Posts Tagged ‘baptism’

1 Samuel 7:3-17 (Part 3 of 3)
Samuel Leads Israel to Victory

Water is important. Water is the elixir of life. Without it, we will die. We live in a water-like substance for the first nine months of our existence within our mother’s wombs. We need it to survive outside our mother’s womb. Watch any marathon, you will see that they require water stations at multiple points throughout the race. And, you have seen what happens to a runner who is not properly hydrated in a marathon race. Some will faint and collapse in a heap during the race. Some will have their muscles seize up on them because of the lack of hydration in their bodies. Water is important.

Water was always important in my family growing up. My mom would take us swimming from the time we were little boys, babes in arms almost. As a result, my brother and I loved the water growing up. Whether it be going to a swimming pool when we had a YMCA nearby or just running through the sprinkler in the backyard or swimming in a lake, we loved it. When we moved to Anderson, SC when we were middle schoolers, we thought it was the coolest thing that we had Lake Hartwell nearby. My dad bought a boat and through one of the best friends I had when we lived there, Donnie Garrison, we had access to a private cove on the lake. His dad owned a big farm right there on the lake. Donnie and I were in the water all the time during the summers. Water skiing was our thing on the weekend and when we weren’t skiing we were swimming. Lake Hartwell was the fluid that lubricated our friendship. When we were not swimming, we exploring the woods around the lake on the Garrison property. Man, I remember those summer weekends, my dad would be pulling us the skis behind the boat for miles and miles and it was an every weekend thing from May to September. It was so much fun. And dad had gotten really good about knowing how to maximize our leanouts on turns. Donnie and I had gotten so good at skiing that on our leanouts on turns we would almost be horizontal. The g-force against us was wild. We would probably be doing about 30 miles per hour going through those turns (and it seemed like 60 mph when you were on the skiis and leaning out almost down to the water on a turn). Man, I still remember those days. I can still feel the speed on those turns in my mind right now. And the wipeouts on turns would be spectacular…like a rock skipping on water. And the one of us that didn’t wipe out on the turn would be laughing like crazy when dad would have to circle back around to pick the downed skier back up. Water was so important to us in those days. Had to be in it, on it, or by it.

Water is important to the Christian faith as well. Jesus, the man who needed no forgiveness for He was God in the flesh, was immersed in water to fulfill all righteousness when He began his public ministry. We are baptized in the water as a public profession of what God has already done in our souls through the salvation of Jesus Christ. It is symbolic of the change wrought by believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins and rose on the third day to give us hope of eternal life with Him. It is the symbol of our salvation. Water is important and it is symbolic to Christians. When we get baptized, we are lowered into the water as persons with no hope and that are mired in the scales of sin. We are immersed in the water and it is during that immersion that it is symbolic of what Jesus has done for us. He has washed away our sins by His death on the cross. He took our sins with Him to the tomb and left them there. Just as the immersion in the water is what cleans away the dirt and nastiness of our sins. Further, just as Jesus was laid in the tomb, we are immersed in the water. Just as Jesus left death and sin in the grave, we leave symbolically our sins in the waters of salvation. They stay there. We are redeemed and made clean in the waters of Jesus’ gracious salvation. Just as Jesus arose from the grave, our coming out of the water in baptism symbolizes our new life in Christ. It symbolizes our victory over death in our sins. Jesus’ resurrection from the grave assures us that that we have new life and no longer are we suffering under the death penalty of sin. Our arising from the water in baptism symbolism that new life. We have been bathed in the water covering of what Jesus did for us on the cross and we symbolically arise from the water clean and free from the death sentence of our sin’s filth. You can, thus, kinda say that water is a wee bit important as a symbolic thing in the Christian faith. It is important to God that water be a symbolic of life. It is important in the organic world and it is important to us as God’s people as a symbol of the necessity of God in our lives, the necessity of faith, the necessity of cleansing ourselves and making ourselves right with God. Water is important.

