Baptism for Repentance: Unauthorized Worship, Part 2

You won’t find anything about baptism commanded in the Old Covenant.

Yes, there is Numbers 19, much of which is devoted to the description of sprinkling with waters of cleansing in connection with sacrifice and the priest bathing after the sacrifice of the red heifer. There’s a description of the Sea or Laver in 2 Chronicles 4 in which the priests were to wash, and basins for the washing of the sacrifices. And I gladly concede that these could foreshadow baptism as we read of it in the New Testament – just as Peter saw the water which floated Noah’s ark as symbolic of it (1 Peter 3:20-22) and as Paul saw the parted Red Sea as its precursor (1 Corinthians 10:2).

You’ll even find Naaman performing a seven-fold dipping in order to be cleansed of leprosy (2 Kings 5), but it’s just not the same. Its origins are doubtless within Jewish tradition; connection with the Essene communities such as Qumran during the intertestamental period are possible.

In the New Testament, it appears first as a practice of John, Jesus’ cousin – to which He accedes, though He must persuade him (Matthew 3, Mark 1:9-12, Luke 3:1-22). As Jesus and His followers adopted the practice, John quelled any rivalry by supporting it (John 3:22-36). In fact, he had earlier testified that the reason he cam to baptize was to reveal Jesus as the Son of God to Israel (John 1:29-32). And whether the relationship between belief and baptism was cause-and-effect is debatable, but there undeniably was a relationship (Luke 7:29-30).

After Jesus had been crucified, restored to life, and was about to depart again to be with the Father, He instructed His followers to go, teach and baptize (Matthew 28:19) and attached a promise to belief and baptism (Mark 16:16); and Peter was faithful to preach it come Pentecost and a powerful inSpiration (Acts 2:38). As John the Baptizer had prophesied (John 1:33) and Jesus reminded them before returning to the Father (Acts 1:5), so Peter preached that baptism and the Holy Spirit would be linked as gift with gift: the complete giving of a person’s self to God; the complete giving of God’s Self to that person.

Baptism into Christ is present in every story of people giving themselves to God through Christ in the book of Acts of the Apostles (2:41; 8:12-13; 8:36-40; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:15; 16:33; 18:8). It is contrasted with John’s baptism, with which the gift of the Spirit did not seem to accrue (Acts 19:1-7). In seven letters to churches in the New Testament, it is taught and preached and exemplified and enriched as the way in which God has chosen to connect us with a new life (Romans 6:4), a washed-clean life (1 Peter 3:21; Acts 22:16), a life of modeling His Son (Galatians 3:27), a life that does not end (Colossians 2:12).

None of this is commanded, exemplified, necessarily inferred, nor even directly prophesied from the text of the Old Covenant. Baptism may have been adapted from obscure Jewish tradition, but it does not immediately descend from practices God requires in His Law. And baptism into Christ – into His death, burial and resurrection – comes with gifts that do not come with the baptism of anticipatory repentance practiced by John. Jesus’ disciples instituted the practice, but at His command and description (Matthew 28:16-20).

Jesus asked His followers to observe an entirely new way for people to give glory to God in gratitude for the sacrifice of His Son, by demonstrating their faith in His death, burial and resurrection in a very tangible way, and by putting into practice a life of worship beginning with this washing of body and soul; this filling of joy and purpose and Spirit.

In short, Jesus innovated.

Redefining the Sabbath Day: Unauthorized Worship, Part 1

The law said:

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.” ~ Exodus 20:8-10

” ‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people.’ ” ~ Exodus 31:14

There’s no equivocation there. No loopholes. This is one of the Ten Commandments, not just one of the other 603. Observe the Sabbath, or be cut off from your people. Desecrate it, and die.

Jesus said:

“Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,‘ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” ~ Matthew 12:3-8

“I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” ~ Luke 6:9

There’s no equivocation here. Jesus and his followers broke the Sabbath law. They picked grain and ate it on the Sabbath. Jesus healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath – right in the synagogue where He was teaching! He deserved to die; to be “cut off from [his] people.” So he was. Just like Isaiah and Daniel predicted.

Yet He said He was innocent.

Don’t loophole on me. I already know that it was Jesus’ disciples who picked the grain and ate it to satisfy their hunger – Matthew, Mark and Luke are quite clear about it. They don’t say that He did it. His sin would have been, to the ever-watchful eyes of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, in failing to correct them. Rabbinical tradition was quite clear about that. And the sin was not in picking the grain at the edges of the field; that was perfectly permissible (Leviticus 19:9; 23:22). The sin was in doing it on the holy Sabbath.

I also know that Jesus was probably the only person on the planet at that time who could have “sinned” by healing someone on the Sabbath. (In fact, that’s His point in response to His critics: He IS Lord of the Sabbath.) But just a couple or three chapters of Luke earlier, He had sent out his disciples by twos to heal people and cast out demons and preach repentance. He is serving as their example for future missions, remember. And nothing in His meticulous instructions to the twelve or the seventy(-two) forbids them from healing, casting or preaching on the Sabbath.

Think about it, now. Here are just two examples where Jesus permits doing something that the Law forbids doing. One permitted His followers to do something good for themselves – eat – and the other permitted good to be done for others – the sick, the lame, the demon-tortured. He was not restricted from doing good on a holy day and in a holy place just because others felt it was bad because it was on a holy day and in a holy place.

The law is dead silent on giving such permission.

Just as it was dead silent on relieving priests from the brutal, exhausting work of preparing sacrifices on the Sabbath; just as it was dead silent on giving David and those with him access to the showbread of the tabernacle. Still, David was not struck dead nor specifically punished for this act. He was the King. He was famished.

Mark even quotes Jesus as adding, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” ~ 2:27. And Luke twice quotes Him as pointing out that those around Him would have mercy on a thirsty ox (13:15) or on one which fell into a well on the Sabbath (14:5).

Jesus did not stick to the letter of the law, even before all was accomplished. He introduced unauthorized worship on the Sabbath: seeing to the needs of others. Showing mercy to them actively, rather than keeping a passive law whose intent was to inspire mercy and prevent overworking. He turned the “don’t” into a “do.”

In short, Jesus innovated.