About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Baptism Of Obedience  


Take a journey in the imagination of your mind.  There you are, standing along the edge of the Jordan River .  John the Baptist is waist deep in water, baptizing one repentant Israeli after another.  That's why his baptism is known as the baptism of repentance.  You accept his admonition to leave your self directed life he calls sin and under the water you go.  Upon returning to dry land to dry yourself off you're startled by a sudden commotion.  You turn to see that John is visibly angered at the arrival of some religious hypocrites.  The scowl faced Pharisees insist on being baptized, but John stubbornly refuses their request.  "You fail to produce fruit in keeping with repentance," he shouts at them (Matthew 3:8, Luke 3:8).   


Now let your imagination carry you three years down the road.  John is dead.  You're about to learn that his baptism of repentance is only half of the baptismal story.  Jesus fills you in on the other half of the story (Matthew 28:19 and 20).  He tells you and the other disciples to go into the entire world, baptizing and teaching everyone to obey everything He taught.  A revelation strikes you like a heavenly lightning bolt.  John's baptism is associated with repentance.  The baptism Jesus is requesting of you to perform is associated with obedience.  That's a commitment to obey every last thing Jesus ever taught.  "This sounds like serious stuff", you think to yourself.


There has been, and still is, much debate over what constitutes a valid baptism.  Some baptize babies; others don't.  Some immerse; others sprinkle.  Some baptize in a river: others in a baptismal tank.  Some baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; others in the name of Jesus.  Some provide weeks of instruction; others offer little instruction.  Some say water baptism is necessary for salvation; others say it's not.  Some say it's the entrance into the church; others say it isn't.  


Now let your imagination jump ahead to the year 105 A D.  That's about forty years after the Apostles Peter and Paul were executed.  You're a new believer in the third generation of Christians and you want to be baptized in water.  Your friend sits down with you and explains the process.  Many, if not most, Christian communities follow the baptismal instructions as printed in the second century liturgical book of ecclesiastical rules known as the "Didache".  The process seems like a long drawn out affair, but you're willing to forge on.  Much of the second century rules concerning water baptism are documented by Hyppolytus (170 - 235 AD) who actually pointed out the water baptism in the nude was commonplace. 


The first thing you and those who will baptize you do is fast, something that takes a bit of effort on your part.  Once your fast is over, and you take nourishment, you're instructed in Christian living, doctrine, and the meaning of baptism.  It takes a few sessions but the instruction concludes with a time of personal interrogation.  You squirm in your seat when asked if you're living in adultery.  Like most Roman men, you had your affairs, but that was in the past.  You're than asked if you're employed as a soldier, a civil servant, an actor, an artist, a gladiator, a magician, or a manufacturer of metals that could be used in the production of idols.  Knowing that your marital status and employment doesn't disqualify you from being baptized, you're anxious to head over to the river, but you're told; "Not yet.  There's more."     


Over the next number of days you endure a series of exorcisms, the last of which is performed by the local bishop on a day called "Holy Saturday".  You sigh a deep breath.  The last demon apparently has left your body.  The bishop then seals your forehead, ears, and nose, with the sign of the cross.     


Finally, you're standing at the edge of the river.  As instructed, you take off all of your clothes.  In front of everyone, you sheepishly strip yourself naked, as do others who are being baptized with you.  You ask yourself; "Where are Adam and Eve's fig leaves when you really need them."  Of course, fig leaves would defeat part of the purpose of baptism.  It's seen as a spiritual bath.  So you take a quick glance around to see the other naked bodies and conclude that it's okay.  "We're all in the same naked baptismal boat", you think.  You just wonder why one has to be physically naked to take a spiritual bath.      


Finally, it's your turn.  You wade out into the deep.  You're anointed with the oil of exorcism.  You denounce the devil, affirm your faith, and then you're shoved under the water, not one time but three times; once for the Father, once for the Son, and once for the Holy Spirit.  Upon rising from the water you're anointed with the oil of thanksgiving, after which you head off to the local bishop once again to be anointed with oil one last time.  On the way over you consider manufacturing and bottling your own oil.  "I could make a small fortune selling oil to the church," you say to yourself.  Once the bishop seals you with the sign of the cross, you become an official member of the church.  You can now participate in congregational activities such as the holy kiss and communion, because water baptism is also seen as the entrance into the church.  A few holy kisses would surely be appreciated at this point. 


Now beam yourself forward to today's Christian reality.  You're glad that you don't have to expose every hill, valley, and crevice, of your naked body while standing with other naked believers in a baptismal line.  That being said, you're still confused over the various views and practices of baptism.  There is, however, one thing you are sure of.  Turning from your self directed life the Bible calls sin and genuinely affirming your commitment to obey every last thing Jesus ever taught forms the foundation to water baptism.  Yes, baptism is a matter of repentance, but it's also a matter of obedience, a word that is fast fading from our Evangelical vocabulary.  

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