(The following is a transcript of Todd Katter’s message from Baptism Sunday 2017. The video will also be available to you soon.)
Well, again, we’re talking about the importance of tradition. And recently, I came across this fascinating research study from Harvard that gets at how much tradition matters, even in our day. As many of you know, I recently had a son, again, you know, he will be three months old two days from now, on Tuesday, and here’s a picture of the dude. And you’ll just see how awesome he is. Oh my word. I know. I know. He looks just like his mother. Thank goodness. He’s just growing up so fast. Man.
But we’re on the quest for the perfect family tradition. Because traditions really matter. So, again, where do I start my quest? I start it with the internet, right? Learn anything important on the internet. So, again, I go to the internet, and I look at all these sort of crazy, strange family traditions. But one stuck out. It was called “guzzle a gallon.” And “guzzle a gallon” is where you gather all your family members, all your friends, and all your kids, all get purchased their own gallon of their very favorite ice cream. Mhmm. And then the first one to finish the entire gallon wins five bucks. That’s right. And the parents watch as these kids walk around getting brain freezes—all for five dollars. It actually kind of sounds like child torture.
But nevertheless. Decided we’re not gonna do that one. So then I send the email to some of you guys. And some of you emailed me back about your favorite family traditions. There were many great options. But the one that stuck out to me was called “dancing for dessert.” So the family gets together, and they have this great family celebration. And then afterwards, before you dive in to your pie à la mode, the lights go down, and the disco ball goes up. And you get jiggy with it. Again, we will not be adopting that one either as the Katter family.
So then I started paging through our family photo album from my past just to think about what were some of my favorite family traditions. And the one that stuck out for me was, every single year, on our birthdays, we would get a stuffed owl. A stuffed owl. Again, you can see a picture here. Very, very nice. I’m the really good-looking dude on the left. And some people have heard me describe this without a picture, and they think I’m talking about like a taxidermy owl—like, that would be weird. You know, getting a bunch of taxidermy owls to sleep with. But nevertheless.
So. We’re gonna dive in today to the importance of family tradition. Because that research study showed that families and kids that grow up with more family traditions, they enjoy life more. It showed that they feel more secure. It showed that they feel more connected to things that are greater than them. That family traditions, especially in our day, really, really matter.
So we’re gonna dive into that. And we’re gonna dive into this time-tested Christian tradition of Baptism. This tradition about water that’s been going on for 2,000 years. And how it’s just as important today as it’s ever been. And we’re gonna dive in because many of you here are getting baptized. And some of you here, God may want you to get baptized even as you listen to the service. We had some people respond during our service at our last service and come up afterwards. And I would just encourage you, if God is speaking to you on this, listen. He may have you sign up to be baptized as well.
But we’re gonna look at three reasons on why Baptism is such a big deal. Or, essentially, what is the vision behind this tradition.
And the first thing, the first reason, is that Baptism allows you to embrace your story, to embrace your story. So we’re gonna dive into John chapter 7 as we see Jesus engaging with another tradition that we learn some lessons on this. It says, John chapter 7, verse 1. It says, “After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near”—that’s the tradition we’re gonna look at—“[His] brothers said to him, ‘Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.’”
You see, here is Jesus. And he’s debating, should I go to this feast or not? Some people want Him to go cause they want to kill Him. His brothers don’t believe in Him, so they want people to kind of see the fraud that He is. They’re like, “Oh, you go ahead and do that.” But Jesus ends up deciding to go to the Feast of Tabernacles. We have a map here that kind of gives you a little sense of the geography of this. He’s hanging way out there, up in Galilee. And He goes all the way down, about a hundred miles, all the way down to Jerusalem to be a part of this feast.
And this feast was the most important, biggest feast of the Jewish calendar. It was their harvest festival feast, and it centered around a bunch of tents. Like Pat said. I’m glad he’s not sleeping in this tent. That would be a bad thing. But they would literally sleep in tents for seven straight days.
So question for you, how many of you have ever slept in a tent? Alright, alright, most of you have. Anyone slept in a tent for a week straight? Oh, wow, wow, two weeks straight? Three weeks straight? Wow, wow. For me, I slept in a tent for seventeen days straight when I was climbing a mountain. But some of you have done even more than that. But I doubt any of us have slept in a tent as long as the Israelites did. Because the Israelites slept in a tent for 14,600 days straight on the 40-year journey from Egypt to Palestine. And, again, it’s kind of odd that God chose for them to kind of remember that journey through a tent. Because this tent was kind of a reminder of how they’d messed up. How they were supposed to go into the Promised Land a long time ago, but they messed up, and they got fearful. And they sent spies out. And they got scared. And they ended up being sent back into the wilderness for a whole bunch of more years.
