Catechism Reflections: Questions 311-314
#311: Why is Baptism able to offer and give such great blessings?
#312: What does the Holy Spirit use to work through Baptism?
#313: What does the Holy Spirit do through the Word of God connected to the water in Baptism?
#314: Why is Baptism called a gracious water of life and a washing of rebirth?
The debate was almost impossible to miss last spring. Who’s the greatest basketball player of all time: Michael Jordan or LeBron James? Regardless of where you stand on that question (or even if you roll your eyes at such things), one interesting thing to note is that for all of their individual talents and greatness, neither man has won an NBA championship without the help of some pretty excellent teammates. Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman in Chicago; LeBron James had Dwyane Wade in Miami and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland. They were pretty clearly the best individual players on their teams, but their talented teammates shouldn’t go overlooked. It was all of them working together than made those teams great.
In a similar way, John 3:16 towers over most, if not all, other Bible passages as the best-known and best-loved. And well it should! That verse is such a clear and simple, and yet very profound, summary of the salvation that is ours in Jesus Christ. And yet, because of that verse, sometimes the rest of John chapter 3 gets overlooked. Yet this entire chapter is chock-full of amazingly significant and wonderful passages as we listen in on Jesus teaching Nicodemus in the moonlight.
One such power-packed section comes right away in verses 3 and 5, where Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” When Nicodemus questions how that is possible, Jesus elaborates: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”
In these verses, Jesus shows us the power that lies in Baptism, the power that not only drives the questions in this portion of the catechism, but creates new life in us and makes us beloved children of God! Baptism is deeply needed by all, as all are born dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). We have no power to create life in ourselves; indeed, we must die and be reborn all over again. And that is what God does for us in Baptism! We are born again because Baptism is not just simple water, but as Jesus said, it is water and the Spirit. The Spirit, who comes through the Word of God, is at work in Baptism - the Word of God joined with water. What an awesome thought - God Himself is in the waters of your Baptism! God requires that a person be born again in order to see His kingdom - and then God does for you exactly what He demands of you, by giving you that new birth in Baptism. He works through that water to give you new life, to create faith in your heart, to clothe you with Christ, and to make you His own dear child.
John 3:16 beautifully summarizes the love of the Father in sending His Son, so that whoever believes has eternal life. It’s more than worthy of its place in the hearts and minds of Christians. But don’t rush by the start of the chapter! Verses 3-5 show us how we come to believe in Jesus - through the Spirit-filled, power-packed waters of Baptism. What a blessing to know that every part of your salvation has been carried out for you by the loving Triune God!