Have you ever thought about the powerful and historic background of baptism? Did you know that people knew exactly what John the baptist and Jesus were talking about when they asked people to be baptised? For more than 3000 years people have gone through the process of baptism and the symbol is still a powerful one today.
Baptism has long been a practice of repentance, but since Jesus completely changed how people relate to Father God, it has taken on an even more transformative significance.
Baptism is a public demonstration that we have left our old life behind and have become followers of Jesus. It symbolises our death to that old life and our rebirth as Christians. It is the immersion of the whole body in water, a symbol of purification.
Immersion had been practised as a ritual cleansing and symbol of repentance for at least 1000 years before Jesus was born. In fact, the word itself comes from the ancient Greek word baptizo, meaning “I wash”. Immersion was also practised for those converting to Judaism from pagan religions and also specified in the Judaic law for the High Priest whose duty was to present the sin offerings for the people. (Leviticus 16:4).
When the Pharisees came to John the Baptist as recorded in Matthew 3, they would have understood that cleansing in water was part of the process of repentance. When Jesus Himself insisted on being baptised even though he had no sins to confess, it was a sign of His consecration to God and as an example to His followers. Here Jesus identifies Himself as the one who would be the sin offering.
As a mark of repentance and cleansing in ancient times, immersion could be practised many times. However, the modern symbol of baptism as evidence of becoming a Christian only requires a person to be baptised once. With the birth of the Christian church, baptism was adopted to signify that the old had gone and the new had come.
After Jesus died and was resurrected, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit came and brought the birth of the church. Acts 2:41 states that when this happened, 3,000 were added to the group of disciples and all were immediately baptised. Since the events of that day took place by the Temple in Jerusalem, there were plenty of baptism pools ready to cope with the numbers!
Baptism as part of renewal
Throughout the scriptures we can see that as people turned to Jesus they were baptised as part of the process of renewal. Baptism took place immediately when someone turned to Jesus; there was no delay as it was and is part of the process of becoming a Christian.
For example, in Acts 8:26-39, an Ethiopian man was reading the prophet Isaiah when Philip came along and explained that the passage he was reading was about Jesus. At that, the Ethiopian believed and, as they passed by some water, his first thought was to be baptised.
Baptism is an integral part of becoming a Christian according to Mark 16:16: “Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved.” Some of Jesus’s last words to His disciples in Matthew were instructions to make disciples of all nations, “baptising them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19)
Why be baptised?
That process continues through to today with baptism being a physical process symbolising two key spiritual realities:
1. Our death with Jesus: Baptism identifies us with Jesus’s death and symbolises that our old nature actually died at the cross 2,000 years ago.
2. Our rebirth: Baptism identifies us with Jesus’s resurrection and we are now choosing to live in the new nature that Jesus bought for us. A total change has taken place and we are indeed new creations.
Baptism in the 21st century
Baptism is a demonstration to the world of a changed life and usually those being baptised invite friends and family to witness the event. We have meetings in which a group of Christians who have not yet been baptised share their story of how Jesus met them and then are baptised in front of everyone present.
Baptism is about showing the world that you have been included in something bigger, something more. It is a sign that you are adopted by our Heavenly Father and are included in the perfect love community of the Trinity.
Have you encountered the resurrection life of Jesus? Have you said yes to the embrace of the Father? Show the world the good news of Jesus Christ and be baptised.