(Father John and Lucille are temporarily serving in the Anglican Diocese of the Windward Islands, on the Island of St. Vincent)
The story of John the Baptist is the basis for our teaching on what people must do to become serious Christians and have hope. Hope is what frees people from fear and enables them to love God, themselves and others. The readings for this Sunday include teaching on the three different types of baptism that we all move through as we grow in hope and in our spiritual lives. The first strep is the baptism of repentance which prepares us for the second Baptism of the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit comes into us and teaches us we are being prepared for the third baptism, the baptism of the fire of love. As we progress in our spiritual lives we find ourselves cycling back through these baptisms as we discover deeper levels of sin in ourselves and need more teaching.In all of this we are growing in our hope that God loves us and will bring us eventually to eternal spiritual life in His Kingdom.
1. The First Baptism is Repentance
John the Baptist gives us a very clear picture of what baptism is. It is not about joining the church as the people he is baptizing were probably all practicing Jews. In fact that raises the question of why would people who were already part of a religion want to be baptized. Why were they at the Jordan instead of at their local Synagogue? The answer is given in how John responds to the Sadducees and Pharisees when they show up. He calls them "Vipers"- snakes. The modern equivalent would be clergy who were over focused on the detailes of ritual and doctrine. John call them "snakes” because they do not really love God and are not really caring for God’s people.
- John tells them they must "produce fruit in keeping with repentance." (Matthew 3.8) The message is that knowing religious doctrine and keeping religious ritual is not good enough.
- What is required is evidence, or fruit of repentance. Repentance means being sorry for what you have done or failed to do.
- What the Sadducees and Pharisees were trying to do was earn their right relationship with God by right knowledge or right behaviour. Many people in our time believe they can be in right relationship with God by being a good person.
- This is not what the Bible teaches. In fact this is the opposite of the message of John the Baptist. We all need to go through self-examination and repentance as our first baptism or first step in spiritual growth.
2. Our second baptism is in the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit can not live in a garbage dump. This is the second baptism because people have to go through the spiritual cleansing of repentance before the Holy Spirit can live in and activate their personal spirit. This is the gift that Jesus promises to everyone who puts their trust in Him.
- Many people have this gift but are not aware of it because nobody has taught them this. Often the Holy Spirit is lying dormant inside us because we are not paying attention, not reading our Bibles and not having a daily quite time. But when we do pray and listen we discover our spiritual gifts
- The Isaiah reading (11.2) teaches us this can be the "Spirit of wisdom and understanding…knowledge and the fear of the Lord." This is very important. The same Spirit that inspired the people who wrote the Bible can come to us and help us understand what it means for us in our particular lives.
- The bad news is that there is also a counterfeit or false spirit that is easy to mistake for the Holy Spirit. The spiritual world is currently a battleground where our discernment is tested.
- The good news is that we can move beyond a legalistic understanding of the Bible to a wisdom understanding. As we are quiet in our prayer time wonderful ideas and words sometimes just appear in our heads. It is often, but not always, the Holy Spirit teaching us. This is the second baptism that prepared us for the third baptism.
3. Our third baptism is in the fire of love
Just as our repentance baptism is symbolized by the washing of water, our third baptism is symbolized by the burning up of fire. What is burnt up in the fire is the remaining parts of our selfishness and pride.The Holy Spirit is what many people think of as conscience. This is the little voice in the back of your head that warns you when you are doing something foolish.As we are filled more and more by the Holy Spirit we experience the love of God burning inside us giving us hope.