Growing up, I wasn’t just the son of a preacher man, I was the son of a Baptist preacher man, so baptism is a subject that is close to my experience and history. My father baptised me when I was a little boy after I had invited Jesus into my life, and even though I was small, I still remember the sense of something so powerful happening as I went under the water and then was lifted back up, dripping wet, with the sounds of an old hymn ringing through the church.
Over the 40 plus years that have followed that moment, I’ve been blessed to be at all sorts of baptism services in places scattered around the world. I’ve baptised people in paddling pools, rivers, lakes and oceans… sometimes with large crowds and sometimes with just two or three believers who gathered for the moment. Once, I hiked high up into the mountains in Nepal with a group of believers so we could baptise some new Christians in a secret place as it was illegal at the time for them to follow Jesus.
Whether it was in a baptismal pool at the front of a church or in a wild secluded river, I’ve always been struck by just how sacred and important the sacrament of baptism is. For the earliest followers of Jesus, their baptism was often the final step in their discipleship process, sealing their choice to follow Jesus for the rest of their lives. As this was often a life and death decision in those times of persecution, the act of baptism had profound significance for them and signalled that they had left their old life behind forever, entering into a new future with Jesus at the centre.
Though we aren’t persecuted here in Northern Ireland, the act of baptism is no less sacred or important for us. It’s a key moment in any believer’s life and it’s also a chance for us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus who was also baptised as His ministry here on earth began.
Baptism is stepping into a changed life. It’s more than just a symbol or a tradition… It’s a physical act, embracing the end of our old lives and the death of Jesus for our sins, and then rising out of the water to enter into our new lives, embracing the resurrection life of Jesus. Baptism is a public statement that we join in the death and the resurrection of Jesus and that nothing in our lives will ever be the same again.
Baptism is stepping into a new Kingdom life. When we step into the water we enter into a sacred and powerful moment where we trade our old life for a new life as a carrier of the Kingdom of God. We go down to the water as one person, but we rise back up as daughters and sons of the King of Kings. We enter the water to embrace our new identity, transformed by the wondrous love of Jesus.
As Paul wrote in Romans 6:3-5:
That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.
Baptism is a sign that we’ve entered that ‘new grace-sovereign country’ and that we’re headed for hope, marked by love and carrying a new identity of Jesus all over our lives.
Baptism is primarily for new believers, but we also welcome those who may have followed Jesus for many years, but never got an opportunity to be baptised. For some, you may have been baptised as an infant or a child, but perhaps you would now like to step into the water with a fuller understanding of what this moment means, and we would welcome you to the water as well. It’s a sacred symbol and action of our life’s commitment to Jesus, so it’s for all believers in Jesus Christ.
Whatever brings you down to that sacred moment, we’ll join with you as believers in Jesus have for more than 2000 years, celebrating your new life with you as you rise up out of that water with hope and new life. Baptism is a moment to mark the new story that Jesus is writing over all of our lives, and we welcome you down to the water.