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Life In The Church: Baptism

series: Life In The Church

lesson: BAPTISM

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Last week, we started a new series, Life In The Church. In this series, we are asking: "Why do we do what we do?" Many of us have grown up in the church, and we inherited some traditions and practices from our parents or grandparents, and it is something we have always done. For others, we could be new in our walk with the Lord, or perhaps we have not thought about it much. Are these practices important? What is the significance of the practices we participate in together as a community?

In our last lesson, Design, I shared what I believe Luke is doing in (Acts 2:38-47) as he offers a design pattern for life in the church. He draws our attention and focuses on some of the elements in which early Christian communities participated. Last week, we looked at the structure and how Luke presents this to his readers. Moving forward, I would like to notice the elements as we start with baptism, a practice deeply rooted in the historical context of the early church.

The Text

Luke focuses on Peter's words in (Acts 2). After receiving the promise of the Holy Spirit, Peter addresses the crowds in Jerusalem. He is proclaiming and teaching the good news of Jesus. Some in the crowd are convicted; they want to change and ask, What are we to do?

Acts 2:38 (NIV)

"Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Turn from your practices and attitudes and be baptized. For centuries, baptism has been the subject of discussions and debates among Christians, which in some ways have distracted us. That's not to say the discussions and debates are not meaningful; they have been and continue to be. However, in debates, we often lose sight of significance. What does the Bible teach us about baptism? What is the importance of baptism for Christians? To better understand baptism, let's back up to the beginning. As Peter explains, baptism is a crucial element as we begin life in the church.

The Old Testament


Genesis 1 is the account of creation. God created the heavens and earth. The earth, as we are told, was formless and empty. Darkness covered the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. The earth was disordered. It was formless, empty, and covered in darkness. It was not a place where life and abundance could flourish. Within the acts of creation, God begins separating. He separates light from the darkness. He separates the waters from the waters as He places a vault in the sky. The waters under the sky are gathered, and dry ground appears. God creates order from the darkness and void so that life and abundance flourish. God creates humans and brings them into this place of abundance and life.

In Genesis 3, humans bring darkness and disorder back into the world. From Genesis 3 to the flood, we see a reversal of creation. Some have referred to this as decreation; chaos returns to the world. What happens with Noah and his family is that God rescues one family through the waters as they and the earth are given new life. Rescue and life through the waters is a pattern developed in the Scriptures.   


The pattern is repeated in another famous story about an ark that many of us learn when we are young. We are introduced to Moses in Exodus (Ex. 2). Moses's mother placed him in an ark (Hebrew word tay-baw' תֵּבָה; used only here and in the story of Noah's Ark) and set in the Nile River. Moses is rescued through the waters of death and given life in the house of Pharaoh. Later, Moses would return to the water, this time the waters of the Red Sea, where the pattern is experienced again. 

God appoints Moses to deliver "His son" (Ex. 4:22-23) out of slavery and bondage in Egypt. As Moses leads the children of Israel out of Egypt, they are pursued by Pharaoh and his armies. Coming to the banks of the Red Sea, death is approaching them as the armies of Pharaoh draw close (Ex. 14:5-9). In a sign of deliverance and rescue, the Lord parts the Red Sea, and the children of Israel are delivered through the waters on dry ground (Ex. 14). Crossing the Red Sea, the children of Israel begin a new life as they journey to Mt. Sinai and become God's covenant family (Ex. 19-24). 


Later, Joshua is appointed to lead the covenant family of God. Before they enter the promised land, they step through the Jordan River. Although Pharaoh's armies are not pursuing them, we again see the pattern of rescue and new life through the water. Israel is rescued out of the wilderness and delivered to new life in the promised land. 

The priests went out before the children of Israel, carrying the ark of the covenant. As the priests entered the waters, their feet touching the edge, the water upstream stopped flowing and piled up in a heap. Israel passed through on dry ground (Joshua 3). They pass through the waters to the land God prepared for them. 

The New Testament

John The Baptist

The story and pattern flow through the background as we enter the New Testament, where we once again step into the Jordan River. We are introduced to John the Baptist, who calls Israel to repentance. Matthew links us to the backstory as he begins by connecting us to the prophet Isaiah. 

Matthew 3:1–3 (NIV)

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'"

John is calling Israel to renew their commitment and faithfulness to God. He is proclaiming and preparing the way for the coming Messiah. "People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan, confessing their sins they were baptized in the Jordan" (Matt. 3:1-6). The covenant community of God is called to renew their commitment and faithfulness as God's Messiah will usher in a new age. Full of Old Testament motifs, John signals a new exodus where God's people will not cross over to a new land but to a new age, the Messianic age, as they again pass through Jordan. 


Each of the gospel accounts captures Jesus' baptism. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River with the community of God's people. Jesus, having no sin (2 Cor. 5:211 Peter 2:22), was not baptized for sin—a new exodus called for a new Moses. 

Mark 1:9–11 (NIV)

"At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

Mark's words highlight and connect us to the pattern throughout God's word. In the Jordan, Mark pulls us back to the story of Joshua, when Israel crossed over to the promised land (Joshua 3-4). Out of the water reminds us of Exodus and Israel, who walked on the dry ground emerging out of the water (Ex. 14:29). Heavens "open" draws us of the separation through the creation and the floodgates of the heavens that were opened in the account of Noah (Gen. 1:6-87:11). The Spirit descending like a dove, points us back to creation where the Spirit hovered over the waters and Noah who sent out a dove (Gen. 1:28:8). You are my Son, whom I love, reflects God's words of Israel in the Exodus (Ex. 4:22-23).

As others have pointed out, this is by design. We are being pulled back into God's story from the very beginning. 

New Testament Authors

The New Testament authors draw from this story as they expand life in the church. Paul connects us to the story of God's rescue and baptism:

1 Corinthians 10:1-2 (NIV)

"For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea."

Peter draws from the story of Noah and how eight souls were saved through the water as he connects the story to baptism in the church:

1 Peter 3:21–22 (NIV)

"and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.”

Crossing The Context

Baptism is identification with the family of God. It is identification with Christ as we participate in His death, burial, and resurrection. Through baptism, we experience new life in Christ (Rom. 6:1-14). 

"Baptism is the story of God put into practice, and through that practice God gives Christ to us is a concrete way. Baptism is the gospel in water. God unites us with Christ, liberates us from slavery to death in the old creation, raises us with Christ to live a new life, and seats us with Christ in the heavenlies to reign with him. In baptism we follow Jesus into the water that we might embrace the mission for which God created humanity. We follow Jesus from the water into the wilderness to the cross in the hope of inheriting a new world. That is the baptism of Jesus, and it is also our baptism."(1)


Scripture references and quotations are from the: Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

I am thankful for the work of the many scholars and team at BibleProject. The outline for this lesson is reflected in the article: The Meaning of Baptism in The Bible, by Shara Drimalla & BibleProject Team – Jul 8, 2021

1.  Hicks, John M. ENTER THE WATER COME TO THE TABLE. Abilene Christian University Press, 2014. pp. 143-144.


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