“The one who is ore powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”–Mark 1:7

A Presbyterian minister and a Baptist minister were talking about church finances. The Presbyterian minister was grousing about the pace of donations.  The Baptist minister replies, “You know what your problem is, don’t you?  When you baptize people, you just get their heads wet.  We Baptists make sure their wallets get wet, too!”

My apologies to the author of that story.  But it does beautifully illustrate the question of what baptism means to us: when we commit ourselves to Christ, do we get ALL wet, or just a little bit damp?

The story of Jesus’s baptism in Mark (as well as the other gospels) brings up a boatload of interesting questions.  Why was Jesus baptized?  Did Jesus need to receive the Holy Spirit?  Who exactly is God talking to when his says “You are my son, my Beloved, in you I am well pleased!”?  Did Jesus need a heads up about his true identity? 

Here’s a few thoughts:

1. Maybe Jesus really didn’t know who he was up to this point.  As far as we know, the first 30 years of his life were fairly uneventful. To fully live the human experience, isn’t it possible that Jesus was shielded from knowing his true identity until it was time for him to begin his public ministry?  Perhaps the revelation of the Holy Spirit was Jesus’s “aha” moment, a full understanding (fulfillment) of God’s kingdom and the law of Moses when seen through the lens of love, compassion and mercy.

What would that mean for us?  That through our faith in Christ, we too are God’s beloved sons and daughters, with whom he is well pleased. When God speaks to Christ, God speaks to us.  And maybe we don’t fully understand who we are as God’s children until we know who Jesus is.

2. By standing shoulder to shoulder with all the other sinners on the banks of the Jordan, Jesus identifies with us–sinners all.

No, Jesus did not need to be baptized to be washed of his own sins.  But when we Presbyterians confess our sins to God, we’re not only recounting our own failings, but those of society as well.  No, Jesus didn’t have anything personally to be sorry for–but we do plenty for him to feel sorry about.  So baptism didn’t cleanse Jesus of his sins–it cleansed him of our sins.

Jesus’s baptism marked the beginning of his ministry on earth–a ministry of spreading a new vision of God’s kingdom.  Not about the world as it was–a vision of the world as it could be. A vision of a place where people followed his example of being humble, servant leaders.

And that’s the meaning of Jesus’s baptism to us.  Not that a few sprinkles serves as our own personal hex against hell (which, by the way, would be a pretty easy way for us to secure our own salvation and bypass that whole “saved by grace alone” business, which is a lot harder to comprehend). If that’s all baptism means to us, then we’re just barely damp.

If we’re truly all wet in Christ, then we share his mission to spread the vision.  Despite popular belief,  Jesus’s version of being a humble, servant leader had nothing to do with being a doormat. (Maybe Jesus should have just tried harder to get along with people–and stop damaging their self-esteem.)  Spreading a vision involves risk, sacrifice, and change.  You have to be sold that what you’re doing is for the public good, and be willing to speak out even when people oppose you.  

You can’t just be a little bit damp.  You’ve got to be all wet.