Let’s re-enact John the Baptist and Jesus with a Lego fire walk! Guaranteed to make it memorable and get folks thinking about the commitment of baptism.
“What’s Lego fire walk” I hear you ask? It’s when you walk on a path of made of Lego blocks instead of burning coals – less of a fire risk but (as any parent will know) just as painful!
OK, I know John the Baptist used water not Lego, but baptism for us is something well-thought-of and expected. It’s often a nice cutesy family event with a pretty dresses and cakes afterwards. For John’s Jewish audiences, being baptised was a seriously weird thing, something you’d hesitate before doing and that would change your life if you meant it. I’m sure John would have used Lego if he’d had any.
You will need
- Lego [click] (or compatible)
- Several trays
- A volunteer to play John
- A volunteer to play Jesus
- Volunteers from crowd
- Sympathy (for survivors)
Image you hear of this new celebrity preacher – he’s all over the internet and everyone’s talking about him. You go to hear him, and what he says makes sense. “You gotta wake up and take this God stuff seriously.” (I paraphrase slightly)
“Yeah, he’s right”, you think. “I wanna do that.” But there’s a catch. You can’t just make a mental note to pray more. You can’t simply raise a hand to say ‘Yes, please, count me in’. If you want to join this movement you have to sign up with real action. And that action is a Lego fire walk!
Lay out the trays to make a path and fill with a layer of Lego*
Act out the scene of John baptising, with volunteers taking the risky step (see what I did there?) of the Lego baptism. Everyone can speak the words of God together as Jesus is baptised.
*Lego is a mass noun, like milk or air. This means it does not take a plural. A lot of milk is just milk, not milks. A lot of air is just air, not airs. A lot of Lego is just Lego. There is no word ‘Legos’.
It’s a puzzling question with a puzzling array of answers … why did Jesus get baptized?
John’s baptism was for repentance, but Jesus had nothing to repent of, so … why?
And in case you’re wondering, I’m not even going near the ‘dunking or sprinkling’ question!
So … Why?
Many see Jesus’ seemingly pointless baptism as perfect God identifying with imperfect humanity; living our lives alongside us; walking with us through the valley of shadows. He had nothing to repent of, but went through baptism anyway. He did nothing deserving of death, but died anyway. Jesus paid the price for our sin, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. In his baptism Jesus shouldered the load that he carried and disposed of on Good Friday. (1 Pet 2:24)
This links with the aspect of sacrifice. John was a descendant of Aaron, (Lk 1:5) and so part of the priestly line who offered sacrifices for the remission of sins. On the Day of Atonement, the people’s sins were placed on a spotless lamb, which was then killed in their place. John prefigured this as he proclaimed Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
So Jesus’ baptism symbolised his taking of our sin, which he dealt with on the cross, his perfect righteousness fulfilling the law for us. He became the one perfect sacrifice for sin, fulfilling what the Old Testament sacrifices had been pointing to
That’s all great, but it still does not answer the question of ‘why baptism?’ What’s getting dunked got to do with anything? Why not a ceremonial haircut, or ritual slap round the face with a damp trout?
I think perhaps it’s that baptism was already a Jewish rite, and a pretty revolutionary one at that!
Jewish ritual included a lot of washing for purification, and if you were an ‘unclean’ foreigner wanting to join God’s family, one of the first things you’d have was a ceremonial wash (along with offering a sacrifice and – ahem – ‘the snip’ if you happened to be a bloke). By the time of John, this washing had formalised into full immersion baptism.
But wasn’t Jewishness reserved for, well, Jews?
The Old Testament records several ‘foreigners’ who became followers of God (eg, Ruth, Rahab, Naaman), and some of these were Jesus’ ancestors! Also, were you aware that it wasn’t just Jews who escaped Egypt with Moses? No, me neither, but they did. Exodus tells us that “many other people” left Egypt with the Hebrews (Ex 12:38). So if we think of crossing the Red Sea as being a foreshadowing of baptism (or baptism as a reminder of the Red Sea) then these God-fearing Egyptians, husbands and wives of Hebrews, and all the other “mixed multitude” were baptised into God’s covenant family at that point. (Ex 12:48; Isa 56:3, 1 Cor. 10:1-2).
Long before the Christians got their hands on it, baptism was a sign of joining God’s covenant people and this, I reckon, is what John was doing.
“But … but …”, I hear you cry, “that just makes it more confusing! The people John was baptising were already Jewish. They didn’t need to enter the covenant, they were already in!”
Yes! That’s the whole point!
Covenant people becoming the covenant people was exactly the point that John was making in this radical act of street-theatre. Many Old Testament prophets had used live action to get the point across (one even married his sermon illustration!) and John was doing the same.
In the passage just before this (from Advent 3) John famously calls the crowds on the shore a ‘brood of vipers’ and warns them not even to think of using their Jewishness as a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. “And do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” Being part of God’s covenant people was more than just being born Jewish.
According to John, the criterion for being in God’s family was not being a descendant of Abraham (it never had been, and anyway ‘Abraham’s children’ cover more than the Jews), but faith. John was welcoming people (albeit rather grumpily) into a faith community rather than an ethnic community. And that’s why baptism.
Something to note though – baptism is not just a token rubber-stamp, like visa in a passport which says I can come and go ‘without let or hindrance’, or a Get Out of Jail Free card. I get the stamp, I have the card, and that’s it. I’ve been baptised. I’m all set as a Christian. Job done.
Baptism is not like that. ‘Passing through the water’ is not an easy thing! Check out the Isaiah passage. Check out verse 17: “winnowing fork … threshing-floor … burn up the chaff … unquenchable fire.” And verse 9: “axe … laid to the root … not produce good fruit … cut down … thrown into the fire.”
John certainly paints vivid pictures! But this is all to emphasise the seriousness of the situation. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”, John said, and he meant it. Otherwise the winnowing fork was ready and the biomass generator was up to temperature.
Without the fruit one might suspect that the dunking was just another G-O-o-J-F card. As a reformer famously put it: “It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone.”
John expected that baptism would change people. Would I have dared to followed Jesus down to the Jordan?
Isaiah 43:1-7 New International Version
But now, this is what the Lord says –
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honoured in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, “Give them up!”
and to the south, “Do not hold them back.”
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth –
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.’
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, ‘I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’
When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’
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For Further Study
ROWLEY, H. H. “JEWISH PROSELYTE BAPTISM AND THE BAPTISM OF JOHN.” Hebrew Union College Annual 15 (1940): 313-34. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23501706.
John Calvin, Antidote to the Council of Trent (1547)
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.