Baptised into union with Christ
I want to talk a little about baptism tonight. In my years as a minister, I’ve heard a lot of quite wrong ideas about baptism.
Like these: ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re baptised or not.’ Wrong! ‘Baptism is about works, not faith.’ Wrong! ‘You can get baptised as many times as you feel you need to.’ Wrong!
Let’s look at baptism. Our Gospel reading tonight says that John the Baptist
went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…
John proclaimed a baptism of repentance. In other words, people came to him to turn away from their sins and towards God, and be washed clean.
They came to John because they believed that if the whole people of God repented, then God would bring the kingdom down to earth and there would be justice and peace for all.
Notice this: it wasn’t about getting to heaven when you die; it was about God’s perfect will being done here and now, like the Lord’s Prayer says:
…your will be done on earth as in heaven.
People flocked to John, repenting of their sin, turning away from sin, and turning towards righteousness. And then waiting for the Messiah to come.
This morning, we baptised three very young children. How can we do that, if John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance? These three tiny things are hardly notorious sinners. They aren’t old enough to have anything to repent of. How can we baptise them? It’s simple, really: John’s baptism and Christian baptism are not the same thing. When the Lord Jesus Christ was baptised by John, he transformed John’s baptism and gave it a new meaning.
Let’s explore just one aspect of that new meaning.
Why was Jesus baptised by John? Why did Jesus submit to a baptism of repentance? He had no sin to repent of, no reason to be baptised. So why was he baptised?
Jesus was baptised as our representative. He underwent the baptism of repentance for us. He was baptised for us, for you and me, not for himself.
Let me put it this way. Can anyone say they have perfectly repented? Can anyone say they have completely turned away from sin? I couldn’t say that. And if we can’t completely turn from sin, then a baptism of repentance can only be a sign that we are repenting and still need to repent again and again.
Yet if we belong to Christ, then we belong to the one who has no need to repent. Christian baptism joins us to Jesus Christ, so that we belong to him. And God sees Christ in us. The Uniting Church baptism service says at one point,
whatever is [Christ’s] may be called ours.
Jesus is the Son of God; we are children of God. Jesus is perfect and righteous; when we belong to him, God sees us as perfect and righteous.
It doesn’t matter what age you are. You can be joined to Christ. It doesn’t matter if you’re a notorious sinner. You can be joined to Christ.
Christian baptism is being joined to Christ; it’s not about our repentance. It’s not really about us at all.
When I was in my teens and early twenties, I was part of the Brethren church. They’re like Baptists on steroids. They don’t believe in baptising infants. But there are problems with a strong emphasis on adult baptism.
A girl I knew had been baptised around the time she was eighteen, but since that time her faith had slipped and she got away from the church. When her faith was rekindled, she decided that she hadn’t perfectly repented when she was baptised, so in fact she hadn’t been a Christian at all. So she convinced the elders that they should baptise her again. And they did.
That might make sense if Christian baptism were the same as John’s baptism. But it’s not.
Christian baptism is about our being joined to Jesus Christ, the ever-faithful Son of God. Jesus will never let us down, even if we let him down. Even if we go astray, the Good Shepherd will seek us out and bring us back. Christian baptism proclaims this truth, and so it belongs to people of any and every age.
John’s baptism was never meant to last forever. It was the way John prepared the way of the Lord. Now the Lord has come, baptism has taken a new meaning.
I’d like to end with some words from our baptism service, words we say just before the person is baptised:
For you Jesus Christ has come,
has lived, has suffered;
for you he endured the agony of Gethsemane
and the darkness of Calvary;
for you he uttered the cry,
‘It is accomplished!’
For you he triumphed over death;
for you he prays at God’s right hand;
for you, even before you were born.
the word of the apostle is confirmed:
‘We love, because God first loved us’.
Baptism. It’s not about us. It’s not about our faith, or even our decision to follow Jesus. It’s about the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. It’s a gracious gift that joins us to Jesus; it’s a gift to us and to our children.