This is a very special day for you. Today, you will be baptized. As you think about baptism, I wanted to share with you a little of its heart. So, I’ve written you this letter.
It’s hard to know how to start, so I’ll just cut right to it: Baptism is art. More specifically, baptism is dramatic art. In your baptism, we are going to re-enact a drama involving a bad guy, a victim and a hero. This way of thinking about baptism (as a drama) goes all the way back to many centuries before Christ lived. Baptism was foretold in a dramatic conflict called the Exodus. You’re familiar with that story, but let’s retell it to think of it through the lens of your baptism.
What happened in the Exodus story? First, there was a group of people loved by God, set apart by Him to know Him and to follow Him. These were the Israelites. One day, the Israelites decided to move from Israel to live in Egypt, thinking it would be a place where they would be taken care of. But Egypt ended up being a place of oppression for the Israelites, because the Egyptians eventually pressed the Israelites into slavery. The Israelites were forced to build things for the Egyptians that were made out of mud bricks. God saw the slavery of the Israelites and didn't like it, of course. So, God raised up a person named Moses to liberate the Israelites. Moses went to the king of Egypt with God's message: "Let my people go." But the king of Egypt wanted to keep the Israelites in slavery. So, a conflict arose and it climaxed in two key events.
The first climactic event was the Passover. To help the Israelites go free, the Egyptians were given a terrible (yet just) punishment by God: the death of every firstborn male in Egypt. Now, in order to save the Israelites from the punishing angel of death, God asked them to kill a perfect lamb and spread its blood on the doorposts of their houses. They did this so that the angel would know that that house contained people that followed God, so the angel would "pass over" that house. After that terrible night, the king of Egypt let the Israelites go.
But that wasn't the end of the story. The second climactic event happened right after the Passover. The Israelites left Egypt and headed towards their homeland. On the way, however, they came to the Red Sea. The Israelites were wondering how they were going to get around the sea, when the king of Egypt gathered his army to attack. The Israelites had nowhere to go. They had their backs to the sea. So, God parted the waters of the sea and the Israelites walked across to the other side. As they literally passed through the waters, they were saved. But the enemy came after the Israelites, following them through the parted waters. However, when the Egyptian army was in the middle of the seabed, the waters closed in on them, defeating them in a final, victorious triumph. The bad guys were vanquished.
Now, baptism is cool because it's a dramatic retelling of this original drama in the Exodus and of another drama: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this way, baptism is like a play within a play within a play.
First, there are the chosen people. Like the Israelites in the Exodus, the Bible tells us that all of us are singled out by God to know Him, love Him and follow Him. The Bible refers to this as "living in His kingdom." That means: living under His rule, authority, care and love. Think of this as "living in God's country."
But something has happened that gets in the way of that. First of all, like the Israelites, we all decide to live in another place that has another king. We move away from God's country. We move away from His rule, authority, care and love. Most of us do this because we think the other country looks like a good place to live (just like the Israelites did when they, by their own free choice, first moved to Egypt). We think, like the Israelites, that by going to this other country, we will have our needs met. So, we too, freely choose to do this. This choice to move from one country to another is what the Bible describes as choosing to sin. Sin is our way of saying to God, "I want to live life my own way. I don't want to follow your rule in my life." The sad thing is: we've all sinned. We've all moved from God's country (where He rules) to another country. And at first, moving to this other country feels fine.
But the ruler of that new country turns out to be not as nice as the ruler of the other country we were living in. In this case the ruler of the new country is not called the king of Egypt, but rather Satan. Like the king of Egypt, Satan is nice at first but really mean later on. In fact, he is a liar, a slave driver, and a murderer (just like the king of Egypt--only 27 trillion times worse!). And, just as the Israelites eventually had no choice but to keep doing stuff for the ruler of Egypt, so we, under the rule of Satan, are destined to keep performing works for him. This is ironic, because at first we chose to move from God's country by our own free will, but later on, like the Israelites, we no longer have a choice. We have to keep doing what our new king wants us to do. We truly are in slavery. We keep on sinning and sinning and sinning because we have to. What we don't realize is, it is killing us and Satan is slowly killing us.
