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Getting into Deep Water: The Little-Known Storyline of Baptism in the Bible

  • Tim Chester Author
  • 2017 14 Feb
Getting into Deep Water: The Little-Known Storyline of Baptism in the Bible

Start talking about baptism and you’ll soon be in deep water—figuratively, at least.

It’s a controversial topic. Some Christians believe we should baptize the babies of believing parents, while others think we should only baptize people who profess faith for themselves. Some Christians don’t think the “delivery mechanism” (sprinkling, pouring or immersion) is very important, while others think only a baptism by immersion is a proper baptism. So perhaps it’s best to avoid the topic and talk about something else.

I want to suggest that would be a tragedy. For baptism gets us into deep water in another sense of the phrase. It’s a profound and powerful depiction of the Bible’s story of salvation—a story that involves a lot of water, and is now my story.

Noah’s baptism

During the time of Noah God judged humanity through a great flood. In effect God “un-created” his world. Back at creation God had separated the waters to create dry land. At the flood the waters re-combined to cover the land and chaos returned—a chaos which drowned humanity in watery judgment. But God was gracious and in his grace he created a new future for humanity. He saved Noah and his family in the “ark”. Noah came through the waters of judgment.

Moses’ baptism

Later, when God rescued his people from slavery in Egypt, the people found themselves caught between the pursuing Egyptian army and the Red Sea. This time God separated the waters to create dry land. God’s people escaped from death through water. But when the Egyptian army followed them, God again un-created in judgment as the waters un-separated and the Egyptians were drowned. God judged Egypt with water and at the same time saved his people through water.

Jesus’ baptisms

Fast forward to Jesus. John the Baptist had been baptising people. We’re told he was “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1 v 4). Then Jesus stepped forward from the crowd—perfect, sinless, spotless, righteous. And he stepped into the water—the water that symbolized our sin and our judgment. Jesus stepped into our mess, our wickedness, our judgment. It’s a dramatic expression of intent: Jesus was symbolically engulfed by the waters of judgment.

Jesus stepped into our mess, our wickedness, our judgment.

There’s a second reference to baptism in Mark’s Gospel. Two of the disciples asked to sit on the left and right side of Jesus when Jesus reigns as King. Jesus replied: “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10 v 38). He was talking about the cross. At the cross Jesus would drain the cup of God’s wrath on our behalf. He would be baptised with God’s judgment on our behalf.

In the River Jordan Jesus Jesus was symbolically baptised into our sins. On the cross he was actually and really baptized into our sins. He was immersed in our sin. Completely covered. He died and was buried. He bore our judgment.

And on the third day he rose again. He passed through judgment to give us new life.

Your baptism

Thirty-five years ago I, too, stood on the edge of water and then stepped in. I was baptized. Like Noah, like Moses, like Jesus I passed through water.

The story of Noah was re-enacted in my baptism (1 Peter 3 v 20-21). And so was the story of Moses (1 Corinthians 10 v 2). Like Noah and Moses, in baptism I was saved through water. I passed through the water that symbolises judgment and I emerged to a new life.

So my baptism points me away from myself and towards the baptism with which Jesus was baptized. I’m saved by the baptism of Jesus, his baptism into suffering and death on my behalf. My baptism points me to the baptism of the cross. It is a sign and seal of what the baptism of Jesus brings to me. You are baptized “in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2 v 38).

Baptism creates a very powerful promise. And that’s something worth talking about, remembering and celebrating.

Your baptism preaches the gospel to you, and in a very important way. It is an external act and a physical reality. It’s not dependant on how you feel at any given moment. It’s a fact in your life that points to a fact in history. When the Reformer Martin Luther was tempted by the devil he cried out, “I am baptized man”. He pointed to what God had done for him in Christ—a reality embodied in objective act of baptism.

Baptism creates a very powerful promise. And that’s something worth talking about, remembering and celebrating.

This article originally appeared on TheGoodBook.com. Used with permisison.

Tim Chester is author of a new three-part baptism course entitled Preparing for Baptism which is now available.

Tim is a pastor at Grace Church, Boroughbridge, UK, a tutor with the Acts 29 Oak Hill Academy, and is the author of over 30 books. He has a PhD in theology and was previously Research and Policy Director for Tearfund UK. He has been an adjunct lecturer in missiology and reformed spirituality. Tim is married to Helen and has two daughters.

Image courtesy: Unsplash.com

Publication date: February 14, 2017

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