(See also Baptism and John the Baptist)
I am grateful for the invitation to speak this evening on a few core doctrines of our our faith.
You hardly know me, and I hardly know you. But we can both make some general assumptions because we are both together in the same space on this specific and significant occasion. (It may be safe to say that that these assumptions could be made about everyone present here this evening.) I am under the assumption that the reason you are here tonight is because you have listened to and accepted the message of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ from these missionaries and now want to follow the example of Jesus Christ by being baptized into the Church of Christ. That desire, if I am not reading too much into it, tells me a lot about your hopes and dreams for the future. These are my hopes and dreams too.
Maybe we might discuss little more about what those hopes and dreams are. Your being here tonight tells me that you are hoping for a better world for yourself. But baptism is more than just about ourselves, and perhaps you already understand this as well. Baptism represents your entrance into a community of believers who not only hope for a better world for themselves, but also for a better world for those around them. That hope also gives us strength to take action, the action that comes through faith in Jesus Christ, to do things to make the world better for ourselves and for others around us.
So I already know this much about you and you already know this much about me and everyone else in this room. Because of the promises made at baptism, we all are hoping to make life better for each other.
And with Christ’s help, that hope can and will become a reality.
So that’s the group part of the baptismal covenant. Let’s maybe change course now and look at the more personal dynamics of baptism. And to do that, I want to draw attention to one prophet who’s name is associated with the covenant of baptism: John the Baptist.
600 years before the time of Christ, we read about another prophet in the Book of Mormon: Lehi. He and his family had left Jerusalem. The Lord had given Lehi a series of customized commands which by chapter 10 of 1 Nephi, he had successfully demonstrated his faithfulness in obeying those commandments. Consequently, the Lord begins to bless Lehi with visions and further understanding of essential doctrines. (This is a pattern that the Lord often employs: a test of obedience followed by an outpouring of greater light or understanding.)
One of those essential doctrines that was revealed to Lehi was a knowledge of the Savior’s mortal ministry, and key events there in. His son recorded the following:
Wherefore, all mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on this Redeemer.
And [my father] spake also concerning a prophet who should come before the Messiah, to prepare the way of the Lord—
Yea, even he should go forth and cry in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; for there standeth one among you whom ye know not; and he is mightier than I, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose…
And my father said he should baptize in Bethabara, beyond Jordan; and he also said he should baptize with water; even that he should baptize the Messiah with water.
And after he had baptized the Messiah with water, he should behold and bear record that he had baptized the Lamb of God, who should take away the sins of the world.1 Nephi 10:6-10
In trying to understand the significance of the ordinance of baptism, let’s consider a little deeper the mission of John the Baptist, the only prophet in all of scripture and time to have an ordinance attached to his name.
Consider how the Savior Jesus Christ described John:
…Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?
But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.
But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.
For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.Matthew 11:7-11
John was the literal embodiment of the ordinance that he was called upon to perform, a living witness or symbol of baptism, its purpose being to prepare each of us to enter into the Kingdom of God.
There is another principle or act that is frequently coupled with baptism, and that is repentance. Sometimes repentance happens before baptism. Always among true disciples it happens afterwards as well, frequently, and as often as is needed to make progression in the kingdom of God.
God gives us both inward acts and outward ordinances to help us along the covenant path. There is a state of being that we hope that all who come to the waters of baptism would possess, it is this state of humility before God, and acknowledgement of His path, our own nothingness before him. This is why the Savior used such strong language in commending John by saying he was “more than a prophet” and “none greater”. This is what John the Baptist represented, this state of a humble, penitent, simple follower of Jesus Christ. What John represented was the first steps of the Plan of Salvation.
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil.
The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous… a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.Matthew 11: 18 & 19
I see in the contrast between John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus Christ, bookends for the our personal Plan of Salvation. We start with the humility of John and, by obedience, we walk step by baby step towards our Lord Jesus Christ.
And just so there was no confusion on how or where to start, Christ himself submitted to the baptism of John.
Wherefore, I would that ye should remember that I have spoken unto you concerning that prophet… that should baptize the Lamb of God, which should take away the sins of the world.
… if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, ….how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!
And now, …wherein [did] the Lamb of God fulfil all righteousness in being baptized by water?
Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.2 Nephi 31:4-7
And so it is with each of us! By submitting to the ordinance of baptism, we show our willingness to be obedient to the commandments of the Father: both a public and yet, very personal first step in our turning to God.
(ADDENDUM, not for today)
As we have briefly considered the life and mission of John the Baptist, can you imagine the surprise and amazement then, when Joseph Smith with his scribe Oliver Cowdery go into the woods to seek guidance and instruction about baptism. A messenger from Heaven, who calls himself John and says that he is the same that was called John the Baptist in the New Testament, appears to them and extends to them the power to perform baptism. These are his words:
Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of… the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth…Doctrine and Covenants 13
It is with this same authority from John, who embodied the principles of baptism and repentance, that you are baptized today.