(Preach, The Seed, 2023-08-06)

The Text: Mark 1:9-13 (niv)

“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him”

Mark is reckoned to be the least developed, the least theological of all the Gospels–which is one of the reasons it is reckoned to be the earliest. Yet right at the outset of his account he brings all sorts of theology right to our doorstep. Least developed my foot! It’s full of teaching we can learn from! These four verses alone touch on the following theological topics and Christian doctrines:

  1. Baptism: Jesus is baptised by John, and we read that He was coming up out of the water (which implies ‘full immersion). Why did Jesus need to be baptised? What is baptism anyway? What does it DO? What does it look like? This is what we’ll tackle today.
  2. God There are two core doctrines of God which are touched on in these few verses,
    1. Firstly, The Trinity: in that moment we have Jesus (God the Son) coming out of the water; We have God the Spirit descending on Him (‘like a dove’); We have God the Father making a declaration about His Son. Moslems believe that the Christian faith is polytheistic, that we worship 3 Gods. Lots of people find the Trinity difficult to understand, let alone explain. We’ll look at the Trinity next week.
    2. Secondly, we have Jesus’ deity: In declaring ‘you are my son’, God confirms that Jesus is divine. Interestingly, this is the first description of Jesus, and although it is as “Son of God”, the overwhelming term Jesus uses for himself in Mark’s Gospel is ‘son of man’. How can Jesus be BOTH 100% human and 100% divine? How do the human and the divine relate to each other in Jesus?
  3. Guidance: Having been introduced to us as descending ‘like a dove’, we see the Holy Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness where He was tempted. How does God guide us? By the Spirit only? Or are there other ways?
  4. Spiritual Combat: In the wilderness, we see Jesus enduring temptation – and Satan tempting Him. We don’t know the details of that temptation here in Mark, though the parallel accounts fill in some of the blanks for us.
  5. Angels: Angels attended Jesus. What are angels? What do they do?

To expand on any of these points we must go outside the text itself and see what other passages and Biblical writings have to teach us about these subjects.

I have a choice. Do I note each one and make a few superficial comments on it, or do I ‘drill down’ and take weeks? After much prevarication, I have decided to tackle each of these as a separate topic, so for the next month, we are going to be in these few verses.

So, to the first of these subjects–baptism.

The subject of baptism is a contentious one. When I was going through the process of rejection by the Church of England, at my selection conference I had to chair a debate amongst the candidates about baptism. It was very lively given the range of beliefs in the room about what baptism is and what it means. Some were from traditional churches and happy to perform a ceremony they call ‘baptism’ on babies. Others believed it’s only a real baptism when the candidate has a degree of understanding. If you believe understanding is necessary for baptism to take place, then whatever you call what happens to a baby in a traditional church isn’t biblical baptism (my view). This ceremony is typically referred to as a ‘Christening’ and it is quite common for some churches to ‘fully baptise’ someone who went through this ceremony as a baby (theologically they are known as ‘anabaptists’). This can be an issue because all Christians would believe that there is ‘one baptism for the forgiveness of sins’ (this comes from the Nicene creed). So, if a church performs a full immersion baptism on someone who has already been ‘baptised’ as a baby according to another tradition, they are saying to /about that church tradition? If they claim that ‘it wasn’t a proper baptism’, are they claiming the moral high ground and saying “what they do isn’t good enough”? Are they right about that?

This is not the only source of conflict around this issue. Some Christians believe that baptism is essential for salvation. By that I mean that there are some Christians who hold to a belief that without baptism a believer cannot heaven EVEN IF they have placed their trust in Jesus’ death on the cross. A few years ago I was asked to help run an Alpha Course by someone who believed that very thing. I am among those who don’t see it as essential, so driving home together one evening we had what can only be described as a very interesting conversation! He didn’t ask me to help again.

What form should the baptism take? If the candidate is not fully immersed, does this mean it is not legitimate? What if there isn’t enough water? Is it enough to pour or sprinkle water on someone to baptise them? This may not be much of a problem in the UK where water is generally abundant, but how about when you are in a hot arid desert country? Is it really baptism if you don’t get ‘fully dunked’?

