John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. —Mark 1:4-5
The Jordan River, where John was baptizing, was an eight-hour walk through the desert from Jerusalem. Yet Mark tells us that many from Jerusalem made the trek to hear John preach and to be immersed by him in the Jordan. Why did they walk eight hours, some more, to answer John’s call to repent?
John dressed in the garments of a prophet. He spoke powerfully. People came believing God had sent this man, and that his message was from God. He called the people to repent and to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. What John offered at the Jordan was God’s forgiveness and a chance to begin anew. Which of us don’t long for this at times?
She was in her thirties and had lived a hard life. She had begun attending our church, yearning for a new beginning. Having never been baptized, I spoke with her about the meaning of this act. In my tribe (Methodists) baptism has a kaleidoscope of meanings. Among these, it is a dramatic sign of God’s grace and mercy – his willingness to wash us and make us new. It is an outward sign of God’s forgiveness.
As she approached the baptistery she had tears in her eyes. She asked, “Pastor Adam, does he really forgive all that I’ve done? I’ve done a lot of terrible things.” I assured her that as she came to God, repentant, he would forgive it all. And I reminded her that Christian baptism is a sign not only of God’s forgiveness for sins in the past, but a promise for forgiveness when, in the future, we stumble and need his grace. And thus, with her baptism, she began a new life.
Do you ever feel a yearning for forgiveness and a new beginning? Every morning as I step into the shower I remember my baptism and I ask God to wash me and make me new. At times I feel a profound sense of my own sin and my longing for his grace. At other times I simply know that there are ways in which I have not lived up to his calling on my life.
If you’ve yet to be baptized, speak to your pastor about this profound act of grace. If you have been baptized, remember your baptism each day as you bathe, inviting God to, once again, wash you and cover you by his grace.
Lord, in thought, word and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone, I have sinned against you and others. Remember the promise you made at my baptism, and wash me anew. I call upon the grace you offer us in Jesus Christ.