There was a point in Jesus’ life where he was no longer known as a carpenter from Nazareth, but as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. It was a significant turning point in his life.
Like Jesus, there comes a point in all of our lives where we recognize our need for a change of purpose, for a turning point.
This Sunday we talk about what marks that turning point in our lives, where we say that with God’s power and grace, we’re going to depend on him to help us walk in a new direction.
Full Sermon Script:
For some of you, that’s the first time you’ve seen a baptism…
Which is why I want to talk about this today.
My hope today is, for those of you who haven’t been baptized as adults, that you would seriously consider taking this step in your spiritual journey.
Baptism is an expression in a public way of someone who has put their trust in Jesus and has become his follower.
Jesus, himself, was baptized. He set an example for us to follow.
I want to talk about why he set this example for us.
John the Baptist was actually puzzled by this.
In Matthew 3:13-14 we read:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
John says he’s the one who needs to be baptized by Jesus. He basically says, “I’m the sinner here; not you.”
So why was Jesus baptized?
1. Jesus was baptized to mark a turning point in his life.
When Jesus was baptized he was announcing publicly a change of purpose in his life.
He was no longer known as a carpenter from Nazareth, but as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Baptism was a turning point in Jesus’ life.
And like Jesus, there comes a point in all of our lives where we recognize our need for a change of purpose — for a turning point.
But unlike Jesus, we’ve sinned. We’ve done things to mess up our lives.
Jesus said in Luke 5:32:
I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Putting your faith in Jesus ought to mark a turning point in your life.
That’s called repentance.
Luke says in Acts 3:19:
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.
After all, if we didn’t need to make some changes in our lives, we wouldn’t need Jesus.
It’s like the woman who signed up for an exercise class and the instructor said to be sure to wear loose clothing. And the woman said, “If I had any loose clothing, I wouldn’t need this class.”
If we didn’t need to make some changes in our lives, we wouldn’t need Jesus.
When we’re baptized we’re announcing a turning point. We’re stating that with the grace and power of Jesus Christ in our lives, we’re turning away from our old life.
Baptism ought to mark a turning point in our lives where we say that with God’s power and grace, we’re going to depend on him to help us walk in a new direction.
Alright, number 2:
2. Jesus was baptized as a public expression of his commitment to God.
When we get married, we go through a ceremony to publicly express our commitment to our spouse.
In California it just takes a marriage license, a qualified official, one witness, and you can get married in 2 minutes.
So the obvious question is: Why do pastors take so long with wedding ceremonies when they can get it done in 2 minutes?
And the answer is: To make the father of the bride think he’s getting his money’s worth.
Why do people go to all the expense and all the time for an elaborate wedding?
Because it’s such a personally meaningful experience for them. The ceremony is the means of announcing publicly the significance of the new relationship.
Well, when Jesus was baptized, it was as a public expression of his allegiance to God the Father.
When the writer casually says Jesus traveled from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist, I want you to know that for him, that was a walk of about 60 miles.
That’s how important and how significant this was to him.
And after Jesus pledged his commitment to God the Father in this way in Baptism, we read in Matthew 3:16-17:
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
It was obvious that God the Father was pleased with this public commitment from Jesus.
When a believer in Jesus gets baptized, that person is making a public declaration before God and their friends, family and church of their commitment to follow Jesus.
Alright, number 3:
3. Jesus was baptized as a demonstration of humility.
John the Baptist was shocked that Jesus asked to be baptized. He said he wasn’t even worthy to carry his sandals.
But Jesus was willing to be baptized to demonstrate that he humbly came to serve and he humbly came to lead by example.
He could have said he didn’t need to do it because he was the Son of God.
He could have been concerned that people might think he was a terrible sinner or something if he did it… and he hadn’t sinned.
But instead he walked into into the Jordan River; and John, another human being, lowered the son of God, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, under the water and lifted him back out.
It took humility for Jesus to be baptized.
And all throughout his ministry, Jesus demonstrated humility like that.
And he never asked us to do what he himself wasn’t willing to do first.
I think one of the biggest obstacles some people have to being baptized — and maybe some of you have it — is pride.
And you need to know the writers of Scripture say — God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.
Baptism is a demonstration of your humility.
4. Jesus was baptized as a picture of his ultimate mission.
What was his ultimate mission? His ultimate mission was to die on a cross as a sinless substitute for us, to be buried in a tomb, and then to raise from the dead eternally.
And that’s what baptism pictures when a person goes down into the water like a dead person being buried and then rising back up, coming to life.
Every time a person is baptized, it’s reenacting the death, the burial, and the resurrection, the ultimate mission of Jesus.
Now I’ll bet many of you are almost ready to do this. Many of you are almost ready to take this step in your faith journey.
But some of you have this question lingering in the back of your mind — “Why do I have to be baptized? I don’t have to be baptized to be a follower of Jesus.”
And honestly, this concerns me as a pastor.
I want to say a word to any of you here who have not been baptized yet.
Some of you haven’t been baptized because you’re just starting to explore Christianity. You’re putting together information about God, Jesus and the cross. You’re in the early stages of searching and have not made a commitment to God yet.
I want to be very clear about this. This step of baptism is not for you yet. It’s not a step that you want to take prematurely, before you’ve made that inner faith commitment.
I’ll give you an analogy to clarify this, particularly for those of you who are women. You can answer me out loud when we get to the question part.
Here’s the analogy. Let’s say you’ve been dating a man for about a month. He is charming, amazingly bright and devastatingly handsome. He looks just like Chris Hemsworth.
In addition to looking like Chris Hemsworth, this guy is confident but modest and bold yet gentle.
At the same time, this guy makes it clear that he is smitten with you. He showers you with gifts, affection and expressions of love. He lets you know that the great longing of his heart is to be with you. For him, the sun rises and sets with you.
After a month, he gets down on one knee and proposes to you. He asks you to marry him.
Even though all of this is true, here is the question: Would you marry this guy after just one month of dating?
This is going to have to be another message or maybe a whole series, isn’t it?
Even married women out there are saying, “Yes! That sounds pretty good. What’s this guy’s number?”
The answer I was looking for with this analogy is no.
Why is no the correct answer? This is a rhetorical question, so I will answer this one.
You don’t enter into a commitment like that on a superficial basis. This is a serious commitment, and you have to know what you’re doing.
Baptism is the public statement of a total, permanent, binding commitment to God. It’s analogous, since marriage is a public statement of a total, permanent, binding commitment to another person.
Some of you are beginning this search, so you’re not ready to take that step yet. Don’t rush it, because you’re right where you need to be. God is very pleased that you’re taking him seriously by studying and learning. Don’t enter into this step prematurely.
Some of you have made a commitment to God and really have given your heart to him. You understand about Jesus and the cross, so you’ve stepped across that line.
Maybe this is the first time you’re hearing about baptism, but you’ve made a decision.
If something were to happen to you between now and the time you get baptized, if the plane you were on went down, God is not going to say to you, “Sorry, you can’t get past the gate. You didn’t get baptized, so I won’t let you in.”
That’s not God’s heart, because this is not a mechanical thing.
However, some of you here today say you’re Christians but never have been baptized.
Even though you understand all about it, you have no plans to be baptized. You’re just blowing it off.
At this point, some warning signs ought to be going off.
You see, Jesus clearly commands all of his followers to be baptized as a way of declaring their devotion to him.
1 John 5:3 says:
This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome.
I don’t understand how someone can know this and say, “I will accept what he did for me on the cross, at least enough to get me into heaven. I will claim the name of Christian, at least when I am around the church.
“But when it comes to obeying him in this step — declaring before the church and the world through baptism — I think I’ll take a pass.”
I don’t understand that train of thought, and I’ll ask you to just be honest. If this has been the state of your heart on this, I think there are some warning signs that ought to be going off.
You need to know that baptism is not a casual thing, and it never has been throughout the history of the church, even in times of persecution.
Very early on, the Roman government demanded that people make their ultimate allegiance to Caesar.
Baptism was when someone would get up and say, “No, my ultimate allegiance belongs to Jesus Christ. He is the Savior and Lord of my life.”
This was a subversive act and an act of civil disobedience in that society.
In many countries around the world today, people still face consequences when they’re baptized and cross that line. They face possible loss of jobs and status and social ostracism.
In some cases, they face the possibility of prison, torture and even death. Yet, they have done it and still do it by the millions.
It happens even in our society.
I heard about a man who became a Christian in spite of very severe family opposition.
They were from another religious tradition and told him they would disown him if he got baptized. He would not be regarded as their son anymore and would not be welcome in their home. This was a very serious deal, but he chose to get baptized.
