by Pastor Gary R. Hindman
(Voice by Pastor Ron Beckham)
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him” (Matthew 3:13)
Our house in Phoenix, Arizona had a pool - a nice escape from the desert heat but a bit of a headache because our children were very young and neither was a swimmer. One day I turned my back from Christa for just a few seconds and she fell into the pool. Being a toddler she instinctively held her breath until I could rescue her! It was a scary experience and I feared it would make her afraid of the water but, fortunately, it didn't and in time she became a good swimmer.
There was another family with a back-yard pool and several children who were bobbing in the pool with life-jackets and having a great time... all except one little boy who was frightened and cold. He stayed at the side, never letting go of the pool's edge. Upset that he was not having any fun, he asked his mother why he couldn't do what the other kids do. His mother said that he was afraid of the water but as he got used to it, he would lose his fear. "The other kids aren't doing anything," she said, "they're just letting the water hold them up." With that wise observation the boy was much relieved and within a couple of days he was throwing himself into the water, head first!
When it comes to baptism a lot of people have "hydrophobia." We are afraid of the water - afraid of the water of baptism and what it means in terms of commitment. Today I want to talk about baptism - what it is and what it says about us. First, baptism makes a statement about what we believe - it is an outward sign of an inner change.
Years ago there was a terrible fire which devastated the sanctuary of a church. The Assistant Fire-Chief was walking through the building inspecting damage to the ceiling and looking up when he tripped over something and fell into the church's pool-sized baptistery which, ironically, was filled with water from the fire hoses. Pulling himself out of the water and muttering to himself as he stepped back into the street he happened to spot the Department Fire Chaplain. "What church is this?" he asked. The chaplain answered him and still soaked from his plunge into the baptistery, the hapless fireman said, "Well, it looks like I'm one of them now!" Forgive the pun but it takes more than a plunge into water to make us Christians. When we are baptized we stand up for what we believe, confess our faith in Christ and declare our trust in him.
There is only one way to Christ, but there are many ways to the one way which is often declared in baptism. Take the story of Dan. He grew up in the church but left as an adult. Years later he felt a gentle tug that he began to realize was the Spirit of the Living God. One day he was at the New England Aquarium gazing at the brilliant colors of the many tropical fish. He saw as he looked on the beauty and multiplicity of the fish that they were a result of the genius of God. "How could anyone think these were a result of accident!" he said. Yet just a few years earlier, he might have scoffed at such thoughts. Dan thinks his experience at the aquarium was the beginning of a long, gentle conversion. No voice screamed in his ears. No bolt of lightning struck him - just a gentle nudging as he witnessed the miracles of God. But the nudging turned him in God’s direction. He would find a whole new identity and a new set of beliefs and in time, what had happened to him inwardly he expressed outwardly by being baptized and joining the church.
Baptism says something about who we are as children of God. One of the most inspirational, unforgettable Christians I have known is a woman named Cheryl. Her mother, Mabel, gave birth to her after a long, exhausting struggle that left Cheryl with severe neurological damage. The muscular spasms and uncontrolled shaking make it a miracle that she ever learned to walk or talk - let alone get through grade school, high school and on to college.
There was a time in Cheryl's life when she wanted to give up. One can hardly blame her considering how hard it was just to exist. But in the midst of her depression she rediscovered that she is a beloved child of God. After that the central thing that kept her focus was her daily walk with Jesus Christ. One summer several from our church attended an event and she accidently wandered into our room looking for another class. Because we saw each other and greeted each other, people began to ask about her after she left the room. I could tell by the tone that people who should know better assumed she was not very smart so I set the record straight by simply telling the truth: "Cheryl is the best Bible scholar in my church, far more knowledgeable than me, and what's more, she is probably the most devout Christian I know."
It would take Cheryl several hours to write just one page on her typewriter so it was a wonderful privilege one Christmas when she sent us a personally written 4-page letter of her life and witness to the faith. It was wonderful to read words she submitted to devotional magazines and that she was active in her church! Cheryl was a wonderful child of God who went to be with the Lord a few years ago but her memory lives on and she was a witness to "Whose" she was!
Baptism says something about what we believe; it says something about who we are, and finally, baptism says something about what we are to do.Some people have "hydrophobia" because they think confessing their faith and being baptized will bring obligations. It's true - if you take it seriously it will obligate you. But what many do not realize is that the obligation to follow Christ is not a burden but a wonderful, exciting opportunity.
My first adult baptism was a man named Vernon. Vern spent his life as a dry-land farmer in central Nebraska. When I met him he had just moved into town and was actively retired. He was a plain, simple man with little education except in the school of living and it was considerable. He was more at home on a horse than in a car. He was honest and when he said he loved Jesus Christ and wanted to be baptized he really meant it. Vern was not long on words but he lived his baptism by always helping around the church. He painted and fixed leaky faucets and made the landscape look great and if you asked him he would say he loved every minute of the time he gave.
Certainly one response to baptism is repenting of unchristian ways and living as a forgiven person. Jesus came also to be baptized, but not to be forgiven. He had a deeper reason to be baptized - one valid for us, too. He was baptized as an act of obedience to God the Father. Obedience can take a lot of forms. Whenever we are doing the will of God we are being obedient. Being loving, patient, kind and just, as Jesus was, is being obedient, too.
A few years ago the Ontario, California "Daily Bulletin" reported about a man on drugs who shot and killed his wife and 14-year-old daughter. Four other children were in the room at the time but they were not harmed - at least not physically. What did not appear in the paper is that a county social worker placed all four children in the Shelter Care Home of our church. They placed them with our church’s facility because they knew that they would get food, shelter and tender care from a devoted Christian woman named Shirley and a special Christian organization of which I was a part for many years. Quietly serving others is another way of living our commitment to Christ.
We can't afford to be "afraid of the water." There's too much to do, too many that need our love, our support. Don't be afraid of claiming and living the Jesus life. Don't be afraid because that is where the excitement is! I say to you, "Come on in! The water is fine!" Amen!
LET US PRAY: Lord, bless us by the waters of baptism, to show in outward ways the desire we have to obey your loving will, as Jesus did and in Jesus' Name! Amen.