Tomorrow, the second last day of the year, and the last Sunday, eight of the young people in our church will be baptised. Eight young people ranging in age from six through to 23 will be plunged into a better story; the story of God’s work in the world.
Eight young people will gather around a swimming pool on the five acre property of one of our elders and his family, in the warm summer evening, while a hundred or so others watch on. Parents, grandparents, siblings, friends both Christian and non-Christian. We’ll sing, pray, hear the Word read and proclaimed, listen to them together renounce sin and recite the Apostles’ Creed.
Then they’ll take the plunge, and we’ll all have a meal together (in lieu of the Lord’s Supper for one Sunday in the year).
Eight young people, ranging from children who can never remember a time that they did not trust in Jesus, through to a young man who decidedly wasn’t a Christian at the start of 2018.
And a few others in between that who have come to the realisation of what God has done in their lives and how he has saved them not by their own goodness, but through the goodness of His Son.
It’s a pity the verb “to baptise” has taken on such religious connotations so to speak, for it simply means “to plunge” and has a range of uses in the New Testament period. But perhaps the meaning “to plunge” can gain some traction again, particularly in how baptism highlights the identity of God’s new creation community, and not just his new creation people, but the stark contrast it makes with the old creation.
I’m encouraged that so many of our young people, faced with the siren calls of stories from the secular world, have looked those in the eye and said “No!”
For it’s true: They could “plunge themselves into the same excesses of dissipation” (1 Peter 4:4) as those around them, those who beckon them to a new story to replace the so-determined tired old Christian story that seems so anaemic in the late modern West.
But by deciding to be baptised, they are refusing to do so, and will no doubt, as Peter says, will have abuse heaped on them in varying, and no doubt, increasing degrees. And no doubt more abuse than my generation has suffered for refusing those same dissipations. This is, after all, an era when Christians are not considered the do-gooders, but increasingly the “do-badders” in the culture. They’re signing up for that.
But they’re not signing up for that alone. They’re signing up for that in the context of the church’s claim to host a better story than the one this culture is offering. And goodness knows this culture offers all sorts of beguiling narratives of self-discovery, individual identity and transcendence that we might plunge into.
And of course the act of being plunged into water tomorrow is simply a reminder that baptism is not a good work we do, or the result of our particular resolutions (in preparation for a new year), but the good work and the resolve of God to bring glory to His name by washing his people from sin and giving them (plunging them into) the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36).
God’s resolve to do that for his wayward people in Ezekiel, is widened in scope and magnitude when we read in John 1 that Jesus is both the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”, and also the one who will “plunge” people into the Holy Spirit. What is promised in the OT to the ethnic people of God is fulfilled in the NT to the global people of God.
And it’s all in preparation for a time when the knowledge God’s glory will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Habbakuk 2 and Isaiah 9); a true, final and eschatological plunging. God is plunging a people now into his glorious Spirit as a foretaste of what he will one day do universally then.
And as the church of God, we get to participate in that on an ongoing basis as we showcase the Lamb of God who both cleanses our sin and plunges his saints into the Holy Spirit.
There’s a whole lot to the story that makes it better, but that’s the launch pad, that’s the beginning. Taking the plunge tomorrow, those eight young people are being grafted into the story of God’s people in the face of alternate stories that would drown them and starve them of life-giving spiritual oxygen.
I’m looking forward to it.