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The Holy Spirit is taking this adventure to places I never expected. I’ve discussed the ideas in the first two parts with some wise, theologically trained, people. They indicated that I have not misunderstood the Holy Spirit. I just wanted you to know that I do try to check these things out.
After a fine breakfast in the hotel, we headed down the trail, thinking we would at the Dead Sea before nightfall. Everyone seemed to act as if we had to address yesterday’s discussion, but no one seemed to know where to start. There was a bit of mumbled private discussion, but mostly the first half-hour was rather quiet.
Jason spoke up first, “Well, I’ve been thinking about what Amos said, about how baptism can be performed by anyone who is already baptized. It seems to me that baptism would be the most important ritual or sacrament in Christianity. You would want to make sure it’s done properly. So why is it that any Christian can baptize any new believer? I don’t understand.”
“Well, look at it like this…” It was Phillip, the gray-haired man who had been baptized in a creek, that answered. There was a bit of mumbling, as some would rather talk about anything else. “…if you have just been saved, do you want to put off being baptized? Remember that priests and preachers are not always available. Matthew 28 relates that Jesus said, in effect, for each of us to go make disciples and baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not give any other instructions. What we read in the rest of the New Testament is repeating the instructions He provides in Matthew.”
As we pondered what Phillip had said, Gladys spoke up, “I have an idea. One of the tourist information places related that the actual place where Jesus was baptized is nearby. It’s actually less that ten miles to hike over there.”
“Yeah. I agree. I think the Holy Spirit wants us to visit that place.” It was Jim, who had been rather quiet. His wife, Katrina, said, “I can’t confirm the Holy Spirit, but I sure would like to see that place.”
No one had an objection, so we headed East. It was relatively flat, compared to the hike down to Jericho. We found a camping area, set up camp, then headed to the site. There was a bit of discussion about why Jesus wanted to be baptized. The consensus was that He wanted to fulfill righteousness through example. One thing was absolutely clear: the Holy Spirit did descend and land on Jesus at his baptism, and God did claim Jesus as “His Beloved Son”.
Finally, someone asked, “But the baptism of John the Baptist is not the same as Christian baptism, is it?” It was a stunning question, even though most of us knew that the Bible says they are different. Like the rest of the group, I began to ponder what I knew about baptism. Then I said, “John the Baptist says that Jesus’ baptism is different from his. But few of us even think about that. Moreover, we seem to act like the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist is the same as the baptism the Ethiopian Eunuch received from Phillip.”
Jason, not sure about it, had opened his Bible and looked it up. His voice quivered with excitement as he read, “It’s Matthew 3:11. ‘I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’ So, yes, there are different types of baptism.”
Most of us were still pondering this when Lucy asked, “Well, if John baptized with water and Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire, is our water baptism from Jesus or is it like John the Baptist’s?”
Jason, who had flipped the pages over to Matthew 28, said, “Well, Jesus does command us to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But he does not specifically mention water or fire.”
“It’s water. The word ‘baptize’ means ‘to wash’ which implies ‘water’ since you can’t wash anyone with fire.” Amos had stood up to say this. He almost sat down, but looking around he added one final comment, “I suppose the Holy Spirit can wash you with His fire…but I can’t wash anyone with fire. If I tried it sure wouldn’t be heavenly!” Everyone laughed. Amos had made his point quite nicely.
Then Gladys spoke up, “Okay. We’re baptized with water in the name of the Trinity. That much is clear. And there is some difference between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus. One difference is the Trinity. Most of us knew that. So why send us here? There has to be more. I can’t believe the Holy Spirit sent us to this place just to see the muddy river.”
As she spoke, I wondered if Gladys knew more than she was saying. Her late husband was a preacher who had a reputation for spiritual insight. She was the one who suggested we come here. There was something in her question that we did not understand.
“Well, I am glad we came. This is a holy place. John the Baptist must have understood that, so he chose this place to conduct his baptism rituals.” Katrina spoke rather softly, but there was an authority in her voice. “Look at the simple beauty of the river. And to think, this is where the Holy Spirit descended and landed on Jesus. This is the place where the Kingdom began.”
“I’d never thought of that.” Phillip spoke slowly, choosing his words with a deliberate, careful pace. “Jesus spoke about the Kingdom being ‘near’, like it had moved in from somewhere else. It’s like…” he looked around, trying to find a way to explain his thoughts. His eyes brightened as he said, “…well, a storm moving toward you. We can see the storm, but it actually begins when the wind begins to blow hard and the rain starts. We say the storm is beginning. It already existed, but it has reached us. The Kingdom must be like that.”
