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History 101.4 – Baptism

The below article was written by Dr. Eugene Murphey and was published in The Tower newsletter of March 2005.  

When we Presbyterians think of baptism, we generally think of the symbolic act of water being sprinkled or dripped on the head of the recipient while the minister, preacher, or priest repeats the scripture-based words and promises.  Most of s are not overly concerned with the physical act of baptism – whether we are sprinkled, sprayed, dipped or even immersed.  Instead, we recognize the act of baptism as a symbol of spiritual cleansing and recognition that we have been called by God, claimed by God, and that uniting with Jesus Christ we have been freed from sin and death.  These things represent a covenant with God that we ourselves acknowledge or that is acknowledged for us by our parents or guardian if we are not old enough to do so.

Before Jesus began His ministry he apparently realized his own need for an outward sign or covenant that he was one with God in body, mind, and spirit.  He had heard in Nazareth that his cousin John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, had come out of the wilderness of Judea and had become a powerful preacher and prophet to a great number of people in the region.  He was said to baptize and demand repentance of sins and a return to God.  John has been described as a powerful man dressed in animal skins, an ascetic who led a life of contemplation and rigorous self-discipline and self-denial for religious purposes.  John had been asked if he were the coming Messiah but is said to have replied that he was only the herald, the messenger telling of one yet to come.

Jesus sought out John and, finding him on the bank of the Jordan river preaching to the multitudes asked John to baptise Him.  You will remember that John told Jesus that He (Jesus) should instead baptize him (John), but Jesus prevailed.  According to scripture, after the brief ceremony, a white dove alighted on the shoulder of Jesus, and many in the crowd heard a voice from heaven say, ‘This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.’

This baptism is the theme of our next stained glass window in the east wall of the sanctuary, and for those who have expressed uncertainty about which side of the nave is east or west, east is to the left when facing the chancel area and west is to the right.  John is seen pouring water from a shell on Jesus’ head as they stand by the river Jordan.  John holds in his left hand a staff topped with a cross symbolizing the prophecy of Jesus’ death on the cross.  At the top of the panel is the descending dive representing the Holy Spirit.  Ath the bottom is a shell pouring water in which there is a fish.  Behind this is a chi-rho (XP) symbol, the ancient monogram of Jesus Christ.

This window represents the events immediately preceding the beginning of Christ’s earthly ministry.  From this point, He followed John’s example and made his way into the wilderness, the bast desert area of Quarantaria so that he might face and overcome temptation Himself before telling other people what they must do.  After forty days of self-searching, praying, fasting and resisting temptation by the devil, Jesus returned to civilization and again sought our his cousin John, who this time proclaimed Him the Son of God, the one who takes away the sin of the world!

-Eugene M. Murphey, M.D.