Do you remember when you were baptized? I don’t remember my baptism. I was there, to be sure. My parents once played for me a now ancient cassette tape of the baptism. Baptism is a big day in a Christian’s life. The early Christian church would often hold many baptisms until Easter. This account created by Aidan Kavanagh is a fictional account based on a variety of primary sources from the early Christian church. While I don’t think we’re ready for bath houses and oil at Star of Bethlehem, the symbolism does leave a powerful impression. A simple baptism with only water and the word of God is just as powerful and effective for creating faith as one described by Kavanagh.
The events surrounding Jesus’ baptism also leave a powerful impression. A visible display of the trinity must have been awesome. If you didn’t notice Jesus there in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit descending on him in the form of a dove would surely catch your eye. To hear God the Father’s thundering approval would stop you in your tracks. Any God fearing Jew on the muddy banks must have at least wondered, “Is this the promised Messiah?” It was.
But why was Jesus baptized? Jesus came to the river to be baptized at age 30. This event marked the beginning of his public ministry. Jesus tells us that his baptism was necessary to “fulfill all righteousness” according to Matthew 3. If that was the only verse that we had on the topic of the life of our Lord, one could conclude that something was missing in him that was completed in baptism. The problem with this interpretation is that not only does it not fit with the rest of Scripture when it comes to Jesus’ baptism, but it also falls far short when it comes to baptism for everyone else.
Baptism is described as a washing of rebirth and renewal for the forgiveness of sins. Indeed, repentance and baptism are mentioned routinely together. Here is where Christians of all denominations, including non-denominational, start to get confused. What I have found helpful is to ask who is acting in baptism. It is God or us? 1 Peter 3 tells us that baptism saves us. That is, baptism isn’t something we do to save ourselves. Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly say that works do not save. Baptism isn’t something that we do for God; baptism is something God does for us.
John the Baptist understood this. That is why he tried to stop Jesus when Jesus came to him to be baptized. When Jesus was baptized, he didn’t have any sins to wash away. Jesus’ baptism was his first act of taking our place. Jesus’ perfect life is a model to be followed for certain, but far more than that, I can take comfort at his perfect life because I know that when I fail, Jesus succeeded. When God the Father thundered from heaven in his approval, by faith in Jesus that approval belongs to me and to every one else who trusts in Jesus as his or her Savior.
Even though I don’t remember my baptism, I know that God worked powerfully in it to create faith in my heart. In my baptism God connected me to Jesus’ death. No matter how badly I fail, I know that in my baptism I am sealed in God’s love. Nothing can change that.
Do you ever wonder why the baptismal font is often placed right at the door of a church sanctuary? It is so that it is in the way. You should have to walk around it – see it – think about it – whack your knee into it – so that you are reminded of the wonderful promises God connects to it. Baptism is a powerful way that we can be confident in God’s love.