We started looking at John chapter 3 yesterday. We find there some of Jesus’ earliest teaching on baptism. However, we need to remember that baptism is not the main point of what Jesus says to Nicodemus. The driving thrust must be on the Spirit. Look at what Jesus says in verses 5 through 8:
“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5–8)
We need to remember that baptism wasn’t new. With John’s preparatory work, baptism was at the center of religious thought, at least in Judea.
The talk about the Spirit was new. He wasn’t new, of course, but he hadn’t been given to people in the way that he would be given to Christians. What differentiated Christian baptism from John’s baptism was the Spirit. Look at these passages:
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11)
“I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8)
“John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:16)
“I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” (John 1:33)
“For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:5)
“While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.” (Acts 19:1–7)
Being born again involves water, but we must never lose sight of the fact that we are being born of the Spirit. That’s the central reality in this new birth.