Throughout the Bible, water is used by God to bring about new beginnings. From the creation account to the story of the Israelites and into the church’s history, we see God leading His people safely through water, away from what held them captive to a new beginning. He established a pattern of redemption that would ultimately be fulfilled in Jesus and demonstrated in our lives through water baptism.
This Sunday we see how baptism connects us to a bigger story, demonstrates a transformation of identity, and reminds us we’re part of God’s family.
[Good morning, everyone! If we haven’t met my name is Scott and I’m one of the pastors here.
We’ve been in a series called Get Your Hands Dirty, discussing how God has created and gifted each of us to serve, to build up His church. We’ll end that series next week, but today, we’re hitting pause to talk about something else.
As you can see in front me, we’re celebrating baptisms and I want to spend today talking about its symbolism, meaning, and role in the life of a Jesus-follower.
Now, if you wouldn’t identify yourself as a Christ-follower or a person of faith, you get an inside look at something that we think is pretty special, something we love to see Jesus-followers participate in. Some of what you hear may even connect some dots for you in your own spiritual journey.
I want to start with what baptism is not so we can be clear about what it is.
Baptism is not a Christian initiation rite marking your acceptance into a select group or secret society with passwords, special handshakes, and temples off-limits to “outsiders.”
It’s not some sort of Christian hazing you go through trying to earn membership. How many of you went through a pledge process for a fraternity or sorority? It can get intense, even dangerous!
Most importantly, baptism is not what saves you, or provides forgiveness and freedom from sin. It’s not the final step before God fully accepts you and calls you His own. If that was the case, the thief on the cross next to Jesus would have been out of luck when Jesus said to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
So, with a framework of what baptism isn’t, what is it, and why do it?
Baptism is a beautiful picture of belief and faith in God’s redemptive work in your life. Baptism declares whose you are. You may have heard it said that baptism is an outward expression of an inward decision. That decision centers around who Jesus is and what He’s done, that He’s the Son of God who defeated the power of sin through His death and resurrection. It’s a public demonstration that I’ve taken on a new identity, a new way of living, I’ve become a disciple, an apprentice of Jesus. I’m a Jesus-follower.
So, here’s where we’re going over the next 20 minutes together and what I hope you’ll see:
Baptism connects us to a bigger story, demonstrates a transformation of identity, and reminds us we’re part of God’s family.
First, Baptism connects us to a bigger story.
There’s a running use of imagery through the Bible, from the very beginning of creation, of God using water to bring about new beginnings and new life.
In Genesis 1, God creates time and space, universes and galaxies, the heavens and earth.
We’re told God’s Spirit is hovering over the face of the waters, and He brings light and darkness into being, day and night. Not bad for a day’s work!
Day two, He looks at this planet in his vast creation and it’s covered with… water. He separates the water with dry land, and creation is well underway, paving the way for a garden that Adam and Eve would inhabit in community with God. The beginning of life, new life, and it began with water.
But we’re told just a few chapters later in Genesis 6, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” (Genesis 6:5-6)
What had happened? What had changed from creation where God said it was all good to regret? Sin. Sin had entered the human experience in the Garden and the beauty of the connectedness and community Adam and Eve had with God had been broken. And we begin to see the natural progression of sin, a downward spiral that fills hearts with wickedness and self-centeredness.
And God was heartbroken, to the point of regret looking at the Imago Dei, the image of Himself He had created in Adam and Eve, and the impact of sin. Maybe you’ve experienced emotions like this with one of your children who has gone sideways, and every time you think it can’t get worse, it does. I’ve walked with parents who struggled for years with a child that continually made damaging and destructive choices, both for themselves and that impacted the parents and family. The depth of the heartbreak and sadness was immense.
But there’s one guy, we’re told, out of the population of humanity at the time, whose heart is still set on God. Noah. So, God decides it’s time for a new beginning through water, through a flood. God chose to save Noah and his family and told him to build an ark and gather animals. As the rains begin and the water starts rising, God shuts the door of the ark and brings Noah and his family safely through the waters to a new beginning, a new life.
But what hadn’t changed? The broken human nature due to sin.
After the flood, it wasn’t generations before human nature started going sideways again, it was days. We all know this struggle, whether it was being put on restriction by your parents in your adolescent years only to pull the same stunt again or going through rehab as an adult only to relapse back into addiction.
The problem is that Noah’s ability to build an ark to survive the flood didn’t include any personal, inward strength or power to escape the brokenness of sin in his own heart or that of his family. It boarded the ark with him.
We jump forward to Exodus 14, where we join the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.
