While this passage focuses on baptism, we will not be discussing baptism. Baptism is important. As we’ll see, Jesus supports and tells us to be baptized. It’s important to know that baptism does not save or cleanse a person from their sins. It’s a symbolic gesture of being cleansed by Jesus. It is a public profession of our faith in Jesus. It’s important, but it does not provide salvation. Jesus provides salvation. Instead, we will be looking at what is said and the actions that take place in and around this passage that show us what it takes to make a change in our world.
1. Change requires proclaiming Jesus.
John the Baptist is seen teaching repentance and the coming of Jesus Christ. He says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (v. 2). This is nothing new. God has been telling his people this since Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden. But we see people going and “confessing their sins” (v. 6). Verse 5 states, “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him.” This sounds like hundreds, if not thousands, of people were going out to John, confessing their sins, and repenting.
John later on says, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (v. 11). John is talking about Jesus who will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and cleanse us of our sins. Fire always represents burning away impurities. John uses the metaphor of wheat and chaff (v.12). Jesus will gather the wheat, the good stuff, and burn away the chaff, the bad stuff. John is merely teaching repentance, but Jesus will actually cleanse us of our sins and offer redemption.
John does all of this in fulfillment of the prophecy by Isaiah. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” (Matt. 3:3, Isa. 40:3). Just as baptism doesn’t save a person, neither could John. But John prepared the way for Jesus to come and change the lives of those people by teaching repentance and proclaiming the redemption that Jesus brings. Just like John, we can prepare the way for Jesus to make a change in the lives of people by proclaiming Jesus to them. Paul says:
How then will they call on [Jesus] in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Romans 10:14)
They cannot believe and call on Jesus if we do not tell them about Jesus. It is our duty to proclaim Jesus to the world if we are going to see lives changed.
2. Change requires repentance.
We’ve all made New Year’s resolutions before. Have any of us actually kept them? We most likely never have. I know I’ve never kept one. Losing weight or just trying to exercise or eat better. Read my Bible more. Pray more. Be a better student by studying more. I know I’ve made these resolutions before, but I have never kept them. Some of us have made progress in these, similar, or other areas whether they were resolutions or not. But we know that New Year’s resolutions are rarely kept or accomplished. The only true change possible in our lives is repentance and the change of heart that comes from being in Christ.
Repentance is the regret of one’s pass actions and committing to do better. In our Christian faith, we repent from actions that scripture tells us to be sins. We confess our sins and strive to be like Christ. Repentance is a key factor in salvation. It means that we know we are imperfect, that we’ll sin, we’re not holy, and we need Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and to be made holy through him in the eyes of God.
Acts 2:38, “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
2 Cor. 7:10, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
If we want to see actual change in our lives, then we will repent and focus our life on Christ. Only Jesus can bring about true change in us. Paul talks about us having a new life (Eph. 4:17-32) and becoming a new creation (Col. 3:1-17) in Christ. True repentance from our sins and a turning to Christ will bring about change in our lives.
3. Change requires action.
We see John taking action by preaching to the people and “preparing the way” for Jesus. The people take action by repenting. These are key actions we need to take to see change in our life and the world around us. By repenting of our sins and giving our lives to Jesus, we’ll see a change in our personal lives. This also empowers us to “prepare the way” for Jesus to change the lives of others, as well.
Another key action we see is done by Jesus. He arrives at the Jordan River to be baptized. John doesn’t want to do it because he feels that he needs to be baptized by Jesus. Not the other way around. Jesus responds, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matt. 3:15). He affirms that water baptism is a necessary action to take in our faith. Again, He’s not saying that it saves us. But if we really repent and give our lives to Jesus, wouldn’t we then follow through with what He commands us to do? What’s the point of saying we have repented and follow Jesus if we do not follow the commandments given to us in the Bible? This means stop doing sins that are clearly outlined in scripture. This means following through with water baptism declaring to others our repentance and covenant to follow Jesus. This means telling others about Jesus (Matt. 28:19-20).
After his baptism, Jesus goes into the wilderness to be tested by the Holy Spirit. He then begins his full blown ministry. He heals the sick, he forgives people’s sins, he spends time with the corrupt, and he becomes the ultimate and final sacrifice cleansing mankind of their sins. He changed the world in a mighty way. He impacted the world in a way that the generations to come will feel and see it. As C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, God infiltrated enemy territory through Jesus Christ. He began a revolution against the enemy changing history forever.
Jesus didn’t come to the world just to tell us some cool and catchy phrases. He imitated to us how we are to live our lives and how to make a change. He changed the lives of the people he ministered to, and he changed all of our lives by being the sacrifice for our sins. Through him we can have redemption. If we imitate Christ, then we can make a change, we can make a difference in our communities. We must take action to see change in our lives and in the lives of others.
We just celebrated the start of a New Year. It’s amazing how fast this past year has flown by. It has had its ups and downs, but the New Year can bring change. We have to ask ourselves, “Are we going to make resolutions that we will never keep, or are we going to make everlasting changes?”. To see everlasting changes, we must be willing to take action by repenting and proclaiming Jesus.