Bro. Glenn Johnson stood at the base of the steps leading up to the baptistery of the First Southern Baptist Church of Tallapoosa, Missouri. He was about to baptize three young believers. Prior to this baptism, he had conducted most of his baptisms in nearby streams or in baptisteries of nearby churches. The First Southern Baptist Church of Tallapoosa, Missouri had a long name but it didn’t have its own baptismal pool. Some older members may have wondered if the church really needed one. After all, if a stream was good enough for Jesus . . . . Having been stung by wasps while watching an earlier baptism and having seen snakes in the streams, I was glad we finally had a baptistery.
I don’t really remember much about the baptism itself. I remember the Sunday I walked down the aisle and “gave my heart to Jesus.” I remember feeling proud that I had done this good thing. I remember feeling Bro. Johnson’s kind hands on my shoulders as he presented me to the congregation. My friend Mike Littell made his decision that same day. Mike and I spent the afternoon together, much of it talking about what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. I wish I could recall what those two nine year-old boys said about that. It was probably more profound that most adults would have thought possible.
My baptism took place at night. In our little church, two of the more important events in worship—Baptism and Communion—seemed always to take place at night. I’m not sure why baptisms were at night, but Communion was always at night because . . . well . . . it was the Lord’s Supper. I’m glad that, in our church, both of these have moved into the light of day. Baptism is our public declaration of faith and ought to be witnessed by saints and sinners (more often than not, the same people). Communion is the declaration of the Gospel. As such, can it ever be a hidden event or one from which some are excluded? Not if I’m at the Table.
Well, I have diverged from the main point. Baptism was about to happen and I was one of the ones to be baptized. Bro. Johnson, standing at the base of the steps, spoke to us. “I’m so very proud of you. What you’re doing tonight is very important. You’re saying to all who watch you that from this point on you belong to Jesus and that you are going to follow him. Tonight you become a child of God.” One by one, we made our way into the water. I recall the feel of Bro. Johnson’s strong hands, one on my back and the other covering my mouth and nose. I felt safe—safe in the arms of Jesus, arms that felt amazingly like Bro. Johnson’s arms. On that night, they were one and the same.
The Incarnation happened only once, but incarnation happens again and again. A young boy began anew, set his face in a new direction, because Jesus touched him through the hands and arms of his pastor. Would I have found Jesus without Bro. Johnson? I’m sure I would have. For one thing, I suspect I was and am more found by Jesus than Jesus was or is found by me. What matters is that I didn’t come to faith apart from Bro. Johnson. I came to faith, in part, through the Jesus I met in him.
Baptism is a new beginning, and it is almost always a new beginning that has a human agent behind it—a human agent that manages the miraculous act of becoming an incarnation of Jesus and his love.
No one stands alone in the Christian faith. The Jesus we know we first meet in the flesh of another.