Baptism of the Lord - A Cycle
There may have been many gentiles who were baptized but the "catch" of them all was made by Peter. He was a Roman Centurion named Cornelius. Centurions were non-commissioned officers, roughly equivalent to Sergeant-Majors. They were in charge of Centuries--companies of approximately 100 men. They were vital to the daily routine and battles of the soldiers. Cornelius was called a "God-fearer". This indicates that he accepted most of the beliefs of Judaism, but rejected circumcision.
Peter had just experienced a vision in which God told him that it was permissible to eat non-kosher food. Had it not been for this revelation, Peter might never have entered the home of this important army leader. Jews avoided contact with pagans. The apostle's bold act would open the doors to all future conversions.
WHY DID JESUS ASK TO BE BAPTIZED?
Neither John nor Jesus invented baptism. It had been practiced for centuries among the Jews as a ritual equivalent of Confession. Until the fall of the Temple in 72 A.D. it was common for Jewish people to make a spiritual cleansing in a special pool called a MIKVEH--literally a "collection of water". This was said to remove spiritual impurity and sin. Men did this weekly on the eve of the Sabbath. Women did it monthly. Converts were also expected to do it before entering Judaism. Orthodox Jews still retain the rite.
John preached that such a bath was a necessary preparation for the cataclysm that would be wrought by the coming Messiah. Jesus transformed this continual ritual into the one single, definitive act by which we begin our faith. In effect he fused his divine essence with the water and the ceremony.
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