By: Ron Woodrum
One of the most controversial rock groups since the 1990’s is the rock group Korn. The Chicago Tribune described the group as “perverts, psychopaths, and paranoiacs”. Their heavy metal music and explicit lyrics had earned them quite a reputation-a bad one! But they made news March 3, 2005 when a close friend gave Korn’s lead guitarist Brian “Head” Welch a Bible. He was addicted to Xanax, and crystal meth, as well as alcohol. He was miserable. After reading portions of the Bible he announced that he had accepted The Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. He told MTV and an audience of 10,000 attendees at Valley Bible Fellowship of Bakersfield, California that this is “not about religion, it is not about this Church, it is not about me. It is about Jesus Christ and the Book Of Life. Everyone needs to be taught this. God went to a rock concert and found a hurting soul on stage. I am the happiest man in the world”. Exactly one week later, Welch left skeptics without any doubt, when he and 20 others flew to Israel to follow the Lord Jesus Christ in baptism in the Jordan River. On March 10, 2005 he and 20 white-robed pilgrims were baptized by the Pastor Ron Vetti, of the Valley Bible Fellowship in the Jordan River, confessing Jesus publically as Savior to the entire world. Welch said, “I am going home a totally different and new man”. He followed up his baptism with a new album and a new autobiography both entitled Save Me from Myself. Welch’s actions raise a lot of questions. Why go to Israel to be baptized in the Jordan River? Why be baptized at all? What does it mean to follow the Lord in baptism? Most people both in and outside the Church today see baptism as much an enigma as John the Baptist did of Jesus’ baptism over 2,000 years ago. As we preach this series on “following Jesus” we need to follow him to the Jordan River. We need to ask and answer why He was baptized by John the Baptist. What did that act that he initiated His public ministry with mean? For Him? For us? What does it mean for us to “follow the Lord in baptism?”
According to two N.T. passages Jesus’ baptism was to be an inauguration of the public ministry He was embarking on. According to Matthew 3:13-17, while John the Baptist was baptizing a steady stream of Jewish converts who were showing repentance and readiness for the coming Messiah, Jesus Himself showed up and requested that John baptize Him. John kept on refusing to do so, declaring his own unworthiness, and need to be baptized by Jesus the Messiah. Jesus convinced him to allow it at this time “to fulfill all righteousness”. John agreed. As he immersed Jesus in the Jordan River, he heard a voice from heaven declaring, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased”, and he saw “the Spirit of God descending upon Him in the form of a dove” anointing Him for His mission and ministry as Messiah. Then as you turn to John 1:31-34 we hear John the Baptist saying, “I knew Him not; but so that He might be made manifest to all Israel I came baptizing with water…and I saw the Spirit descending from heaven, in the form of a dove, and abode on Him. I knew Him not…but He who sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, ‘upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining on Him, is the same that will baptize with the Holy Spirit’. I saw and bore witness this one is the Son of God”. Those two narratives describe an event that was a fulfillment of two prophecies about the Messiah. One is Psalm 2. In that Psalm we read about the Son of God who will come to rule and judge the rebellious and mutinous nations. God says, “This is my beloved Son, this day I have begotten thee…and I will give you the nations for your inheritance”. (Psalm 2:1). But Jesus’ baptism was fully explained in Isaiah 42:1 “Behold my Servant, whom I uphold, in whom my soul delighteth, (equivalent in Hebrew to the Greek ‘in whom I am well pleased’.), and will give thee to the covenant people, and for a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to set free prisoners from prison and the darkness of the prison house.” As Jesus began His ministry He submitted Himself to a ceremony that symbolized and pictured what His mission would be as the Suffering Servant Messiah. He would not just be the King, Son of the Most High, come to rule the nations. He would be Suffering Servant come to give His life as predicted of Him in Isaiah 53. All of that was pictured in His baptism. The Spirit would come on Him and empower Him to live a righteous life, and sacrifice Himself as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. Those who would trust Him to be the one to take away their sins, by His sacrifice, would publically declare it by following His example, and submit to water baptism, as He did. By that they would foreshadow what His sacrifice would do for them. His Spirit baptism would put them in union with Him, and His Spirit would enable them to die to sin, self, and the world, and be raised spiritually to walk in newness of life. His baptism prophesied His mission. Their baptism prophesied their deliverance from sin. Psalm 2 ends by giving all the command to “kiss the Son and give evidence to their faith and trust in Him” to be the Savior and King He came to be. Baptism is the public demonstration where we can “kiss the Son” and declare our faith in Him. Through our union with Him we have died to sin and self and risen to walk in Him.
