The 100th anniversary of the Titanic has brought about a resurgence of interest in the story. They even re-released in 3-D the epic movie from 1997, unleashing that tortuous song from Celine Dion on a whole new generation of movie-goers. Has anyone actually seen the Titanic? I don’t mean the movie – I mean the ship. Underwater vehicles and cameras have come a long way in exploration and we now have excellent imagery of the wreckage. Have a look:
The ancient Greeks had a word to describe sunken ships – BAPTIDZO: submerged. The word “baptize” literally means to submerge or to immerse under water. For that reason, I like to call John the Baptist “John the Dunker” or “Dunkin’ John.”
If baptize literally means to submerge, how did different Christian traditions begin doing other forms of baptism? Some traditions sprinkle water. Some traditions pour water over a person. The biblical example is that baptism is full immersion and, with the word literally meaning to immerse, that is the standard practice of many evangelicals. But the way you are baptized is not the critical issue.
Baptism itself will not save you or put you in right standing with God.
There is a great story in Acts 16. The Apostle Paul and his co-minister Silas were in prison because they had caused a raucous as they went around preaching about Jesus. So there they are in prison, praying and singing worship songs at midnight, and all of the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there is a huge earthquake and the doors shake loose and the prisoners’ chains fell off! The guard comes running, sees the open doors, and pulls out his sword to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. Better to die by his own hand with honor than to have his superiors put him to death for letting the prisoners escape. But Paul calls out to him, “Don’t hurt yourself – we’re all still here.” And the guard is blown away and asks these men of God, “What must I do to be saved?” And Paul’s tells him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” Then they tell him about Jesus and the guard takes them home, washes their wounds, and they baptize the guard and his family.
What do you have to do to be saved? Put your faith in Jesus. Baptism follows faith. For this reason many churches practice what we call “believer’s baptism.” Preaching always comes first: turn from your sin and put your faith in Jesus. It is also for this reason that many do not baptize infants and small children. While infant baptism is not prohibited in the Bible, the clear example is that baptism is something one does after making a decision to follow Jesus. But why baptism? Where does it come from?
The beautiful thing about the Bible is that it is always pointing towards Christ. Even the Old Testament is constantly pointing towards Christ. There are two events in the Old Testament that are pre-cursors to Christian baptism; they foreshadow what is to come. Those events are the flood and the exodus.
In the story of the flood, God sees that humanity has become corrupt and filled with violence. God instructs Noah, a righteous man, to build an ark for God will offer salvation and not destroy creation completely. So through the ark, Noah and his family enter the cleansing waters and come out the other side to a new world – a fresh start to be the people God designed them to be. Peter, one of Jesus’ closest companions, writes in his first letter:
“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you. Not the removal of filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (3:21).
Similarly, in the story of the Exodus the time when God took His people out of slavery in Egypt into freedom, the people are running out of Egypt as fast as they can. Then they realize that Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is coming after them to recapture them and take them prisoners and slaves back to Egypt. And all of a sudden they are trapped, stuck with the Red Sea on one side and Pharaoh’s army coming on the other side. But God does a miracle, and the waters separate so that God’s people can go through the water and come out the other side. Then the waters close back up, but God’s people have come out the other side to a new world – a fresh start to be the people God designed them to be. The New Testament carries on the same understanding of coming through the other side to a new world.
The water symbolizes God’s activity inside. Baptism becomes an outward sign of what God is doing on the inside! But John’s baptism is still before Jesus comes on the scene. Then comes Jesus and, shockingly, He asks to be baptized, too! It wasn’t that Jesus needed to repent of sin – He is the only perfect human in history. But by being baptized He publicly proclaimed, “I am aligning myself with God – I am on His side. I stand for God and His righteousness.” Christian baptism from then on become a public stand for Jesus – aligning ourselves with Him and declaring, “I belong to Him.
The Bible tells us a story in Acts 8:34-39 about a preacher named Philip. Philip comes across a man reading the Bible but the man doesn’t really get it. So Philip says, “Would you like me to explain it to you?” And he tells the man about Jesus. The man sees a body of water nearby and says, “Can I get baptized right now?” And Philip says, “If you believe with all your heart you may.” So the man gets baptized right then and there.
This is what baptism is all about; it is an outward sign of what God is doing inside of us. Through baptism we participate in the death and resurrection of Christ – we die, are buried, and are resurrected. It is about God transforming us from the dirty prisoners we used to be into new people with fresh starts to be the people that He has designed us to be. It is where we align ourselves with God and declare to the world, “I do not belong to you – I belong to Jesus!” – Baptism is a visible declaration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So where does that leave us today? We’re left with three options. 1) If you do not believe, why not? What is it that’s holding you back from saying, “Yes, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and I am willing to surrender myself to Him”? If you have never made that decision, choose Jesus today. Let Him have control of your life. Become His disciple. 2) If you do believe but have not been baptized – get baptized! It’s time to make the public statement – I believe in Jesus and I commit myself to live for Him the rest of my life. I belong to no one else – just Him! Finally, 3) If you have been baptized, let the old you die! Live a new life for God! So often we say we believe, we get baptized, but then we continue to do the same old things we’ve always done.
Baptism is about letting the old person die and coming out of the water as a brand new person – free to live a fresh start the way God designed us to be. Let your old self be washed away – start living in the freedom and newness of Jesus Christ.
How about you? Have you been baptized? Where were you baptized?