John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. 5 Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. 6 John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. 11 And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
Today is Baptism of the Lord Sunday which immediately follows Epiphany. It is a day to ponder our baptism and what it means to us. John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
So, when were you baptized? Were you baptized as infant? Were you baptized as an adult? I was baptized as an infant in Anoka, Minnesota. At age 11 I was confirmed in the church. Confirmation, for me, was reaffirming that baptism and coming into membership in the Church. Yes, I was put on the rolls of Englewood United Methodist Church, but what was important to me was that Confirmation was a symbol of my commitment to be a part of Christ’s Holy Church. It was an affirmation of my belief in Jesus, and my intention to follow the Lord for the rest of my life.
Baptism is a dedication of ourselves to God, a recognition of his lordship in our lives. It is a commitment to place myself under God’s control to the best of my ability. Our hymnal states, “The Baptismal covenant is God’s word to us, proclaiming our adoption by grace, and our word to God promising our response of faith and love.” (UMH p. 32)
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is revealed to the world at his presentation in the Temple, as witnessed by Simeon and Anna. In his baptism by John, he is descended upon by the Spirit, and the voice of God affirms his identity. “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.” While not as dramatic, our identity is made sure in baptism. We are a child of God.
We have heard this all many times, but did you catch John’s description of Jesus? Mark 1:8, “I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Did Jesus ever baptize anyone? No, not that I recall, recorded in the scripture anyway. John’s baptism was a baptism for forgiveness and setting a new course direction for your life. It was a turning away from a life that did not include God and turning toward the God who loves us.
So, what is baptism with the Holy Spirit? In Acts 19:6 the text says, “When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied …” We usually think of baptism in the Holy Spirit as some dramatic event accompanied with ‘signs and wonders.’ Therefore, many of us don’t see ourselves as baptized with the Holy Spirit. Luke (the writer of both the Gospel of Luke and Acts), however, would see it as essential equipment for a Christian to be a disciple. “It is not optional equipment for Christians, not some advanced degree that separates “Spirit-filled Christians” from the run-of-the-mill Christian. By virtue of baptism in the name of Jesus and laying-on-of-hands, all Christians are baptized in the Spirit.” [William Willimon, Interpretation: The Gospel of Luke] Hear the context of Acts 19:1-6. Paul came to Ephesus and asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you came to believe?” They said they hadn’t ever heard of the Holy Spirit. They affirmed that the baptism they received was that of John the Baptist – that is for forgiveness and charting a new course. That was wonderful, but Paul indicates that thy need to be baptized into Christ. “ Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
On Jesus’ last night, he shared deeply with the disciples (as recorded in John’s Gospel). Jesus says, in John 14, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
Hear how Paul describes baptism in Galatians 3:26-27 “… for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Clothed with Christ is another way speaking of being filled with the Spirit. We are a child of God through faith and the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in us, just as Jesus said.
Maybe the biggest issue for us, then, is to recognize the Spirit in our lives. Paul’s letter of 1 Corinthians in the 12th chapter is a wonderful statement about recognizing the Spirit. Let’s begin with 12:3 - it is important. “No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Spirit.” It is the Spirit that leads us to that affirmation and the Spirit that empowers us to live that as a reality in life. It is an affirmation of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us.
Once again, we encounter one of Paul’s lists. As a reminder, Paul’s lists are not exhaustive. There are many items left out. It is a way of getting us to think about and further fill out the list as we ponder it. I want to say first that the list in 1 Corinthians 12 is in contrast to Paul’s list of the “fruits of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23 “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” Paul would consider this as standard equipment, available to all and expected to the fruit of affirming that Jesus is Lord. If we don’t see these things in our life … we need to ask for them. So in 1 Corinthians 12 we have another list. Paul is talking about “gifts of the Spirit” this time. In this case, we do not all have same gifts. We are each given gifts according to who we are. Note that the first three gifts listed are foundational and or ordinary kind of gifts – wisdom, knowledge, and faith. Only later in the list do we get to what we might call more dramatic gifts – healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation of tongues. It goes on to talk about, like the human body, not all parts have the same function, none more important than another.
Here is where I’d like to return to Acts 19. Earlier I spoke of the result of Paul’s laying on of hands. “The Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied …” This isn’t “tongues” – unintelligible language – it is “other languages.” It was a gift to speak another’s language. It would be like us being suddenly given the gift to speak French or Italian. What I draw from this is that it indicates a bridging of the gap between people by the Gospel Message in the Holy Spirit. Speaking of languages, Gary Smalley wrote The Five Love Languages. The essence of the book is speaking love so that another can truly hear it. The five languages he indicates are “Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, Quality Time, and Gifts.” While all five languages will be a part of who we are, we each have a dominant love language. We most easily recognize love in that language, and usually “speak” love in that dominant language. But if the one we are communicating love to has a different dominant Love Language they may not be able to hear our love as clearly as we want. Let me illustrate with an example. Bob and Gin Link were friends of mine, as well as leaders of a program called Marriage Enrichment. When Gin was feeling particularly amorous she would bake Bob a cherry pie. This went on for years. She would express her love for Bob in a cherry pie. Finally, Bob admitted to her that he didn’t care for cherry pie. Talk about miscommunication. Her love language was ‘acts of service’ and Bob wasn’t hearing it clearly.
It seems, the result of Baptism in Acts 19 was the Spirit-given ability to communicate in another person’s language. Miraculous still, maybe. But immanently practical.
It is our task in life to listen for and respond to the Holy Spirit. We are to receive the gifts given and develop them to their fullest extent. The Spirit is there and waiting, wanting to bless and guide us. As we acknowledge Jesus as Lord of our life, we are opening the door for the Spirit to be more active in us.
My Question is: What do I consider as Holy Spirit moments in my life? What gifts do I identify in myself that God can use to bless someone else? How can I be more open to experiencing the Holy Spirit in the future?
Celebrate your baptism and be thankful for the Holy Spirit in your life!
As we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, and our own baptisms, I want us to think about our commitment to follow Christ with all that we are. I want to close with John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer. Find yourself in it as you listen.
“I am no longer my own but thine. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for you or set aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - you are mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”
May each day be filled with the Holy Spirit’s working, and may we find ourselves walking closer to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman