What’s the Big Deal with Water?
The purpose of a commercial is to tell us what we need to do. We need to spend a week at a Sandals resort. We need to purchase a new hybrid SUV. We need to enter a new career path. We need to take Nexium and exercise more. We need to go and see the number one family movie in America. If the commercials can’t convince us that we need something we don’t have, we wouldn’t get off the couch and spend the money, and they wouldn’t thrive in their business. This is a basic concept of life. I have a need. You have a product that fulfills that need. Let’s get together. The downside of commercials is that they make us think we have a need that is really not a need, so we purchase something that we don’t need but now think we need. You get that?
Baptism is one of the things that Jesus and the New Testament writers tell us to do, that we actually do need to do. It has become a major part of the ancient and modern church but has created some confusion and division through the centuries.
Jesus clearly commanded us to be baptized and baptize others.
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” -Matthew 28:19 (emphasis mine)
We use water for just about everything and it’s necessary for all forms of life. In some organisms, up to 90 percent of their body weight comes from water. Up to 60 percent of the human body is water, the brain is composed of 70 percent water, and the lungs are nearly 90 percent water. About 83 percent of our blood is water. No water, no life. Water is also used to clean everything from dinner dishes, to your car and hair. Water creates hours of enjoyment during the summer. Water has destructive properties as well. You can drown in water and water causes erosion.
Water is a major theme in Biblical and Jewish history. God used water to destroy almost every living thing on planet earth because of how evil, sinful, and corrupt we were. Although God used water to destroy, he also provided a path of hope in the water through his faithful servant Noah and the building of an ark.
After 400 years of bondage and slavery, God directed Moses to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt. He took them through the waters of the Red Sea to enter the Promised Land. The separated waters of the Red Sea became safe passage for the Jewish people but a wet grave for the armies of Pharaoh who followed.
Because the people did not trust God, a generation wandered for 40 years in the wilderness. At the end of their wandering, God raised up another leader to take them into the Promised Land, which required that they again cross water.
In the New Testament, John the Baptist, the greatest of the prophets, prepared the way for the anointed one, Jesus, by baptizing the people in the water of the Jordan River. Water has always been a significant part of the story. Water to destroy sin and cleanse the world. Water as a passage to the promises of God. Water as an entry gate into the very ways of God. Water was also part of the Law of Moses for the purposes of cleansing so that you could be connected to community in Numbers 19:18, 20-21.
Water was crucial to worship and specifically to cleaning rituals and in the conversion of Gentiles to Jews. In Jewish tradition, if you were born a Jew, there was no need for baptism. A person born a Jew needed to be circumcised (at least the males), study the Torah, and follow the Law of Moses. Baptism was never for Jews, only for Gentiles. If a non-Jew, a Gentile, desired to follow the God of the Jews, they needed to study the Torah, participate in circumcision, follow the Law of Moses, and be publicly baptized. Baptism became a public induction into the covenantal community. It was a sign that they were being cleansed of their pagan past and entering in the promised land of a life worshiping the one true God, the Jehovah/Yahweh. The old way had gone; the new way of Judaism had arrived.
In Acts 2:37-41, Peter preached the sermon of his lifetime, sharing the truth about Jesus Christ and the way of salvation. God moved and over 3,000 were added to the church in a single day! Talk about celebration and joy. That’s a really good day for a preacher!
In verse 37, it says that the people were “cut to the heart.” They were experiencing genuine pain. They had been violently pricked by the conviction of Peter’s words. Why? Because they had just realized that the one whom they had crucified was in fact the promised Messiah. He was the one who would deliver them and the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Scriptures. They asked the crucial question, What shall we do? When each of us hears the truth about Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit pricks our hearts, we must respond.