I have asked a lot of questions and not offered any answers yet. What I hope to do now is give my understanding of what baptism is and what it looks like here. In The Seed.

The first place I want to turn to is Hebrews 6:2 which says:

“let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding” Hebrews 6:1-3 (nlt).

So, as the writer to Hebrews tells us, baptism is something of fundamental importance. We would do well to understand it.

Types of Baptism?

There are four types of baptism noted in the New Testament.

1. John’s Baptism

Firstly we have What you might call John’s baptism. It’s the first baptism we come across in the Gospels. John is SO connected to this baptism that he is called in the Gospels and has been known throughout history as John the Baptist. This John is the one who came preaching and baptising people and who we encounter right at the start of Jesus’ ministry.

This account at the beginning of Mark’s gospel where we read about John coming to preach and baptising all who came to him is a prime example of this. But John refers to a greater one than him, he has already said “I baptise you with water, but He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit” In Acts 1:5, the risen Jesus refers to John the Baptist: “John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit”

Acts 13:24 Paul tells the Synagogue in Antioch “Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel.”

John’s baptism, although it is described here and in Matthew 3 and in Luke 3, and referred to in John 1, is not the baptism which the early believers had. In fact , if they had been baptised by John, there is at least one occasion which I’ll refer to later where the person was actually re-baptised.

Interestingly, although Jesus submitted to John’s baptism, He didn’t need to be baptised by John since John’s baptism is a baptism of repentance, and repentance is a theological word which describes our feeling about and our dealing with our sin. Yet Jesus was without sin:

The writer to the Hebrews says of Him, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).

So Jesus didn’t need baptism. Matthew tells us as much. In his account, he describes John saying “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”.

One thing we can learn from this is the connection between repentance and baptism. Baptism is not appropriate for someone who hasn’t truly repented.

2. Baptism of Suffering

The second type of baptism is one which I find quite disturbing …

Jesus says in Luke 12:50 “I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!”

And again in Mark 10:35-45. we read James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus.

“Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Here Jesus is referring to his death and his suffering as a baptism, he also says to James and John that they will be baptised with that same baptism. With the exception of John who was exiled to Patmos, every one of the Disciples were martyred. They all suffered for their faith, as have countless other Christian believers through the ages:

There are all sorts of accounts over the centuries of others who have undergone this same baptism of suffering. Nowadays in the UK (in theory at least) we have freedom to believe and freedom to worship. However, in many other places all over the world, Christians are being arrested, jailed, tortured and murdered for no other reason than this – they follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. One of the questions Jesus asks us is ‘are you willing to follow me even if it means suffering and possibly death?’.

I believe that we are fast approaching a time when holding to a traditional view of faith and the Bible will result in our being persecuted here in the UK.

3. Baptism in the Spirit

In Mark 1:8 John had said, “I baptise you with water – but HE will baptise you with the Holy Spirit”

I am not going to dive too deeply into this particular phrase this morning, but Baptism in the Holy Spirit, what it means, what it brings and how we know it has happened (i.e. what are the ‘marks’ of having been baptised by the Spirit) has a whole gamut of different teaching and beliefs around it. The person and role of the Holy Spirit is a whole module in seminary and there are literally thousands of books which have been written about the subject over the years. There are some who believe that ‘baptism in the Spirit’ and particularly the giving of spiritual gifts to believers by God through this event known as baptism in the Spirit ceased with the completion of Scripture. They believe that any exercise of spiritual gifts (tongues, prophecy, healing and so on—listed in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 or Ephesians 4) are in fact not from God, but could well be profoundly ungodly. On the other end of the spectrum there are others who believe just about the opposite. They say that if you have not had an experience they describe as ‘baptism in the spirit’ and you don’t manifest at least one of those same spiritual gifts, it is evidence that your salvation is not genuine because God who can see into our hearts knows that you have not really repented and therefore has withheld the gifts from you. So, … some say if you use a ‘gift of the spirit’, you are ungodly. AND others say you are ungodly if you do not! And the man in the pew has to somehow make sense of it all?!!!