He said, “Jesus is the Lord of my life. He suffered everything for me, so how could I not be willing to take this step and suffer for him what by comparison is very little?”
Here’s a very strong challenge for those of you who claim to be Christians. You say you’re a follower of Jesus, but you’ve not taken this step.
Christ commanded it, and his followers have taken it, even in our day, knowing that it meant facing possible suffering and even death. They have done it with joy.
If you understand all of this and consider yourself a Christian but refuse to take this step — there is kind of an obstinate spirit about this in your heart — there ought to be warning signs going off all over — Danger! Something is wrong!
Some of you have been waiting for a spouse or someone else to decide to get baptized so you can do it together. Stop waiting. This is a step of obedience between you and Jesus, so don’t put this one in the hands of someone else.
There are some people in this room who have been Christians for a long time. For whatever reason, you never have taken the step of baptism. It has reached a point now where it would be kind of embarrassing to have other people know that you are being baptized.
Stop putting it off. Don’t let embarrassment keep you from being obedient to Jesus on this.
In the remaining time in this message, I want to look at an interesting image related to baptism that I came across in 1 Corinthians.
It’s a verse I’ve never really noticed before, or maybe I’ve overlooked because I didn’t understand it.
1 Corinthians 10:
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 1 Corinthians 10:1-2
Back in Moses’ day, baptism wasn’t practiced the way we do it in the church today.
The apostle Paul is using this as a picture or an image.
When he talks about Israel getting baptized with Moses in the cloud and the sea, he’s referring to a quite famous story in the Old Testament.
For God’s people, for Israel, the central narrative of their history was the story of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
A rabbi named Michael Goldberg says the exodus was for Israel what the crucifixion would become for Christianity — the master story, the primary narrative where we get our bearings for all the rest of Scripture and history and life.
For Israel, it was a time when they were in bondage.
It was cruel.
It was oppressive.
It was sometimes genocidal bondage to Egypt… for 400 years.
Well, the Israelites cried out to God. And God heard and God cared.
God raised up a leader named Moses, and God intervened for Israel by bringing the plagues against Egypt.
The mighty Pharaoh’s will was broken, and he let God’s people go.
God was leading Israel in a very unique way.
We’re told in Exodus, chapter 13:
By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way. Exodus 13:21
It was a pillar of cloud, but in it was the presence of the omniscient, all-wise, all-knowing God.
So the first people to have all their information stored in the cloud was not Amazon or Google or Al Gore 30 years ago.
It was little Israel 3,000 years ago.
God in the cloud led them to the edge of the Red Sea where they’re camped out by the water.
They started out this journey, as many of us do in life, with great courage.
In Exodus 14:8 the writer says the Israelites were marching out boldly away from Pharaoh, but Pharaoh changed his mind about letting these people go.
And in the very next verse.
As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. Exodus 14:10
They are trapped now between Pharaoh on the one side and the Red Sea on the other.
Moses tells them God’s plan is for them to march straight into the sea. We wonder how bold they will be now.
The writer of Scripture says:
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 14:10-12
Of course, they didn’t say that to Moses when they were in Egypt. When they were in Egypt, they wanted Moses to bring them out of there, but they had not bargained for this.
It looked like their story was going to be over before it even started.
Then Moses said these amazing words to the people:
“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:13-14
It may be that, privately, Moses felt as panicked as the people did, because God immediately says these amazing words to Moses:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Exodus 14:15
“Move on where, Lord?”
Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. Exodus 14:16
“Into the sea. Hold up your staff. I’ll part the waters. It’ll be okay. Charlton Heston will do it in the movie years later. It’ll look really cool. Go ahead.”
Going down into the water looked like certain death to them, and in a way it was.
They were going to have to die to their old identity.
They were going to have to die to their fears.
They were going to have to die to an old way of life.
Here’s why Paul talks about this story in relation to baptism.
When the Israelites would come out of the water, they would come out into something new… because with God our story is never over.
They trust God, and step into the sea.
God parts the waters with a strong wind.
They pass through the sea with a wall of water on their left and a wall of water on their right.
And God defeated their enemies.
When they came up out of the water (this is important for understanding the meaning Paul gives to baptism), they stepped into a new reality.
When they went down into the water they were slaves; when they came up out of the water they were free.
When they went down into the water they were in mortal danger; when they came up out of the water they were safe in the hand of God.
