Two weeks ago I was so honored to be present as an adult member of my family was baptized in a local steam. The day was gorgeous. Church was held along the banks of the stream and a huge fellowship meal was served! After the meal, my dear relative along with 13 members of his church were also baptized. I know, in some Christian circles, there is great discussion about infant baptism versus age of understanding baptism. I thought it would be a good idea to look at what the word of God says about baptism… what it is and what it is not!
I think it’s always important to ask ourselves if a practice in the New Testament has it’s origins in the Old testament. So we much ask…was there baptism in the Old Testament?
Although there was a lot of ceremonial washing, lots and lots of it, the washing in the Old Testament was not the same as baptism in the New.
The first time the actual work BAPTIZED is used in the bible is in Matthew 3:6. First mentions in the bible are very very important! Let’s start at verse 5:
Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan: and they were being baptized by him (John the Baptist) in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.
John, the prophesied forerunner of Jesus, was traveling the wilderness of Israel crying out for the Jews to “prepare the way of the Lord”. He was anointed to prepare the word for the coming Messiah… the Savior!!!
Isaiah the prophet who lived 700 years before John wrote these words inspired by God…
A voice of one calling, “prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the dessert a highway for our God”.
God had told Israel that there would be a person to come just before the Messiah who would warn everyone to get themselves ready for the King of Kings, to make their ways right and straight!
In ancient times when a king would come to a new land he would send out a “forerunner”. Someone who would travel the country and roads ahead of the king to straighten out the path to the new kingdom. In those days roads could be in horrible disrepair and very treacherous. Someone would need to go ahead of the king and prepare the path.
John who was chosen by God was preparing the hearts and minds of the Jews to be ready for Jesus, their King! Beautiful analogy isn’t it?
So John in camel hair clothing, the clothing of a suffering prophet, went through the wilderness area around the Jerusalem crying out for people to
REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND. Matthew 3:2.
When we, in western culture, think of the word repent we think of turning away from our sins. Not so with the Jews! I love the beautiful and truth-filled way they see repentance. To the ancient Jew repentance was to turn back to God! See the subtle but profound difference? Yes, they focused on God. God our merciful Father who waits with open arm for us to turn towards Him and away from sin.
John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. For the Jews, it was an outward act that symbolized that turn towards God! It was a sign that they recognized the coming of Messiah as King and wanted to set their heart and minds on the right road… the road to God!
The word baptize in Greek is BAPTIZO. It literally means “to dip”. This is so interesting.
Let’s say I have a big 2 gallon vat of red dye and I have a white cloth. When I “dip” the white cloth into the vat of red dye what does it look like when I take it out? A red cloth, right? The once white cloth identifies so closely with the vat of red dye it was just in. In the dye the cloth has such a close relationship with the red dye, that it takes on the characteristics of it. That cloth now identifies with the red dye.
Baptism means to be in association or relationship or fellowship with Jesus! Think of it as identifying with Jesus in a way that we are one with Him.
John preached repentance and to be baptized. But is being baptized the same as being saved, having your sins completely forgiven and the assurance of heaven? NO!!!!
In the case of the Jews, John was baptizing them after the had repented for they believed that the Messiah was coming. The sign of their new belief was baptism.
Baptism is a SIGN! Something that points to something else. Baptism was and is an outward public sign of an inner saving belief!
Romans 5 says..
Or do we not know that all of us who have been baptized into Jesus Christ has been baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with Him through baptism into death in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father we too walk in newness of life.
In other words, we who believe that Jesus is our LORD and Savior have been identified, become one with Jesus and have been also baptized (identified) with His death too. Because of this we are also identified with His burial and His resurrection from the dead, which shows us how amazing and awesome and above all God is. And because we we identify or abide or galvanize ourselves to the One who did all the work to save us we also, like the risen Christ, have a new eternal life!
Baptism does not save us but is is a way we tell the world that we identify with Christ because of what He has done for us.
When people who believe in the saving work of Jesus and trust Him and only Him as their Lord and King, baptism becomes a great symbol of their belief. When they are dipped into the baptismal water they are saying that they identify with Jesus’ death and burial for their sins. When they rise up from the waters it is a sign of them identifying with Jesus’ resurrection. They are no longer a slave to sin and death… but they walk in new Holy Spirit life that they were blessed with when they first believed!
The bible has many passages about baptism. They don’t contradict each other!
There are many traditions and common practices concerning baptism in different Christian denominations. I’m not here to tell you if they are right or not. I’m saying…let’s all look at what God says about baptism and obey Him!
As my family member and one of his dear friend’s stood waist high in the stream facing the congregation sitting on the bank of the stream, the pastor holding him by the arm asked,”Do you believe that Jesus died your your sins”? And he said, “Yes”!
“Do you believe that He rose from the dead”? And he said, “Yes”.
“Do you believe that Jesus is your Lord and Savior”? And he said, “Yes”!
At that moment, with the help of his friend, the pastor dipped this professing Christian into the cold water of the stream… identifying with Jesus’ death and burial. And as quickly as he went under the water, he was raised up, a sign that he identified with Jesus’ resurrection! We all cheered… and with a shout of victory and a raised hand my family member came up out of the water proclaiming what Jesus had done for him!!!
I will never forget the beauty and symbolism of this great event! What a God glorifying proclamation of identification in Christ!