If you’re like me, in Scripture it seems like baptism comes out of NO WHERE.
Never is baptism mentioned and then all of the sudden, John prophesied and people were baptized.
I did some digging, and the closest I could come, is the ancient washing practices for cleansing. Leviticus goes into great detail about the cleansing practices, particularly chapters 13-15. Throughout these chapters, it addresses all kinds of conditions that require cleansing.
Leviticus tells all the rules about what makes a man clean or unclean. It’s pretty hefty. There’s another story of cleansing I love in Ezekiel 16.
Ezekiel 16:4-14 4 As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing; you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths. 5 No eye looked with pity on you to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you. Rather you were thrown out into the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born.
6 “When I passed by you and saw you squirming in your blood, I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’ 7 I made you numerous like plants of the field. Then you grew up, became tall and reached the age for fine ornaments; your breasts were formed and your hair had grown. Yet you were naked and bare.
8 “Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine,” declares the Lord God. 9 “Then I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. 10 I also clothed you with embroidered cloth and put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet; and I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk. 11 I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck. 12 I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. 14 Then your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you,” declares the Lord God.
The cleansing language is what John was also highlighting when he began to baptize. This story in Ezekiel continues tragically, with Israel rejecting the one who has made her clean. I can’t read this passage with a dry eye. When I think of the care God takes to clean the one wallowing in her filth I lose my rational sensibilities, because there’s nothing rational about love like this. He cleanses her though He KNOWS she will reject Him.
Baptism represents cleansing. It’s an outward expression of the work God has done [will do] to cleanse us. It doesn’t save us, rather, baptism is a beautiful reminder of the gift of grace God bestows on us. When we trust Him, He cleanses us from our filth. He washes off our blood from us. He clothes us. He makes us righteous.
No wonder John felt such inadequacy when Jesus asked him to baptize Him. Jesus, in all His righteousness had no need of cleansing. Remember as Jesus is hanging on the cross, and He says, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” All of our hearts break because Jesus was forsaken because God could not look on the sin that Jesus had taken on Himself. MY sin. Sin that requires the cleansing of God. MY sin that would it not be for Jesus, would mean that God could not look on me.
Jesus’ baptism is a foreshadowing for John. He knows he is inadequate to baptize Jesus, because there is NO earthly way for him to make Jesus clean, first because Jesus is already clean, and second because all the sin Jesus will take on in order for us to come to salvation can only be cleansed miraculously by God’s great grace. And God graciously forgives the guilt of my sin as it was laid on Jesus.
So when John began this expression of belief, it was a sign of what Jesus’ death would ultimately do. His water and blood wash our unrighteousness from us. He cleanses our filth and from our point of trust forward, God sees us through the lens of CHRIST’S blood instead. No longer does He have to turn His face from our unrighteousness because He sees us cleansed and holy. Hallelujah, what a Savior.
Have you been baptized? What did it mean to you?
When you read the Ezekiel passage, does it give a new picture of your baptism? How does it cultivate gratitude in you?
Take some time to tell God about your thankfulness for His gift of life given to you.