When my husband and I were in Israel last year, he wanted to be baptized by immersion in the Jordan River. So we went — towel, swim trunks, a change of clothes in hand — to the official Jesus Baptismal Site Qasr al-Yahud, on the Jordan River.
Qasr al-Yahud is a national Israel park with an informative website. “Christian tradition marks this site as the place of the ‘spiritual birth’ of Jesus, as opposed to his physical birth in Bethlehem,” says scribe of Qasr al-Yahud. “As such, the baptismal site is of great sacred significance – the third holiest site in the Christian world (after the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem).”
That spot on the Jordan River is also traditionally considered to be the place where the Israelites crossed and the prophet Elijah ascended to heaven. I don’t know if the Hebrews, Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist or Jesus Christ was at that exact spot on the Jordan River, but I do know it doesn’t open until 8 am. We’re early birds, Bruce and I. We got there in time for an hour-long walk and a snack before the rivers of the Jordan parted and let us in (the ticket gate, information center, and souvenir shop opened).
Bruce didn’t get baptized by immersion in the Jordan River that morning because we had nobody to do it. John the Baptist wasn’t there, the tour buses hadn’t arrived yet, the staff doesn’t baptize Christian tourists, and I didn’t have an extra set of River Jordan baptism-performing clothes. So my husband was immersed in the portable pool by pastor Craig at the Bridge Church in North Vancouver on Easter Sunday morning.
Is immersion necessary for Christian baptism? What difference does it make if you’re baptized in a backyard pool, the Pacific Ocean, or the River Jordan? What does baptism by immersion actually do for you as a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ? Good questions, I’m glad you asked.
Jesus’ Baptism by Immersion in the Jordan River
When Jesus went to John the Baptist to be baptized (by immersion) in the Jordan River, John tried to stop him. This fascinates me; Jesus was constantly butting heads with His apostles, disciples, followers, and believers. They thought they knew the right way, the correct path, the best route…and Jesus Christ had to repeatedly insist they do things His way. Until Jesus’ mom Mary asked Him to turn water into wine. Then it was His turn to do things her way 🙂
I’m not here to try to convince you that baptism by immersion — in the Jordan River or a portable pool — is the “right” way to be baptized. I’m just sharing what I learned about Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3.
1. Jesus needed to be baptized by John to be obedient to the Father
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. But John tried to stop him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?” Jesus answered him, “Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John allowed him to be baptized.”- Matthew 3:13-15 (CSB). Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for repentance (He was sinless), but He did need to be baptized to fulfill what was written about Christ by the prophets. Jesus knew He had to be baptized by immersion — by John the Baptist — for the Father’s will to unfold. Jesus’ baptism by John fulfills all righteousness, and makes both Jesus and John obedient to the Father. Jesus’ baptism was the highlight of John’s ministry, because ti announced the coming Messiah. Hallelujah! John was raised for this very moment, to baptize Jesus and announce that Christ’s ministry had begun for real on earth. John had been baptizing believers by immersion in the Jordan for about six months before that; baptizing Jesus was the culmination of John’s career. Now, God the Father was ready to reveal Jesus as Messiah.
What difference does baptism by immersion make in your life as a Christian? It’d be awesome if getting baptized made communication with the Holy Spirit crystal clear, or if immersion in the Jordan River changed you into a perfectly sinless Christian. I was baptized by immersion in a “dunk tank” at a church when I was 12 or 13. I have to confess that it didn’t change my life — that I know of. I don’t know if I felt or had more of the Holy Spirit’s presence back then…but now I believe my baptism planted seeds of hope, strength, faith, love and wisdom that are now flourishing. What about you? Maybe you’re considering baptism by immersion, and want to know what difference it makes. Maybe you were “sprinkled by holy water” as an infant or child, and now wonder if you should be fully immersed. What do you think baptism by immersion will make in your life as a Christian?
