Baptism—Only a Beginning
It is recommended that, in congregation study of this article, the cited scriptures be read and applied as time permits.
1. (a) How did Jesus regard his baptism? (John 6:38) (b) How may some of the “great crowd” feel about baptism today?
WITH Jesus, his baptism was only the beginning of his ministry. He did not view it as completing something, but, rather, as his entering into something that had to be maintained and developed. What about you? Have you been baptized in symbol of your dedication to do God’s will, thus identifying yourself before others as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses? Perhaps this has happened recently with you, within the last few months or in the past year or so, as is the case with many who are now numbered among Jehovah’s Witnesses. How do you feel about it? Do you perhaps consider that you have now taken the main step and can say to yourself: ‘That is now settled. Everyone knows that I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, one of the “great crowd” of Jesus’ “other sheep,” and if I die now I can be sure of an early resurrection in God’s kingdom.’—John 10:16; Rev. 7:9; Heb. 10:5-9.
2. (a) What illustration may assist us in reasoning on baptism? (b) What attitude do many today take toward marriage?
2 Is that a wise and proper attitude to adopt? Before considering further with respect to Jesus, let us look at an illustration, that of marriage. Whether you are married or not, you know that with many the wedding itself is looked upon as the big event, and much time and attention and money are spent in preparing for it. And then, when the event and the attendant festivities are over, these ones say to themselves: ‘That is a step taken and done with. What happens after this can look after itself.’
3, 4. (a) With regard to marriage, what have many young people failed to realize? (Matt. 19:4-6) (b) What correspondency will we now examine?
3 Too often young people fail to realize that getting married means entering into a relationship that has to be continually developed and safeguarded. The taking of the marriage vows and the registering of them were only a beginning. Because of having a false and short-term view of their marriage many are not prepared for the unexpected difficulties, not to mention temptations, that can arise after the first flush of pleasure and excitement is over. Feeling a measure of disappointment and frustration, either one or both of the parties may begin looking elsewhere in seeking an outlet for their pent-up emotions and passions, a satisfaction of their heartfelt longings. Hence, finally, the step that was taken and done with is now terminated and a fresh union is sought. Is that not one of the main causes for many broken marriages today, with their resultant grief and bitterness?
4 Let us see now how there may be a correspondency between the above illustration and matters related to the baptism of Jesus, as well as to your own baptism.
A PRECIOUS RELATIONSHIP WITH JEHOVAH
5. At the time of his baptism, what clear knowledge and understanding did Jesus have?
5 First, with regard to Jesus, how did he view his baptism? Little is said in the Gospel accounts of what went through his mind prior to his going “to the Jordan to John [the Baptist], in order to be baptized by him.” (Matt. 3:13) Consider, however, his background. From what occurred when he was only twelve years old, we know how advanced he was in the understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. Luke records that “the boy Jesus” was in the temple for the better part of three days, “sitting in the midst of the teachers,” and that “all those listening to him were in constant amazement at his understanding and his answers.” Remember, too, what he said to his mother: “Did you not know that I must be in the house of my Father?” (Luke 2:43-49) He obviously knew of his miraculous birth. He also likely grasped the essential meaning of what the angel Gabriel had said to his mother, Mary, when announcing the conception she experienced under the power of the holy spirit, and the God-given kingship coming to her son. Would he not also likely know the significance of Simeon’s inspired utterance to Mary, that “a long sword will be run through the soul of you yourself,” foretelling her agonizing grief when seeing her son on the torture stake?—Luke 1:30-33; 2:34, 35.
6. (a) In presenting himself for baptism, what keen perception did Jesus show? (b) What was Jesus’ attitude, and the basis therefor? (John 4:34)
6 From all of this we can surely conclude that Jesus, especially when approaching the age of thirty, had a keen perception of what was ahead of him. He knew that his baptism was only a beginning. A beginning of just his ministry and future reward on proving faithful? No. There was something that went along with those things, but now going much deeper. That deeper and more important and precious thing was his relationship with his heavenly Father, now taking on an added meaning, a spiritual one. This is indicated at Psalm 40:6-10, which Jesus doubtless came to realize was speaking prophetically of himself, telling of the sacrifice of his perfect human body in preference to all the animal sacrifices offered under the Law given through Moses. That this is the correct understanding is confirmed by Paul’s quotation of this passage at Hebrews 10:5-9. However, despite the suffering and death involved in this sacrifice, what was Jesus’ attitude, also the basis for that attitude? Notice the answer as given at Psalm 40:8: “To do your will, O my God, I have delighted, and your law is within my inward parts.”
