Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Declaring Jesus as Lord through baptism – part of our response to the call to become disciples
Then Jesus came to them and said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
In Matthew’s account, Jesus’ last words to His first disciples instruct them to find others and turn them into disciples of Jesus, baptised in His Name and taught to do what Jesus had shown them to do. The word “obey” is correctly translated but at first it makes us think of obedience to a rule of life. The medieval religion which became a caricature of Christianity casts a long shadow, especially as most of us have had to some degree a taste of ‘religious upbringing’. Don’t go there. Rather, think in terms of the title of the recent book by Robby Dawkins Do What Jesus Did – a higher aim but infinitely more rewarding! (Robby was a highly memorable main speaker at this year’s New Wine Central South and West.)
According to Jesus, water baptism is an essential part of following Him. It is a commitment to God, but also a declaration to you and those around you of your belonging to Christ and stepping up to your new identity in Him. Both the commitment and the belonging are powerful statements of Jesus’ lordship. This is not unlike something we witness in every wedding ceremony, which is also about the public declaration of commitment and belonging and (whether you change your name or not) your new identity as a married person.
Declaration: “You are mine…”
Baptism in the Bible has little in common with religious christening, although to be fair, some declarations are made on behalf of the child and it is supposed to be followed up later by the candidate when they are older. However, because baptism is about you making a choice and you saying that Jesus is Lord of your life – an infant cannot do that – it is not a ‘re-baptism’ as some critics maintain.
As well as you declaring Jesus’ lordship over your life, it is God’s way of declaring to you in a memorable way: “You are mine – cleansed and forgiven. I love you! You belong to My family.”
There is a family sense in the words used, baptising you “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” which declare your new identity in Christ.
Why wait to be baptised?
Once you believe in Christ and turn to Him, there is no reason to wait to confess Him as your Lord through the witness of baptism. As churches, we can complicate it with the need for some teaching and preparation (good) and linking baptism with church membership (also good) but in essence it is part of your decision – the more public part.
How did the people in these passages qualify for baptism?
Those who accepted the message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said: “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptised?” Philip said: “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The eunuch answered: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptised him.
In Scripture, there is never an example of people delaying baptism. Probably the only good reason to delay baptism might be for children and teenagers to be able to discuss it at home – the Bible says we are to honour our parents.
It is always a contested decision
Baptism is one of the most powerful spiritual declarations you will make, an act of warfare in which you put on the uniform of Jesus as one who belongs to Him. So expect some opposition along the way – and consider what a decision it is for those whose family backgrounds are in another faith! Don’t let any of this deter you or delay you from publicly declaring a life-changing decision.
Similarly, those who have been Christians for some time may have to battle this out in their thought life. Why do I need to do this? Listen to others who came later to that point of faith and their reasons for going forward – and the spiritual growth that they were released into as a result. Then, obey what Jesus said to do!