The Hasidic Jews tell the story of a newcomer to America who took his pregnant wife to the hospital. In a short while the doctor came to the waiting room and announced to him that his wife had twins. The man was so surprised that he fainted. It was the custom of the man’s native country to name the newborn children immediately. Since he was unconscious, his brother was asked to give names to the babies. When the father woke up he was told that his brother had already named the twins. His reaction was one of shock: “My brother named the kids? My brother is an idiot, a numskull. What did he call the girl?” A friend answered: “He named the girl Denise.” The father looked somewhat relieved and said, “Denise? Well, that’s not such a bad name. I kind of like it. And what did he call the boy?” The friend replied: “He called the boy, ‘De Nephew’.”
When we were baptized we were given a name: Denise, Lisa, Paul, etc. We were all given different names. But we all received one name in common: Christian. We all became a follower of Christ.
Baptism is like a wedding ring: they both symbolize transactions. A wedding ring symbolizes marriage, just as baptism symbolizes salvation. Wearing a wedding ring does not make you married any more than being baptized makes you saved. To extend the parallel, if a person, especially a woman, does not wear a wedding ring you tend to assume the person is not married. If a person is not baptized, you could probably assume that he or she is not a believer. But, like a wedding ring, baptism is such an effective symbol that it should never be taken for granted.
The sign that you are Jewish is circumcision. The sign that you are Christian is that you were baptized.
A minister was seeking to explain the significance of baptism to a new convert. He was gesturing as he talked and noticed that as he was using his hand the shadow fell on the ground. So he said to the convert, “Do you see the shadow of my hand on the sand? Now this is just a shadow. The hand is the real thing. And when you came to Jesus, when you believed in Jesus, that was the real baptism. You were joined to him and what happened to him also happened to you. Jesus was alive, then he died and was buried, and then he rose from the dead. That is what happened to you when you believed in him.” He pointed to the shadow on the sand and said, “When you go down in the water and are raised up again, that is a picture of what has already happened.” Water baptism is a picture, a symbol to teach us what happened to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus.
On the Moscow radio, March 1963, Christian baptism was castigated as a “health menace” and “a senseless and dangerous rite.” In the weekly pro-atheist broadcast, the communist commentator said that “thousands” of babies died of pneumonia following christening ceremonies and that “weak hearts” and “weak lungs” in adults had been traced to baptism in their early years. In an all-out attack upon religious practices, the broadcast had it’s theme “religion’ s threat to health”. Life expectancy in the time of the Czars, it said, was only 32 years because religion was widespread and baptism was administered to almost all Russians. It added that during the communist regime, life expectancy has risen to 69 years, largely because of government health services and the fact that fewer baptisms take place.
A study of Christian archaeology reveals the interesting fact that the shape of classical Christian fonts and baptisteries bears a close resemblance to that of tombs and mausoleums. The womb from which Christians are born is the tomb of sin and death. The source of life with God is Satan’s grave. Dying to self is the price of eternal life. There is a healthy fear we have of going down into the waters of baptism. All human beings are attracted to large bodies of water. However, most of us have a healthy respect for those waters. We know and recognize that all life begins in water, but that water is also a place where we might drown. Christian life is not marked by tame symbols. Our symbols are often violent and troubling because they bear witness to a life which involves death, a receiving marked by giving up one’s very life, a richness born of poverty.
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him….
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.
When Jesus went down in the waters of the Jordan guided by John’s rough hands, he did so in solidarity with sinners. Jesus’ baptism was a demonstration of his obedience to God, a call he would soon be putting in the ear of all who wanted to follow Him. This is the way it goes, Jesus said: “Wash off the old dirt, shake the dust of sin from your feet. God has created a new day and a new way. Come walk with me out of darkness into the light of day.” As a company of sinners went into the water, they fell in line behind Jesus and together walked toward Jerusalem. God looked at them and was very pleased.
To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be filled with one who is already there, in our hearts. Take up a sponge and while it is in your hand squeeze it. In that condition, plunge it in water and submerge it, keeping it in there. It is now in the water and the water is in it. As you hold it in the water, open your hand, and as you do so the water fills all the pores when you release in this way. Is now filled with the water. When we receive Christ we are born anew and put into that sphere where the Holy Spirit is operating and the Holy Spirit comes to reside in us!