Picture a gathering of students at the campus recreation center swimming pool bearing witness to ten changed lives that God himself entered into. To me, this constitutes a beautiful picture.
Almost two weeks ago I was able to witness friends within my community be baptized and share their story of God’s intervention in their lives. I was impacted by both parts of the evening to say the least. Ten people were baptized that Sunday night. Let me be honest with you, I think that in my past I have often noticed the excitement from Christians when it came to the event of baptism, and thus conformed to those emotions without wondering why. I know, shameful, right? Maybe some of you can relate? Or maybe I am alone in this. Either way, I own such ignorance, but God has not left me there thankfully. I think that God has shed light on the beauty of baptism, and its symbolism for what has happened and what is to come. Baptism signals the coming kingdom as much as it reflects the the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
There is a book I am currently trudging my way through called “Church History in Plain Language” (sounds riveting I know) by Bruce Shelley. In it, Shelley speaks of first century Christianity and in doing so speaks briefly on the topic of baptism. He says:
“It (baptism) marked entrance into a spiritual kingdom already proclaimed, though still to be revealed in its fullness. These first Christians came to believe that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, followed by the coming of Spirit at Pentecost, were divine events. They inaugurated a new age and people could enter life in that spiritual kingdom by faith in Jesus as Lord and witness to that faith by baptism.”
I love this quote because it not only lends solid perspective to the topic of baptism but it does so via first century Christianity. Notice that Shelley clearly defines baptism as a witness to faith in Christ. In the baptisms at h2o church held two weeks ago, the ten men and women testified to their faith in Christ. A public declaration of this faith! They claimed Gods redeeming work in their lives and their experience of God that had brought them to that rec center pool.
The stories that I heard that night humbled me. After hearing them, I was reminded of one of my favorite parts about baptism. These stories reminded me of the reality of the exchanged life. To add to Shelley, I think that faith in Christ often means more for us as believers than we realize. Romans six explains the death and life that we experience when we pur put faith into Christ. A death to sin and a life hidden (Col. 3:3) with Christ. Christ has taken all sin, and all offense towards God on Himself, and gives us his life, undeservingly. He gives us favor with God, and he willingly takes the crushing wrath of God. In baptism we witness this death to life swap, and it is without question something to rejoice over.
Baptism points to Christs’ first coming as much as it does to the second coming of Christ. As Shelley states, “baptism marks entrance into a spiritual kingdom” that we have not yet experienced in full. We have only witnessed the kingdom of God in part here on earth. The mysterious thing about baptism is that it marks changed life here on earth but it also points to the fullness of the kingdom that is to come. Baptism then in this light is like a signpost that symbolizes something that has happened, but we have yet to experience what it points to in full. Baptism doesn’t get us any closer to this end, but it does proclaim to a community of believers one’s transformation, commitment, and love for the one true God.
What baptism stands for and points to is a beautiful and mysterious thing all at the same time.