Moses had been saved as a baby from Egyptian infanticide by his mother who made a basket and put him in water, floating him down the river where he was found by Pharaoh’s daughter who then raised him in the palace. As an adult, he fled Egypt as a fugitive after killing a man, and 40 years later returns to lead God’s people to freedom. After 10 different plagues had been sent by God, Pharaoh finally agreed to let the Israelites return home. We catch up with them on their way out.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 14:1-4)
God tells Moses to have them camp with the sea to their back. That way, Pharaoh, who had been embarrassed in front of his own people who considered him a god and had lost his firstborn son in the final plague, will think you’re trapped and in his rage will come after you.
Sounds like a great plan, right?
All God tells Moses is that He, God, will get the glory, but not what His plan is.
Moses stood on the shoreline looking out across the waters. Before him stretched the Red Sea. Behind him was a multitude of frightened people, and hot on their trail was an army of angry Egyptians—the most powerful military force in the known world at the time.
Think about that for a minute. How would you react?
“Let me make sure I have this right God. You want us to camp with our backs to the sea and wait for the raging Pharaoh and his army to come after us? I’m gonna need more details than that please!” I’m totally that person, who kind of wants to know the plan before I’m setting out on any adventures.
The story continues. “The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon. As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:9-10)
The Israelites respond to Moses in essence saying did you just bring us out here to die? It would have been better to stay as slaves in Egypt!
“Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.” (Exodus 14:13)
In what appeared to be an impossible and hopeless situation, God held back the Egyptian army with the cloud that had been leading the Israelites out of Egypt. It’s now between them, causing darkness on the Egyptian side and light on the Israelite side. God tells Moses to lift his hands, and He parts the sea with a wind lasting all night, allowing the Israelites to pass through on instantly dry, solid ground.
Once safely to the other side, God removes the cloud to let the Egyptians pursue, which they do. He then tells Moses to stretch out his hand again, and God removes the wind, closing the waters back in on the Egyptians, destroying the pursuing army, and rescuing the Israelites by water.
Nine-year-old Joey was asked by his mother what he had learned in Sunday school. “Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he had his engineers build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely. Then he used his walkie-talkie to radio headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved.” “Now, Joey, is that really what your teacher taught you?” his mother asked. “Well, no, Mom. But if I told it the way the teacher did, you’d never believe it!”
The Israelites struggled with their belief in what God could do, even to the point of wanting to be slaves again. But God had a plan and was asking for their faith.
If you follow the story of the Israelites, you will find Joshua 40 years after this leading them in another water crossing, the Jordan River, and into the land promised by God, ending their journey out of Egypt. A new beginning, a new life.
What we see in the bigger story is God working in a common pattern of activity: He leads His people safely through water, away from what held them as slaves to a place of rescue, a new beginning. He’s bringing people out of the wilderness and into a life that He’s promised, to a place He’s prepared.
These are a few examples of these “seeds of baptism” one commentator called it, found in the Old Testament, the first half of the Bible. What we observe in these stories is a sort of salvation pattern playing itself out. God was establishing a pattern of renewal, of redemption that would ultimately be fulfilled in Jesus. He has been using water to demonstrate His redemption since the beginning, and baptism connects you to that bigger story.
In just a moment we’ll see what that means for you and me.
These “seeds of baptism” stories form the backdrop for us that Baptism demonstrates a transformation of identity.
In Matthew 3, John the Baptist begins proclaiming a message of “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He’s challenging the Jewish population to rethink their understanding of God, how they were living out their faith, and ultimately what and who they were placing their hope in. He’s baptizing in the waters of the Jordan River, the same river the Israelites crossed in Exodus, and we’re told people are coming to him confessing their sins.
Jesus shows up and gets in the water with him. John immediately knows this is the Messiah, the Promised One they’ve been waiting for. He’s got some hesitation to baptize Jesus, but he does it, and as Jesus comes out of the water, God’s Spirit descends on Him like a dove, and the voice of God speaks, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
This moment marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and it’s echoing all these stories.
But now it’s put in the light and understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven as a reality here and now, not something or somewhere far off or future. And that Kingdom is built on the foundation of the redemptive work of Jesus, dealing with the brokenness of human nature because of sin through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave.
Water baptism now shifts from what had become a practice of religious purification, literally trying to make yourself “clean” spiritually, and now is understood as an act of association or identification with the message of the Gospel, the person of Jesus, and the community of Jesus-followers which we’ll see more in just a moment.
After His resurrection, Jesus tells the disciples to go and make more disciples, and He says, baptize them. Throughout the book of Acts, which is an account of the birth of the church, we see baptism in a new way, following a confession of faith in Jesus.
At the very start of the church in Acts 2, after Peter preaches to the crowd who mistakenly thought he and others were drunk after they were filled with God’s Spirit, over 3,000 people chose to believe in Jesus and are baptized.
