Totally Immersed

Kings Community Church

Bible Reading:  Matthew 3:11

“I baptise you with water for repentance … he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”


1.   Metaphors

Now there’s one thing we all love to do as Australians. No, I’m not talking about barbecues in the backyard or lazy days at the beach. I’m talking about the way we use language.

We are a nation that is great at creating all kinds of similes, metaphors and figures of speech. We hear expressions like:

  • It’s as hot as hell, or another like it,
  • You’ll be waiting ’til hell to freezes over, or another oldie,
  • You’ve got as much chance as a snowflake in hell.

But there’s one that has become evermore popular in recent days especially with the resurgence of interest in Anzac Day. And the expression is:

  • Baptism of fire

I looked this expression up in the dictionary to see what it had to say – it gave two definitions:

  • A soldier’s first experience of actual combat conditions.
  • A severe ordeal experienced for the first time.

But do these definitions help us understand what baptism in water is about?

2.   Baptism in water in the Bible

Recently, when I asked someone the meaning of baptism they said it had the sense of ‘initiation’. Someone going through some kind of trial by which they became initiated into some new group which they are now a part of.  The question arose because Alan Pearce asked his pastor to be baptise him. A study on baptism followed. They discussed the connection between the baptisms of fire and water we have been talking about.

Let’s turn to the Bible to see what it can teach us:

Matthew 3:11   John the Baptist said, “I baptise you with water for repentance … he [Jesus] will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

So it appears the word baptise here has a range of settings – it seems the word has some kind of deeper meaning than just the action of the medium that is used. Baptism of water – baptism of the Spirit – baptism of fire.

The ancient Greek word baptizo had a range of meanings but the thing that was common to each was the notion of ‘immersion’ or of being ‘inundated’ which became a metaphor for being overwhelmed or even overcome. So the medium of baptism spoke of something greater than the element itself.

When we say men in war undergo a baptism of fire we can speak of the firing of guns and bombs, the burning of houses and vegetation – literal fire – but the real fire is the one that overwhelms them – the ugly, fierce, bloody scene of utter destruction of things but more importantly of human life. A man or a woman or a child is initiated into the worst kind of horror that any human being can face. It is the fire of terror in the heart and mind of the person that is the real baptism of fire.

When John the Baptist said that he brought a ‘baptism in water for repentance’ it was not hard to work out what he meant. Just as a bath of water washes away the external dirt from a person’s body after a hard day’s work, so the repentance of a man’s heart is like water washing away the bad things that have soiled his soul. It is not the literal water of the baptistry that does this – it is a physical metaphor of what is happening in his heart. The physical act is meaningless and achieves nothing if there is not real repentance within him.

I listened to Alan tell his story.  He knows the things in his life that have not been honouring to God and not honouring to his fellow man and he is truly sorry for these. The water of God has already washed him clean.

But John the Baptist spoke of two other aspects of baptism that came with the baptism of Jesus. Firstly, he spoke of a baptism in the Spirit. The Bible tells us that before a person recognises their need for God’s forgiveness they are dead to God. They may acknowledge he exists but they have no sense of relationship with him. It is as if they are dead to each other. It is the Spirit of God who changes all of this.

The first thing he does is convicts us that we are far from perfect as human beings – we fail each other and we fail God – the Bible calls this sin and it is sin that keeps us from really knowing God. It is as if our souls are dead to God and need to be resurrected.

This is what is written about this in the Bible in the book of Romans:

Romans 8:11  “If the Spirit of him (that is the Holy Spirit) who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”

So baptism in water is another one of these metaphors – a picture of a spiritual reality. It is a picture of moving from death to life.

The Bible has more to say about this in the Book of Romans

Romans 6:3-11  “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death … if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

The key to this metaphor of baptism is our identification with Jesus. He died on a cross – he was buried in a tomb – 3 days later the stone was rolled away and he was raised back to life. So the baptistry is a metaphor of the grave – a picture of what happens when we express our faith in Jesus. We say that just as he died so we too die to the old way of life we lived where we didn’t care whether we sinned or not. Going under the water is like dying to that old life – just before going under the water Alan took a last breath – a picture of the last breath of his old life. He then went completely under the water – a picture of his old life being dead and buried. And then I raised him up out of the water where he took a new breath – the symbol of the new life he now lives with the help of the Spirit of the risen Lord Jesus.

3.   Baptism of Fire

But there is another baptism which we mentioned – the baptism of fire. Will this apply to Alan? This same book of Romans that we have been looking at says that we will share in the glory that Jesus knows (Romans 8:17) – something that we don’t fully understand – but this is the majestic position where we see God in his full reality – something so amazing that no one can really comprehend it.

However, there is also a cost. An initiation if you want to put it that way. And that is to suffer with Jesus. Jesus was scorned by many people in his own day – they laughed at him – they derided him. Eventually they had him arrested. He suffered a secret trial with false accusers and he was finally sentenced and condemned. He was sentenced to be hung on a cross until dead.

Does that mean Alan will end up crucified?

Probably not. But it does mean that he can expect some aspects of the baptism of fire. Entry into the class of those who have acknowledged Jesus as Lord and Saviour and paid the price of being belittled because of their faith. Some form of a baptism of fire.

But today we have baptised him in water and we have prayed for God to baptise him in the Holy Spirit.