The Promises of Baptism

The Promises of Baptism.
Matthew 3: 1 – 15;  Romans 6: 1 – 11
Christ Jesus commanded his disciples to follow two rituals – Holy Communion and Baptism. Baptism is important but often neglected and misunderstood. Let us reflect on it a while.
It might be good to begin with the story of a pastor baptising in the river one Sunday afternoon. A drunk happened to stumble upon the baptismal service. The drunk walked right down into the water and stood next to the Preacher. The minister turned and noticed the old drunk and said, “Mister, Are you ready to find Jesus?” The drunk looked back and said, “Yes, Preacher. I am.” The minister then dunked the fellow under the water and pulled him right back up. “Have you found Jesus?” the preacher asked. “No, I haven’t!” said the drunk. The preacher then dunked him under for a bit longer, brought him up and said, “Now, brother, have you found Jesus?” “No, I haven’t Preacher.” The preacher in disgust held the man under for at least 30 seconds this time, brought him out of the water and said in a harsh tone, “Friend, are you sure you haven’t found Jesus yet?” The old drunk wiped his eyes gasping for breath and said to the preacher; “No preacher, are you sure this is where he fell in?”
Baptism isn’t where you find Jesus; it is where Jesus finds you. Baptism is what we do when Jesus has found us. Baptism happens when God has knocked on the door of our life, so to speak, and we have opened that door to God. Baptism acknowledges that we are followers of Christ and are beginning a transformed life with Jesus.
Some questions might help us understand what has taken place this morning.  Why was John baptising? Why was Jesus baptised? Why do we baptise infants? What happens in baptism?
Why was John baptising? John and his disciples didn’t happen upon the idea of baptism while swimming in the river Jordan on a hot day. Baptism was already around. It was practised as a symbolic act of a new life.  The water was symbolic of cleansing and washing the old life away.  Water refreshes and renews us and so it had that meaning as well. So baptism signaled a new person, a new name and a new identity. By the way in baptism the water was either poured over you or you were immersed in the water.
John takes baptism and morphs it into something slightly different. He wasn’t calling people into a new faith. He was calling people to turn from their apathy, selfish life and their indifference of God’s ways to a new commitment to live a godly life.  It was a baptism of repentance. Repentance means turn-around and face the right direction.  So John’s baptism was an act of humility, commitment and identification with the coming Christ / Messiah.
Why was Jesus baptised?  Jesus and John were cousins. John preached about the Christ coming – God’s anointed. John was challenging people to prepare themselves for the Christ. Then Jesus comes along and says I want to be baptised. John says to Jesus it wasn’t necessary for him to be baptised. John recognised that his cousin, Jesus, was already special. What he understood we aren’t told. But he must have thought that Jesus was ready for the Christ, or that he was the Christ. John wouldn’t have been sure, but he was sure that Jesus didn’t need to be baptised. But Jesus wanted baptism. So John baptised Jesus. We can only conclude that Jesus came to be baptised, because he wanted to humble himself before God the Father, signal his commitment and obedience, and affirm his identification as the Christ for us.
Baptism became the ritual that publicly marked the life of a person who had humbled themselves before God, made a commitment to follow the Christ and took on the identity of a Christian.   It was a ceremony that God had found them and they had responded to God.
Why do we baptise infants? It is a fact of life that children copy their parents, borrow their values and behave like them. At some point all parents have heard their children play games and stopped to listen with amusement and a little embarrassment. Why? Because they hear themselves.  Sometimes it will be amusing and other times embarrassing. And we know that we have a little of our parents in us. There are periods of our lives when we furiously deny we are like our parents. We even work hard not to be like them, but there is always a little bit of them – their beliefs, values, mannerisms and behaviours  – in us. Zoe is part of you. She will share your values and beliefs. At first she will just copy you and then she will tweak them. So right now Zoe is your child in a very profound and deep sense. She is dependent upon you to mirror the way of being human in this world. She is your child and she is part of all that you hold dear, love and cherish in life. So she is a Christian-child. She is not a child of a non-believer or a child of some other religion. She is your child. She shares your values and beliefs and will borrow your ways of doing things.  This is why Paul could write to the Corinthian church about marriages between Christians and pagans and says that their children are holy through the faith of one or both parents [1 Cor 7: 14]. From the beginning the disciples baptised family units. Children and servants were baptised with the key family adults when they became Christians. The story of Cornelius the Roman officer, who summons Peter to explain who Jesus is, illustrates the point. Cornelius and his household were baptised [Acts 10: 47,48].
The Church has been baptising children and infants from the earliest times of the Church.
The baptism of a child is about the parents humbly acknowledging God, affirming their commitment to God to nurture this child and above all recognises the child’s new identity.  Zoe is a Christian child who will one day, pray God, accept the Christ Jesus as her Lord.
What happens in Baptism? Well there is the human response that we have largely been talking about. But let us now turn to the important aspect of God’s action in baptism.
Baptism is about God’s grace – God’s free and undeserved gift of love to us. Listen to the liturgical statement in the early part of the ceremony again.
Baptism is Christ’s gift.
It is the sign by which the Spirit of God
joins people to Jesus Christ
and incorporates them into his body, the Church.
In his own baptism in the Jordan by John,
Jesus identified himself with humanity in its brokenness and sin;
that baptism was completed in his death and resurrection.
By God’s grace, baptism plunges us into the faith of Jesus Christ, so that whatever is his may be called ours.
By water and the Spirit we are claimed as God’s own
and set free from the power of sin and death.
Thus, claimed by God we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit
that we may live as witnesses to Jesus Christ,
share his ministry in the world and grow to maturity,
awaiting with hope the day of our Lord Jesus. 
These are the promises of God expressed in formal liturgical language. This ceremony contains rich promises and refreshing gifts.
We can illustrate the gifts and promises of Baptism by imagining that a very rich Uncle of Zoe’s has handed a million dollar cheque and says that this is for her education and health. Wow, you think, this will be a great help. You’re overjoyed. You invite friends to share in your happiness. You place the cheque in a safe place. The busyness of life comes and you do nothing about the cheque. You don’t deposit it or act upon it. Time drags by and all the excitement of the moment becomes a distant memory. Indeed the benefit of the gift is lost because of your inaction. You recall the moment, the excitement later, and recognise that if you had acted appropriately things could be better, and may have been entirely different.  But you never used the gift. You never deposited it.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC:  19/06/2016