Baptism is the beginning of a journey, not the conclusion of a race.
Other texts: Galatians 4:4-7; 1 Peter 2:9-10; and 2 Corinthians 5:16-21.
My biography of baptism.
- Baptism was seen as something that church-raised kids did by a certain age. If you hadn’t, people began to become fearful. The “age of accountability” was stressed.
- Baptism was presented as a required act of obedience, the results of which included sins being washed away, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and eternal life.
- Baptism was taught as the way *God* added one to the church.
- Baptism was most often done after one had studied for several weeks, to have an understanding of what it was about--with the major emphases being forgiveness of sins and addition to the church.
Do we view baptism as a conclusion to a journey?
- Most of you have probably had a similar experience.
- While baptism has been taught strongly in our churches, what has not as often been emphasized is discipleship and ministry, both of which arise out of Jesus’ baptism.
- When we approach baptism as a conclusion, rather than as a beginning, we leave people with the wrong view of baptism.
- The results are: people become passive participants of churches, feeling as though they have done what God requires and now are waiting for the promised eternal life; people drop out when they continue to sin, wondering why the magic waters of baptism that cleansed them once did not make them perfect in their own behaviors; and people are not able to fully embrace a life of discipleship under the power of the Spirit of God because they do not see this fullness when baptism is presented as a conclusion to their own study.
- In short, baptism-as-conclusion puts the focus on us, rather than keeping it on God...and on God’s mission.
Jesus’ baptism was a beginning point for his ministry.
- As Matthew 3 begins, John the Baptist is teaching a baptism for repentance and calling upon Israel to repent and turn back to God so God’s mission can be achieved among them. Part of his teaching is to point the way to God’s promised King, who is soon to come.
- And then he comes! Jesus arrives, seeking baptism from John. He is not there to be baptized because of sin he needs forgiven of, but to fulfill all righteousness. It is part of God’s plan that Jesus would be baptized--and in doing so, his identity is revealed.
- At Jesus’ baptism, the entire Trinity is present--God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Just as God hovered over the water in creation, in proclaiming all to be good, here he hovers over the water again, highlighting both the redemption of water and the redemptive power of water in proclaiming his Son to be good. God the Father revealed Jesus as his Son in whom he was well-pleased.
- Immediately following his baptism, Jesus is led into the wilderness to be tempted, where his identity is refined and his mission to redeem the world is clarified. He then begins his preaching ministry.
- Far from being an ending point, or a conclusion, Jesus’ baptism served as a beginning...for a great ministry on mission in God’s kingdom.
Our baptisms serve as a beginning point for ministry as well.
- Jesus was baptized in order to show the way, to reveal himself as God’s Son, and to begin his ministry.
- Our baptisms serve the same way--to reveal our identity and to begin our ministry in God’s kingdom.
- In Galatians 4:4-7, Paul points out that Christ came to redeem, and that the results of redemption are adoption as the children of God. God is now our Father, also! We are children and heirs of God through the redemption that Christ offers, and that redemption is available to us when we relinquish ourselves to God in baptism.
- And Peter, in 1 Peter 2:9-10, teaches that we have become priests, God’s own people, to proclaim the path that leads out of darkness into God’s light. This is the work of redemption. It is our work. It becomes our work in baptism, when we become part of the spiritual priesthood of God. Our work begins, not ends, in baptism.
Live out your baptism.
- Jesus’ message was simple: Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.
- What is our message? It is the same. In 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Paul says we have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation, to teach people and help them move towards receiving the same reconciliation we have received.
- Baptism is not passive. It is not an end. It is a beginning, into ministry, in God’s kingdom. Let us live out our baptisms.