7. (a) What relationship did Jesus always maintain with his Father, and what prompted this? (b) Following his baptism, how did Jesus maintain and strengthen this relationship? (Heb. 5:7-9)
7 How eloquently this tells, not only of Jesus’ mental attitude, but also of his deep appreciation and heartfelt motivation prompting him to maintain a relationship of constant submission and devotion to his heavenly Father! He, Jesus, would always delight to do his Father’s will, especially when he knew that it was the due time for him to start out on this sacrificial course. His baptism was only the first step. Thereafter he would maintain and strengthen that relationship by always seeking to please and honor his Father, come what may, “for better or for worse,” as is often said when a couple is taking the marriage vows. As he said to his Father when facing the final agonizing ordeal ahead of him: “Father, save me out of this hour. Nevertheless, this is why I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”—John 12:27, 28.
8. (a) What joys did you experience in progressing to the step of baptism? (b) Like Jesus, what appreciation may you have in the face of suffering? (Mark 10:28-30)
8 How, though, about you? Does the marriage illustration apply to you and help you in any way? There is no similarity, of course, when one is comparing your background with that of Jesus before he was thirty years old. Can it not be said, however, that you experienced a lot of joy on learning the truth as to what kind of God Jehovah is, “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth”? (Ex. 34:6) Did you not, like Jesus, find much delight, not only in learning of Jehovah’s purpose, but also in seeing how you could fit in with that purpose? You came to realize that by taking the step of dedication you could be included along with those to whom Paul wrote: “He [Jehovah] delivered us from the authority of the darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of his love.” (Col. 1:13) Doubtless you saw, as Jesus did, that being identified as a dedicated servant of Jehovah would involve suffering. You likely experienced some trials and opposition before your baptism, but you appreciated the value of what you had learned and were determined to hold on to it.
9. (a) How does the similarity to the marriage relationship enter here? (b) At baptism, into what favored relationship did you enter, and how should you regard it? (Mic. 4:5) (c) What big question now confronts you?
9 This is where the similarity to the marriage relationship comes in. Did you take a short-term or a long-term view of your dedication and baptism? Did you feel that you had done about all that was required? Or were you conscious that you had entered into a personal relationship, not with a fellow creature, but with the Supreme One of the universe, yet One with whom you could speak intimately and whom you could call on as your Father? Did you discern that you had begun something that could not be taken for granted, but that could be and must be developed and safeguarded, else it would recede and be in danger of getting damaged and possibly terminated? Did you decide that under all circumstances you would want to say, as did Jesus: “Father, glorify your name”? So the big question you need to ask yourself is: How can this most precious thing, this relationship into which I have entered with my heavenly Father, be strengthened and deepened?
BUILDING ON A SURE FOUNDATION
10 Of first importance is the way you go about your personal study of the Bible, and your learning how to make a practical application of it in your daily life. Jesus always delighted to do God’s will, because he could say: “Your law is within my inward parts.” (Ps. 40:8) He had studied and could apply the Word of God. The same can be true of you, as mentioned at Psalm 1:1-3: “Happy is the man . . . [whose] delight is in the law of Jehovah, and in his law he reads in an undertone day and night.” Then it tells how that man will be like a tree that is ever fruitful and ever green, “and everything he does will succeed.” This means much more than a mere surface reading of the Bible. It calls for a continual combing over of all that is in God’s Word, as well as the spiritual food and counsel given by the “faithful and discreet slave,” and then seeing what bearing this has on every aspect of your life.—Matt. 24:45-47.
11. (a) What is the purpose of taking in accurate knowledge? (Phil. 1:9-11) (b) What kind of bond must we forge with Jehovah, and how?
11 Do not make the mistake of thinking that study is just a matter of taking in head knowledge of the technical framework of the truth. Accurate knowledge is indeed essential, but not so that you can recite from memory a lot of facts and figures. Rather, it is in order that you may be filled with “wisdom and spiritual comprehension, in order to walk worthily of Jehovah to the end of fully pleasing him as you go on bearing fruit in every good work . . . [and] so as to endure fully and be long-suffering with joy.” (Col. 1:9-11) The same as in marriage, this means a growing understanding and attachment, forging a bond that can never be broken. There was a time when the Hebrew Christians became ‘dull in their hearing.’ They lacked personal study and application and had need of a milk diet like babes. So note what Paul wrote to them: “But solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.” It is not head knowledge alone, but the very spirit of the truth, “the love of the truth,” that saves.—Heb. 5:11-14; 2 Thess. 2:10; 1 Cor. 8:1.
12. (a) What lack often damages human relations? (b) What one quality is especially required to restore good relations? (Luke 14:11)
12 Then, there is the matter of prayer. Here again the marriage illustration will help us. Is not a lack of communication the first sign of a rift between husband and wife? The root cause may not be obvious. It may be just a misunderstanding, or simply that one by temperament is shy and reserved. However, if the lack of communication persists, their relationship is bound to suffer and become strained. This can be restored only if a conscious effort is first made to reopen the lines of communication. This is not easy. One quality more than any other is required by both parties, and that is humility.
13. In time, what problem may develop with regard to prayer? (1 Pet. 4:7)
13 How does this apply in a spiritual way? Well, leading up to your dedication and baptism there was probably no great difficulty. Your appreciation of the truth and your love for the Giver of the truth led you to take those initial steps, and in prayer you told Jehovah of your deep gratitude and of your desire to give yourself to him in unreserved and whole-souled dedication. You were starting on a new way of life. However, because of imperfection and for other reasons, that newness can wear off, as it can in marriage. A time might develop in which you find, either gradually or otherwise, that prayer has become difficult or somewhat routine. What are you going to do?
14. If your prayers are hindered, what may you do about it?
14 Do not make excuses or try to justify yourself. That is the opposite of humility. Rather, make an honest and sincere effort to pinpoint the root cause. Is your conscience disturbed over something? That can easily hinder your prayers. Have you perhaps become somewhat careless, allowing the pressures of daily life to make too many demands on your time and attention? Is it a recurring weakness that is more deep-rooted than you realized? You may get to the point where you say to yourself: I will never be able to complete what I have begun. If the difficulty has become so serious that you feel you cannot approach Jehovah in prayer, then the only alternative is to confide in one of Jehovah’s servants and request his help, preferably an overseer or someone else who is mature. This will require humility, of course, but it may not be so difficult as you imagined, and it will be well worth the effort. Even in family life, at times an older brother or sister will help a younger one to put things straight with father or mother. It can be the same in the household of God.
15. Of what benefit are heartfelt prayers to Jehovah? (Matt. 6:6)
15 The value of prayer cannot be overemphasized—not the formal type, but, rather, prayer that reflects depth of appreciation for all the good things Jehovah has done for us, also for others. Yes, we want to express our loving concern for others, asking for God to help them to overcome their problems as well as to help us with our own. This will be a safeguard against becoming self-centered, which is the opposite of humility.
16. (a) How does the psalmist help us to keep in mind that baptism is only a beginning? (b) How was Jesus a fine example for us?
16 There is one other thing that is important in order to complete our building on a sure foundation, helping us to keep in mind that our baptism was only a beginning. This, too, is mentioned at Psalm 40, verses 9 and 10: “I have told the good news of righteousness in the big congregation. Look! My lips I do not restrain. O Jehovah, you yourself know that well . . . Your faithfulness and your salvation I have declared. I have not hidden your loving-kindness and your trueness in the big congregation.” This was certainly true of Jesus, who was determined to finish what he began at his baptism. (John 4:34) These words of the psalmist show first a great love for Jehovah and his fine qualities and also a keen desire to see Jehovah’s good name fully vindicated. They also show a true neighbor love, a sincere desire that others should know about these things, especially those with a hearing ear who would respond and help to build up the “big congregation.” In taking up these words, Jesus set a fine example for us.—Matt. 9:36-38; John 17:6, 18-21.
17 One thing is worthy of note. Jesus did not carry around a written copy of the Hebrew Scriptures, yet in his teaching he continually referred to these Scriptures and quoted from them. For ourselves, it is easy to carry around the Bible in printed form. It is therefore advantageous to learn how to use the Bible itself when one is witnessing to the people. We should be concerned about people, and show that concern by calling again wherever they show interest, in an endeavor to start Bible studies in their homes.
18. In what ways may baptized ones be able to enlarge their field of activity? (1 Cor. 16:9)
18 There may also be opportunities for you to enlarge your field of activity, as a congregation publisher, as an auxiliary or a regular full-time proclaimer of the good news, or as a missionary or a member of a Bethel family. Of course, not every privilege of service is open to everyone, but where there are earnest desire and realistic planning, and where the individual makes his heart desire a matter of prayer often the way is opened to share on a broader scale in doing Jehovah’s will.
19. As a baptized person, what should you contiually treasure in your heart? (2 Cor. 4:6, 7)
19 You should never feel that someone is trying to put you under pressure. But you should continually treasure in your heart all that your baptism symbolizes. As a dedicated servant of Jehovah you stand in a most privileged position. You should feel the warm interest that Jehovah’s family in heaven and on earth has in you, and, as a result, you should feel stimulated to move ahead in your service to Jehovah. Do not forget. Your baptism was only a beginning.