Now it happened, when all the people were baptised, Jesus also had been baptised, and was praying. The sky was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form as a dove on him; and a voice came out of the sky, saying “You are my beloved Son. In you I am well pleased – Luke 3:21-22
The chaos, turmoils and divisions emanating from the human mechanism and democratic system of seeking a better world or in making great nations provides good missional and witnessing opportunities to pray and reflect on ‘something decisive about Christianity.’ In following after Jesus’ footsteps, Christian baptism is a significant event in a Christian’s life. Jesus himself was baptised. He was not a sinner, yet he humbled himself in obedience to identify with us and give us an example to follow. Baptism, a sacrament of admission to Christianity is an act of faith and of obedient to the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Baptism declares that we are followers of Jesus Christ, hence, it is fundamental about Christianity. The reflection is that beyond the traditional descriptions of baptism – “vitae spiritualis ianua,” meaning “the door to the spiritual life,” baptism is a pointer to a new world. According to the Catholic Bishop Barron of Word on Fire, ‘Christianity is not primarily about “becoming a good person” or “doing the right thing.” Let’s face it, anyone—pagan, Muslim, Jew, nonbeliever—can be any of those things. To be a Christian is to be grafted on to Christ and hence drawn into the very dynamics of the inner life of God.’ The ‘very dynamics of the inner life of God’ in Jesus Christ is the hope, joy, basis, and foundation of the announcement by John the Baptist ‘that the apocalypse was about to occur that would end the present evil age and finally and fully bring about the realm of God, a new world in which all things would live forever in love, peace, justice, mutual support, freedom, and dignity.’
To put an end to the present evil age of divisions, wall building, Brexit turmoils, poverty, corruption and immorality, John’s call to the people to repent and to be baptised for the forgiveness of sins in order to be part of the coming new world resonates with our present challenges. The quest for a great nation is beyond oratory or technological power. The quest for a great nation has to do with the renewal of our hearts hence, it begins with repentance, a turning ‘away from complicity with the old age and its values and behaviours, and to turn towards the coming realm.’ The open heaven, an apocalyptic motif that announces the presence and intervention of God during Jesus’ prayer following his baptism points to Jesus’ anointing, his preparation for service and his empowerment. Baptism gave Jesus the spiritual and physical assurance to be publicly identified as the pivotal figure in the movement towards the new world. Jesus’ ‘baptism signalled that God was now taking steps through the ministry of Jesus to signal that the turning of the ages expected by John has now begun to take place.’ The reflection is that, the signs of Jesus’ baptism ‘point to the future consummation at Jesus’ return.’
Beloved, baptism as a pointer to a new world gives us a spiritual and physical assurance that our destiny is no longer determined by the brokenness and divisions of this age (and its heinous rulers). Baptism is an invisible mark that initiates Jesus’ followers into a community anticipating His Second Coming. Just as John could not effect the apocalyptic transformation 2000 years ago, no human government can make any nation great, because, except the Lord build a nation, the leaders will labour in vain. Jesus Christ, the Coming One, ‘will baptise the community with the Holy Spirit and fire and will carry out the final judgement (separate the wheat and chaff),’ Jesus Christ is the catalyst for the New World and has given the Holy Spirit to his followers to empower the community to continue to lead and witness until Jesus return again. Jesus is the divine representative in the final transition from old age to the new age, the new world.
To be a part of the movement towards the new world, there must be repentance. Repentance in this context goes beyond feeling sorry for personal and corporate moral transgressions. Repentance calls us to reflect personally and on the wider ways in which our communities, families, churches, and nations are complicit in old-age, modern practices and values that negates God’s commands. Jesus’ baptism in the communal context suggests that baptism is not a private occurrence. It has a communal dimension. Baptism as a pointer to a great nation and a new world summons us to move away from the ‘individualism of modernity,’ in order to long for a community, a part of a new world baptised “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”