It’s been awhile since I’ve seen one, but in the days of my youth it was not uncommon to see behind the pulpit a baptistry with a painted scene of the Jordan River. I had no need of such a scene. I was baptized in a real river. The Yamhill River at Camp Yamhill’s Inspiration Point. And the water was cold. And I liked it!
But if you had to do an indoor baptism, I could see the appeal of pretending that the water was living water. And what better river to be baptized in than the one in which Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.
In our imaginations, we have always connected our baptism to Jesus’. Which, when you think of it is kind of odd. The words spoken over me at baptism were, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I now baptize you for the forgiveness of sins that you might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” These words hardly apply to Jesus, the one without sin. My baptism is not like Jesus’ baptism.
Well, even though he didn’t need it, I was told, Jesus submitted to it to provide an example for us. If it was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for me.
The upshot of all of this is that Pentecost and Peter’s call to “repent and be baptized” became the paradigmatic scene for me and many like me. Or, the language of Romans 6. Lydia, Cornelius, or the Philippian jailer were my predecessors, not Jesus. So, why the Jordan River scenes?
I’ve been looking again at the various accounts of the baptism of Jesus in the gospels, and I am convinced that Jesus was baptized for the same reasons we should be. I’m also convinced that Jesus’ baptism is more than just an example. I’m convinced as well that even though he was sinless and I’m not, his baptism should be the model for my own. And I’m convinced that Acts 2 and Romans 6 should be read in light of that baptism and not the other way around.
So, for that to be the case, two things have to happen. We have to understand Jesus’ baptism differently. And we have to understand our own in new and fresh ways as well.
So, here’s the big point I want to make which I will support in subsequent posts. Jesus was baptized to demonstrate his solidarity with the coming Kingdom of God. Not only that, but his baptism was a demonstration of the nature of that coming kingdom. These are the same reasons we are baptized.
What about forgiveness of sins? Forgiveness of sins is part and parcel of the new age, of the coming Kingdom. Of course it would be associated with an act like baptism. But as we’ll see, this is less about the forgiveness of individual sinners and more about establishing the conditions necessary for the restoration of all things.
Clearly, this view of things will challenge the predominant way the gospel has been understood the past few hundred years. But take a deep breath. What I hope to demonstrate will not throw out what you currently believe about salvation or baptism, but enlarge it and put it more squarely within the overall scope of the biblical narratives. I promise, you won’t feel the need to be re-baptized as a result of these posts (if you do, I’d suggest that the problem is on your end).
And I think we’re on better theological footing when we model our participation in faith on Jesus rather than Cornelius or Lydia. Maybe we will see a rebirth of Jordan River scenes in our new church buildings.