(Presented in church July 22 2017)
Baptism is how people publicly signify their allegiance to Jesus Christ as they leave their old life and enter God’s church. The word baptism derives from a verb to mean “to immerse” or “to identify with”. Spiritual baptism occurs when the new believer is united with Christ and His people and is identified with Him in death, burial and resurrection.
1st Corinthians 12:13 states: For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have all be made to drink into one Spirit.
But just how should a person be baptized and what does it mean for one’s daily life?
Matthew 28:19-20 tells us, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
This is not a request or a suggestion, this is a command. Jesus tells us to “Go!” I listened and on July 15th I was baptized at Whitesands Camp. This is actually my second baptism, my first took place in 1997 on Mother’s Day in the United Church. After very little planning or forethought, my three sons and I were baptized into the United Church with a little splash of extremely cold water over our heads. It was not a serious or solemn occasion, and really didn’t have very much significance attached to it. Nowhere in The Bible does it state or recommend that baptism is done by sprinkling water on our heads. It is always an immersion event.
When John the Baptist baptized Christ, it was done in the Jordan River. John did not stand on the shores and sprinkle water, he immersed people completely. This is obvious when we read the Gospel of Mark’s account in Mark 1:9-10, “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him.” If Christ was not immersed, then he couldn’t have “come up out of the water”. So if we are to be baptized as Christ was, the only baptism is by immersion.
But John the Baptist’s baptism was nothing compared to the baptism that we receive when we fully accept and follow Christ’s teachings. In Matthew 3:11 John the Baptist tells us, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.”
The symbolic death and resurrection that occurs during a true baptism is evident in the Apostle Paul’s description in Romans 6:3-4, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in the newness of life.” By immersing ourselves in a water baptism, we symbolize the death and resurrection and therefore are born again as Christ tells Nicodemus in John 3:5, “Jesus answered, Verily verily, I say unto thee, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.‘”
The idea of being born again, while only mentioned in the Gospel of John in the New Testament, it is also alluded to in Ezekiel 36:26-27, “A new heart also I will give you; and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” Baptism, while only occurring in the New Testament, was certainly planned long before the birth of Christ.
The Baptism of Jesus Christ was the crowning moment in the start of His ministry. In Desire of Ages, Ellen G White presents the baptism of Christ:
John was acquainted with the events that had marked the birth of Jesus. He had heard of the visit to Jerusalem in His boyhood, and of what had passed in the school of the rabbis. He knew of His sinless life, and believed Him to be the Messiah; but of this he had no positive assurance. The fact that Jesus had for so many years remained in obscurity, giving no special evidence of His mission, gave occasion for doubt as to whether He could be the Promised One. The Baptist, however, waited in faith, believing that in God’s own time all would be made plain. It had been revealed to him that the Messiah would seek baptism at his hands, and that a sign of His divine character should then be given. Thus he would be enabled to present Him to the people.
When Jesus came to be baptized, John recognized in Him a purity of character that he had never before perceived in any man. The very atmosphere of His presence was holy and awe – inspiring. Among the multitudes that had gathered about him at the Jordan, John had heard dark tales of crime, and had met souls bowed down with the burden of myriad sins; but never had he come in contact with a human being from whom there breathed an influence so divine. All this was in harmony with what had been revealed to John regarding the Messiah. Yet he shrank from granting the request of Jesus. How could he, a sinner, baptize the Sinless One? And why should He who needed no repentance submit to a rite that was a confession of guilt to be washed away?
As Jesus asked for baptism, John drew back, exclaiming, “I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?” With firm yet gentle authority, Jesus answered, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” And John, yielding, led the Saviour down into the Jordan, and buried Him beneath the water. “And straightway coming up out of the water,” Jesus “saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him.”
Jesus did not receive baptism as a confession of guilt on His own account. He identified Himself with sinners, taking the steps that we are to take, and doing the work that we must do. His life of suffering and patient endurance after His baptism was also an example to us.
Upon coming up out of the water, Jesus bowed in prayer on the river bank. A new and important era was opening before Him. He was now, upon a wider stage, entering on the conflict of His life. Though He was the Prince of Peace, His coming must be as the unsheathing of a sword. The kingdom He had come to establish was the opposite of that which the Jews desired. He who was the foundation of the ritual and economy of Israel would be looked upon as its enemy and destroyer. He who had proclaimed the law upon Sinai would be condemned as a transgressor. He who had come to break the power of Satan would be denounced as Beelzebub. No one upon earth had understood Him, and during His ministry He must still walk alone. Throughout His life His mother and His brothers did not comprehend His mission. Even His disciples did not understand Him. He had dwelt in eternal light, as one with God, but His life on earth must be spent in solitude.
As one with us, He must bear the burden of our guilt and woe. The Sinless One must feel the shame of sin. The peace lover must dwell with strife, the truth must abide with falsehood, purity with vileness. Every sin, every discord, every defiling lust that transgression had brought, was torture to His spirit.
Alone He must tread the path; alone He must bear the burden. Upon Him who had laid off His glory and accepted the weakness of humanity the redemption of the world must rest. He saw and felt it all, but His purpose remained steadfast. Upon His arm depended the salvation of the fallen race, and He reached out His hand to grasp the hand of Omnipotent Love.
The Saviour’s glance seems to penetrate heaven as He pours out His soul in prayer. Well He knows how sin has hardened the hearts of men, and how difficult it will be for them to discern His mission, and accept the gift of salvation. He pleads with the Father for power to overcome their unbelief, to break the fetters with which Satan has enthralled them, and in their behalf to conquer the destroyer. He asks for the witness that God accepts humanity in the person of His Son.
Never before have the angels listened to such a prayer. They are eager to bear to their loved Commander a message of assurance and comfort. But no; the Father Himself will answer the petition of His Son. Direct from the throne issue the beams of His glory. The heavens are opened, and upon the Saviour’s head descends a dovelike form of purest light, – fit emblem of Him, the meek and lowly One.
Of the vast throng at the Jordan, few except John discerned the heavenly vision. Yet the solemnity of the divine Presence rested upon the assembly. The people stood silently gazing upon Christ. His form was bathed in the light that ever surrounds the throne of God. His upturned face was glorified as they had never before seen the face of man. From the open heavens a voice was heard saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
These words of confirmation were given to inspire faith in those who witnessed the scene, and to strengthen the Saviour for His mission. Notwithstanding that the sins of a guilty world were laid upon Christ, notwithstanding the humiliation of taking upon Himself our fallen nature, the voice from heaven declared Him to be the Son of the Eternal.
(The Desire of Ages by Ellen G. White copyright 1990 by Better Living Publications in cooperation with Pacific Press)