“By this action [i.e., baptism] you died and you were born, and for you the saving water was at once a grave and the womb of a mother.” – Cyril of Jerusalem, 4th c.
It is far more than a symbol. It might even be said it’s more than a sacrament (an outward sign of of an inward grace). Col 2:11-13 tells us what it accomplishes: our final and complete circumcision from Adam.
It’s divine work, not human. It’s the Red Sea for me with Pharaoh’s thundering hoofbeats silenced in the chaos of the closing waters. A parting (separation) for me, but disastrous for the evil empire.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Some might think them gruesome. I find them fascinating.
Plaster artists called in to cast a three-dimensional representation of an historic figure, sometimes within hours of their deaths. Such are considered treasures and icons.
See if you can guess who these masks belong to:
I, too, have my own death forever memorialized in the murky depths of my baptismal waters. Old Scott lies entombed there at the bottom of that fiberglass tub some forty years now. He’s there, cast in rictus. Stone-cold dead.
Yet I, new man in Christ, am alive forevermore!
Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
On a Sunday afternoon in early 1974, I met Jesus as my Passover Meal and Blood-Covering from the Death Angel (see Exodus 12). On that January afternoon, I passed from death to life, was born anew (please note how I characterize that) and scribed into the Book of Life in the archives of glory.
But there was further divine work that needed to be done. I had an old identity that needed to be put to rest and required my standing in my own Red Sea to separate me from Egypt, its power and appetites. So long as I remained “in Egypt” I’d be its slave.
That was never an option.
So the very next Sunday I followed a line of new followers of Jesus into a comfortably heated pool of water above and behind the church choir loft. As an organ softly intoned hymns, I stepped down the slippery steps into that pool in my kid-gown, guided by the sure hand of my pastor. As instructed, I lifted a dry kerchief to my mouth while holding my wrist with the other hand. The pastor said some words, asked a couple questions, then laid me backwards, very corpse-like, into the water.
Underwater, he was saying other words which were too muffled in my waterlogged ears, but as he pulled my stiff arm upward, my body broke through to the surface and I heard – ever so clearly:
“…Raised to walk in newness of life!”
A whole new man!
I didn’t know then how significant that act was, but I know now.
Since Christ came to fulfill the Law rather than abolish it (big difference there!) that tells me I can look back into the old scriptures and find pictures and shadows and types that all point to our New Covenant salvation. Paul told us we’d better do it or we’d miss the fullness of so great salvation entirely (1 Corinthians 10:11).
John 5:46 – “If you really believed Moses, you would believe Me, because he wrote about Me.”
Jesus said that.
What on earth did He mean? Simply, everything Moses wrote points to Jesus – and we can bank on it.
He also said:
Matthew 11:13 – “For before John came, all the prophets and the law of Moses looked forward to this present time.”
One of those laws that pointed to Christ’s fulfilling work was a little thing called circumcision. Newborn baby boys were to be circumcised on the 8th day, right? It certainly interested me to find out the child was not recognized as an official part of the Jewish community for those first days of his life.
He was born, yes. There was life, yes.
But if his parents didn’t get his little pee-pee circumcised, he’d never have his identity with God’s people. Worse, he’d be an outcast. But along with the snip of the foreskin came his naming on that day.
Our baptism is very much like a circumcision.
Ever wonder why the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians” among the Gentiles at Antioch (Acts 11:26)? I’m fairly certain it was because they were baptized into the name of Christ. Their baptism was their naming!
“You are no longer _______, you are now Mine, beloved by Me, forever in My family. I am now your Father. You are free from your past affiliation.”
Just so, baptism is a renunciation. Having received the favored status as child of God, the confessor renounces and repudiates anything or anyone who says otherwise, including the devil and his demons.
I read that in the earliest church traditions, the convert would stand naked in the pool (men and women separate) and would take the name of Christ after first renouncing all ties and allegiances to their old life. Some even spat in the face of evil before going under the waters.
No wonder satan hates baptism and all it does and shows!
Consider persecution in dangerous places. Oftentimes it is not until a seeker becomes a full-fledged baptized proselyte of Christianity that the hell-hounds are set upon them. So long as they show only curiosity but no more, they are relatively safe. Enter the pool of baptism – renouncing all affiliation to their lifelong religion – and they are marked for excommunication and death.
Baptism speaks of newness of life, yes, but only after the old man is “cut off” (circumcised). Paul drew from this same image when referring to our water baptism:
Colossians 2:11,12 – “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
Is baptism a necessary part of my new life in Christ? You better believe it is! Although I don’t subscribe to baptismal regeneration, I do hold to the conviction that believer’s baptism is effectual, not ritual. A divine work is perpetrated in those sacred waters.
“In baptism, the recipient is just that – a recipient. It is done to you, for you.”
– Will Willimon
Every convert mentioned in Acts was immediately baptized. Why? As a symbol or picture? Hardly. They knew something the modern evangelical church has lost: they knew that a wet Adam is still Adam any way you slice it. And the First Adam is not a candidate for eternal life and never will be.
So he’s gotta go.
Romans 6:6 – “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”
He must be interred in Christ’s tomb – and stay put. Buried in baptism…
…In order that a whole new Christian can break through the surface of his or her Red Sea and “walk in newness of life”!
Do you have a death mask?
Can you point to your grave?
Are you a baptized believer?
Next time you hear someone say “baptism is only a symbol” or try to unload some tripe about it being optional, you simply remind them it’s a life-and-death matter. Tell them it’s the difference between remaining a slave in Egypt or living as a son in the Kingdom.
B: Ludwig Von Beethoven
C: Sir Isaac Newton
D: Benjamin Franklin