We made our way down the well-worn path, the one that leads right to the (free) side of Barton Springs, the place where all kinds of Austinites gather throughout the year. We were gathered, not around the Springs, but around Jesus. With the nudists thirty yards down, pot-smoking hippies a little further up, tattooed hipsters waist deep in the Springs, and dogs and their beloved owners all around, the weird Christians descended upon one of Austin’s most public and loved spots. About a hundred of us lined the bank. I waded out into the clear, to-be baptismal waters. And there, in the midst of the diversity of Austin and its weirdness, adult after adult proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord as they identified with him in the watery grave, and emerged taking their breath of resurrected life.
We also sang songs of worship, hear stories of grace, ate a lot of food, and heard the gospel preached. We plan on publishing some of the stories, but for now, here is the brief baptismal homily I gave before we descended upon the waters.
This is one of my favorite things we do. Baptism at Barton Springs. In the midst of swirling currents of spirituality and the diverse cultures of Austin, we get to wade down into the waters and join God’s new disciples in professing that Jesus Christ as Lord of All.
So welcome: church, family, and friends as we celebrate God’s grace through Baptism today. We are gathered to celebrate God. In particular, his liberating, forgiving, and renewing grace in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin and forever union with Christ. Following Scripture, we commemorate this work of grace in a person’s life through the practice of baptism. Today Stephanie, Grant, Pete, Mackenzie, and Sarah are going to be baptized because of their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. So here’s the plan—we’re going to sing a couple of songs (like we mean it), then ill briefly explain the meaning of Baptism, then we’ll get to hear a couple of stories from Grant & Mackenzie. Afterwards, we’ll all go down to the Springs and each person will come out to the water one at a time, with whomever they have invited to join them. Then we will all come back up to the shelter and sing one more song, and then feast!
What is Baptism?
What is baptism? Baptism is a wonderful picture of what God has accomplished through Christ in someone’s life. This picture symbolizes repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. What is repentance? Repentance is giving up on faith in anything other than Jesus. We all have faith. We all trust in something or someone, even if it’s ourselves. Even the atheist has faith that there is no God. The question is where are you going to put your faith? Repentance is a decisive turn away from faith in yourself, your good deeds, your spirituality, your career, faith in your spouse, faith or worship of other lords AND a decisive turning to faith in Jesus, faith in his goodness, his spirituality, his intimacy, his supremacy.
Why is Faith in Jesus Better?
Clearly I believe that Jesus is the better place to put your faith, but why? Why is Jesus a better place for faith? Three reasons: he’s true, forgiving, and renewing. First, Jesus is the better place to put your faith because he is true. He is the true Lord and God (the Spirit & Word of God convince us of that). God appeals to our reason throug the Scriptures and our longings through his Spirit. Jesus is the one, true God. Second, Jesus is the better place to put your faith because he is a forgiving God. He is more forgiving than your friend, even your best friend, than your spouse, even they fail to forgive at times, certainly more forgiving than the career ladder, where the weak are crushed, more forgiving than your parents, more forgiving than any other God because he pays for our forgiveness at his expense. Forgiveness isn’t wishful thinking for our God; its not a cosmic sweep of sins under the rug. No, he deals with the sins that need forgiving. He forgives us at his expense. We sold him out; we put our faith in other things; we refused to worship him but insisted on worshipping other things. We should pay for betraying him, but instead, Jesus is betrayed and pays for us. He dies the death we deserve. Why should we trust him? He’s the true God…and he’s the forgiving God, more than any other person or thing, God forgives us in Jesus, at his expense, the death of his very own Son. Finally, it’s better to put faith in Jesus not only because he’s true and he’s forgiving, but also because he’s renewing. God doesn’t leave Jesus in the grave. He doesn’t leave us there, forgiven but dead set on sinning. No, he renews us; he’s a renewing God. God raises Jesus from the dead to new life. He receives a new body of new quality, the body we are promised, but he gives us new life right away.The old life is continually renewed by the power of Jesus new life. He transfers his new life to us right away, which we work out over a lifetime. His death and resurrection become our death and resurrection. He’s a renewing God. So, it really is better to put your faith in Jesus than in all those other things because Jesus is true, forgiving, and renewing–more than anyone or anything else!
Now, what does all this—he’s true, forgiving, and renewing—have to do with baptism? Faith in Jesus? Well, baptism compresses all of this—the gospel—into a picture. It signifies our death with Christ, as we are lowered into his “watery grave,” and life with Christ, as we are raised to take our first breath in his new life (Rom. 6:4). In baptism, we are meant to see that Jesus death and resurrection becomes our death and resurrection. The life that emerges from the “baptismal waters” is a life forgiven of all sin and alive to the Savior! We don’t have to live by faith in lesser gods anymore. We can enjoy freedom and life in Christ. So you see, Jesus is worth trusting because he’s true, forgiving, and renewing. He doesn’t just forgive us; he renews us. He gives us a new life in where we can enjoy his love, grace, and a thousand other benefits. He gives us himself. Death to the old gods and life in the one, true God. That’s what we are all celebrating today, people in our church who have given up on themselves and given into the wonderful love of Christ by faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. Baptism is a public picture and declaration that Jesus is true, forgiving, and renewing.