It is that idea of the importance of water in the physical world and in God’s relationship with man that I thought of this morning. Just as water was pretty much the basis of my and Donnie Garrison’s friendship, we see the importance of water in the life of God’s people as well in this passage, 1 Samuel 7:3-17. With that in my mind, let’s read it together right now:

3 Then Samuel said to all the people of Israel, “If you want to return to the Lord with all your hearts, get rid of your foreign gods and your images of Ashtoreth. Turn your hearts to the Lord and obey him alone; then he will rescue you from the Philistines.” 4 So the Israelites got rid of their images of Baal and Ashtoreth and worshiped only the Lord.

5 Then Samuel told them, “Gather all of Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” 6 So they gathered at Mizpah and, in a great ceremony, drew water from a well and poured it out before the Lord. They also went without food all day and confessed that they had sinned against the Lord. (It was at Mizpah that Samuel became Israel’s judge.)

7 When the Philistine rulers heard that Israel had gathered at Mizpah, they mobilized their army and advanced. The Israelites were badly frightened when they learned that the Philistines were approaching. 8 “Don’t stop pleading with the Lord our God to save us from the Philistines!” they begged Samuel. 9 So Samuel took a young lamb and offered it to the Lord as a whole burnt offering. He pleaded with the Lord to help Israel, and the Lord answered him.

10 Just as Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines arrived to attack Israel. But the Lord spoke with a mighty voice of thunder from heaven that day, and the Philistines were thrown into such confusion that the Israelites defeated them. 11 The men of Israel chased them from Mizpah to a place below Beth-car, slaughtering them all along the way.

12 Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah.[a] He named it Ebenezer (which means “the stone of help”), for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!”

13 So the Philistines were subdued and didn’t invade Israel again for some time. And throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the Lord’s powerful hand was raised against the Philistines. 14 The Israelite villages near Ekron and Gath that the Philistines had captured were restored to Israel, along with the rest of the territory that the Philistines had taken. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites in those days.

15 Samuel continued as Israel’s judge for the rest of his life. 16 Each year he traveled around, setting up his court first at Bethel, then at Gilgal, and then at Mizpah. He judged the people of Israel at each of these places. 17 Then he would return to his home at Ramah, and he would hear cases there, too. And Samuel built an altar to the Lord at Ramah.

In this passage, we see that pouring water on the ground “before the Lord” was a sign of repentance from sin, turning from idols, and determining to obey God alone. It was Samuel’s way of demonstrating to God that the people were ready to repent of their sins and become a renewed people before God. The people of Israel during the time of the judges had been a horrid, sinful lot and it is here that water poured on the land was symbolic of how they wanted to turn from their sin and return unto God.

When I read this passage I really picked up on that water thing because I understand the importance of baptism as a symbolic gesture in the Christian faith. The water symbolism used in Christian baptism has its roots in the Old Testament. Here we see one of the examples of how water is symbolic of the cleansing of the people. That is what baptism symbolizes in the Christian faith. The people of Israel had already committed to repentance and Samuel’s pouring out of water on to the land “before the Lord” was symbolic of what had already happening in the life of the people of Israel. Similarly, baptism, the act, does not in and of itself impart salvation. It is simply a beautifully symbolic and powerful testament to what has already occurred in the believer’s soul. Salvation has already occurred and baptism is how we “go public” about our faith, about our already occurred salvation experience. Water is important. It is important to God. It is important symbolically in God’s relationship to man. Water is reality is the most important thing that we need physically to survive and not die. It is the same as a symbol of what God does for us through Jesus. We need Jesus as much spiritually as much as we need water physically. It is no wonder that God influenced us to use water as the most central symbol of the Christian faith.