For what it’s worth, I believe this:

There is an experience of God by His Holy Spirit that every Christian can have if he wants. This experience which many call baptism in the Holy Spirit brings a deeper relationship with God and with His word. It somehow (and this is a mystery) “seals” in us our faith and trust in God.

Paul alludes to this when he says to the Ephesians “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13,14)

The distribution of the Spiritual Gifts by God is found in what we call them. Gifts they are not ‘earns’ they are not ‘purchases’. Whether we have a particular gift or not is not down to us. It is down to God. We love and serve the same God that the disciples did. God hasn’t changed, He is the same yesterday, today and forever. If he gave the early believers gifts, He can give them to us.

However, when God gives us a gift, I believe the thing we should take on board is that God wants me to build up the people around me. It doesn’t mean that I am somehow more ‘spiritual’ than someone else in the church. It means I have been given a tool to build up my Christian brothers and sisters.

1 Corinthians 12:7 “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good”.

Ephesians 4:11,12 “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”.

Lastly, we have:

4. Believer’s baptism

Lastly we have what we call believer’s baptism. I want to return to what I said about John’s baptism and how I don’t believe that John’s was the baptism that the early church carried out. If we read Acts 19:1-7 we read the account of Paul encountering the disciples in Ephesus:

“While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.”

as an aside. We note that because the baptism that the believers in Ephesus had had wasn’t the ‘correct baptism’, Paul had no qualms at all about baptising them again. I am not going to go down a rabbit hole of looking at circumstances when baptising someone ‘again’ is ok, but it is interesting to note that Paul was quite happy to do so!


Believer’s baptism is where we are going to “settle” today, what is baptism and what does it represent?

The most important thing to realise: I believe that getting baptised doesn’t add to your salvation one iota. As I said earlier, there are some who would say that baptism is an essential part of our salvation. They claim that if you’re not baptised, then you are not saved.

I do not believe that, and at The Seed we do NOT teach that! Our belief is that the only thing which is required for salvation is faith in Jesus Christ. Only Christ can unlock the gates of hell and swing wide open the gates of heaven. Baptism is what you do when you are saved it isn’t what you do to get saved. It doesn’t make you a Christian: it shows you ARE a Christian. It is an outward sign of in inner transformation. There’s nothing magic in the water

Baptism is a mixture of declaration and symbolism of certain things:

Baptism – Declarations:

1. Obedience

Firstly and most importantly, baptism is a mark of obedience. Jesus set the example and commanded it:

  1. He was baptised himself. When he comes out of the water, Father God stamps His approval on Jesus’ action. He says: “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:21).
  2. He baptised others as John had done (John 3:22)
  3. Jesus commands his disciples baptise disciples (Matt 28:19-20). This command is one of the last recorded statements of Jesus’ life and is considered to be extremely important.

Getting baptised is a big deal, I have met people who struggle with it. Some have wrestled with it and taken years to get to the place where they will get baptised. Why? If it’s just a matter of saying a few words and getting wet, what’s the big deal.

At its core, baptism is a PUBLIC declaration which says ‘I am no longer in charge of my life—I hand the reigns over to Jesus and in this first act of obedience I am declaring to you all that I am now going to be obedient to Him’

2. Confession

Baptism is nailing your colours to the mast! Faith is invisible therefore we need to do things to show we have a living faith in Jesus Christ. People become Christians in lots of different ways (e.g. an appeal at a big event or quietly in the privacy of their bedrooms).

In many countries in the world saying you are a Christian isn’t a problem until you decide to get baptised, then life gets really exciting! For example, Muslims will often hold a mock funeral if a Muslim gets baptised as a Christian. They understand better than us what it means.

