St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, January 16, 2022
Baptized with the Holy Ghost
“I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost. And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.”
YOU would have called him a nut. And you would have been wrong. On first glance, this wild man seemed prehistoric—hairy, covered with skins of animals, homemade sandals, a staff in his hand. The fire in his eye caused people to jump back. John was different. He didn’t do cities: it was all wilderness for John. He ate what he caught himself. Call him a nut, if you want. The ministers of his church did. They said he was crazy and demonically possessed. They didn’t listen to him. If you heard him, you’d stop calling him crazy.
Like a Nazarite of old, he never cut his hair, his beard hung down and he never drank spirits. With the spiritual strength of a Samson, he convicted his fellow Jews of sin, then called them to the waters of Jordan to wash and prepare for the coming of his Master. He didn’t know who his Master was yet. He only knew Someone was coming. God, who had commissioned him to baptize, also told him that One he baptized would have the Holy Spirit descend upon Him: that would be Messiah. John was to announce Him and his job would be finished.
The last Hebrew prophet, Malachi, had written, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me.” Mal 3:1 Isaiah wrote, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places made straight, the rough places smooth; The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, All flesh shall see it; the Lord has spoken.’” Isaiah 40:3-5
John was to herald Messiah. Messiah! All men dreamed of His coming. Foreign rulers would be driven off. The glory of the greatest Kings David and Solomon would be restored. God would return to His Temple and never leave. Messiah would reign forever and all the people of earth would resort to Him and the Temple of Yahweh, the only true God.
Little boys and girls heard it on their father’s laps. Old men spoke of days to come with longing. John was chosen to find Him and announce Him to the world. He couldn’t wait. He proclaimed the coming day of the Lord, and was urgent all men should repent of their sinful ways and prepare for Him. Thousands poured out of the cities to the Jordan, where they’d heard John was preaching, and they were gladly baptized by him.
John’s preaching was so powerful that people mistook him for the awaited Messiah. “Not so!” He would cry. “I only baptize you with water. When He comes, He will baptize you with the fire of the Holy Spirit. I am not worthy to tie his shoes. I’m not Messiah, nor Elijah, nor am I that Prophet foretold by Moses. I am the Voice crying in the wilderness. Repent. Prepare your hearts for Him. He is among you right now, and you don’t know Him.”
At one such gathering, as John baptized one after another, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Mary and Joseph, picked His way down the river banks and presented Himself to John for baptism. John knew his cousin, of course, but now felt destiny and fulfillment in this familiar stranger. “You should be baptizing me!” John objected. “Let it be so now,” Jesus answered, “This way we do the will of God.” So, John took Him into the deeper water, ducked Him under, saying, “Be baptized and cleansed of all sin.” The sunshine sparkled on them like diamonds as droplets of water cascaded off of Jesus.
It wasn’t a trick of the light or the dazzling Palestine sun. As Jesus began to walk up the river bank, one of the sun’s rays seemed to break off and fly downward. John watched it, fascinated. Its appearance was as a white dove made of light. It shot straight to his cousin. John saw Jesus glow in the light of that Spirit—the Holy Spirit John had been told about! This, his cousin Jesus, was . . . Messiah! John’s mission was accomplished, and he would spend his days proclaiming Him. “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” John told his disciples. “I must now decrease, and He will increase. I baptized some; but He will cleanse the whole world of sin.”
John baptized with water in the age-old manner of a Jewish purification ritual. Washing is a religious practiced today for Jews and Moslems as an act of piety before prayers or eating. It acknowledges that sin clings to us, coats us as we walk through this world, and no one is holy in himself—not one. Well, One was holy and even He went through Baptism. He made it a new thing in Himself and commanded thereafter that His followers to be baptized in water in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. His promise was that they would be baptized in the Spirit of God, “for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Acts 1:5 On that day of Pentecost, Peter would preach to a crowd of foreign-born Jews of Jesus, their Messiah, who had been killed right there in Jerusalem 53 days before, then rose from the dead. When they learned this, they asked what they could do. Peter replied, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:38-39
What is it to be baptized with the Holy Spirit? With water we wash our outside. It’s good to be clean that way, for germs and dirt on our body can make us sick. But the Spirit is more than skin deep, and He enters you and cleanses you inside. St. Paul wrote Titus: “He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:3-7 The Spirit transforms us from within. Our old dead spirits, once sick and condemned from birth in the sin of Adam, are now born anew and we can hear and commune with God from our inner fount. The more we listen and obey, the more we’ll hear.
Baptism in water humbles us before God. Baptism in the Holy Ghost empowers us with spiritual gifts, gifts that differ from one to another because the Holy Spirit uses us differently. But He also unifies us through this Spirit. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body… and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” 1 Cor. 12:13
Are you living in the Spirit? Do you exhibit gifts of the Holy Ghost?
The sign that John’s quest was ended and his mission completed was seeing the Holy Ghost coming down on Jesus. That sign marked the end of the Jewish Age, the Old Covenant, and the beginning of the New Covenant of grace in the creation of a new humanity. Jesus was that new man, and we are inheritors of His nature through the waters of Christian Baptism, water symbolically washing us of sin, the Names of Father, Son and Holy Ghost to seal us, the indwelling Holy Spirit to make us new, inspire our prayers, empower our lives and inform us where we should walk, how we should speak, act, and live.
This new life began at the Jordan River in Jesus and continues through us in this age. What could Jesus do that you can’t do? Jesus had said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” John 14:12-14 We don’t know the power that has been left to us. We almost never operate in it.
Most of us are just trying to get a few things right, a few bad habits turned around. We have a few prayers that we hope for, but really don’t know if God is interested. Most of us walk around in a little pool of shame and discount ourselves as unworthy of being used by God. We see the church as a place to go and worship and feel better and come home. Then our true lives recommence. Most of us don’t really believe in the new life. I’m not accusing here—most Christians have no idea the power that has been deposited in them. That power came down on Jesus and, because He was listening, it drove Him out into the countryside to fast forty days. You probably don’t ask for that kind of guidance, but look: He survived it, and faced off the devil and won. After that, no temptation could get any hold on Him, though Satan never stopped trying.
This spiritual power from on high is able to heal sicknesses, end wars, change governments, bring abundance, feed the starving, and turn hearts to God. This is God the Holy Spirit and everything God can do, He can do, and He lives inside of me and you. We have no idea of the power that is resident in us. He is waiting to be in charge. We have to let Him. Scary, isn’t it? But this is Holy God: all-loving, all-wise, all-righteous, almighty, all-merciful, all-gracious. He’s a gentleman. He doesn’t go where He is unwelcome. Welcome the Holy Spirit. Take down the signs inside yourself that say, “Private: No Admittance. Keep Out.” You have no reason to fear, and no right to refuse Him access.
This is the E-ticket of all time. Most of you don’t know E-tickets: Disneyland used to issue books with different level tickets: A, B, C, D and E. The best rides were E. You have the E-ticket of all time.
Christ rises from the waters filled with light, and He turns and He spots you in the crowd. “Follow me,” He tells you. He means it. You saw that look in His eye. You’re so drawn to Him, your feet begin following Him without thinking, almost by themselves. Your path laid before you, whatever adventure He calls you into, you are on safari, on the mission of your life and every face you see may be Him watching your steps, hoping you don’t quit, urging you to go on, giving you His Spirit more and more.
So what if someone says you’re a nut.
“Follow me,” is what He says. Shall we?