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 5:2-12 (Part 1 of 3)

Israel Reestablishes Covenant Ceremonies

Back in January 1984, when I began my professional career, the business world was still very much a suit and tie world. It was the days of power ties and black or charcoal gray pin-striped suits. I had to invest heavily in suits and ties back in those days. Prior to that, I had been a college student, we wore Levis and polo shirts, Nike white leather tennis shoes. It was the uniform of informality of the age. It was the age of Reaganomics. It was the age of Alex P. Keaton on the TV show, Family Ties. It was the age of that girls wore big hair. It was the age of the yuppie. It was the age when it began to be cool to be a Republican. It was the age of mergers and acquisitions. It was the age that being a business man was cool again. So, dressing the part the mark of a businessman. Power suits and power ties. Red ties with small geometric shapes. Yellow ties. Ties. Ties. Ties. And suits.


For me, that first job out of college was with the School District of Greenville Country (SC). I was no longer a college kid, really no longer a kid at all. I embraced my new suit life. Before, suits gave way to full-time business casual in the early 1990s, the suit and tie was the thing. We had cooler suits than our dads’ generation. At least they were to us. In those days, suits and ties days, everything had to be perfect. The handkerchief in the breast pocket had to be just the perfect triangle poking out of your breast pocket. The white shirts had to be perfectly pressed and had to be oxford knit with button down collars. The tie had to be certain colors of red or yellow power ties. You know the ones with geometric or amoeba like designs on them. The pants were not the straight legs of our dads’ days but they were not flare legs either. They had to be just in between. Cuffed at the bottom. Just barely touching your loafers with tassels. That first day on the job after graduation from college, I was ready. By the time the 1990’s rolled in and changed office attire forever, I had ten suits. One for each day for two weeks. So, in the mid 1980s when I entered the business world, I was full-on embracing the business suit craze of the day. It was to my generation that was entering the work force, a mark of passing into adulthood. It was our time to move and shake the world. It was our time to make the deals. It was time that Donald Trump was just beginning to make a name for himself as a wheeler-dealer in New York real estate development. In those days, we admired him because the ideals of our generation was to reclaim America’s top spot in the world in everything (after our hippie dippie parents’ generation had so degraded American power by choice). We wanted America to be all about business. It was trickle down economics. It was what was good for the rich was good for the whole economy. So, being a part of that, was too cool. It was my time to begin my career. Power suits and power ties were the outward evidence that I was a professional man and that I was a young professional. It was the mark of the age. It was the sign of where I belonged. No longer a kid. An adult professional. Not some poor schlub working with his hands but a professional with a college degree. It was leather briefcases with files in them. It was leather briefcases with nothing in them but maybe your car keys and personal items and maybe even your sandwich for lunch, but it was a briefcase, part of the necessary power look of a businessman of the 1980s. We traded in our polo shirts and Levi jeans for power ties and brief cases. We had arrived. It was our time.


That transition from college kid to degreed professional in the workplace is what I thought of this morning when I read about the rite of circumcision that was performed on this new generation of Israelite males. Circumcision meant change to the Israelites just as power ties and power suits and briefcases meant for me and my generation as we entered the workforce in the 1980s. Let’s read the passage together for the first time this morning and then see how those thoughts tie together afterwards:


2 At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” 3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth.[a]


4 Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the wilderness on the way after leaving Egypt. 5 All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness during the journey from Egypt had not. 6 The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7 So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way. 8 And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed.


9 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal[b] to this day.


10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. 11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day after[c] they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.


The rite of circumcision marked Israel’s position as God’s covenant people. When God made the original covenant with Abraham, He required each male be circumcised as a sign of cutting off of the old life and beginning a new life with God (Genesis 17:13). Similarly, for the Christian, baptism is an outward sign of the change that has already occurred within the believer. Baptism is symbolic of shedding the old life of death and destruction in the tomb of the water and arising clean and new into a new life safely in the arms of the Savior. Circumcision is symbolic of shedding the old skin of sin and taking on a new life of dedication to the Lord.