3. Dedication

Romans 12v11 “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord”

Luke 9v62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

The oath which Roman soldier swore when he dedicated his life to the emperor for 25 years was called a “Sacramentum”. It was something the soldier did after he was enlisted but something that he was held to by duty and honour. Early in the history of the church the Lords supper (communion) and baptism became known as Sacraments. I won’t spell out the obvious reason why.

We are pledging our allegiance to Jesus not only for this life but throughout eternity.

Baptism is then, a decision which stretches into eternity and not to be taken lightly.

4. Identification

Jesus identified with us first by His baptism even though he didn’t need to – Matthew records this fact in His discussion with John the Baptist (Matthew 3:14,15). We identify with him also in our baptism. Romans 6:3 “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?”

so we have the sequence:

  1. Into the water = death / Romans 6:2, 11 (count yourselves dead to sin).
  2. Under the water = burial / Romans 6:4 (We were therefore buried with him through baptism)
  3. Out of the water = resurrection / Romans 6:5 (just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life)

5. Commission

Note baptism is an element in the commandment Jesus gave us as He left the world, in the part of His teaching we call “the great commission”:

Matthew 28:19 “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit”

An Indian Bishop every time he baptised someone would get him or her to say after “I am a baptised Christian. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel”. The church in that region soon began to grow. Just as Jesus was commissioned into his ministry so we to should expect to follow in his example.

Baptism – Symbolism

What does Baptism symbolise?

Baptism is a picture of four things which happen to someone who believes in Jesus:

  1. Washing away past sin
  2. Burial of the old life and Birth of the new.
  3. Joining the body of Christ.

1 Washing

We need to understand that water is a symbol of cleansing. Jesus was baptised in the river Jordan, the river washed away the sin (symbolically). It is also then that baptism is linked to forgiveness. It shows we have been washed clean of our sins –

Acts 22:16 – Why was Saul baptised? Ananias goes to the now seeing Paul and says to him : “now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Paul is recalling the event when he is giving testimony to the crowds in Jerusalem).

1 Peter 3:20-22 – talks about the flood. He describes the ark and says of it that “only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.

2 Burial & Birth

In baptism, we are “buried” under water (just as Jesus was buried) and we are raised up again to live a new life (just as Jesus was raised from the dead).

In baptism, we very publicly say: “I was dead in my sins, now I am alive in Christ” (cf. The beginning of Ephesians 2 says this “as for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins”, and then goes on to say “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”, The father in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 says to the older brother “this brother of yours was dead and is alive again”. You can find this idea of having been made alive in Christ throughout the NT.

Colossians 2:12: having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Baptism symbolises that we are ‘in Christ’ just as he died and rose again, so we also die to self and rise out of the water to a new life in Jesus (Romans 6:1-5). don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life..

Baptism symbolises our death to the old life and resurrection to a new life, so we have the sequence:

Getting into the water (which represents death) ☞ going under the water (burial) ☞ coming out of the water (resurrection)

Therefore going under the water is a symbol of death to our old life, and coming out of it is a symbol of our new life in Christ.

3 Joining

Baptism today is a PUBLIC event, like marriage which shows our transition from being an unbeliever to a position of faith in Christ. It shows our identification with Christ, in fact the Bible says we have been baptised “into” Christ: Romans 6:3-7/Galatians 3:27

Not just that, in baptism we also say – as I identify with Christ, I take my place in the body of Christ. So Paul talks in 1 Corinthians of being baptised INTO the Body of Christ, he quite literally says that baptism, like a birth links us into a family – the family of believers. Note: I am NOT suggesting that we are talking about membership of some human gathering of people which we call this church or that church, I am talking about our identification with the universal church.

So, Baptism is about joining us to the Church, as well as to Christ. Pray for wisdom to discover what gifts God wants to release in you and what part He wants you to play in your local church.

I would challenge you if you haven’t been baptised, to think about whether you are being challenged by God to get baptised.

If you’re listening on the podcast and you haven’t been baptised – go to your pastor, and commit yourself to Christ in and through the waters of baptism!