Why water baptism is an important Christian sacrament
By Rev SEIK PITOI
THE road was long and winding. It would take us at least two hours to reach our destination.
This was unfamiliar territory, and there was a feeling of frustration and anger at the poor organising that led to this unscheduled meander in this foreign land.
Yet, there was a happy feeling as well, where each member of the tour group realised that many years ago, the One we worship, our Lord Jesus Christ, walked along this very same lake that we were now walking.
It was October 1992, and I was one of a group of pilgrims from Papua New Guinea visiting the Holy Land for my first time. We had just had a baptismal service. I was one of 12 that day that got baptised. We were from various denominations and were part of this tour led by Pastor Charles Lapa and Pastor Bob Lutu. It was organised by James Bigbee, then of Inner Faith Travel.
Our tour began in Cairo, Egypt. After visiting various sites of historical, archaeological and biblical interest for a few days, we were on our way to Israel. We had left our hotel in Heliopolis and heard shortly after that it has been bombed by terrorists!
We may not have been the target but such are the risks when travelling in the Middle East. Anyway, we continued on with a pleasant ride through the Sinai Desert to the Red Sea and crossed into Israel at the beautiful port city of Eilat.
As we travelled through Israel, we were informed that there was to be a baptismal service at the Jordan River. I was particularly interested because, even though I had given my life to the Lord some years back, I had never gone through water baptism. I had been ‘born again’, received the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the gift of tongues, but had never gone under the waters of baptism. Somehow, I kept missing out every time there was a baptismal service conducted by my local church.
When I heard about the tour, and that there would be a baptismal service at the Jordan River, I jumped at the opportunity. My wife Avie had just left work at Gordon and Gotch due to the birth of our first child, and she became the proud sponsor of my first trip to Israel! (Don’t worry, I paid her back in 2013 when she joined me for another trip which we both led to the Holy Land!)
An evening prior to the baptismal service, both pastors ran a pre-baptism class after dinner at the hotel. At the class, we heard about the importance of baptism as a sacrament in our Christian faith. We saw the example of the Lord Jesus being baptised by His cousin, the prophet John the Baptist, not for His sins, of which there was none (2 Cor 5:21), but to identify with sinful humanity.
We were taught that baptism is the outward expression of the inner change, and that baptism by emersion (under water), as Christ was baptised, was a sign of dying to sin, being buried with Christ (in a watery grave as it were), and rising up again victoriously with Christ (Romans 6: 3-5).
Every account in the Bible of repentance and believing in the Gospel was always followed by baptism (e.g., Acts 2: 38; 41; 8:12). I had believed in the Gospel message for a number of years but had never been baptised. This was my chance.
One other story in the Bible about baptism that I took note of was about what happened after the Lord Jesus was baptised (John 3: 21-22). The Bible says, “Jesus returned from the Jordan (after being baptised) full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit into the desert, where he was tempted by the Devil for forty days. In all that time he ate nothing, so that he was hungry when it was over.” (Luke 4: 1-2).
He was baptised and was even acknowledged by His Father (Luke 3: 22). Yet, straight after that, He was tempted by the devil. Was this the ‘normal procedure’?
After the elation of being baptised, should we expect reprisals from the enemy? I don’t think it is that dramatic, but I believe the principal is clear – the devil will try to keep one away from experiencing the powerful sacrament of water baptism because it completes the salvation experience and caps off the experience of God’s wonderful grace and mercy.
If he cannot stop it, he will try to mess up the good thing that God has done!
That day, as we lined up to get baptised, I could feel the cold waters of the Jordan giving me goose bumps, having flowed down from the snow-capped Mt Hermon. Whether it was the cold water or from my excitement at being baptised, it still made me shiver. Soon, I was baptised by Pastor Charles Lapa. Rising up out of the water, I knew I had reached a milestone in my life. The trifecta was complete – born again, baptised in the Holy Spirit, now baptised by emersion. All done! This was time to celebrate.
But there was no time to celebrate. We sang a few songs while waiting for the bus, but after a while, Pastor Charles broke the news: There had been some confusion and the bus was not coming back. We had to walk to our next destination – the city of Tiberius by the shores of Lake Galilee! The bus would come much later, but it would go straight to the hotel with our luggage. We had to walk.
So, like all good Papua New Guineans who are used to walking everywhere, we began walking. We were obviously miffed at the poor organising and communication by our leader and the tour organiser, but we had to cheer ourselves up by thinking of our Lord walking along the same lake. That was when I learned the tok pisin song, ‘Jisas wokabaut klostu long raun wara blong Galili’ (Jesus walked along the Sea of Galilee). We walked in little groups, making fun and singing along the way.
One group of men actually hitched a ride on the back of a market truck and rode into Tiberius in style! Eventually, two hours later, the last member hobbled in to the hotel!
What a lesson I learned. My observation about the Lord’s experience was true. Straight after God does something good in your life, the devil will try to mess you up. After the elation of the water baptism experience, just as our Lord experienced, temptation came. Frustration set in.
The sound of singing turned into the sound of whining and complaining. But it was short lived. The joy of the Lord was greater than the devil’s feeble attempt to drown it out. We walked on with the Lord by our side, our hearts filled with joy. Apart from sore feet, I’m sure we were all healthier because of that lovely walk.
At the end, what the devil meant for bad was turned by the Lord for good.
I’m sure we all experience good and bad times. God blesses you in some area and you are happy. Everything is going right for you. Then, a problem comes along. The devil wants to wipe the smile off from your face.
But don’t allow him to. God is by your side, watching how you will respond. Will you sing your way out of the gloom or speak the language of despair. Know that your God will give you victory even though you may have to be uncomfortable for a short while. You and God win in the end!
A similar trip to the Holy Land will take place in July 2020. Yes there will be a baptismal service at the Jordan, but no, we will not walk for two hours to Tiberius. I will make sure of that! You may email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him on 79293896 for more information.
- Rev Seik Pitoi is a freelance writer.