It was similarly symbolic to those of us who graduated college and entered the workforce in the early 1980s. We were shedding our childhood and taking on adulthood. The power suit and power tie and briefcase were the signs of the new life we were entering and the Levis and polo shirts were the old life of childhood that we were leaving behind. We were ending lives of dependence for lives of independence. We were entering that “promised land” of adulthood that we had been yearning for. Little did we know that adulthood would bring marriages, children, mortgages, loans for cars, and so on. But those early years of the mid-1980s when power ties and power suits were in full bloom, we embraced that lifestyle. It was out with childhood and in with adulthood. And we looked gooooood doing it.


Is it time for you to shed your old life and begin anew? Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Is your old life not working for you anymore? Is it time to come to the Lord and say circumcise my soul and my heart? Is it time to shed your old life of blue jeans for the power suit of life in Christ. When we ask Christ to be our Lord and Savior, it means that we have given control of our lives over to Him. We have begged for forgiveness of our sins and He has granted us grace enough to cover us and make us righteous before the Lord. We shed our old lives through the action of the Holy Spirit in our souls after salvation. No longer are we burden with our foreskin of sin. We are made new in Christ through His grace and through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. We take off our old rags of sin and exchange them for the ultimate power suit, the cloaking in the royal robes of Christ. He makes us new like the best power suit of the 1980s. We were once filthy rags and now we are clothed in majesty with everything just perfect. We forge forward into the new world that we have become part of through Christ. He changes us. No longer do we view the world the same. It is a different world to us. It is a world where we want to bring glory to the name of Jesus Christ and to make Him smile as we grow into His likeness.


Amen and Amen.

Numbers 19:1-22 (Part 2 of 3)

The Water of Purification


It was the night before Johnny and Kathy Thompson’s wedding back in 1982. It was summertime in the South. Even though Johnny was 5 years older than me, I was the one who was already married so it was up to me to show him a good time the night before his wedding the following evening. It was no big deal. We just hung out with our mutual friends, went to a couple of bars, whistled at girls, talked big about life (which was certainly aided by the alcoholic lubricants that we imbibed). Just your typical guys-night-out. Nothing to write home about. Nothing illegal and nothing particularly to be ashamed about. However, on the way home to Johnny’s place, things got a little wild. Being Southern boys, we loved cars. We loved driving fast. We loved doing donuts in parking lots. We were typical early 80’s 20-somethings in the South. It had rained a lot that summer and particularly a lot that week before Johnny and Kathy’s wedding. So, there was a lot of mud puddles around. To quote Zazu, from Lion King, there were “big ones, small ones, some as big as ya head!” So, I guess you’ve already figured out where this is headed. Southern boys, cars, mud puddles.


Being boys from what was then rural Travelers Rest, SC (now an up and coming chic suburb of Greenville right at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains), or TR as it is known to us locals here in Upstate, SC, we were driving home on Rutherford Road which had train tracks running beside it so there was this blank area between the road and the railroad tracks all along the route of Rutherford Road between Wade Hampton Blvd. and Pleasantburg Drive. In this blank space, no development could be done because there was just no room. The rails were pretty close to the road. But there was enough room during this week for a huge mud puddle to develop in an area of the road’s circuit where there was not a lot of traffic. And of course it was pretty late at night, probably 2am. You see what’s going to happen here. Boys will be boys. We saw the huge puddle. It was a miniature lake almost. You could put 15 cars, five rows of three cars side by side, in this puddle. We know the ground so there was no real fear of what was underneath the shallow waters of this giganitor puddle. Yep. It was donut time! We must have spent an hour doing donuts through the puddle. Slamming on brakes in the middle of it too see how far it would take to stop. The more we did the donuts and the slides and the slamming on of brakes, the bigger the soupy mess the puddle became. The more muddy it became. With each pass through the puddle mud was being thrown up and onto Johnny’s car. Layers and layers of mud. I mean we had to turn on the windshield wipers to get the mud off the windshield we were churning up so much mud. Finally, we decide we have had enough and we head home to Johnny’s. Having had a few that night and having had the mudding adventure of a lifetime, we were pretty tired when we got back TR and it was sooo late. We parked the car in the yard so the mud would not drip all over Johnny’s driveway. And we went in and crashed and slept like babies until the girls got there the next morning.