Having John baptize Him was Jesus’ “Crossing the Rubicon”. On January 10, 49 B.C. Julius Caesar, with all of his troops, was sitting on the banks of the Rubicon River that separated Italy from Gaul. For him to cross into Italy with his troops was to break the law of Imperium, which forbid any unauthorized generals and troops from entering the country as a military unit. To do so was to be penalized by death for the general and the troops. That night Caesar and his troops slept on the banks of the Rubicon. The next morning, stating he had been given a word from god, he uttered these words “alea iacta est” -“the die is cast” and he and his troops “crossed the Rubicon“. That phrase has become an idiom for going to the “point of no return”. It has come to mean “make a choice and face whatever consequences it brings”-no turning back. That is what Jesus did in submitting to John’s baptism. He was committing Himself to all it would be to “fulfill at righteousness” as the Suffering Servant Messiah and as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. All of that mission and ministry would be pictured in His baptism. Entering the water, lying down in the water, being buried totally in the water, and rising up out of the water. There is the vivid panorama of what it would take to “fulfill all righteousness” in obedience to the will of His Father. He would be empowered by the Spirit to live under the law, to redeem those who had broken the law. He would, as Hebrews says, “offer Himself as a sacrifice through the power of the Eternal Spirit, to be the perfect one-time sacrifice, to redeem all those who put their trust in Him. (Heb.9:14).
Jesus then gave His Church the commission to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever He commanded. (Matt. 28:19-20). That gave all who would hear the good news of the Gospel, illustrated by Jesus Death, Burial, and Resurrection, pictured in His baptism, the opportunity to follow Him in baptism, and thereby trust His redemptive work, which would unite them with Him, in His Death and Resurrection, and Spirit’s filling and anointing, enabling them to die to the old life, and be raised to walk in newness of life. (See Rom. 6:14). Our baptism, picturing the baptism of the Spirit, is our “Crossing the Rubicon”. It is us choosing to “cast the die”. It is the linking of our faith and trust with His redemptive work, resulting in a transforming salvation. C.S. Lewis talked about the miracle of this work of Christ in our lives. He wrote, “The Christian way is different: harder and easier. Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t so much want your time and so much your money and so much your work: I want you! I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down…Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked-the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: My own shall become yours’ “That is what happens when we follow the Lord in baptism, and begin living out the actuality of the Sprit’s baptism. That is what God wanted when He commanded in Psalm 2-“kiss the Son, lest He be angry with you!” Paint a picture of Him, by your submission to Him, and display His beauty for all the world to see.
Charles Spurgeon tells the story about an artist who was a contemporary with him, though he had never met him. His name was Gustave Dore. One day when Gustave Dore was working on a painting of Christ, a lady friend came to visit his studio and began gazing intently at the face, almost completed. As she was gazing, the artist retired from the picture to a corner of the room, and looked at the face of his friend, as she looked intently on the face on the canvas. Turning around she asked, “Why do you look at me so anxiously?” “I wanted to watch your face as you looked at His face-I think you like it”, He insisted. “Yes, I do”, she told him. “Do you want to know what I was thinking? -I was thinking that you could never paint the face of Christ like you have unless you loved Him!” “Do I love Him?’ Dore asked in agitation. “I trust I do-and that sincerely; but as I love Him more, I shall paint Him better!” Baptism, and the new life that follows, is the opportunity to show our love for Him by painting His portrait on the canvass of our lives for the world to see how our faith, in His redemptive work, is the only hope we have of fulfilling all righteousness, and restoring the glory God intended for us in the beginning. “Kiss the Son”