The father in Charles Day’s Life with Father does not have much interest in
religion or the church. His wife is concerned that he has never been baptized, and keeps
insisting that he be baptized. At one point in the story, he asks why she is so interested
in his being baptized. She replies that she is determined to get him into Heaven some
way. He responds, “They won’t shut me out on a technicality!”
Unfortunately, that is exactly what baptism is for many people; it is viewed as a
technicality rather than a sacrament. Baptism is like a giant onion with many layers of
meanings and traditions, interpretations and customs. The origin of the ritual of baptism
is somewhat unclear. It is thought that baptism came into the Hebrew tradition and
religion as a rite from the Babylonians while in exile.
Over the years the meaning of baptism has been blurred by early theologians
who saw baptism as a gate through which one must pass in order to get into heaven.
Some of that thinking slipped into our Protestant traditions and is still felt today as
evidence of a young mother who called her pastor regarding the baptism of her infant
daughter. She asked if she could have her baby “done”. The pastor’s first reaction was
to ask, “Medium well?” She further complicated the issue by informing the pastor that
baptism was not all that important to her, but “it was the thing to do.” She dug the hole
deeper by adding, “Anyway, it might be good insurance if something were to happen to
the baby. I would want to make certain she was baptized. For this woman, baptism was
Today is the day that we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. This day enables us to
not only get in touch with the meaning of baptism, but also provides an opportunity for
us to get in touch with our own baptism, and in so doing we discover that baptism is
more than a technicality.
This morning, consider a few thoughts about baptism.
FIRST, BAPTISM IS ESSENTIALLY SOMETHING THAT GOD DOES!
The Greek word for baptism means: To dip, to immerse, to submerge, and this is
my favorite, to saturate.” Baptism means being saturated by God’s grace and love.
Thanks to the founder of the Wesleyan Movement, John Wesley had a practical
approach to the Sacrament of Baptism. He allowed that all three forms of baptism,
sprinkling, pouring and immersion, were acceptable. Most of the time we practice
baptism by sprinkling. However, I must confess that it is difficult to feel “saturated” by
God’s love when we get only a sprinkle. It’s all symbolic, so sprinkling is all right.
Baptism is a bold, clear statement that God has saved us and that we have not
saved ourselves. The water is a symbol of God’s grace, God’s power that saves.
Whenever we celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism we hear these opening words:
“We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through
water and the spirit. All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.” Did you catch
that? All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price!
There you have it…baptism is God’s gift offered to us without price. Baptism is
simply our saying yes to God’s yes. Through baptism, we have been claimed by God,
adopted into God’s family and embraced by God’s love, and accepted by God.
That is why re-baptism is inappropriate. I have had congregational members ask
me if I would baptize them again because they didn’t understand the significance of it
the first time, especially if they were infants or children when they were baptized.
Baptism isn’t about us and our understanding. Who in the world could ever
understand God’s grace? Baptism is about God and what God has done for us. In
baptism the recipient is just that – the recipient. The saving work of God is not
dependent upon our understanding it, but rather upon our accepting the fact that God
take the initiative to welcome us into God’s family.
Asking to be re-baptized would be like asking someone who gave you a priceless
gift if they would be willing to give it to you again because you just didn’t appreciate it
the first time. That would be unthinkable. The gift was given by the giver because of
who you are, not because you understand the value of the gift.
So baptism is something God does and continues to do and that is why we say,
“Remember your baptism and be thankful!”
SECOND, BAPTISM TELLS WHO WE ARE!
It was at Jesus’ baptism that he discovered who he was. Jesus heard the words,
“You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well-pleased.” Jesus received God’s
blessing. It was not earned. It was not a challenge to go forth and prove himself worthy
of it. It was a blessing that told Jesus who he was as a relative of God! He was part of
God. It was God’s way of saying, “You are part of me. You belong.”
That raises an interesting question. Who tells you who you are anyway? Parents?
Siblings or a spouse? Your employer or a board of directors? Is it your bank account
who tells you who you are? Is it the government, the news media or a television
commercial? Who do we allow to tell us who we are? Through baptism, God tells us who
we are: “you are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.” You are royalty!
No wonder Martin Luther who started the Protestant Reformation, in his dark
moments of temptations, doubts and fears would be heard to repeat over and over in
Latin: “I have been baptized. I have been baptized.” In baptism we are told who we are:
“Those receiving the sacrament of baptism are marked as Christian disciples and
initiated into the fellowship of Christ’s holy church.” We are somebodies!
In his book, God’s Vitamin “C” For the Spirit, John Trent tells a wonderful story
about his sixty-four year old mother who has an interesting library. It is divided into
three sections. First section contains textbooks on psychology and theology. The second
section contains medical textbooks and journals. The third section contains issues of
Heavy Equipment Digest.
Visitors to her home are often a bit perplexed with her wide range of reading
interests. While the visitors may not understand, the woman’s three sons understand.
For you see, one of her sons is a psychologist, another son is a physician dedicated to
cancer research. Her third son manufactures heavy equipment. She spends time reading
books to better understand her sons. Is it important for her to know everything from
Freud, to DNA to bulldozers? Probably not, but it is important that her sons know they
Just as Jesus’ baptism sealed his identity, our baptism seals our identity. Our
baptism tells us that we are somebody because God loves us, chooses us, claims us,
and anoints us. Baptism tells us who we are. We are royalty and that is why we say,
“Remember your baptism and be thankful.”
FINALLY, BAPTISM INAUGRATES OUR OWN MINISTRY
Every Christian needs to perceive God’s presence, receive God’s power and
discover God’s divine purpose. Baptism achieves each of these.
In Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism, Jesus is not simply receiving consecration as
God’s messiah, but is being equipped for ministry through the gift of the Spirit. In his
baptism Jesus discovers his purpose and his reason for being. The baptism is the
beginning of his ministry. It is here that the adult Jesus shows up on the stage of
history. It is the occasion of his calling. Baptism for Jesus was more than repentance
and cleansing. Here baptism issues in the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the giving of
redemptive identity. God says to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved.”
Last Sunday I preached on Epiphany, the tradition that tells us that on that day
the Magi arrived and fell at the feet of Jesus. Epiphany means “manifestation” or
“revelation”. It means God’s self-manifestation. Throughout this season we celebrate the
various ways God is revealed to us in our lives. How fortunate for us that Epiphany, the
first Sunday of the new year and the celebration of Jesus’ baptism all fall at the same
time. Such an occurrence helps us to see the interrelatedness of it all.
All four Gospels tell us about the baptism of Jesus. But there is one unique
difference in Luke’s account. Luke tells us that Jesus’ epiphany did not occur at his
baptism, but immediately following when he went off to be by himself to pray.
It is then that he heard the voice from heaven calling his name. It was then
that Jesus discovered what God had done. There he discovered who he was. And there he
discovered what his ministry would be. Baptism is not a technicality. It is a sacrament. It
is God’s grace coming into our life and the life of the church, working to save persons
and redeeming God’s world. Remember your baptism and be thankful!