You could hear Kathy screaming from the yard when they got there about 10am that morning. Kathy and my wife at the time, Lisa, were already all decked out for the bridesmaids’ luncheon. So, you could imagine their horror at seeing a car that was now covered, and I mean covered, with what was now dried mud. Remember, summer in the South. It stays in the 80 degree range even at night so it did not take long for the mud all over that car to dry. Kathy threatened to call off the wedding if Johnny did not get that car spotless before the wedding. Of course, Lisa gave me the evil eye for, being a married man, and having participated in this childishness. The rants of Kathy and Lisa were darts to just waking up brains after a night of partying.


But thank God for self-service car washes and lots of quarters. You know those self-service ones with the jet sprayers where if you don’t have the wand firmly in your hand that it will take off and do a dance all around the stall when the pressured water stream is turned on! Man, we must have spent $20 in quarters that morning til lunchtime. There was mud in every crevice of that car. There was inches of mud everywhere. We must have rinsed that car at least 10 times before we could even consider washing it. But after several hours of hard work and laughing the whole time about how muddy the car had gotten and the laughing about what the girls thought when they first saw the car in the yard for the first time. But through the power of pressurized water and soapy suds and a lot of hard scrubbing, we got the car clean. It looked goooood! Water is a magical agent for cleaning. No more has it ever been true than on that particular morning.


Oh the cleansing power of water. That transformation of Johnny’s car from a muddy mess to a car ready to be a show piece as Johnny and Kathy drove away on their honeymoon was what I thought of this morning when thinking again on this passage.


Let’s read through this passage for a second time today, Numbers 19:1-22, thinking of the cleansing power of water and how the water of purification here is similar to what baptism symbolizes for us Christians:


19 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: 2 “This is a requirement of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. 3 Give it to Eleazar the priest; it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. 4 Then Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the tent of meeting. 5 While he watches, the heifer is to be burned—its hide, flesh, blood and intestines. 6 The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer. 7 After that, the priest must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water. He may then come into the camp, but he will be ceremonially unclean till evening. 8 The man who burns it must also wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he too will be unclean till evening.


9 “A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They are to be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin. 10 The man who gathers up the ashes of the heifer must also wash his clothes, and he too will be unclean till evening. This will be a lasting ordinance both for the Israelites and for the foreigners residing among them.


11 “Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days. 12 They must purify themselves with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then they will be clean. But if they do not purify themselves on the third and seventh days, they will not be clean. 13 If they fail to purify themselves after touching a human corpse, they defile the Lord’s tabernacle. They must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, they are unclean; their uncleanness remains on them.


14 “This is the law that applies when a person dies in a tent: Anyone who enters the tent and anyone who is in it will be unclean for seven days, 15 and every open container without a lid fastened on it will be unclean.


16 “Anyone out in the open who touches someone who has been killed with a sword or someone who has died a natural death, or anyone who touches a human bone or a grave, will be unclean for seven days.


17 “For the unclean person, put some ashes from the burned purification offering into a jar and pour fresh water over them. 18 Then a man who is ceremonially clean is to take some hyssop, dip it in the water and sprinkle the tent and all the furnishings and the people who were there. He must also sprinkle anyone who has touched a human bone or a grave or anyone who has been killed or anyone who has died a natural death. 19 The man who is clean is to sprinkle those who are unclean on the third and seventh days, and on the seventh day he is to purify them. Those who are being cleansed must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and that evening they will be clean. 20 But if those who are unclean do not purify themselves, they must be cut off from the community, because they have defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. The water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, and they are unclean. 21 This is a lasting ordinance for them.


“The man who sprinkles the water of cleansing must also wash his clothes, and anyone who touches the water of cleansing will be unclean till evening. 22 Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean till evening.”



