When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He went to John the Baptist by the Jordan River. John had been preaching a “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Crowds had come to express their regret about moral failures, to receive a sense that they had been forgiven and to commit to following God. John told them about One who was coming who would baptize them, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit. And now here He stood before John, insisting that John baptize Him.
At the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus commanded His disciples to go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Acts records example after example of new believers repenting and being baptized, from the 3,000 baptized on the Day of Pentecost, to the Ethiopian eunuch, to the Philippian jailer and his family, to the believers at Ephesus in Acts 19.
Jesus clearly considered it to be important, it was a regular practice of the early church, and believers today continue the legacy. What is baptism, and why has the church practiced it for 2000 years?
First, it’s an important step of obedience to God. Jesus instructed believers to baptize, and Peter on the day of Pentecost declared the promise to those who would believe and be baptized: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sinse; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Next, it’s a picture and reminder of what happened when we gave our lives to Christ. We are allowed by baptism the physical picutre of ourselves being lowered into the grave with Christ, then being raised out of death with Him to new life. Infinite meditations may flow from this picture that will strengthen and encourage the baptized believer!
Finally, it is a reminder of our unity with all believers, in every place and throughout all time. “By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:13) So right now, little old Pentecostal me has brothers and sisters in every nation on earth, and in every denomination that names Jesus as Lord. I am one with a grandmother in an AME church, and with a coptic believer in Egypt, and a persecuted pastor in China, and an Iranian girl who worships Jesus at great risk to her life.
May the Lord continue to build His church in our day, and may believers receive renewed strength and encouragement through baptism.