In Acts 9, you can read of Saul’s, who was later renamed Paul, experience with Jesus which led to his being baptized soon thereafter.
Acts 10 Peter baptizes a Roman soldier and his family.
Acts 16 Paul baptizes a prison guard and his entire family after being in his custody.
There are more, but the point is simply that baptism had become a demonstration of a new identity as a Jesus-follower. It is now a declaration that my life is no longer my own, I have given it to God!
Paul, after his encounter with Jesus and his baptism, wrote much of what’s included in the New Testament that shapes our understanding of so many things. He speaks of the transformation of our identity in Christ represented by baptism.
In his letter to the Roman church, the fundamental message is that apart from Christ, we are slaves to sin and it leads to death, but God has made a way to freedom and life. He reaches all the way back to the beginning, to Adam in the Garden, when sin first entered the human experience.
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12)
But just as we’ve seen, God had a plan to redeem and renew, to bring about a new beginning and gift of new life.
Paul goes on a few verses later, saying, “But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! … For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (Romans 5:15, 17)
It’s Jesus’ redemptive work of His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave that opens the door for us to receive the gift of His grace and the forgiveness and freedom from the brokenness of our sin.
Baptism, as Paul goes on to explain, functions as an outward demonstration of this inward transformation, signifying a new identity as a follower of Jesus.
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:1-4)
Jesus went into the waters in a baptism that sets him on a road toward his redemptive death.
And now Paul is putting followers of Jesus going into the water being identified with Jesus’s death.
Coming out of the waters, like Noah and the Israelites, Jesus is raised out of death, and so you too are raised out of death. Meaning you’re no longer living in Egypt is his argument. You’re no longer a slave to sin. You have been rescued from death through death and are united with Christ in His life. A new beginning, a new life!
1 Peter 3 just lays it out for us. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 3:18-22)
Peter, who was one of Jesus’ disciples, says the act of baptism doesn’t save you. It “saves” as a representation of an inward faith decision that has been made about who Jesus is and what He’s done.
And notice, in the flood account which he references, the sinful died and Noah, the righteous one, was spared. With Jesus, the sinful are spared and the righteous One died.
Unlike Noah, Jesus did not escape but instead gave His life in place of ours.
Noah survived the flood by taking shelter in the ark. In His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus becomes our shelter.
You see, all this beautiful imagery and symbolism of God’s use of water is now understood in our lives as the death of who we were apart from Christ, powerless against the brokenness of our sin nature, but now alive in Christ!
In other words, when you go into the water, you are participating willingly in the story of your helplessness, going into the water knowing that God has raised you up into new life.
Listen to how Paul describes it in his letter to the Colossian church: “Your whole self-ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ…” (Colossians 2:11-13)
As Jesus-followers, baptism is a defining event in the history of our lives. We are people who have been baptized into the crucified and risen Christ and have been joined to His body, the Church.
You see, Baptism reminds us we’re part of God’s family.
Paul, in writing to the church in Galatia, says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29)
We don’t have time to talk about it today, but throughout the New Testament, we are told that to place our faith in Jesus is to be adopted into God’s family, with full rights and privileges, our own seat at the family table. And the most amazing thing about God’s family is that your racial, social, or sexual status does not make you any more or less a child and heir as anyone else.
This is why we celebrate baptisms together!
Many of you have already been baptized, and as you listened you’ve been reminded of that moment God brought you through the water into new life. And now, as others are baptized, we celebrate with them as a good family does!
I learned all about family celebrations when I married Jamie. When a Filipino family gets together, it’s always a good time. It’s a party! It’s loud, there’s laughter and way too much food. You’re not getting to bed early because everyone wants to be together, and it goes late into the night. Honestly, it was a little overwhelming at first! But I love it. I look forward to it!
It shouldn’t be any different with baptisms in the church. It’s a celebration as we recommit our support of each other in living out our faith as the community of God’s family.
So, if you’re a Jesus-follower and you haven’t been baptized, today can be the day.
Maybe you didn’t come thinking or expecting to get baptized, but as you’ve been sitting and listening, your heart is telling your mind, “I know we didn’t plan for this or bring a change of clothes, but it’s time and it’s worth it!” When you’re given the opportunity in a few minutes, don’t wait any longer!
Or maybe you’re one who wouldn’t identify yourself as a Christ-follower, and your heart is telling you it’s time to believe in who Jesus is and what He’s done, it’s truth.
Believe and be baptized!
Jesus has taken us from death to life, and baptism is this beautifully symbolic declaration that we have made a decision of faith in who He is, what He’s done, and that I am His follower, His apprentice, His disciple.
So, I’m going to pray, and then we’re going to celebrate!
Blue Oaks Church