10 Ways to Preach the Baptism of our Lord

By

In 2016, I led a tour of 30 adults through the Holy Land, and one of our stops was the newly renovated site on the Jordan River, commemorating John the Baptist’s baptism of our Lord. I led our group in the renewal of vows, sprinkling and praying over 29 of the 30 pilgrims. Then, one man from our group came forward and said, “I want to be baptized; I have never been baptized, and I want to be today.”

I looked at him and asked him if he could agree with the vows and promises of a Christian. Would he renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil, turn to Jesus Christ as his Savior, and promise to follow and obey him as Lord? He said, “Yes.” And I said, “Let’s do it!” As I took my shoes off, he said, ‘Why don’t you just let me get in by myself? I don’t want you to get wet.” I said, “No one is ever baptized alone. I’m going with you.” And with that, the two of us got into the frigid, muddy water.

Sponsored

I’ll tell you the rest of the story, how this Baptism Created An International Incident, but only after I share ten ways to preach the baptism of our Lord. Read on!

1. Theophany

Suppose you read the story of the baptism of our Lord. You come to the inescapable conclusion that this moment at the Jordan is the only time in the Bible when all three persons of the Trinity can be seen or heard in their person (yes, there are also echoes of Genesis 1 – see #3 below).

Baptism was a defining moment for Jesus. In that single event, Jesus “saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove” (Mark 1:10). And then he heard the “voice” of his Father “in heaven” speak to the masses and affirm him: “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). They were all there in one place—the three members of the Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

This is a colossal preaching opportunity to explain the roles and relationship of the Holy Trinity. (Or you could wait until the Sunday after Pentecost. But really, why wait?)

2. They Lived Happily Ever After?

Many fairy tales end with the wishful line, “And they all lived happily ever after.” The story ends, the prince marries the princess, and good thwarts. Sadly, this is how many view baptism—especially of children. Every pastor, priest, and preacher knows that countless parents have had their children baptized in a church ceremony, only to never see the child again in church. “Believers Baptism” is one solution to this problem: delay baptism until the person understands what they are getting into and they have made an active, conscious decision to be a Christian.

But baptism in the Bible is not the end of the story; it is the beginning. Jesus’ baptism was an inauguration, beginning a public life of obedience to the Father’s will. Thus, Christian baptism, Like circumcision, the Old Testament practice it replaces, baptism exists as a point of departure for the believer’s life, at whatever age.

3. A New Creation

Don’t forget the creation imagery swirling around the Jordan that day. In preaching about Jesus’ baptism, you can touch on multiple aspects of the creation story.

  • The Holy Spirit descending on the Jordan will remind anyone of the Spirit’s ‘brooding’ over the waters in Genesis 1 (Genesis 1:2)
  • The Father’s voice speaking over the water should remind us of the same story (Genesis 1:3)
  • The Son of God emerging out of the muddy water should show us the New Adam coming forth—emerging from the mud, bearing our sins, but the perfect Son of God (Genesis 2:7)

Baptism is not a mere formality. It is a new beginning and a new creation!

4. Topographic Truths

Do you like topographic maps? Check out the place where John baptized Jesus. It is ground zero for many things. It is:

  • the lowest spot on the planet, just north of the Dead Sea.
  • just down the way from the oldest city on earth, Jericho, which few people know had been cursed (Joshua 6:26).
  • the same place on the map where Joshua and the wandering tribes of Hebrews crossed over into the Promised Land (Joshua 3)
  • a place where you can see Mt. Nebo, where Moses sat and watched the crossing (Deuteronomy 34:1-6)

What was John doing there? Why would his baptism for the forgiveness of sins occur at the lowest spot on the planet? Why would it take place where Joshua crossed over from slavery to freedom, from death to life? Why would the great blessing of baptism and the glorious baptism of our Lord take place next to a city that had been cursed? What would Moses see if he was still on Mt. Nebo (you know they never found his body!)? Would it remind him of Joshua crossing over?

5. The Solution to the Baptism Controversy

Are you tired of the never-ending debate about the “right” way to be baptized? You know, the one where some people think you must be fully dunked to be a “real” Christian, while others are content with a little sprinkle or dab? Here’s a news flash for you: how wet we get doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is how wet Jesus got in his baptism, which is to say, how fully he entered into our sin.

Remember, John the Baptist realized how strange it was for Jesus to be baptized in a baptism of repentance: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me (Matthew 3:14). But Jesus answered that his baptism, his full immersion in our sins and weakness, was “fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).

