Every one of us has moments we would consider to be significant in our lives.
These are moments that are important to us and have defined who we are and influenced how our lives have played out. Typically, the most significant moments are the ones where we can remember what we were doing, who we were with, and what it meant to us.
Some of these moments range the gauntlet of human experience. We would think of the day we graduated school, whether it was high school, college, or some other program as significant. The day we met our significant other and got married is a highlight. The day our children were born is another one. There are others that we could mention, such as our first job, first car, or even when we gave our life to Christ.
In each of these moments, and others, we recall what they meant to us and how they shaped our lives. The act of recalling these moments reminds us what they mean to us and how they have played a significant role in our relationship with God and others.
Of all the significant moments in our lives, I think one of the most significant – if not the most significant – is our participation in the sacrament of baptism.
When we think of baptism, we are thinking about one of the two sacraments that the church participates in. As John Wesley states, a sacrament is an “outward sign of an inward grace.” It is an outward sign that signifies what the grace of God, through the Holy Spirit, has done in our lives. The baptismal water is an outward sign of the inward cleansing that is done by the Holy Spirit in the depths of our soul. Whether by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion, when we partake in the water, we are participating in a very significant act that has a tremendous role to play in our faith. It is our act of initiation into the church and the life of Christ. Even though we are only baptized once, the act of baptism is key to understanding the New Testament and our faith in Christ.
It is also important in understanding Jesus’ ministry. If our participation in baptism is significant for our lives, then what about Christ? Luke 3:21-22 tells us of Jesus’ baptism. As others have written, it seems odd that Jesus would participate in baptism. He is without sin, so what need would there be for Jesus to be baptized? It is a good question. When we take a deeper look at Jesus’ participation in the rite of baptism, we will see that it was a very significant moment for his public ministry. Understanding the importance of why Jesus participated in baptism will help us to understand the significance of our baptism.
Jesus’ baptism did not come out of nowhere. It is his participation in an act that was quite familiar to the people of Jesus’ time. Baptism, then, was an act that was used when a Gentile wanted to convert to the Jewish faith. The baptismal water would be used to cleanse the Gentile of their sin of not being Jewish. It was John the Baptist who applied baptism to all. He said that all people – Jew and Gentile – were sinners in need of cleansing and redemption. But, the baptism that John did was void of the Holy Spirit. It was absent of the power of God, because Christ had yet to come.
This is how the people of Jesus’ time might have understood their participation in baptism. Luke, as well as the other Gospel writers, speaks of the importance of Jesus’ baptism. Unlike the other writers, John is absent from Luke’s thoughts. Fred Craddock writes that this is to move the focus from John to Jesus. Luke isn’t focusing on the act of baptism itself, but on the meaning of Jesus’ participation in the rite. He speaks of Jesus being in prayer, the heavens opening, the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus, and the words from heaven that Jesus is the Son of God and the Father is well pleased with him. Luke is trying to wrestle with the significance of this moment, just as we are this morning.
Jesus’ baptism was significant for several reasons. First, through his participation in baptism, Jesus becomes identified with the people. Luke tells us that Jesus’ baptism occurred when a group of people was being baptized, likely by John, though he is not mentioned. As one commentator suggests, Jesus’ baptism allowed him to join with the very people he came to save. He didn’t see himself as above the people or unable to be with them because of their sin. In this moment, we see Jesus’ servant nature clearly on display. He came as the one who sought not to be served, but to be obedient to the Father’s desires and to serve others.
Identification is an important aspect to why baptism is significant for us. As Ron Staples suggests, it is an outward symbol of being identified with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Notice I said it is a symbol. The work of identifying us is done by the Holy Spirit working in us. The baptismal water is an outward expression of what is and has already taken place. We are cleansed of our identification with the life of sin by the Spirit, and become identified with the life of Christ. It is truly a new birth, a second life, that baptism leads us into. A life away from the old and into our desire to live as Christ has called us to live.
This leads us to another reason that baptism was significant for Jesus. In baptism, Jesus is empowered to do the Father’s wil, through the presence of the Holy Spirit that descended upon him as he was praying following the baptism. I tend to think that, at this moment, Jesus, who is perhaps around 30 years of age at this time, is starting to get an understanding of exactly who he is. He isn’t just the son of a carpenter, but the Son of the Living God called to be the Messiah. The presence of the Holy Spirit allows Jesus to see his full nature – both human and divine – and allows him to take on the life which the Father has for him. Jesus could not participate in the Messianic calling if it were not for the presence of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding him.
The same is true for us. Baptism is our symbolic expression of being empowered by the Holy Spirit to do that which God has called us to do. We cannot do anything without the active involvement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The presence of the Holy Spirit guides us in difficult times, teaches us the way to faithful living, and shows us how we have a role to play in the life of the church in our communities and world. We become empowered by recognizing God, through the Holy Spirit, is at work in shaping us and bringing us into a new life. Being born of the water isn’t just about us being cleansed for salvation, but it is about our willingness to be used by God in ways that glorify the Father. Baptism says we will be led and directed by something powerful, wonderful, and more amazing than we could ever understand.
Truly, baptism is the beginning of our new life. It was the beginning for Jesus and the launching moment of his public ministry. Jesus’ baptism signaled that he was ready to begin his public ministry, leading the people back to the Father and inaugurating the Kingdom of God. It sets the stage for all that follows. Baptism is the opening act of a three-year ministry that would challenge the ways of the world, bring healing to the sick, and establish a new covenant between God and humanity. This was the beginning and the moment where Jesus is sent out into the world to do that which he was called to do.
Our baptism is our launching point. It is the beginning of a new life and a new journey in Christ. The moment when we begin a journey of a deep relationship with the Father, through faith in the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not the end of our spiritual journey, but the beginning. Through our acceptance of the cleansing water, we are launched into a new life, following the ways of the Father. We’re not promised that this life will be easy – certainly there will be temptations and difficult moments along the way. What we are promised is that God will be there with us, showing us what it means for us to live for the Father, to show others the love of Christ, and to serve as Christ has called us to serve.
Truly, our baptism is something to be thankful for and remember. It is a significant moment for us to remember and recall, because it inspires us to live as Jesus has called us to live. We should remember our baptism and what Christ has done in our lives by removing the guilt of our sin. Remembering our baptism allows us to have the confidence to walk through the moments of our lives, because we are empowered by the Spirit to live and to love. We should remember our baptism, because it was the beginning of the great story of God’s love for us.
Today, we will remember our baptism by reaffirming our vows that we made with God. It is an appropriate follow-up to our Covenant Renewal last Sunday, because it is our participation in the life of Christ, through our baptisms, that allows us to live faithful lives, bring others to faith, use our gifts, and grow in our walk with Christ.
Baptism may be something that only happens once in our lives, but it is truly a significant moment that shapes and guides us to faithful living and new life in Christ.