Here’s a free youth group lesson on Baptism.
The big idea: Baptism is an outward declaration of an inward reality.
Enjoy the lesson!
-Ministry to Youth Team
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YOUTH GROUP LESSON ON BAPTISMDOWNLOAD PDF OF THIS LESSON
Bible Verses: Matthew 3:13-17, Acts 9:1-8; Galatians 2:20; Philippians 3:8; Romans 6:2-4; Matthew 28:19-20
Bottom Line: Baptism is an outward declaration of an inward reality
You don’t have to hang out with your grandparents for very long before you start to hear about how different things were “back in their day.”
But can you really blame them? Have you ever stopped to think about how quickly the world changes?
Let’s just think about all the changes that have happened in the last 110 years.
Did you know that in 1915 the maximum speed limit in most towns was 10 mph? Most of us can run faster than that.
Or how about these: at that time, only 14% of homes had a bathtub, over 95% of births happened at home, and only 6% of Americans had graduated high school.
How insane is that? The world has changed so much!
As a great poet once said, “the years start coming, and they don’t stop coming.”
It is easy to get lost in all this change. To get swept away in all of it, and forget who we are, and why we are here.
We need anchors to keep us steady in all of the turmoil and excitement.
We need moments and practices that remind us of what is important, that remind us of who we are and why we are here.
Christianity is filled with these anchors.
People have been following Jesus for thousands of years now, through all sorts of crazy changes, and yet there are certain practices and beliefs that tie us all together.
Even though the world of the first Christians might as well be an alien planet to us now because it was so different, there are commonalities that unite us to our first brothers and sisters in Christ across all of those years.
These beliefs and practices remind us that we are part of an ancient and global movement of reconciliation and redemption that is so much bigger than us but still includes us nonetheless…which is pretty cool.
One of these anchoring practices is baptism.
Baptism has been practiced by followers of Jesus from the very beginning.
Wherever there have been Christians, there has been baptism.
Through wars, famines, technological revolutions, societal changes, and pandemics (remember the pictures of priests with water guns?? That’s got to be one of the most innovative and hilarious ways to baptize in history), baptism has been present throughout them all.
But what does it mean? Why is it so significant that it has remained steadfast amid the constant change of the world we live in?
That is what we are going to talk about today.
The practice of baptism did not just come out of nowhere, Jewish people had been practicing something similar to baptism for a while before Jesus came around.
Their practice was called “Mikveh,” and it is still practiced by observant Jewish people today.
Mikvah is a form of ritual cleansing, where a person would submerge themselves underwater, or splash water on themselves from a big bowl, as a form of repentance.
The water was meant to symbolically wash away their sins, and make them pure, make them clean.
Mikveh was used in a lot of ways.
They would do mikveh before they went into the temple, before they prayed, or before they copied down scripture, so that they were “clean” before God in those sacred moments.
So they would practice mikveh again and again, as a way to “wash away” the sins that had “built up” since their last mikveh, to make them clean once more.
In fact, in the New Testament, there was this guy named John the Baptist, who was Jesus’ cousin and was a crazy guy, but he was deeply faithful to God.
John the Baptist shows up at the beginning of all four gospels, where he is in the wilderness leading people in a “baptism of repentance.”
In other words, John the Baptist was leading people to practice mikveh! Pretty cool.
- Do you see any similarities between the Jewish practice of mikveh and the Christian practice of baptism?
- Why do you think mikveh was used as a symbol for the washing away of sins?
- Can you think of any stories in the Bible about John the Baptist? If so, what are they?
- Does understanding mikveh add any clarity to what our baptism might symbolize?
Read Matthew 3:13-17 (NLT):
13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.
14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”
15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.
16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him.
17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
The story we just read is at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, it’s his launch party.
It was after this moment that Jesus began teaching and leading.
Jesus chose to begin his ministry by getting baptized.
Clearly, baptism is incredibly important to Jesus, but why?