Peter gives a clear answer to their question. His answer to them is the same answer for what the rest of us need to do. In verse 38 he says, “Repent.” The word repent means to change your mind about something. You believed one thing and now you change that belief. But it was never just about a cognitive change of mind. The word also refers to a shift in direction, or to change your course. If you are driving across the country following GPS coordinates and you go off course, your GPS says “Recalculating.” That is what repentance is. You are recalculating the direction of your life. But it goes even deeper than that. It’s about loyalties. Who is truly going to be the leader of my life? Who is my King? When you repent, you are changing kings, following a new way. When you repent, you are resetting your priorities. It is not that we are confessing every sin and promising to never sin again. We will sin again. It is saying that I am making Jesus and the way of Jesus the ultimate authority and direction of my life. When Moses led the people out of slavery in Egypt and pointed them to the Promised Land, the people needed to make a choice to follow Moses as the messenger of God, through the waters, to a new life, and to leave Egyptian brutality behind. This is repentance.
We will come back to the baptism part, but jump ahead to verse 38. There we see that all of this is in the name of Jesus Christ because forgiveness of sin is now possible only because Jesus Christ died upon the cross and took our sin upon himself.
He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed. -1 Peter 2:24
Because of Christ, there is forgiveness of sins. When we repent, turning to Christ, He gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in us, guides us, convicts us, and empowers us as the very temple of God.
The first thing we realize from Acts 2 about the early church is that when people believed in Jesus, they were baptized. There wasn’t a long class to determine if they understood all the core aspects of theology. They didn’t have to clear up their doctrine to be baptized. This is huge! Repentance was about turning to Jesus, but do you think that the 3,000 people had some issues that were not resolved in that moment of following the way of Jesus? Yes! You don’t need your understanding of God all buttoned up and you don’t need to be sinless (it’s not going to happen anyway) to be baptized. Those 3000 people didn’t even know all the parts of their lives that would be considered sinful. You simply need to identify yourself with Jesus. You need to believe in Jesus as Lord and Christ, as they did in verse 36. There are numerous examples of this in the early church. What we see in the Bible is that believing in Jesus was most often accompanied by baptism.
Baptizo means “to plunge.” Before we go on, this is NOT an issue that should split churches. The mode of baptism must not be a point of contention in churchy world. It really doesn’t matter if someone is poured, sprinkled, or plunged. I’m personally part of the “plunge” tradition. You go under the water, a form of drowning or dying, but unlike the Egyptian army in Exodus, you come out of the water. The water is the image of the cleansing that has been done on the cross of Jesus. Your whole body has been cleansed. Like Jesus going into the grave but rising again, so you go under the water, signifying death to self and returning to life in Christ. Paul gives us that picture of baptism in Romans:
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 6:3-4
Baptism is so powerful and necessary because it is the first time we publicly identify with a new community. That is why Gentiles who converted to Judaism did it. They were saying publicly that they were now part of a new covenant community. I can’t overstate the importance of that public identification. We see it in many different areas of our life. When an athlete is traded, and the papers are signed, he is on the new team, and then they call a press conference to make it public.
Public identification is very important. When we are baptized it is not just about a personal decision. Baptism is the community part. It is about associating yourself with a group of people. It is saying, “Yes, I have made a decision to follow Jesus.” When you do that, you become part of a family, the church. When we get baptized we are identifying ourselves with that new family. That is how God intended it to work. We are transformed in community. It is community that encourages, cares for, disciplines, comforts, and challenges us. Many of us are struggling in our Christian walk because we have never fully identified our salvation in Christ as being part of a new community. Without that, we are lost to experience the full transformational power of Christ. Baptism is the core ordinance that Christ gave us to say that we are no longer part of the community of the world, but part of a new family – the family of God.
If you haven’t been baptized as a follower of Jesus Christ, it’s not about some mystical power, or legalistic religious practice, or about eternity. It’s about receiving the full blessing and potential of what God has for us as a believer in community. It’s about saying I am no longer about Jason, and what he wants and desires. I am no longer a slave to sin and self-focused living. I am no longer alone, navigating in isolation the difficulties of life. No – I am part of a new way, a new family, and a new community that is on the journey of following the way of Jesus to the promised land of a new heaven and a new earth.