Today, I would like us to explore baptism. There are three reasons why I think we should talk about baptism. The first reason is that we are Baptist and even the word “Baptist” appears in the name of our church. Therefore, it stands to reason that baptism must be an important part of who we are. The second reason is that some people here have not been baptized and it would be important for you to understand baptism. Finally, we should talk about baptism because some people here were baptized and we might only think about our baptism an event from our life and not essential element of our daily faith walk.
Let’s start with baptism as it is portrayed in the Bible. While there are some historical accounts of ritual washings among the Jewish cultures and even pagan cultures, the concept of baptism was introduced by a man named John. This man, John, and baptism were so linked together that John became known as John the Baptizer or John the Baptist. For another day, we will look at John in detail, but for today, we will look at John as a matured man. We find John introduced to us in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 3.
“3 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ 4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (Matthew 3:1-6).
Let’s take a look at a couple things about John and baptism. John was a vocal preacher far removed from the mainstream of religious life. Jerusalem was the center of Jewish religious life and John was in the wilderness, in a place called Bethany by the Jordan River. In John’s day, it was a 20-mile walk from Jerusalem to Bethany and people from all over came to hear what John had to say. John had a simple message, “Repent!” Today, when we hear someone say “Repent,” we might be inclined to picture a street preacher screaming at folks as they passed by his corner proclaiming the end is near. We are not sure what to make of such people but generally most of us are inclined to cross the street and avoid the drama. “Repent,” properly understood means to “turn around because God is behind you and you are walking away from Him.” Repent means to turn around and agree to walk with God in your life. John, from his wilderness outpost, called people from the Temple of Jerusalem and the synagogues of other cities pointing out that following rules and religious practices, participating in ritual sacrifices, and wearing the right religious clothing was not the same walking with God. Religiously practicing traditions does not mean you are with God. Listen to how John address the most respected members of the religious community:
“7 When he [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he [John] said to them: “You brood of vipers [snakes]! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:7-10).
John was blunt. He was saying, do not talk the talk of faith and believe you are walking the walk of faith. The talk of faith alone produces nothing. The walk of faith produces fruit in keeping with repentance. When we repent, that is turn and genuinely follow God, then we can produce fruit that reflects the goodness of God. When we repent, we stop doing things that we know are not pleasing to God and we begin doing things consistent with God’s character of truthfulness, honesty, compassion, empathy, patience, kindness, and love. We are concerned less with the idea that God is to be found in religious traditions, rules, and rituals and we become focused on becoming the person God wants us to be.
John said to his listeners that once you have repented, once you have come into agreement with God, be baptized; be immersed and submerge yourself under the water as an outward sign of your decision to repent. Let that baptism signify to the witnesses of your decision and desire to turn fully toward God and let that moment remind you that you are in God’s presence. And people were baptized, submerged under the waters of the River Jordan, by John for their decision to repent.
So we learn that baptism began as a decision to repent and water was used to symbolize the change of direction. That is what John’s baptism meant.
Then, in that remote location, “13 Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15 Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he [Jesus] went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he [John] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him [Jesus]. 17 And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:13-17).
In the baptism of Jesus, we see God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit present. In the baptism of Jesus, God was signaling that he would change John’s practice of baptism forever. Baptism would no longer be simply about repentance, a turning toward God. Instead, baptism would come to represent a supernatural involvement of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit into the life of the person being baptized. Baptism was still a human response to the presence and call upon an individual by God but now baptism would reflect the work of God’s Son and the involved of the Holy Spirit. Like many of the things that happened with Jesus or Jesus taught and said about himself, the significance would not be fully understood during Jesus’ life on earth. The same would be true of baptism.
Let’s see what I mean by that. After Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection from the dead, Jesus said to his disciples, “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). We see a couple of things here about baptism as Jesus would now define it. First, baptism was for those who would follow him as a disciple; that is one who would seek to do what Jesus would do. A decision is made for the individual to accept the forgiveness Jesus offers for all sin, past and future, and then as a confirmation of that acceptance, they are baptized.