There is a moment that is kind of funny that happens right before Jesus was baptized, did you catch it?
Jesus comes up to John and asks John to baptize him, but John is confused…Why?
Because John is leading people in mikveh, and mikveh symbolizes the washing away of one’s sins, right?
So why would John be confused that Jesus wanted to be baptized?
Because Jesus was perfect. Sinless.
Now do you see why John was confused? What Jesus was doing made no sense.
So why would Jesus do mikveh?
Because he is giving this ancient practice of ritual cleansing new meaning.
For Jesus, his baptism was not about washing him clean, it was about declaring to the world that he had given his life to God’s purpose.
Jesus’ baptism was a statement of belonging that he made to the world: he was already clean before God, and for the rest of his life, he was going to “carry out what God required.”
Jesus gave mikveh new meaning, he transformed it for anyone who followed him afterward…that’s you and me.
When we, as Christians, get baptized, we are making the same declaration that Jesus did.
For followers of Jesus, baptism is an outward declaration of an inward reality.
It is an outward action, that the world can see, declaring an inward commitment to follow Jesus.
Kind of like a wedding ring.
Just like getting baptized doesn’t make us a “clean,” because God has already made us clean, putting on a wedding ring doesn’t make someone married.
If that were the case then every time a person took off their ring to take a shower or go swimming, they would be “entering a season of singleness…” It would be chaos.
Making a promise to another person, making a covenant with them, to always and forever be theirs is what makes a person married. The wedding ring is simply a constant reminder to the married person and to the world, of that promise.
A wedding ring’s purpose is to declare to the world that the wearer of the ring is married, that they have given their life to their spouse, to be theirs forever.
That is what our baptism is, it is like a wedding ring we wear, declaring to the world, and reminding us, that we have given our lives to God.
- How do you think John felt when Jesus wanted John to baptize him?
- Why do you think Jesus wanted to start his ministry by being baptized?
- Have you ever thought about baptism being a declaration?
- What do you think it means to “give your life to God?”
- Have you ever thought about your relationship with God being like a marriage? What do you think that means?
So if baptism is an outward declaration of an inward commitment to give one’s life to God, it would be helpful to know what it means to “give one’s life to God” right?
There are a lot of examples of people doing this in scripture and throughout history, let’s look at one of them, a guy named Paul.
Read Acts 9:1-8 (NLT):
1 Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest.
2 He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.
3 As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him.
4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
5 “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting!
6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one!
8 Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus.
You might be thinking, “what does this have to do with Baptism?” Don’t worry, we’ll get there.
This is one of the first stories we have from Paul’s life, his encounter with Jesus on the road to a city called Damascus.
In this story, Paul is called Saul, which was Paul’s Jewish name. When he was around Jewish people he went by Saul, and when he was around people who weren’t Jewish he went by Paul, but it is the same person.
This story takes place shortly after Jesus has risen from the dead and descended into heaven.
Jesus’ disciples have started to preach the gospel all throughout Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, and people are believing and getting baptized left and right.
The church is growing, people are getting cared for, people are being transformed, people are believing in Jesus as God and savior of the word…the whole nine yards.
The religious leaders in Jerusalem at the time saw this growing movement of Christianity as a threat to their power and the purity of their religion.
After all, it was centered around the worship of a person that the religious leaders had killed.
Paul was one of these leaders, and he very much didn’t like Christians.
Right away we learn some things about Paul.
He is a passionate man. Incredibly passionate.
So passionate in fact that he comes up with a plan to eradicate Christianity, and cease it’s onward movement in the world.
But his plan doesn’t quite go to plan, if you will, because Jesus shows up, literally, and Paul is changed forever.
After Paul encounters Jesus on the way to Damascus, he is blinded, and he spends three days there praying.
After three days, a follower of Jesus named Ananias is led by God to share the gospel with Paul, which he does.
Paul accepts Jesus, Ananias prays over Paul, Paul’s blindness is healed, and then Paul goes and gets baptized.
