The Greek word for baptism means “to submerge” or “to dip.” The word actually has its roots OUTSIDE religious understanding. Ancient Greek writings show the word used to describe the sinking of a ship into the sea. If someone who spoke the Greek language in the first century were to see the Titanic sink into the ocean, they would describe it as “the Titanic was baptized into the Atlantic.”
With those etymological roots, it is easy to see where the literal/physical meaning of the word could quickly become associated with one thing being fully identified with something else. In our Titanic analogy, we would say that when the Titanic was baptized into the Atlantic, the Titanic become so associated with the ocean that when you looked at the water from the shoreline, you would not be able to tell the difference between the Titanic and the Atlantic . . . the two had become one.
With this background, it should not surprise us that the term baptism was used by religious people to describe someone’s immersion into a new reality. If someone underwent a baptism of repentance (as they did under the direction of John the Baptist in the New Testament) they were showing symbolically with their immersion into water that they were identifying with a newness of life.
In the same way, when Jesus commands His followers to baptize people who decide to follow Him (in Matthew 28:18-20), He is calling His followers to fully associate themselves with Jesus Christ. In Christian baptism, a new believer in Jesus Christ is symbolically “buried” beneath the water as a picture of their burial with Christ. When Jesus died on the cross, He offered up His life as a sacrifice to satisfy God’s wrath concerning people’s sinfulness. By being baptized into Christ’s death (Romans 6:3), Christians are trusting that their association with Jesus death and burial means that God’s anger toward their sin is fully resolved. In a similar way, when a Christian is brought back up above the baptism water, they are symbolically being identified with Jesus’s resurrection life. Christians have the privilege of entering into an eternal life of fellowship with God (Romans 6:4). In this way, Christian baptism is a beautiful picture of all that God has done for us in Christ. As Paul says in Colossians 3:3, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” The two have become one.
While visiting Israel, I had the great privilege of going to a site called Yardenit on the Jordan River just south of the Sea of Galilee. This site commemorates the time when Jesus Himself was baptized in the Jordan River by John. While we were at this site, I was able to watch as several of my fellow travelers were baptized. It was a beautiful and powerful picture, thinking about Jesus’s model and our identification with Him. It was a joy to celebrate with my friends in this way while on our trip.
Seeing their baptism, however, also reminded me of my own baptism . . . years ago in the swimming pool of Nick and Linda Losole. Their water was chlorinated and heated, while the Jordan was full of fish and cool. However, neither water was more holy than the other. As the Ethiopian Eunuch taught us in Acts 8, any body of water can become a place where we symbolically associate ourselves with Christ. Seeing baptisms in the Jordan River, however, simply reminded me of the roots of this great symbol.
Have you been water baptized since trusting in Christ? If not, why not? You do not need to fly to a faraway land to publicly identify with Jesus. However, if you are ever in Galilee and have not yet been baptized, I can’t think of a better place to celebrate new life in Christ!