2. Jesus’ immersion marked a turning point in His life
“When Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice from heaven said: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” – Matthew 3:16-17. This one of the few times (the only time?) in the Bible that Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Father were in the same place at the same time. The Trinity was present when Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River! That’s huge, and that’s partly why Qasr al-Yahud is a sacred site for Christians today. Jesus’ baptism was a turning point in His life. It was the exact moment God the Father unveiled Jesus as Messiah, and empowered Him to begin His public ministry through the Holy Spirit. The heavens opened! John’s act of lowering Jesus into the water and raising Him up symbolized Jesus moving forward into a new season of life. The Messiah, Immanuel, God with us!
Will baptism by immersion be a turning point in your life? Maybe you’ll feel, think, act or talk different if you’re baptized by immersion. Or, maybe nothing will seem to be different about your life as a Christian. Maybe you’ll still struggle with the same old temptations and sins. Maybe you’ll still feel trapped in a difficult marriage, unhealthy home life, difficult work situation, cancer-ridden body. Maybe God won’t supernaturally change your life because you were baptized by immersion…or maybe He will. I suppose the only way to find out if baptism by immersion will change your life is by doing it. And, how about deliberately doing or changing something that signifies a turning point in your life? Read 7 Ways to Stop Being a Critical Christian for practical ideas.
3. The Holy Spirit alighted on Jesus when He was baptized
“When Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water,” John told Matthew. “The heavens suddenly opened for him, and he (Jesus) saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice from heaven said: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” – Matthew 3:16-17. The Holy Spirit alighted, rested, came upon Jesus and gave Him supernatural power. The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus to accomplish miracles, heal sick people, cast out demons, turn water into wine, and be raised from the dead. Jesus’ water baptism was a a symbolic representation of the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus’ physical body was immersed in water, so was Jesus’ spirit immersed with the Holy Spirit.
Invite, welcome, be open to the Holy Spirit! What if your Christian life really is different after you get baptized by immersion? It can be. Your walk with Jesus Christ — your relationship with God the Father — can be deeper, more powerful, and more life-giving than ever. The Holy Spirit wants to fill you, to infuse every cell of your body with strength, wisdom, faith, hope, love, compassion and freedom. And the Holy Spirit is a person with whom you develop a relationship. This means that you don’t get baptized by immersion and voila! You’re filled with the Holy Spirit and you don’t need to cultivate and nourish your relationship with the Trinity. Even Jesus had to go away and spend time with the Father, to seek the Holy Spirit’s presence, to be filled as the Messiah.
No matter how you feel after or before being baptized by immersion — whether you’re baptized by a preacher called John in the Jordan River in Israel or a dunk tank in the backyard of a house church in the prairies of Saskatchewan — feed your spiritual life daily. Learn how to hear the echoes of Jesus, sense the Holy Spirit, and walk humbly with the Lord your God.
Remembering Your Baptism
A physical symbol such as a Mosaic Christian Baptism Cross can be a powerful reminder that you were baptized.
Wearing a Christian cross can be a meaningless fashion accessory, or a powerful reminder that your old ways of living, thinking and being in the world are dead. Through Christ, your past sins are forgiven. They are dead in the water, left behind, forgotten.
When you rose from the water — whether you feel different or not — you became a new person in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, created and dearly loved by God.
A physical symbol of baptism isn’t an idol, it’s not something you should treasure or hold dear to your heart. If it gets lost or broken, you can simply replace it with a different symbol. A physical Christian cross necklace or bracelet isn’t powerful and meaningful….it is Jesus Christ Himself, and what He accomplished by His death and resurrection that changes your life and makes all the difference in the world — both today and eternally.
What are your thoughts on Christian baptism by immersion, sprinkling, or not at all? Your big and little comments are welcome below.
In peace and passion,
P.S. Want to hear the echoes of Jesus, sense the Holy Spirit, and walk humbly with the Lord your God? Read 3 Easy Ways to Stay Focused When You Pray.