When they went down into the water they lived just like everyone else in the ancient world; when they came up out of the water it was to go to Mount Sinai and receive the covenant of the God who loves them, and they had a new way to live that would change the world.
When they went down into the water they were terrified; when they came up out of the water they were dancing… literally.
The next chapter in Scripture is thought to be the first hymn ever sung to God. A woman prophet named Miriam, Moses’ sister, helped to write it and dance to it, and they all sang.
The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. Exodus 15:2
When you watch people get baptized, sometimes someone will come up out of the water with their arms up in the air like this.
That’s because they’ve experienced the victory of God, often in ways that you cannot see and do not know.
Something was holding them back or was resisting God or there was guilt or there was fear, and they thought it would haunt them as long as they lived.
When they come out of the water, there is this realization that God’s love and God’s forgiveness and God’s mercy and God’s grace and God’s power have triumphed in their life.
When the people of Israel went down into the water, they didn’t have a God story.
They’d heard about Abraham and Sarah. They’d heard about Joseph and how God delivered him from slavery and prison, but that was a long time ago. That was somebody else’s story.
When they came up out of the water, now they had a story of their own. God was no longer just the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob; he was their God.
When they went down into the water they felt like victims, like slaves; when they came up out of the water they had a new identity.
There’s a wonderful picture of this in the exodus story.
In the book of Exodus, in the first chapter, the Pharaoh decides he wants to decrease Israel’s population. He’s concerned that they’re multiplying too rapidly and gaining too much power. Again, this is an evil force against Israel.
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him.” Exodus 1:15-16
And they don’t do it.
These two women named Shiphrah and Puah, in an act of extraordinary heroism, risked their own lives, defied the king to keep those babies safe.
When Pharaoh calls them in to get them in trouble for this, they say, “Those Hebrew women just have their babies way too fast. We can’t stop it.”
Now, there’s a very telling little detail in this story.
According to the author of the book of Exodus, anybody know the name of that particular Pharaoh who wanted the little Hebrew boys killed?
The text never says. We’re never told.
This is quite deliberate.
In the hierarchy of Egypt, Pharaoh was at the top. Everyone knows Pharaoh’s name.
In that same hierarchy, the midwives are at the bottom. They are servants to the slave women of Israel. No one would know their names.
Plus, their names were not even that great, especially Puah.
People often give their children Bible names. No one uses that one. “Meet little baby Puah.” Never happens.
But in God’s kingdom they’re heroes.
God is saying, “Pharaoh who? The people who matter in this story are right here: Shiphrah and Puah. Their names are going in my book, not his.”
This is an early indicator (this is quite deliberate on the part of the writer of Exodus) of what would later be called by some people the law of inversion in the kingdom of God.
The first shall be last.
The humble will be exalted.
And a little servant will be the greatest of all.
Here’s the deal — when you get baptized, your name goes in his book, and that’s better than having your name in the cloud. There is no identity theft in God’s book.
“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:13-14
That’s the promise.
A very important part of baptism Paul brings out here by referring to this story is that baptism, although it’s very personal, isn’t a private thing; it’s a public thing. This is something God’s people went through all together.
And over the centuries, this promise would give people extraordinary courage for God-powered turnaround stories.
There’s a pastor and civil rights leader, Andrew Young, and he writes about how it was on an Easter Sunday morning, 1964, that a group of people planned to march from New Pilgrim Baptist Church to the Birmingham city jail where Martin Luther King Jr. was incarcerated for protesting segregation and racism.
This movement was so overwhelmingly Christian it was literally scheduled for after church. That’s what time they said they would do the march: after church.
This is what Andrew Young writes: “By the time church ended some five thousand people had gathered… in their best Sunday clothes…”
For those of you under 30, that used to be a thing: Sunday best clothes.
The marchers set out in joy.
Suddenly they saw police, fire engines, and firemen with hoses in front of them, blocking their path.
Commissioner Bull Connor, who had used such brutal tactics even against children marching for civil rights, ordered them to turn around.
Five thousand frightened people got down on their knees to pray.
Suddenly, Rev. Charles Billups, one of the oldest leaders on the march, hollered, “The Lord is with this movement! Off your knees. We’re going on!”
Bull Connor was furious. He yelled, “Stop ’em! Stop ‘em!”
