Have you ever wondered why he did it? Why did Jesus allow himself to be baptized? For certain he wanted to identify with us, to be like us in every way that he could and so he did something totally human: he was washed. Luke’s Gospel does not talk about how things happened nor does it mention explicitly John being the one who does the baptism. It is possible that in our post Christendom age of the Church that we are still pushing the idea that we need to deal with sin and that we need to get clean. This is still both true and real. We need to be made holy. We need to be made clean. But if that is where we leave this passage of Scripture and our understanding of what baptism is all about, then I believe we do both God and ourselves a great disservice.
Why did Jesus submit to baptism? Here is a list that I considered so that I might know my own self. These are in no particular order but are interrelated:
- Jesus wanted to be with us and because he wanted us to be with him. His desire for us is that we be united in community. Baptism is the level ground on which we meet with him and with one another in community. Baptism makes him the focus of our community and of what we do as community both when we are together and when we are apart.
- Jesus submitted to baptism so that we might join him in his submission and humility to the Father. He chose command us to baptize so to draw us in to his life that we might be like him: in his death and so that like him we can know his resurrection.
- Jesus entered that moment that there might be the possibility of a life directed towards God. Baptism is more than a sweet little moment. It is a precious moment – a great and costly one. Jesus came because we are worth something to God – we are his precious ones.
- Jesus came to his baptism to show that God was about to do a new thing that would supersede what had come before without nullifying the past. The past is important because in the past God has told us what he thinks about us: “I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine.” He told us about hearing the Father when he was baptized so that we could stop and listen for the Father to tell us: “You are my child, my beloved, with you I am pleased!”
· Jesus wanted to so us what to do when we discover that we separated from God that we know how to respond. Jesus knows that people need salvation so he took it all on and did it by honouring God at the start of his ministry that would make it possible for him to offer us salvation. A new person lives a new life directed towards God – we can live like him.
How then should we understand our own baptisms? Like so many others that have been baptized as young children, I do not have that moment to draw upon. There have certainly been other moments, like confirmation, being commissioned as a Church Army Captain, being ordained as a deacon and as a priest. All of those moments though, as great and as important as they are in my life, are subordinate to that moment when I was washed and recognized as being precious to God. No Christian has a greater, more important moment in one’s life than that moment when we are washed and recognized as precious, both to God and to the Christian community.
Baptism is about living out the life as a Christian person. It is not about avoiding judgment and a fiery hell. Baptism does not make you anything but someone who is a member of the household of God who confesses Christ crucified, waits for the resurrection and shares with the rest of God’s household in Christ’s eternal priesthood. A person is not “saved” or redeemed simply because they get wet or “dedicated”. People are not safe because of how they are baptized or because they have prayed a particular prayer in a particular place. God is active in the life of his precious people. They are his and he calls them by name. It is God who judges and God who redeems and saves his people. It is not about us but about God.
Baptism is about living a life that refuses to live in solitude, only living for and caring about one’s self. Baptism is about living a life that is totally in love with the Savoiur and completely in service to one’s neighbours. Baptism is about living out the promises made to God concerning renouncing evil and accepting and serving Christ every day of your life. How will you live out your baptism this week? Will you participate in the breaking of bread and in the prayers? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself? Will you will you treat people with justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human being (even the ones you don’t like)? How will you honour Christ this week?