One of my favorite moments in ministry was having the privilege of baptizing my daughter. Most of you know that I served in a Baptist church before I served here. In the Baptist church they do what is called a ‘believer’s baptism’ by immersion. They baptize a person when they are old enough to make profession of faith. It was a perfect day. I had walked through the ‘baptism classes’ with three young ladies. And on the day of the baptism, it was a beautiful summer afternoon at a lake just north of the cities. It was one of my greatest privileges to walk with my daughter on that journey. But have you ever wondered why some churches dunk you and some sprinkle? Or why some churches baptize babies and other adults or older kids?
In Today’s scripture we have the episode of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus was clearly baptized as an adult. If you read in the Luke’s Gospel, you see that he was 30 years old when he was baptized. He was baptized by his cousin John, who was already a well-known prophet. But why was Jesus baptized?
First of all, John did not invent baptism for Jesus. John was already called John the Baptist. And he had been baptizing people. Baptism was not a new concept. The Jews had been baptizing people for generations. A ceremonial baptism called, tevilah. It was a ceremonial washing in a special bath called a mikvah which was built on a spring, or on living water. It was meant to be a washing to prepare for ceremony.
In Egypt they had a baptism that was baptism that was a ceremonial washing for newborns.
In the Greek tradition, which is where we get our modern word for baptism, in Greek it literally means immersion or sprinkle. It was also a ceremonial washing.
So when John was baptizing he was following in a tradition that was familiar to the people and culture of the day. However, he had one distinguishing factor, he was baptizing for the repentant heart.
So I want you to catch this, every other form of baptism had to do with a literal, physical cleaning to prepare for a spiritual event. John is baptizing for the spiritual cleansing, as physical act to represent the spiritual action. It is an inner washing being symbolized by an outer washing. He was asking people to immerse themselves in repentance.
Later, throughout Jesus’ ministry we find the disciples baptizing people. And after Pentecost, after Jesus has died, resurrected and ascended into heaven and the first Christian communities are being formed, we read in the book of Acts that thousands were baptized when they believed. We also read that everyone in their household were baptized.
Later, Peter writes on baptism. Peter was at the center of the disciples when Jesus was teaching and people were baptized. Peter was the leader of the early church after the Pentecost. And in his own letter to the scattered Christians throughout the Roman Empire, Peter links baptism to Noah’s flood.
When God flooded the world, he washed it completely clean and started over, in a very physical way. It was a physical cleansing. With Jesus, God washed the souls clean of His people. It was a spiritual cleansing. Immersed in repentance.
So how does this translate into how and why we celebrate baptism today. There are traditions that believe that baptism is the actual washing of sins. It is the moment of salvation that is confirmed when a person comes to the age of being able to decide to follow Jesus. This would be the Catholic tradition.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the Baptists who believe that baptism is about a public proclamation of faith and should be done in the method Jesus was baptized by full immersion as a person able to make a confession of faith.
Now it’s important to recognize that in scripture we have both baptism of infants, and of adults. In the Methodist tradition, we traditionally baptize infants, following in the tradition that when people became Christ followers after Pentecost the whole family was baptized. But in the Methodist church we also baptize adults, recognizing that scripture upholds both forms of baptism. In the Methodist tradition there is even literature on both baptism by immersion and by sprinkling.
In either case, it is done as a public profession of faith, recognizing either the intent of a parent to raise their children to know Jesus or the intent of an older individual to follow Jesus. It is a recognition of the grace received by Jesus for the salvation of their sins, but it is not the actual point of salvation. It is a community statement.
When Peter baptized it was a sign, a public symbol of joining the community of Christ followers. We baptize as a symbol of being under the grace of Christ and as an intention to be connected to the community of Christ followers. Baptism is also a sacrament in the Methodist tradition, which essentially is an acknowledgement of the mysterious supernatural thing that happens when we are baptized. It recognizes the mystery in baptism.
I want to offer that baptism is more than a moment, it’s actually the dedication of a lifestyle. It is an immersion of repentance.
What would it look like if we actually immerses ourselves in repentance?
Repentance is one of those things that requires some self-awareness, some humility and some gratitude. In baptism we learn that repentance is not something we do in private. It is not something we keep in our family. It is something we do publically. It is something we do with someone else, recognizing our own sinfulness, our own issues, essentially we own our own stuff. You have to be self-aware enough of your own bad choices and want to go the other direction. No excuses. No I’m like this because of my mom or my dad. Repentance means owning your stuff and then turning around. The word to repent literally means to turn around. Go the opposite direction. This requires some soul searching, some understanding of our own vices or struggles.
Repentance also requires humility. Repentance by immersion, or immersing ourselves in repentance requires an ability to hold your inability to correct your sins on your own. In repentance you have to embrace your weakness, embrace that you are not enough to fix your sinfulness. You have to recognize your need for God. It requires going before at least one other person and admitting your sinfulness.
Repentance also requires gratitude. We turn away from our sins for what? Because we recognize another way is better. We turn away from our sins because we are so thankful that God provided another way for us. Through repentance there is the possibility of life with God.
Baptism – Immersing yourself in repentance.
When we baptize our children, we are making a commitment to continue in our own immersion of repentance. We are making a commitment to raise them to follow Jesus. We are proclaiming the grace of God in their lives and with humility recognizing that as a community we need to support one another in this faith journey.
This is why we keep a church budget, it is why we maintain this building, it is why we provide Sunday school and learning opportunities, it is why we do outreach and support the good work in our community. We celebrate a year in ministry, because we embrace our desire to follow Jesus, we embrace our commitment to follow Jesus as professed at our baptism.
When we are baptized as a confirmation of faith, we are immersing ourselves in our repentance, seeking to live a life following Jesus.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an infant or a child being brought by a family who desire to raise their children to embrace the lifestyle of following Jesus or if you come as a believer wishing to make a public proclamation of your own faith. It doesn’t matter if you are sprinkled or dunked. Baptism is the beginning of a journey with God. It is a physical symbol of the spiritual action that happens with repentance. It is a declaration of a lifestyle, immersed in repentance.
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