Summary: We often don't give baptism the importance we should. We look at why baptism is important.
5 Is Baptism important?
Mark's gospel starts with John the Baptist baptising and then goes straight onto Jesus being baptised. So, it’s natural to talk about baptism!
Baptism is a somewhat controversial subject as different churches and denominations hold different views on baptism. It’s also a big subject. I couldn’t possibly cover all the things that one might want to say about it. So, I’m going to try to answer just a few concrete questions:
Is baptism important?
Why are we baptized?
What happens when we’re baptized?
What do we do about it?
We’ll get some of the answers from our passage in Mark, but we will also go a little further afield...
1. Is baptism important – generally?
Our passage in Mark gives us two reasons to believe that baptism is important.
We find the first in verse 9. Mark tells us: ‘In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.’
Jesus was baptised. If Jesus was baptised then it strongly suggests that baptism is important!
But let’s be careful in our argument. Something may be important for one person but not needed by someone else. Let’s imagine my brother has high blood pressure, and the doctor prescribes a beta-blocker. But I don’t have high blood pressure. I’m different to my brother. Just because my brother takes a beta-blocker doesn’t mean that I have to. Just because Jesus was baptised doesn’t mean that I need to. That’s logical.
And it is true that Jesus is different from me. He was without sin. John proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus has nothing to repent of, nothing he needed to ask forgiveness for. He doesn’t need to be baptised – and yet, he is!
It doesn’t seem to make sense! Matthew records that John the Baptist had much the same thought. He told Jesus, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ Jesus answered, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.’
If baptism is a sign of repentance, and there was nothing for Jesus to repent of, why did he go forward? Our passage in Mark doesn’t tell us the answer to that.
Perhaps part of the answer is that Christian repentance isn’t just about being sorry for sins and turning AWAY from them. Christian repentance is also about turning TO God, committing oneself to following God wherever he leads – even through death. Baptism is a picture of death and resurrection.
So, baptism was an absolutely fitting start to Jesus’ ministry. True, he had nothing to ask forgiveness for. But he certainly could publicly declare his submission to God’s purposes – which he knew would include death.
As I said, Mark doesn’t give us the answer to why Jesus was baptised. But if baptism was important for Jesus, it’s hard to imagine that it is not all the more important for us.
The second reason for thinking that baptism must be important comes from the very fact that Mark starts his gospel with such a strong emphasis on baptism. If we look to the end of Mark’s gospel, we find that he also finishes with a powerful statement about baptism. Please look at Mark 16:16 and you’ll see what I mean. So, Mark starts and finishes with strong references to baptism. The prominence Mark gives to this theme strongly suggests that it is important.
‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
Jesus gave his disciples four instructions: ‘Go’, ‘Make disciples’, ‘Baptize’, and ‘Teach’. Most of us agree that going, making disciples, and teaching are very important. But many of us don’t think that baptism is very important. But if baptism is grouped with these other very important things it must be important. And if it’s part of Jesus’ final instructions to his disciples it must be important.
At this point we can wriggle. We can say, ‘We aren’t saved by baptism; we are saved by faith’. We can point to the thief on the cross. He was never baptised, and yet Jesus told him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ But he couldn’t be baptised. Most of us can be. If we’re elderly and genuinely too frail to go down into a pool, a variant can be organized - it’s called ‘baptism by affusion’. But Jesus expects us make that clear statement of commitment that the act of baptism is. He went to the cross for us. We can indicate our commitment to him by going down into some water.