What’s my takeaway this morning? It is that transformative power of salvation in our lives that makes us clean before God that is symbolized in baptism. Just as Johnny’s car went into the car wash stall a muddy mess, it was transformed by the water and comes out the other side of the stall completely clean and spotless. Our salvation does the same thing for us. Our salvation is symbolically played out in the baptism ceremony. We come to the baptismal pool dirty in our sins. The water represents our salvation in Jesus Christ in that we join Him in the water and he covers us in his purity. We are enveloped by the water of Christ’s righteousness and He takes away or dirtiness upon Himself. Our sins are drowned in His righteousness. We arise in newness of life. We are cleansed by the water. The water stays with as we come out of the water dripping water. We are coated in the water of Christ’s righteousness. It is symbolic of his sending the Holy Spirit upon us at salvation and the clinging wetness of the water on our bodies represents the sanctifying nature of the Holy Spirit, how the Holy Spirit continues to change us and mold us into Christ’s likeness during the remainder of our days until we are made finally perfect and holy in heaven.


The water of purification here in this passage is a foreshadowing of baptism’s symbolic representative nature of salvation. The water of purification mixed with the ashes of the slain heifer enabled the person involved to be made clean in the eyes of God. Our salvation through believing on Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior who gave His life to pay the penalty of our sins is similar to what the heifer does for the water of purification. Without the heifer’s ashes in this scene, the water is just water. With it, the water becomes holy for the purposes of purification. Without Jesus’ death on the cross, our sins are not paid for and we stand before God with all our filthiness of sin still in place. For those sins, we are to be judged by a perfect and holy God. We cannot be in the presence of God in our sin state and must be condemned to be separated from Him in hell. With Jesus, we are covered by the cleansing waters of His holiness, His righteousness, and His purity. We can rejoin the presence of God. We can be presented to Him perfect and spotless through Christ. We are covered in his perfect nature though we still sin. We no longer take glory from our sins because Christ has sent us the Holy Spirit who spends the rest of our lives with us perfecting us from our sins, making us revolted by our own sin nature and seeking to become more and more like him. We ain’t perfect and we do not delight in our sins, the Holy Spirit makes sure of that.


But when you think of what Christ does for us, what the water of purification did for the Israelites, think about Johnny’s car. It was so freaking filthy. Covered in mud and I mean covered every inch of that vehicle. Through the cleansing waters of the car wash, it was made pristine and ready to be carriage for a bride as they left on their honeymoon. We are made ready to be in the presence of God, to be a wholly clean person in the presence of God through the cleansing waters of Jesus Christ. He makes us clean. He makes us wedding worthy as the bride of Christ.


Amen and Amen.

Luke 3:21-22 — Why did Jesus allow Himself to be baptized by John The Baptist? He was sinless wasn’t He after all? There are several reasons. First, it is symbolic of Jesus’ earthly life.

First, it was symbolic of Jesus’ earthly life. Jesus lived an earthly life (symbolic of Him prior to immersion in the water). He lived here among us as a human being. He know the life that we live. We have that in common with Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. As we have discussed here before, Jesus understands the human existence. He lived it. The only difference between Him and us was that He was able to go through this life without sinning. We see in Matthew 4:1-11 that Jesus was tempted by Satan Himself during Jesus’ human existence but never failed, never sinned. However, His lack of sin does not mean that He does not understand our existence. He lived among us. The next step in the baptism process is the immersion in water. This is symbolic of Jesus’ death on earth. Being in the water symbolic of the time from Good Friday at sundown to sunrise on Easter Sunday morning when Jesus was in the tomb. Again, it is a reminder that Jesus experienced death just as we do. Jesus’ death was an excruciating ordeal on the cross. Jesus knew that physical pain that sometimes occurs as we die. He knows of slow agonizing death. He knows of welcoming His last breath. He knows that hour when the body gives up and shuts down and stops working. He knows of that moment when the life force stops. But that is not the end of the story with Jesus nor is it the end of story for us as His followers. The next step in the baptism process is the rising out of the water. It is symbolic of Jesus’ resurrection into new life, and a new body. He arose from the dead just as he arose from the death of the water. There is such beauty in this symbolism.