6. Identity Theft

At the baptism, the Father confirms the Son’s identity. But in the gospels, there are many places where Jesus has to clarify his identity. Why? Because everyone is always trying to hijack the Lord’s identity for their purposes.

We need to hear the voice from heaven. We need to listen to the Father himself affirm the Son. It is not only for Jesus’ benefit but also for our benefit.

Forces are always trying to steal Jesus’ identity. Don’t let them. Remind your people, as often as needed (weekly), who Jesus is. A Christ-focused sermon will never get old.

7. John the Meteorologist

You may have already mentioned John the Baptist during Advent, but if you still want to, he could be the focus of your sermon on Jesus’s baptism. Consider especially the longest passage about John, Luke 3:1-20.

As you prepare your sermon, remember that John was not himself giving forgiveness—only God can do that. Instead, John announced that a change was coming, and it was time for repentance.

Think of John as a meteorologist who predicts a new weather system is coming. If we trust the forecaster, shouldn’t we prepare according to the forecast? Thus, John taught the people to “bear fruits in keeping with repentance,” which he explains more fully in Luke 3:8-14.

8. Going Deeper into the Jordan

How many things happened at the Jordan River?

  • It is a place of new hope. The Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua (Joshua 3)
  • It is a place of close connection to heaven. Elijah, the prophet, was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind while standing on the banks of the Jordan (2 Kings 2:1-14)
  • It is a place for the transition of authority. When Elijah went up into heaven, his mantle fell to Elisha with a double portion of his Spirit (2 Kings 2:1-14)
  • It is a place for humility, obedience, and miracles. Naaman, Gehazi, and Elisha have a story to tell about the Jordan. (2 Kings 5)

Now, think about Jesus’s baptism through any (all?) of these themes. When we use the Bible to illustrate the Bible, we help the people have a comprehensive view of the Scripture.

9. The Point of the Story

A key way to apply the baptism is to look at the account in the Gospel of John. John does not narrate the baptism directly but has John the Baptist recount it and also point to the identity and the work of Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29).

Thus, Jesus’ baptism is not just a story. Instead, it is an event that reveals the purpose of Jesus’ death on the cross. For the “lamb of God,” death on a cross was not a tragic accident but rather the fulfillment of his life’s purpose. He died for us to atone for our sins and provide a way for us to be reconciled with God.

Then help your people to consider this question: Am I living my life with the confidence and assurance that God has already acted to save me?

10. Next Stop: Wilderness

Christianity is not all rainbows and sunshine. It’s not always the affirming voice from heaven. Rather, the Christian life is illustrated by what happened after Jesus was baptized. He went into the desert to face the devil. Mark summarizes this in just two verses, while Matthew and Luke give a more extended account of the three temptations that Jesus faces.

Perhaps your extended discussion of the temptations will wait for Lent, but you might take note of two details. First, it is the same Holy Spirit that descends at the baptism, which also drives Jesus into the wilderness (Mark 1:12). Thus, Jesus’ entering into the sinful waters of baptism also meant that he would enter temptation. As the writer of Hebrews says, we have a Savior “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Second, Jesus went to the wilderness for 40 days, like the Israelites’ 40 years in the wilderness. Do you see? Jesus was reversing the history of Israel, crossing through the Jordan backward, and returning to the wilderness. Only this time, Jesus would not give in to temptation; this time, the new Israel would keep God’s law.

Back to My Baptism Story

Ok, back to the story of my time at the Jordan, when a man in our tour group asked to be baptized.

We went into the water together, and without hesitation, he broke the formalism and rolled himself in under the cold water. He sprung up from the water, heaving in and out with deep breaths.

The moment he came up, a group of nuns from Lebanon and Egypt standing on the opposite shore of the river…in Jordan…another country… not 10 yards away…began cheering and singing Amazing Grace. We joined them in singing. We all realized we were part of a spectacle we would never forget. One man went under the water of baptism, and when he emerged, a cloud of witnesses from across the nations and over the world gave thanks to God (for photos of the moment, click here).

As you preach Jesus’ baptism, realize that you, too, stand in a holy place, surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, all eagerly pointing to the principal figure of the entire word: Jesus. Jesus is the main character in the amazingly true story of God’s plan for the redemption of the world, and after he is baptized, the public work begins.

Published on

January 1, 2023

Author

David Roseberry

David Roseberry leads the nonprofit ministry, LeaderWorks. He was the founding rector of Christ Church, Plano, Texas, and is the author of many books. He lives in Plano with his wife, Fran.

View more from David Roseberry

Comments

Please comment with both clarity and charity!

Subscribe to Comments
Notify of

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments