Some have accused Lutherans (and other Christians) of over-emphasizing the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. As a preliminary defense, nearly every book of the New Testament speaks about Baptism. Even more so consider that when God introduced the Christ with His greatest prophet, He decisively chose to magnify a holy washing—a baptism.
It is obvious that John the Baptist was the way preparer for the Christ. This fact was not only prophesied by Isaiah and Malachi, but it was attested by John as well: …for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel (John 1:31). However John the Baptizer not only prepared the way of the Christ, he also prepared the way for Christian Baptism. When the Savior instituted the wondrous sacrament of Holy Baptism, He did not do it “out of the blue”, for in John the Baptist’s God-ordained work there was a holy preliminary and precedent for Holy Baptism. By John’s Baptism of the multitudes in the Jordan River the Apostles were readied for Christ to institute His Church’s water-Sacrament at His ascension. Though the Old Testament sacred washings as well as traditional Jewish washings magnified the concept of sacred washings, nothing prepared the Jews for Christian Baptism more than the baptism performed by John the Baptist.
It must be realized that Christian Baptism is not the same as John’s baptism. Nonetheless as one observes the following differences between John’s baptism and Christian Baptism, one can also see that such differences have points of comparison demonstrating that John’s “lesser” baptism was preparing the way for the ultimate rite of baptism—the Sacrament of Holy Baptism: John’s baptism at the Jordan was commissioned only to be done by John, the Son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and it was only done in the Jordan River; Christian Baptism was instituted and commissioned for Christ’s Church, especially to be done by pastors, using any available water. John’s baptism was to manifest Christ only to Israel; Christian baptism is for the nations, beyond the Jordan. John’s baptism did not unite a person with Christ’s death and resurrection, partly because these salvific works had not been accomplished, however in Christian baptism people are expressly buried and raised with Christ. John’s baptism had no power to endow with the Holy Spirit, but Christian Baptism is the foundational means whereby people receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. John’s baptism more or less ceased after John was beheaded (Other related baptisms, perhaps almost cultish in nature, seem to be referenced in the Acts of the Apostles.); Christian Baptism will continue as long as nations need to hear the Gospel. When John baptized people they were considered followers of John who—verbally along with his appointed baptism—purposely pointed to the Christ; Christian baptism makes disciples not of John but only of Jesus Christ.
So what were the marks of John’s baptism that were nearly identical to Christian Baptism? Both were/are baptisms linked to repentance, and both imparted/impart forgiveness of sins. Both John’s baptism and Christian Baptism pointed to the Christ; granted, one pointed ahead and the other points mostly back in time. Both were commanded by God. Finally, both utilized water, as is the nature of sacred washings.
Indeed John the Baptist prepared the way for the Christ. But we should also realize that John’s God-ordained baptism of penitents in the Jordan prepared the way for the Sacrament of Holy Baptism which Christ’s Church rightly treasures.