In another gospel, John The Baptist ask this same question. Jesus said that we must carry out what God requires (Matthew 3:15). The baptism thus was not about a symbolic rejection of sin, because there was no sin in Him. It was about carrying out God’s mission. Jesus was baptized because it is symbolic of Him taking on the sins of his nation and of all people. He was following Nehemiah, Ezra, Moses and Daniel. In His baptism, He again identifies with you and me and any who would believe in Him. He who was without sin was baptised. Again, He shows that He is willingly taking our place though He had no personal need to do so. He shouldered the sins of the world on the cross. He is doing it here as well. The sinless substituting Himself for the sinner. He is identifying Himself with those who are repentant. You will notice He is in the water with the penitent ones not up on the shore with the watching Pharisees. There are some today who stand on the shore and believe that they are righteous in their own right. Jesus does not stand with them. He stands in the mess of the murky water with us, the sinners. Jesus, the perfect man, did not need baptism as the symbolic gesture of rejecting our past life of sin, but He accepted baptism because He, as the Son on earth, was being obedient to the Father. His Father in Heaven was well pleased in the obedience of His Son and what it means to us.

The baptism is also an annoucement. It is announcing to the world that Jesus’ ministry has begun. It is public now. All the preparation is over. There is no turning back from the pre-ordained trajectory of Jesus’ life by the Father. Jesus’ baptism is saying to the Father, I am ready. Let’s do this. Prior to arriving at the Jordan, Jesus had been preparing for His ministry for 30 years. He was learning the human experience. He lived it from birth til now. No one could ever say that Jesus could not possibly understand what it’s like to be human. He did it for 30 years! He did not magically appear. People knew him as one of them. He was a tradesman’s son. He lived the life. He experienced joy, laughter, happiness, pain (physical and emotional). He was a child and knew what that experience was like. He was a teenager and knew what that experience was like. He was a young man learning to make a living in the world. He knew what that was like. He was now ready to end that portion of His existence with all that it allowed Him to experience and move on to the specific purpose for which He was sent. As Rafiki says to Simba, “It is time.” It is now time for the stakes to be raised. The game is on. It is also interesting to note that Jesus’ announcement of the beginning of His ministry begins in humility, on the fringes, in the dirty water, not in the main court of the Temple. He went to the river and identified Himself with those who were actually interested in repenting of their sins. This annoucement is humble. He submits Himself to John just as He submitted to the Father in everything He did. Jesus was so humble and obedient to His Father. He was obedient to the point of death on the cross because that was what God required of Him. It all starts right here.

Right here in this moment of baptism, we see our humble Savior saying to us, “I am with you.” I identify with you. I know what is like to be human. I know and understand it from birth to death. He knows how hard it is for us to not sin and how hard our very existence is. In this moment of baptism, He is telling us that He is taking on our sins – a theme that took him through the remaining three years of His life to the cross. The baptism and the cross are book ends to His willingness to take on the sins of His nation and the sins of the world. He loves us that much. His entire earthly existence was preparation. It was understanding of the human experience. It was all pointing toward taking on our sins. He came to give us an out from the condemnation that we deserve. The baptism was the beginning of the ministry. The crucifixion was the literal sacrifice. The baptism the symbolic one. Through His literal sacrifice on the cross, He did what God required to solve man’s sin problem permanently. But like the end sequence of His baptism ritual, that’s not the end of the story. Jesus came out of the water at His baptism. Jesus came out of the grave after his sacrificial death. He demonstrates to us that through Him we have conquered sin and death. We have promise of eternal life with Him through His resurrection. It all starts right here in the Jordan River. The ministry that changed the world begins here in the murky, muddy waters of the Jordan.