Jesus and become Christ followers?
Not quite—but in a way, it points to the baptism that we take part in as Christians. John the Baptist is called a forerunner who is preparing the way for Christ. That means everything John is doing prepares peoples’ hearts and minds to be a part of what God is about to do through Jesus. But it doesn’t take the place of participating in what God does through Jesus. So, if this isn’t the same baptism that we know, what’s going on here?
We have to remember our knowledge of the Israelites in the Old Testament to get the right idea (and if you’ve been listening to any of Pastor Josh’s recent messages, you’ll probably know where to go! Hint: the book of Joshua.). After the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, they entered the promised land by crossing the Jordan River. Stop! Where have we heard that name before? It’s the same river that John is baptizing the Israelites in now! Not a coincidence.
And once the Israelites entered the promised land, God gave the people a specific responsibility—to be a kingdom of priests. A simple definition of a priest is a mediator between God and man—someone who represents God to the people and the people to God. So, if God called Israel to be a kingdom of priests, he called them to be representatives of who He is and what He is like to all the other kingdoms and nations around them. And they did this by loving their neighbors, living lives consistent with God’s character, following the ten commandments and the other commands of the Torah, and worshiping God alone. But as you read on in the rest of the Old Testament, you find that most of it ends up being the story about how the Israelites fail at representing God repeatedly; which is why you close the Old Testament knowing that God needs to send someone else—His own perfect representative to do what people can’t—himself, in Jesus Christ.
So here in Luke 3, John is calling the people of Israel to start over—He’s baptizing them in the Jordan for them to symbolically go back through the river and come out rededicated to a life that represents God. He wants them to be ready—to be prepared for what God is about to do; and it’s within this renewal movement that Jesus first shows up. As you read on, Jesus Himself is baptized, and the voice of God miraculously confirms that everything God is about to will be through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Stop for a moment and recognize what this encounter is really saying: people have come to John to turn away from their sins so that they can be forgiven. And in baptizing Jesus, God declares that forgiveness of sins is going to come through His Son—through faith in His life, death, and resurrection.
Just like the people did through their baptism by John, I think we need to prepare ourselves for what we are going to see God do as we move into a new phase of ministry. And if we can take a lesson from Luke 3, that means repenting of our sins and committing ourselves to walking in a new way of life. Take the days leading up to our first phase of reopening as a challenge:
Prepare your heart and mind to be a part of what God is about to do, so that you can participate in what God does in the coming days.
Middle School Pastor