Baptism is a crucial element of the Body of Christ, the church. It’s been a staple among Christians for literally thousands of years. In his third chapter, Luke makes implicit and explicit points that shed light on the Kingdom of God, including the significance of baptism. Luke’s writing shows him to be a good and serious historian. Like other historians of his time, he used the reigns of important rulers, like Caesar and Pilate, to let the audience know the time and date when he’s writing yet he chose to focus his perspective on God’s activities in human history, specifically the coming Messiah.
Baptism is a crucial element of the Body of Christ, the church. It’s one of the few things actually commanded by the Lord Jesus (Matthew 28:19). It’s been a staple in the Body of Christ for literally thousands of years. It’s so important, in fact, that we want to respect its significance and know why it’s important. In order to do that, it’s natural that we search the Word of God and see what we can know about it. In his third chapter, Luke makes implicit and explicit points that shed light on Kingdom of God reality, including the significance of baptism. We will deal with three of those points here.
1) Luke knew what he was talking about…and that means something.
Luke’s writing shows him to be a good and serious historian. Like other historians of his time, he used the reigns of important rulers, like Caesar and Pilate, to let the audience know the time and date when he’s writing. Their names were used to mark important times like we use calendar dates. Matching the right names with the right titles was something that even the really good historians back in that time had trouble with. Interestingly, other sources and archaeological discoveries show us that Luke is on the mark with his dates. He gets them right every time! The evidence shows that the time that Luke is writing very close to the events that he writes about. This gives even more good reasons to give weight to what Luke says, not only about baptism, but about the major claims of the Christian faith, like Jesus being the Son of God.
2) Luke had the right focus.
Many other historians only wrote things about “big shots” like Caesar, Pilate, and Herod who ruled over peoples and lands. Luke went against the grain and only used those big shots as simple calendar props to mark the times when things are happening. He chose to focus his perspective on God’s activities in human history, specifically the coming the Messiah. There may have been many different rulers, but the Lord Jesus is the King of all kings…and that’s where Luke chooses to place his focus. We must make sure that, like Luke, we realize and follow what’s really important. There may be all kinds of laws, rulers, policies that have a lot of attention from our world. We, as Christ’s disciples, however, must have Jesus as the main focus of human history and continue living out the radical Kingdom of God.
3) Luke spoke loudly through what he didn’t say.
Given Luke’s historical accuracy and focus, it makes good sense to pay attention to what he says — or doesn’t say — when he speaks about baptism. The term “baptism of repentance” is a peculiar phrase that would seem to need explanation. But, Luke doesn’t seem to explain it! This is because he knew that his audience already knew certain important things. Luke knew that they knew how, in the Old Testament, ceremonial bathing and washing were prescribed as a way to represent a) turning away from one’s own way, b) turning to God, being totally dedicated to him and c) entering a community of people that have dedicated themselves to God. Luke knew that they knew about the different Jewish communities in the wilderness of Jordan and how their messianic beliefs added a new twist to baptism: being washed to be ready for the Lord’s return. Luke also knew that John’s “baptism of repentance” fit right along with the beliefs of those communities. All of this means that Luke assumed that his audience would understand baptism in terms of joining a community of people that have turned and dedicated themselves to God while making ready for the Lord’s return.
Looking at baptism through the lens of these three points, we see some important things. We see that baptism is not magic or just about external behavior dealing with water. It’s about a fundamental heart change towards God and God’s Kingdom. We also see why baptism is an important, commanded aspect of the Christian life. It’s a sign of one’s commitment to God, his coming Kingdom and his community.
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