I’m trying to carefully work through the scriptures to decide for myself where the emphasis should be. I mean, I’ve read too many books and too many blogs and am having trouble sorting all this information out for myself and for my congregation.
It seems as though each week the elders are pushed to go one direction and then another and then yet another. There are too many good ideas, too many wonderful insights, too many directions.
And so, this is for me. I’m figuring this out as I go. In the end, I hope to have figured out what’s most important to Jesus — not what works best, what’s most fashionable, what the members want or feel they need, not even what I want.
I figure it’s just not good enough to do something that’s right. We really need to do what’s most right. And it’s so hard to separate myself from my personal history, my tradition, and my own preferences, and there are so many choices to pick from, that I’m going to go looking for a more-or-less objective path to find center of Christianity.
Well, the center of Christianity is Jesus. I know that. No, I’m looking for an answer to this question: now that I’m saved, what does Jesus expect from me and his church?
And so it only makes sense to start with baptism. I’ll then consider the Lord’s Supper. And then the verses that speak in terms of “gospel.” And then, I pray, some conclusions.
You see, I figure baptism and the Lord’s Supper were given to us as lessons and reminders of what’s most important about Jesus, whatever that may be.
Some may wish to argue about the appropriateness of this use of “gospel.” After all, “gospel” is all about being saved. But the scriptures teach that the gospel has implications beyond our salvation. I’m asking: what is the center, the core of those implications? So grant me a little license here.
We modern-day Christians have a tendency to ask: what does baptism do? The better question is: what does baptism mean?
The Jordan River
John the Baptist and Jesus, via his apostles, both baptized in the Jordan River. But when Jesus’ ministry moved to other parts of the country, he no longer administered baptisms. What was so special about the Jordan?
Well, the Jordan was the passage into the Promised Land.
(Deu 12:10) But you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety.
In fact, Moses wasn’t allowed to cross the Jordan and so never entered to Promised Land. Rather, Joshua was called by God to lead the people there. And remember — in the Hebrew Joshua and Jesus are the same word.
(Josh 1:11) “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your supplies ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you for your own.'”
Therefore, baptism was originally a re-enactment of the culmination of the Exodus. It was there that the Israelites passed through water into their inheritance.
And, of course, the journey from slavery to freedom in the Promised Land was a community journey. Jews could not make the trek on their own. Rather, as part of a community led by God’s leaders and judges, they made the journey together.
John the Baptist baptized for repentance into the forgiveness of sins. He commanded his followers to change their lives —
(Luke 3:10-15) “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely — be content with your pay.” 15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.
Baptism symbolized a change in ethics, of not just elemental morality (niceness) but a willingness to share and to be content with what you have, indeed, less than what you have. You see, baptism has a cost.
(Mat 3:16-17) As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Three things happened when Jesus was baptized — the Spirit descended on him, he was declared God’s Son, and he was declared pleasing to God. And the same three things happen to us when we are baptized.
The Great Commision
(Mark 16:15-16) He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
(Mat 28:19-20) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We are given a commission — a mission — to (1) make disciples, (2) to baptize those we make into disciples, and (3) teach them Jesus’ commandments. And, of course, one of the things that we are commanded is to do 1, 2, and 3!
Therefore, baptism is about the mission of making disciples, of becoming disciples, and learning Jesus’ will.
But a word of caution: don’t read into “disciple” whatever is fashionable to say. I mean, I’m 54 and I can count at least four different meanings it’s had in my lifetime!
“Disciple” means student or follower. The verb Jesus’ uses is matheteuo, meaning to become a student of a particular teacher (think “apprentice” or “follower”). It doesn’t mean “really, really committed follower.” In fact, in this passage, “disciple” refers to someone to be baptized and taught — not the mature. We’re all disciples. But this means we all need teaching.
Hence, baptism includes a commitment to learn from Jesus as well as commitment to teach others about Jesus. And they kind of go together, you know.