Why is baptism so important to Christians? The main reasoning is because Jesus modeled it and Jesus commanded it. Jesus, while not needing baptism, was baptized to identify Himself with the people He came to save. Sinful people had been baptized in that water through a symbolic washing away of sins. Sinless Jesus was baptized in order to plunge Himself among the people’s sins.
The people were baptized to wash away their filth, yet Jesus was baptized to cover Himself with their filth.
In addition to Jesus modeling baptism, He commanded it (Matt. 28:18-20). The Great Commission highlights the importance of baptizing people as a part of their own discipleship. It shows a commitment to God their Father and their brothers and sisters in Christ as part of the family of God through the expression of a local church.
The Symbol of Baptism
But, is there more to the story? What symbolically is happening at baptism? While John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4), what does the symbol mean?
If Mark highlights that people were being baptized to wash their sins away symbolically, then why did Jesus plunge under these waters as well?
Jesus’ obedience through baptism showed His power for salvation through the chaotic waters.
Follow this biblical thread regarding the waters.
Separating the Waters for Salvation
At the very beginning, nothingness is described as the great expanse of ominous waters (Gen. 1:2). The Spirit is pictured as fluttering over it – almost like a bird. Before Creation, all is formless and empty. The first 3 days of Creation has God doing something very unique:
- Separating light from darkness
- Separating water below from water above
- Separating water from water to create land
God pushes back the waters so that Man can live upon God’s Creation.
After separating the waters for Mankind, Adam and Eve rebel against God and sin enters the world. Sin is so rampant that God must punish Mankind for their rebellion. Out of all the instruments of wrath at His disposal, what does God use? Water. Lots of water. So much that it covers up Creation and appears to be actually reversing Creation by piling the water back up on that which was separated to secure life. Only Noah, his family, and animal representatives make it onto an ark for safety.
After the windows of heaven were opened (Gen. 7:11), it rains for 40 days and 40 nights. But eventually, “God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided” (Gen. 8:1). God separates the waters again. As proof that the people are saved from a watery grave, God uses a dove to send the message (Gen. 8:11). The dove’s proof of dry ground tells the people God isn’t angry and they have been saved.
God makes a people. They grow into a nation. They become enslaved and need salvation again. God rescues them from a horrible ruler so He can be their ruler. But then all of a sudden, they are trapped and cornered at the Red Sea. Their former master is coming after them and their end will be at the bottom of the waters.
But that’s not the end, is it? God separates the waters yet again when Moses stretches out his hand and God sends a strong east wind to part their watery grave (Ex. 14:21).
After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the people of God have finally come to the Promised Land. Yet after suffering through slavery and sin, they have another obstacle in front of them – the Jordan River. So the priests held up the Ark of the Covenant (which represented the presence of God among the people of God and was the place of the mercy seat where God would forgive the people for their sins by the sacrifice of another) and approached the Jordan River where the waters went back on each side almost as if someone was being plunged up through it (Josh. 3:17).
The waters were never seen as place of security for these Jewish people. They feared the waters. They viewed death as the waters covering over a person. The prophet Jonah said it well when he stated, “For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me…the waters closed in over me to take my life…yet You brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God (Jonah 2:3-6). Eventually he emerged from his watery grave as the waters were separated for him once more.
Then comes Jesus.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” -Mark 1:9-11
Are you starting to see it?
All of these Old Testament pictures were revealing that our sins put us under a watery grave but God separates the waters for us to have life again in Him. Just like baptism. As we go down and identify with the death of Jesus and how our sins caused spiritual death (Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:1). Baptism represents death and new life (Rom. 6:4).
Even in the final pages of the Scriptures, God is assuring us that the fear of death is removed to those who are brought to life by Jesus. Describing the new heaven and the new earth, one description of the locale is especially intriguing – “the sea was no more” (Rev. 21:1). For in heaven, there is no chance for us to live in fear of death or punishment for our sins.
When Jesus was baptized into the Jordan River, He emerged with our sins upon Him. He went to the cross that we deserved. He came back to life forever defeating sin, death, and the devil. The dove reminds us – we can come out to play again. There is dry ground outside this ark of wood that took the wrath of God so we could go free.
Baptism is a beautiful symbol. God has separated the waters for our salvation and there is nothing but solid ground beneath our feet.
[This content is further explained in the sermon, “Make Your Father Proud.”]