Matthew 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
I have heard virtually countless sermons, teaching, and discussions on this verse since I was first exposed to the Charismatic Movement back in 1973. The thing of it is, as long as it is theoretical, we can’t really understand it. We have to experience it to really grasp it. It’s like my father told me (not long before he graduated from this earth), he had written his doctoral dissertation on “In Christ,” but he didn’t really grasp what it was until he had a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit. We can talk about this sort of thing all day, but we have to experience it to understand it, and then we may not have words to describe it! Ritual bathing was a familiar part of Jewish culture in those days, as well as in various others. It was particularly emphasized by the Essene sect that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, and there is evidence that John the Baptist was essentially raised by the Essenes, since Luke tells us his parents were up in age when he was born. For that matter, one of the major archaeological discoveries in Israel in the past year was a ritual bath in the area that was probably the Garden of Gethsemane. In other words, what John was doing wasn’t anything strange in the culture of the day, but rather than using a dedicated facility, he did it in the Jordan River. What made it notable, causing many people to come to him, was the power of the Holy Spirit in him. Luke tells us that he was filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb. (Luke 1:15) He certainly didn’t mince words, and was the antithesis of politically correct. It was that power that drew people to him, so it was very significant that he said that the one to come after him was even more powerful. He said that the baptism he performed was “for repentance,” something to cause or help people to make that clear-cut decision to leave their old ways and walk in obedience to God. In nominally Christian cultures, baptism is for acceptance, an initiation into a group. If it is no more than that, there is little if any spiritual benefit. Water baptism must not be separated from repentance. However, John’s major point here is that the Messiah would do far more, baptizing in the Holy Spirit and fire. The Charismatic Movement has been big on baptism in the Holy Spirit, but there are a lot of different opinions about baptism in fire! This isn’t the place to discuss all of those, because as I said, all of this must be experiential to be real. Whether you were sprinkled or dipped, if the Holy Spirit wasn’t involved, in conviction, cleansing, and empowering, you just got wet.
I was baptized at age seven on the basis of my own clear decision. I still remember with considerable clarity going to my parents one night before going to bed, expressing my desire to be baptized. That was real and valid, but I don’t remember how much repentance was involved. At 24, when I was already a father, God showed me the state of my heart, and my repentance was so overwhelming that I requested, and received, water baptism a second time. However, it wasn’t until I was 26 that I experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit, not as emotion or “spiritual gifts,” but as God flowing through me to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just as it says in Acts 1:8. It was a couple of months later that I started receiving, and exercising, the gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12. I think I have received more than one baptism in fire, but I can’t say I don’t need more! There are still things that could profitably be burned out of me. I can’t bring those on, but I am responsible for my response when God does bring them. I desire to be a tempered blade in His hand, to defeat the lies of the enemy and set people free.
Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me walk in total submission to all that You want to do in and through me, for the blessing of many and for Your glory alone. Thank You. Hallelujah!