“Okay,” Amanda spoke slowly, very unsure of her thoughts, “I told you I always wondered if it was my baptism or my confirmation that saved me…I was hoping this hike would solve that. This makes it more confusing…what I’m wondering now, well it’s…” She hesitated, quite uncertain, then haltingly said, “…but now I’m thinking that there are three different types of baptism.” She paused, took a deep breath and looked at the group. No one spoke in objection, so she continued, “There’s John’s baptism, that’s water baptism before the resurrection. Then there’s…” She hesitated, almost afraid of what she was saying, but the way the group looked at her was encouraging. “…I guess it could be called Disciples’ baptism, which is water baptism after the resurrection and finally there’s Jesus’ baptism with fire and the Holy Spirit.”
She looked around as if she expected them to verbally attack her. Slowly, there were murmurs of agreement, then everyone fell into their own thoughts. It was, apparently, true. But it was confusing. One by one, we got up and went to bed. There was nothing else to be said tonight.
The hike to the Dead Sea was only a little longer than the hike from Jericho to the Jordan River. Somehow we had wandered off the road. The road was not much of a road and we were following it as best we could. We knew we were going in the correct direction. But it was much hotter and drier than the river. Instead of the road, we were following a trail. It was easy enough to follow, with the blazes painted on rocks. However, the trail was rough. We stumbled around quite a bit. This was a very rough and uncertain trail. The heat made it quite uncomfortable.
Suddenly, someone shouted, “I’ve got it!” And everyone stopped to see what they meant. Nicholas was almost jumping for joy. The hikers gathered in a group around Nicholas. He was quite excited and spoke very quickly. “What Amanda said last night. There’s three types of baptism. Well, of course. We all practice that, but we don’t say it. We speak of baptism as if there is only one kind. But we know—Scripture tells us—that there’s three kinds… maybe more. But for Christians we practice two of them. She called it Disciples’ baptism. That’s the one with water. That’s the one we call a sacrament. But then there’s another kind. That’s what happened at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit manifested Himself as fire…and they spoke in tongues. Then others were baptized with water and the Holy Spirit baptized them and they spoke in tongues. It’s all in Acts. Peter baptized the Centurion and his family and they spoke in tongues. John the Baptist said it. Jesus baptizes us with fire and the Holy Spirit. Ain’t that cool? Good as grits and gravy! We get baptized by a disciple and by Jesus! Whoopee!”
And then Jason shouted, pointing, “Look! there’s the road!”
The road led to a very small oasis. The water was relatively cool and refreshing. Some in our group suggested we stay in the oasis for a day or so; but the promise of swimming in the Dead Sea kept us moving.
We were headed to the lowest place on the planet. Yet, as I drifted between the small groups, I could hear the Joy that seemed to permeate us in the conversations. It sounded like everyone had heard The Holy Spirit. In one group, Tim, a recent seminary graduate, made note of the fact that there were seven or eight different types of baptism in the Bible. In another group, Gayle was leading a discussion on what baptism by the Holy Spirit actually meant. A third group was discussing the baptism of Jesus. Their question centered on whether Jesus’ baptism was different from the rest of John’s baptisms. Everyone seemed to be caught up in the idea that baptism was “as good as grits and gravy”. Our destination might be the lowest place on Earth, but it sounded like we were headed to a mountaintop.
Our arrival at the resort hotel went very smoothly. Everyone headed to the lake as fast as they could. The brine seemed to add to our Joy as we bobbed in the water, quite unable to sink. Swimming seemed to revitalize us.
After our swim, we assembled on the veranda. The view of the Dead Sea was marvelous. Some of the discussion centered on the definition of a lake and a sea. The sun was just beginning to set, and the changing light reflected off the water. Most of us sat quietly, enjoying the show nature was providing. It was quite hot, but very dry. Each of us felt like we needed gallons of water. The salads and cold sandwiches were wonderful. It’s doubtful anyone could have eaten a hot meal. Several of the group commented on how different the Dead Sea looked as the light changed. We sat on the veranda overlooking the lake and talked into the wee hours of the morning.
So…that will be where Part THREE begins.
On the Ethiopian Eunuch: (See Acts 8:26-40) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+8%3A+26-40&version=WEB