John wasn’t comfortable with it: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (v. 14).
The early church wasn’t fully comfortable, either. In the 2nd century, Ignatius of Antioch explained the event by saying that Jesus was purifying the water – not the other way around. Justin Martyr said that Jesus was baptized “solely for the sake of humanity.”*
This tradition of discomfort seems to continue in our practice of baptism today. Case in point: All denominations practice baptism, but in our own different ways.
We Methodists baptize infants, but not everyone does. For us, it’s a way of acknowledging what John Wesley (our founder) called “prevenient grace,” or the grace that comes before. It’s God’s “YES!” to us said long before we respond with our own “YES!” Thus, when we baptize little babies who have no idea they even need to be baptized, it’s sign of what God has already done for them.
Some denominations will baptize folks more than once. And I can see the power in this: there is something amazing about an adult making a recommitment of faith through a baptism of full immersion. But we Methodists baptize only once, as our way to acknowledge that baptism is God’s work, and God’s work doesn’t need to be repeated. It “sticks,” so to speak.
As I write this, I’m thinking carefully because I want to explain it right and because I want to honor how others baptize differently. I am feeling that… discomfort.
But have you noticed God has a habit of making us feel uncomfortable? God doesn’t intend for us to sit still and be satisfied where we are. God wants us to keep growing and learning. Sometimes, I think God makes us uncomfortable on purpose, so we won’t be spiritual couch potatoes.
So if baptism – Jesus’ or your own or someone else’s – makes you a little uncomfortable…
…then consider that discomfort God’s signature move.
May you be a little uncomfortable.
May you grow deeper in love with God.
* See the New International Dictionary of the Bible’s entry on Baptism.