Now: the part I like the best is where the hero comes in. God, the king in whose land we should be living, loves us so much that he sent us a special representative to help us. To the Israelites he sent Moses. To us, he sent Jesus. Jesus was different from Moses in one crucial way: Jesus was God himself who became man. Moses, on the other hand, was just a man. Now, it makes sense that God raised up Moses (a mere man), because Moses' enemy was a mere man himself. You send a man to do battle with a man. But, the real enemy in our case (Satan) is not a man, but a spirit. So, it takes God to do the work. That's why God became a man in Jesus Christ: Because it was mankind that needed to be saved, but only God had the ability to save and set us free from Satan's tyrannical grip.
So, in the same way that God sent Moses to set the Israelites free from slavery, death and the king of Egypt, so God sends Jesus to set us free from sin, death, and the devil. In setting us free from sin, Jesus tells us "You don't have to keep doing the works of the devil." Just as God wanted the Israelites to stop making bricks for the king of Egypt, so God wants us to stop doing things that contribute to the well-being of the hateful kingdom of Satan. God wants us to stop sinning, in other words. At first, it may seem like this is unreasonable, but what is He doing essentially? He's asking us to stop doing stuff that kills us. When God wanted the Israelites to stop making bricks it wasn't because he wanted to spoil their fun, it was because he wanted them to enjoy life and be set free.
So, Johanna, later in the baptism drama you are going to not only renounce Satan, you are also going to renounce his works. By renouncing Satan's works you are saying, "I want to stop sinning. I want to stop making bricks for Satan's kingdom of death."
But our personal choice to renounce slavery to sin and the devil only goes so far. Yes, the Israelites did need to make a choice to leave behind slavery, but it took a special act of God to make it possible for the Israelites to actually do that. They couldn't just walk out of the country because they wanted to (the king of Egypt would have stopped them)! In the same way, you can't just walk out of slavery to sin and the devil because you want to. For starters, you don't really have the power to do that yourself. If you tried, Satan, the evil ruler, would stop you from doing it. Freedom from slavery to sin and the devil ain't something you can achieve on your own. You need help from God. You need a miracle.
In the case of the Israelites, that miracle was the Passover. That's when the evil kingdom was punished by a miracle of God and the Israelites were spared by spreading the blood of a perfect lamb on the doorposts of their houses. If it weren't for that miracle, the Israelites would never even have been able to go free, regardless of how much they wanted to be free.
In your case, Johanna, it’s similar. Like the Israelites, all you need to do is spread the blood of a perfect lamb on the doorposts of your heart. The blood I am speaking of here is Christ's, whom we call the Lamb of God. When Jesus died on the cross, shedding his blood like the Passover lamb, the Bible says it was a moment of victory where Satan and his legions were defeated. It says, "When you were dead in your sins" (like the Israelites were dead in slavery!), "God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code...that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." The blood of Jesus shed on the cross, then, is like the blood of the lamb in the Exodus: it wins a victory for us, sets us free, if we apply it personally. By saying you believe in and want to follow Jesus, you are spreading the blood of Jesus (the lamb of God) on your heart. By placing your faith in Him you are set free. That's why I'll ask you about your belief in Jesus and His death later on in the baptism.
Now: That was the first climactic event, the first victory. But, remember, there's another victory. The drama isn't over yet. See, Satan is still running after us with all his soldiers. He wants to kill us, just like the king of Egypt still wanted to kill the Israelites after the night of the Passover. We find ourselves at the edge of a sea, like the Israelites, and we are wondering: how are we finally going to escape the clutches of the slave-drivers? God makes a way for us through the water in the same way he did for the Israelites. That's what baptism is. If we choose to pass through the water, following God, He will save us. By doing so, God will win the final victory over slavery to Satan and sin.
So, in the baptism drama, Johanna, you will pass through the water. This signifies that (first) Jesus died to make escape from slavery to sin and the devil possible. Second, this signifies that you want to walk away from sin and all that Satan wants you to do. Third, this signifies that you want Satan and his slave-drivers to be put to death in you. Fourth, this signifies that you want to live under God's rule now, in His country again.
In being baptized, Johanna, you are saying, “I want to live. I want to follow my leader Jesus Christ into the water. I can only survive by going through the water. The water sets me free. The divine, dramatic conflict is won in the water, where Satan can’t swim.”
Because of that, Johanna, this day I respond to your baptism the same way the Israelites responded when the evil tyrant and his kingdom were defeated: I respond with heartfelt rejoicing. At last, you are free.