This is what Andrew Young writes:
“But none of the police moved a muscle. Even the police dogs that had been growling and straining at their leashes… were now perfectly calm. I saw one fireman, tears in his eyes, just let the hose drop at his feet.
“Our people marched right between the red fire trucks, singing an old gospel song, ‘I want Jesus to walk with me.’
“Bull Connor’s refused to arrest us, his firemen had refused to hose us, and his dogs had refused to bite us.
“I’ll never forget one old woman who became ecstatic when she marched through the barricades and shouted, ‘Great God Almighty done parted the Red Sea one mo’ time!’”
Once more, when God’s people got to the end of the march, something had changed. They were a little different. Freedom was a little stronger. Hate was a little weaker.
Whatever problem you face, whoever your Pharaoh is, whatever might discourage you, these are your words:
Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. Exodus 14:13-14
When we march together as a church to help victims of a fire, or to stand with the poor, or with someone who is sick, or with those who have been marginalized, or to proclaim the gospel and love of Jesus in word and deed, we never stand alone.
When Jesus came they tried to stop him with threats and fear.
They put him in jail, beat him with whips, crowned him with thorns, and when he stood firm they hung him on a cross.
What they did not know was the cross is the place where God turns stories around, and on the third day the Father said to the Son, “Hey, Son, get up; this is not the end of your story,” and Jesus came up out of his grave in victory.
When someone gets baptized, their story becomes part of Jesus’ story.
If you’ve never done that, if you have trusted in Jesus but, for whatever reason, have never gotten baptized, I want to ask you to seriously consider it.
These are words from the apostle Paul about the act of baptism:
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 6:4
Humanly speaking, you might think you could never get a new start.
That job loss
That mental health problem
That prison term
You thought that was the end for sure.
No, it’s not. It’s only Pharaoh. And Pharaoh is going down. That is not the end of your story.
God wants to free you from bondage.
God wants to deliver you from that fear.
God wants to turn your mourning into dancing.
God wants to give you a new identity and a new purpose and a new way to live.
God wants to write your name down in his book.
If you say yes to him, if you go down into the water of baptism, which is a picture of, “God, my old life, my sin, my burdens, my old hopes and dreams… I’m surrendering all of that to you so I can be raised up now with Jesus,” then your story is part of Jesus’ story —
You and Moses and Shiphrah and Puah and Paul and the Corinthians and Dr. King and millions of others.
There is a place where human stories get turned around, and it’s called the cross. There is a place where resurrection happens, and it’s at the foot of the cross. That’s what we celebrate in baptism.
When someone decides to get baptized, they’re saying, “Now I’m making my story part of the Jesus story, which is great and glorious. Whatever it might look like on this earth, whatever I face, whatever my challenges, whatever my problems, I’m dying to my old way of life. My sins have been nailed to that cross. Pharaoh is going down. I have a new hope now. I have been raised up to Jesus’ life.”
Everyone has a story, and it might be a story of real sudden change. Sometimes it’s real dramatic.
Sometimes it’s a very long journey.
Sometimes from the outside it might look quiet or slow, but every human being fights a battle, a spiritual battle that no one else can see.
Every human being who turns to God is the object, Jesus said, of the shouts of joy from the angels.
So anytime we see someone get baptized, we need to cheer them on like crazy.
Baptism really is a celebration.
I love to see the expressions of people after they’re baptized.
Some people have tears in their eyes.
Some people just grin ear to ear.
Some people say they just feel so good.
Some people give a great big bear hug.
It’s a celebration. It’s okay to celebrate when someone gets baptized. It’s okay to clap and cheer and celebrate.
I read about a pastor who was baptizing a guy who was kind of a hippie back in the late 60’s.
This guy was so thrilled to be moving out of the lifestyle he was in and into a new life in Christ.
They were in a muddy pond and when this pastor put him under the water, the hippie just disappeared and started swimming somewhere. They couldn’t see him. About 30 seconds later, he came up out of the water in another spot in the pond and he goes, “Yippee.”
Then he dove back down and again no one could see him. Thirty seconds later he came back up again. “Yippee.” And went back down.
Next time he came up with “Yippee,” the pastor said, “Let’s pray.”
He had to do something to get this guy to stop.
Anyway, baptism is a celebration.
And I want to encourage you today that if you haven’t been baptized, please check that box on the next step card so I can call you this week, hear your story, and answer any questions you might have about it.
Alright, let’s pray as the band comes to lead us in a closing song.