There is a river that connects the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel with the Dead Sea in the south. It has a history.
- On the banks of this river some 3,300 years ago, the children of Israel listened to the entire book of Deuteronomy recited before entering the land of promise. Finally, when the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant stepped into that river, it dried up for the people to cross.
- About 400 years later, in the days of the prophet Elisha, a highly respected captain (Naaman) was healed of leprosy in the waters of this historic river.
- Nearly 900 years later, Jesus Christ was baptized in this river by John the Baptist in order to fulfill all righteousness.
Great moments of promise, provision, healing and hope are connected with this river. It is tiny compared to the Amazon and the Nile. Most of it runs under sea level making it one of the lowest rivers on earth. Yet, no river is more famous. It is the Jordan River, but you already knew that.
Still, not everything about this river is glorious. It flows from a freshwater lake teeming with life into a lifeless sea of salt. Its lyrical legacy in poetry and folk music reminds us of the death we all must meet before Michael rows us to the other shore. So, whether you float down the Jordan River to the Dead Sea or cross over it, it carries a connotation of death.
This, of course, makes it a perfect place for baptisms.
Baptism demands your death:
Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? (The apostle Paul, Romans 6:3)
This is not about the inevitable death we pay doctors to help us put off, but a death some people fear far more: death to our sinful self! Preachers call it repentance! We pay entertainers, politicians, celebrities, journalists, psychologists and other soothsayers (including some preachers, sad to say) big bucks to help us put off that “death.” We prefer slavery to sin over death to sin. Baptism, however, declares that there is new life on the other side this death to sin. Listen to Paul:
Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
No one wants to die. Even Jesus, praying in the garden of Gethsemane, did not want to die. Nevertheless (I love that word), because He knew it was God’s ultimate solution to the sins of humankind, He did. And by participating with Jesus in His death through our baptism, we find the key to new life–eternal life—through His resurrection. Before He died and rose again, Jesus offered the following ultimatum:
If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)
Jesus’ reference to a cross, even before he died on one, raises the stakes beyond mere denial to death itself. Stakes don’t get higher than that.
In 1937, German pastor and author Dietrich Bonhoeffer described the cost of Christian discipleship this way: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This is an invitation to repent and be baptized, the same invitation the apostle Peter offered on the day Jesus’ church was born (see Acts 2:38). Baptism is the water grave where the old man is put to death and a new man comes to life. Unless we die to self, however, baptism is nothing but a bath.
As Jesus decided to die, so must we. As Jesus trusted in the power of God to raise him up again, so must we. Like the Jordan River, baptism leads us not around death but straight through it to the promise of eternal life—God’s gift. Baptism may chill the body but not the soul.