It’s all very dramatic and beautiful.
Paul spends the rest of his life sharing the gospel all over the world.
He wrote tons of letters to early churches, and these letters make up a solid chunk of our Bible…Romans through Philemon in our New Testament are all letters that are attributed to Paul.
He transformed the world.
- Have you ever heard the story of Paul before? What can we learn from it?
- Do you know anyone who has had their lives changed by Jesus as drastically as Paul’s was?
- What do you think Paul was thinking when he saw Jesus on the road to Damascus?
- How do you think Paul felt those three days he was blind?
- Even though Paul was trying to persecute followers of Jesus, Jesus still cared for him enough to transform his life, what does that say about how Jesus felt about Paul, and about us?
So Paul had this powerful moment that transformed his life, which caused him to truly give his life to Jesus.
Years later, he was writing about this experience, and he described what happened in his soul in that moment.
And in his explanation, we can see what it truly means to give our lives to God.
Read Galatians 2:20 (NLT):
“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
You might still be thinking, “what does this have to do with baptism?” Don’t worry we’re almost there.
This is Paul writing years after he gave his life to Jesus, and this is how he described it.
His old self died.
The parts of him that lived for himself – that craved power and control – that persecuted those who were different – that felt like he had to fight to belong – his old hopes, old plans, old direction and old purpose…all of it died with Jesus.
And his new life belonged to Christ.
When he gave his life to Jesus, Paul chose to follow him no matter where it led. Paul chose to let Christ live through him.
That meant loving even when it was hard, sacrificing even when the sacrifice wasn’t returned, and including people even when that inclusion caused him to be excluded…just like Jesus did.
And Paul did it all, he sacrificed his old life for the sake of Jesus.
But it was worth it. He said this in Philippians 3:8:
“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.”
That is what it means to give your life to Jesus.
When we give our lives to Jesus, we are choosing to lay down our plans for our lives and pick up Christ’s plan for the world.
Our old selves die, with all of our sins, insecurities, and direction, and we are given new life, a new purpose, God’s purpose of redeeming the world, and it is infinitely worth it.
- What do you think it means to let your “old self” die?
- What do you think it means for Christ to live through you?
- How can you let Christ live through you this week, practically?
- Do you have a hard time believing that knowing Christ is infinitely valuable? Why or why not?
Read Romans 6:2b-4 (NLT):
2b Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?
3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?
4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
And we’ve finally made it back to baptism.
This is Paul again, and he is telling us what baptism symbolizes, what baptism is reenacting.
The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
Remember how we started this conversation about baptism?
We talked about baptism as a declaration to the world, declaring that we have given our lives to God. Remember?
Paul, in the passage we just read, has told us how baptism does that.
When we are baptized, we are acting out the process that has taken place in our own soul, sort of like a wet play.
When we enter the water, it symbolizes the burial of our old selves.
We are being buried with Christ.
And when we come out of the water, it symbolizes our resurrection into our new lives.
We are rising with Christ.
And for the rest of our lives, we can look back on our baptism as a reminder of our decision to give our lives to God, and of the gift of new life God has given us in return.
- With this understanding of baptism, why do you think the practice of baptism has remained constant for followers of Jesus over the last 2,000 years?
- Why do you think baptism has been so important to followers of Jesus for so long?
- How does baptism help us today?
Read Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT):
19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
We opened this lesson looking at how Jesus chose baptism as how he would start his ministry on earth, the passage we just read is how Jesus chose to end it.
These are his last words to his disciples, and what does he tell them to do?
Make disciples and baptize them.
That is significant.
The movement of Jesus has always been filled with people who have given their lives to God.
And these people have transformed the world, bringing life and love to broken places, including the outcast, welcoming the lonely, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry…Healing the brokenness of the world, all because they have given their lives to God.
And baptism is how they declared their commitment to the world.
Baptism is an outward declaration of our inward transformation…so it is a gift and worth celebrating with all we have.
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