A Baptism of Repentance
It is tempting to have an image of John as a bit of a hairy maverick, living in the desert and welcoming all comers to an informal baptism ceremony. For in those days Jews did practice baptism as a form of ritual cleansing and also as part of the ceremony where Gentiles (non-Jews) converted to Judaism (as a sign of the covenant given to Abraham). But John’s baptism was more challenging as he emphasised repentance (turning from sin) as the key to forgiveness. But he knew that true forgiveness would have to wait for Jesus, as God made man, to die for us all and and take the burden of all sin to the Cross – and then leave it there!
The dramatisation in the video below helps to bring these events to life:-
The practical advice when confronted by the challenge ‘What shall we do?’ is straightforward and reeks of common sense. This is no religious fanatic encouraging people to follow some weird regime to prove their worth.
Then Jesus is baptised by John in yet another demonstration of simple humility. The Holy Spirit is warming up for Pentecost!!
Herod can’t take the criticism and John is taken away and murdered, a precursor to the terrible death Jesus will soon suffer; but then it is not the end of the road as God’s plan is revealed.
As a prayer I suggest recalling our baptism or confirmation with the following from the C of E liturgy of baptismal prayers:-
Our Lord Jesus Christ has told us that to enter the kingdom of heaven we must be born again of water and the Spirit, and has given us baptism as the sign and seal of this new birth.
Here we are washed by the Holy Spirit and made clean.
Here we are clothed with Christ, dying to sin that we may live his risen life.
As children of God, we have a new dignity and God calls us to fullness of life