When I saw Katie’s call for devotional writers, I was all over this. I’m so thankful for my Soul Mate and her call to ministry, and I’m excited to be a part of this ministry for her readers during Lent.
When we signed up for the topics we wanted to contribute to, Katie gave us some tips for writing. One of those was to keep posts under 1,000 characters. When I first read that, I thought, “Surely she means ‘words,’ not ‘characters.’” Then I remembered how people only read headlines instead of actual articles these days, and I figured she really did mean characters. This paragraph alone has 530 characters, and I have a lot to say, so I chose to write on baptism for the whole week. We’re going to be good friends, dear readers.
You see a man with dark skin, tangled greasy hair, and a long scraggly beard walk up to you. His teeth are rotting, it’s clear he hasn’t showered in a very long time because he’s got dirt caked around his fingernails, and his bare feet are filthy. He smells like a wet dog, and you’re not sure if that’s his body odor or the animal pelt he’s wearing as clothes. You see him pick up a bug and eat it. Then he starts yelling at you that God’s coming back soon, so you better repent.
Would you believe this guy?
According to Mark 1, you pictured John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin.
Before Jesus began his ministry, John lived out in the wilderness, preaching that the Kingdom of God was near. He was preparing the way for Jesus, the one to bring the Kingdom of God to earth.
Even though John may have looked and smelled a bit off-putting, his message was so compelling that lots of people began following John, and they were changed by his message of love and the Kingdom. John ended up baptizing so many people that his nickname became John the Baptist (actually, the Baptizer – he wasn’t a Baptist. I’m not bitter or anything).
It is important to note that baptism is not exclusively a Christian ritual. Jesus and John were Jews, after all. Christianity gets the ritual from the Jewish cleansing rite, which symbolized a person’s changed nature – a new identification, new status, new creation.
People got baptized as a way to symbolize their repentance, or turning away from sin, and to be symbolically cleansed. So why did Jesus get baptized if John was only preparing the way for him? Did Jesus need to repent and be cleansed from his sin?
My suspicion is that Jesus was not baptized because he needed to repent, but because he was eager to show his devotion to God through baptism. He also was affirming the truth that John was preaching: The Kingdom of God is near, and Jesus would be the one to establish that Kingdom on earth.
After Jesus was baptized, the sky ripped open, God the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove, and God the Father spoke, affirming Jesus as God the Son. This was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth.
Because Jesus was baptized, we get baptized today as a way of following him and to remind us that when we live in the kingdom of God. We have a new identity, and that identity is in Jesus Christ. It is through the water that we experience God’s grace and enter into the Body of Christ.
The beautiful thing about the Kingdom of God is that all are welcome to this new identity. Our identity in Christ defines us more than what we look like, smell like, dress like, or talk like. God uses people as wild-looking as John the Baptist–the dirty, matted, smelly man with a weird diet.
How will you remember your identity in Christ today? How will you celebrate God’s grace in your life, and how will you offer that grace to others, regardless of what they look like?
And that, my friends, was 3651 characters.
Melissa Collier Gepford
For Katie Parris Coleman, the Hipster Ginger 🙂