Summary: This sermon explores baptism in the process of salvation.
Billy Bartholomew was a rather interesting young boy. He had been going to church for a long time. Billy’s dad was a deacon. But Billy considered church to be rather boring. And so he saw it as his calling to spice things up a bit. Especially during baptisms.
Little Billy was with his father on Saturday when he was cleaning the church. In his adventures around the building, Billy noticed that the baptistery was filled—meaning there would be a baptism the next day. And so Billy’s mind turned for a few seconds before he ran to the bulletin board. There, fascened into the corkboard were all sorts of multicolored thumb tacks. Billy proceeded to line them up one by one across the front of the baptistery like an army standing at attention. He then flicked them individually into the water below—each one making a little twisting move as they landed upon the bottom.
The next day as Pastor Peterson descended into the baptistery for the momentous event a peaceful demeanor showed upon his face. That is, until he came down that one final step and met the bottom. “Lord Jesus, have mercy,” he cried. At first, most thought Pastor Peterson was unusually emotional. Ah, church was really fun that day.
Or how about the time Billy’s older sister was to be baptized. Beth Bartholomew was deathly afraid of certain water experiences. She couldn’t stand to swim in a lake for fear of fish swimming by and touching her legs. Her parents convinced her that baptisms don’t have to be done in lakes, that a pool or a baptistery would do just fine and there would be no worry about fish. That is, until Billy just happened to ride his bike down to the local fish store and secure for his pleasure a nice school of goldfish. As Beth entered the water on that special day, her scream could be heard for miles. Some thought she had a change of heart. Those who knew Billy thought otherwise. Oh church was really interesting that day.
Many people identify with the following accounts. There can be almost a hovering fear or curiosity around the subject of baptism for those that weren’t raised in that tradition. What is baptism about and why is it necessary? Some have seen it as just another initiation ritual--like you would see at a fraternity house or a civic club. Some are frightened by it--envisioning the scene as an embarrassing, humiliating experience as hundreds of gawkers watch you at one of your most vulnerable points as you allow someone else to hold you down. Still others find it to be almost a game of chance, like the dunking booths you see at the fair. Throw the ball or give a confession, get dunked, and maybe God will save you that way.
Today we want to dispel some of the myths you may have about baptism while also giving you a clearer picture of how baptism came about and what it means. And one of the best places to start is in Matthew 3, where Jesus himself is baptized by John the Baptist. Turn with me, if you would, to Matthew 3:13-17 as we unlock some of the questions behind what baptism is and what it means for us today. (Read text)
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, `I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.
This is one of the more remarkable passages we have regarding Jesus. Here we are, at the beginning of his ministry. John the Baptist had been faithfully preaching repentance and baptizing people all around the region of Galilee. But something amazing occurs. Something unexpected. Jesus comes to the Jordan river and requests that John baptize him. Why in the world would Jesus request such a thing? Here he is, the son of God, without sin, sent to die for the sins of humanity--why would he of all people need to be baptized? Why would God himself, in the form of his son, seek baptism?
That’s what John wanted to know. John’s eyes must have been popping out of his head. Here’s the one whose sandals John says he’s not fit to carry, and Jesus request him to take the lead and baptize him. John’s answer is what we expect, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”