Now, I, like many of you, was baptized as an infant. I was only a few weeks old and I was baptized in a very religious ceremony. I had no choice in the matter. My baptism was done by my parents out of love for me, but I express no love for Christ, no repentance, no acceptance of Jesus’ offer of forgiveness, and no decision of discipleship. I was a few weeks old and was simply present to get water splashed upon me. Later, in my twenties, I thought again about baptism. The first and most overriding thought of that moment was, “When I get my act together and become a better person, then I will be baptized. I cannot be baptized as I am now. I must make myself better.” This proved to be a fruitless exercise and one that is not found in the Bible. Jesus did not say to his disciples, “When people get their act together, baptize them.” He said tell them the good news that I have shared with you. Invite them to follow me. And when they do so, welcome them as your equal through baptism. I then came to realize that I needed to make the decision to follow Jesus. I needed to accept Jesus’ offer, and I needed to be baptized as an outward sign of a spiritual change within me. And so, as a man, I was immersed and submerged in the baptismal pool. I wanted God and those who witnessed my baptism that a serious thing had happened to me. That serious thing was explained by Jesus this way, I was baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” I was moved to repent and turn toward the Father. I was moved to imitate the Son. And God was moved to grant me the Holy Spirit to make it all possible in the moment and for the rest of my days.
The Apostle Paul was one person who fought against Jesus until he encountered Jesus and knew Jesus was the Son of God. When Paul accepted Jesus was finally baptized, this is how he described the experience. “4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:4-5). Paul’s point was that baptism is the symbolic act of the death of our old life, that is our life without Jesus. That old life is then buried under the baptismal waters and we arise from the waters and draw in the breath of new life. In that new life we are united forever with Jesus including joining him in his resurrection. The promise is that Jesus is present with us in our daily living and that we will be united with him even in our death. For Paul continued, “38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Baptism is a mutual expression of love. Baptism is offered by Jesus as his expression and promise of love and it is our clearest way of showing our love toward him.
We are a Baptist church because we believe that baptism is a personal decision that each person must make for themselves. We do not believe Mom, Dad, or God parents can make a faith decision for the children under their care. We, you and I, need to make that pivotal decision in and for our life. Perhaps you have been waiting for the perfect moment to be baptized. Do not wait. Come and follow Jesus and be baptized. Choosing to be baptized is likely the most significant act you can take in your Christian walk for the reasons I have mentioned and for these next thoughts.
We can make use of our baptism daily by remembering three simple words, “I am baptized.” How can those three words offer us daily strength. Here is how. When I think no one cares about me or my difficulties, I can say, “I am baptized.” When sadness overwhelms me, I can say, “I am baptized.” In the long hours of the day, I can say, “I am baptized.” When we are uncertain of our next step in life, we can say, “I am baptized.” And because “I am baptized,” Christ Jesus lives within me now and forever. Because “I am baptized,” my sins are forgiven. Because “I am baptized,” I have a family with many members. Because “I am baptized,” God will share with me wisdom. Because “I am baptized,” the Holy Spirit will lead me in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). Because “I am baptized,” the Lord will call me to meditate on things that are true, things that are noble, things that are just, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Because “I am baptized,” my life no longer belongs to the world, my life belongs to God and I know I am his child.
“I am baptized” is the source of my spiritual healing. Christian writer, C. S. Lewis wrote, “As long as the natural life is in your body, it will do a lot towards repairing that body. Cut it, and up to a point it will heal, as a dead body would not. A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man or woman who never goes wrong, but a man or woman who is enable to repent and pick themself up and begin over again after each stumble – because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him or her all the time.”
I am baptized therefore, Christ is within me renewing my life, repairing the spiritual cuts and scrapes from this world made of hard corners and sharp edges. For those who have chosen baptism and been baptized, remember hold close each day the words, “I am baptized.” For those who have not yet chosen baptism, I invite you to be baptized in the name of Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Make the choice to say, “I am baptized.” Amen and Amen.