"I baptize you with water, for repentance, but the one coming after me is more powerful than I am – I am not worthy to carry his sandals." Matthew 3:11
Did these words of John the Baptist ever trip you up? I've stumbled over them hundreds of times but never asked the question. So, I'm going to ask the question today. Why did John the Baptist call people to repent and why did he baptize them before Jesus' death and resurrection actually occurred?
Growing up baptist and fluent in Christianese, I thought baptism was all "our" idea because unlike other denominations, baptists believed in total submersion like Jesus did (Matthew 3). But here's what bothered me: if submersion in water symbolized dying to sin through Jesus' death and rising out of the water meant new life as in the resurrection of Jesus, then how did the Jews understand what John the Baptist was talking about since this occurred prior to Jesus death and resurrection?
Here's what I've learned: First, Luke 1: 17 tells us that John the Baptist would "go on before the Lord (Jesus), in the spirit and power of Elijah...to make a people prepared for the Lord." The whole purpose of John's ministry was to soften Israel's hearts to receive Jesus' kingdom message.
Next, most Jews believed and hoped for a believers physical resurrection from the dead, therefore, Jews understood baptism sybolism. Baptism to these Jews signified repentance (turning away from sin) and committment to God's holy ways, in preparation and sybolizing their future resurrection as God's people.
Tomorrow Lent begins - the season we prepare the way for our hearts to receive the gift of salvation and celebrate the hope of Resurrection Day. As a family, we often didn't celebrate all of Lent, only Holy Week. But as I grow older, understand more, celebrating Resurrection Day should trump Christmas.
How do you prepare your heart and home during Lent? I'd love to hear your ideas.