I preached this sermon at our Easter Sunday Baptism Celebration with folks ranging in age from 0 to 60′s/70′s, so I tried to find an analogy that would keep the diverse group engaged. Turns out the pickle analogy got the best reaction :-)
Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night so that they can have un-interrupted conversation. He was an expert teacher who was supposed to know a lot about God. But he comes to Jesus to learn and says, “Jesus, me and my friends know that you are a teacher from God because of the things that we’ve seen you doing.” And Jesus says to Him, “If you want to be a part of what God is doing in the world through me, you will have to be born from above.”
Nicodemus didn’t understand Jesus’ answer, and so he asks, “Well, how can I be born a second time? I’m old and I don’t think I’ll fit inside my mom again.”
And Jesus’ answer is this: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is Spirit.” So, now Jesus is answering Nicodemus’ question about how He lives all of life in the power and presence of God. He says, “You have to be born from the Holy Spirit…born from heaven.”And Nicodemus asks, “How is that possible?”
And Jesus tells him the whole story of how that is possible. He says, “All you have to do is believe in me because God loved the world so much that He sent me to give the gift of salvation that leads to eternal life. If you want it, the gift is available. If you don’t, you can reject it and continue to live in darkness.”
As I sat down with our baptism candidates to talk to them about all that baptism means, I found myself continually remembering yet another dimension of baptism and all that it means to the person being baptized…reborn. As I reached for a good analogy, the best one I could come up with is that baptism is like a gift that we continue to open for the rest of our lives. In one season, we may understand one part of the gift, but in another season of life it means something else to us and so we unwrap that part. Can you imagine a gift that never runs out, but gets better the more you use it?
That’s what the gift of salvation from Jesus is like. It is an invitation to live all of life in and for God’s Kingdom. And the more I thought about it, I realized that God’s Kingdom is a lot like a swimming pool and learning how to swim. It is a place where a lot of things we didn’t think were possible can happen.
In a little bit, we’re going to “baptize” a few of our friends. Do you know what “baptize” means? It means to “immerse” someone. It means to saturate them in something. Like, have you ever eaten a pickle? Do you know what the pickle started out as? It wasn’t a pickle. It was just a plain old cucumber. But after it was pickled in the juices that make it a pickle, it became something totally new and different and better. That’s what happens when we baptize. We pickle someone in God’s new reality. We immerse them in God’s Kingdom and say, “You are made new, different, better!!!” They might not look different on the outside, but on the inside God begins a new work. It is an outward sign of an inward grace.
So, here’s a few thoughts I have about God’s Kingdom and swimming and swimming pools and why I think we should all want to be born from the Holy Spirit into God’s Kingdom. That’s what today is all about! We celebrate that Jesus has forever made it possible for us to be born a second time. Not from our mom, but from the Holy Spirit. When Jesus died, He took death with Him. He killed the power of death. And when He rose from the dead, He showed us that His promise of eternal life is true. Because death is not the final word…we can live forever!!!
So, here’s how being immersed in God’s Kingdom is like swimming a swimming pool:
1. First of all, the pool is there whether we get in or not. That’s what God’s Kingdom is like. Even if we don’t see it or admit that it’s there, it exists because of what Jesus has done by dying and rising from the dead. That’s the celebration of Easter! The message of King Jesus is this: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. It is near. In fact, it is inside of you.” You may not see it, but it’s there and it will reveal itself in all kinds of ways through love, and hope, and joy, and peace, and kindness, and humility, and healing and miracles, and salvation and justice and the list goes on and on…until it sort of ends with eternal life…but then goes on forever!!!
2. Second, you have to get in the pool. We do this by repentance and faith. This is how we say, “Jesus, I know that I need to be washed clean from my sin, and to put my full trust in you as Lord of my life.” In order to enjoy all that the pool has to offer us – swimming, splashing, diving, etc. – we eventually have to get over our fears and trust enough to get in the pool. We can gain this trust by looking to Jesus, listening to the Bible, and by looking at the lives of others who have gotten in the pool. Jesus calls us into the water and says, “You can trust me.” The Scriptures, the Bible, tell us about why we can trust Jesus because of what He did for us – they are like a floatation device – helping us to stay afloat when we begin to doubt or worry. And lastly, we look around and see other people splashing and diving and having fun in the pool and that tells us that we can trust that someday we’ll be able to enjoy the water like them. We just have to trust the process, and it starts by getting wet…which for us today means being baptized.
3. Next, we have to learn how to swim – to go under and come back up. If you don’t come back up, that’s bad news! Baptism immerses us in God’s reality through dying and rising with Christ. Like Jesus said we have to be born of water and Spirit. The water represents being made clean from sin and its effects. Colossians 2:13-15 says it like this: “And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.” That’s what Easter is all about. Jesus died our death for us, and in rising from the dead, defeated death and those who wield the power of death. The water also represents the gift of the renewing and refreshing power of the Holy Spirit. That’s the gift we get. It means that we can live resurrection life now. In fact, that’s the life Jesus calls us to live now – to do things we never thought were possible! Like someone doing flips and handstand in the pool. Holy Spirit empowers us to live for God and see miracles and transformed lives. Jesus establishes a pattern for the life of discipleship – dying and rising. Jesus even describes his death and resurrection as his baptism. In Romans 6:3-11, Paul says it like this. [Doug read]
4. Next, you become a certified swimmer. The more you practice the better you get. Maybe some of you have taken swim lessons before and at the end of the class you got a certificate that said something like, “So and so is now a certified swimmer.” That’s how it is with baptism. God says, “This is my certified son or my certified daughter.” Baptism is our adoption certificate into God’s family. God gives us His Holy Spirit who acts as the seal that makes our adoption complete and full into God’s family. God says, “These are my kids.” Galatians 4:4-7 says it like this, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Once you are a swimmer, it’s hard to forget how to do it. It’s the same way, no one can take that certificate away from you.
5. Lastly, you eventually get good enough that you can teach others how to swim. Once we learn how to swim, we actually have to do it. What if you learned how to swim, but never actually did? What if you just stood in the water with your hands at your side and said, “I’m swimming!!!” No way!!! I love when one of my kids learns how to swim and guess what? They can’t wait to tell other people. Once you get it, you go and tell others about the pool and the joy of swimming. And why? Because there’s room for others. Have you ever been in a pool and they said, “Sorry, there’s only room for a few people so you can’t swim today”? That would stink. But that’s not God’s Kingdom! There’s room for everyone, so we will want to tell others about it and invite them to join us. Baptism commissions us for God’s work in the world. Eventually, we have to get out of the pool and go on with life. But we take that pool with us wherever we go. It’s the same with God’s Kingdom life. Because we were pickled/immersed in God’s reality, it’s inside of us now. And the longer we’re in it, the deeper we can go.
Once my kids learn how to swim, one of the first things I say is “Awesome! Let’s go deeper!!!”
So, that’s my invitation today. Do you want to go deeper? If so, then I invite you to renew your baptism covenant with God along with those who are being baptized today. And if you’ve never been baptized before because you’ve never jumped in the pool through trusting Jesus, but you want to…then you can say these words along with us too because these words are really expressing what has already happened in Chris and Sean and Zeke’s hearts…and they can happen in your heart too! Let’s go deeper!