So, again, the first message that we learn from the Feast of Tabernacles is God wants us to embrace our story, all of our story—even the difficult parts. Even the gritty parts. Even the parts that we want to hide. And for those of you getting baptized today, I just want to tell you, that is a critical thing to remember. That, first of all, you are stepping into the timeless tradition that we’ve been celebrating as a church for 2,000 years. So you’re embracing the story of the Church, that’s really important.
But in addition to that, you are embracing your own story. Even those things that you might wish you’d like to forget. And I know I can think about this personally. Whenever I was a junior-high student—I know we probably all did some stupid things in junior high, but get ready for this.
So. My friend and I journey out into the woods where we lived in the Ozarks. And we started playing around in this barn. And we started doing what, you know, any normal junior-higher would do. We started shooting out fireworks, right? Makes a lot of sense.
So my friend lights a match. We see the bottle rocket go off. And then I’m like, “Oh, wow, this is kind of cool.”
And, so, he lets the match fall on the ground. And it just starts burning, just a little bit. And then he starts to step it out. And, again, as only a junior-higher would, I’m like, “Hey, just let it burn a little bit. Let’s just see what happens, you know? Little science experiment, you know?”
Well, in all of about five seconds, that little fire became this big, became this big. So then we did what any set of responsible junior-high students would do. We ran for our lives. Ran for our lives. Ran out of the woods. The fire at least didn’t catch up with us. We got back. We’re hiding in my parents’ basement. About thirty minutes later, we hear a fire truck going down the street. And I was afraid someone was gonna find us out, was gonna come to our house—maybe Google Maps had been watching us and had seen the whole episode. Thankfully, I don’t think it existed back then.
And, I’ll tell you, I was so afraid. I was afraid I was gonna be found out. In fact, I didn’t go back to that field for years. Cause I didn’t want to face the carnage that my innocent but legitimate mistake had made. And, finally, I had the courage to go back and to kind of embrace my story. Want to know what I found? The whole barn had burned down. I know. In fact, guys, twenty-five years later, this is my confession. Hopefully statues of limitations have expired, right? No going back and trying to find old landowners outside of the north side of Springfield. Who knows. They may cart me away by next week.
But the reality is... is we’ve all got a story. Every single one of us here have a story. And I would just challenge you—embrace your story. Don’t run from it. And the beautiful thing about this image of Baptism is that, when you go into the water, whether someone knows the worst thing you’ve done or the worst thing that you knew you should do but you didn’t, or whether they don’t, whether it’s something that you’re sitting here this morning and you’re holding and no one knows, something that you promised yourself, I will go to my grave and I will never tell anyone about this. No matter what that thing is, no matter what comes to mind, the beauty of Baptism is you go into the water, you come up, you’re washed. Clean. You’re washed. Clean. Because that’s the power of the grace of God. That’s the power of what Jesus did.
And whether we think we have a big story, or maybe you’re here and like, “Hey, actually, I don’t have any stories like that.” You’re like, “I’ve just lived a perfect life.” I doubt that’s any of you, but maybe it is. Even then, we know that none of us are good enough. And we know that what Jesus did is what made all the difference. And Baptism reminds us to embrace our story and to be washed clean.
But Jesus goes on. And our point here today. So we’re gonna look at the second thing that’s powerful about the importance of Baptism. The second thing is Baptism allows us to declare our authority. Again, looking again from the story of Jesus, it says that Jesus went up into the temple courts and began to teach. “The Jews there were amazed and asked, ‘How did this man get such learning without having been taught?’
Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. . . . Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.’”
So, essentially, the debate is continuing because there are some rabbis who would teach, and they’d be like, “Hey, I get authority for my teaching cause there’s somebody else that I got my teaching from.” But Jesus stands up, and He says, “Hey, I get authority straight from the Father.” It’s a really, really big deal. Because Baptism is a test of who is in the authority seat in your life. It’s kind of a who’s-in-charge test.
And then, who’s in the authority seat isn’t even always a person. Often, it can be some other thing, some priority, anything that you’d be willing to put first in our life. I have a few things in our chest here that kind of remind me of this. The first one is, in eleven days, the football season kicks off. Very excited about that. Trubisky’s gonna bring us all the way. Right? Don’t you think? Don’t you think? Alright, alright, I’m looking for someone who I think—yeah! Hey! Nicely done.
I’m really just clapping for myself cause that was a great spiral. That was a fantastic spiral. But I’ll be honest, I’m excited for football. I love football. But, you know, sometimes, I can let football actually get in the authority seat. I can let going home for a game or I know I should, you know, do something to be nice to my wife or someone else, and I literally just wanna veg, and you know, spend, you know, the afternoon or the evening just watching a football game. So that’s one thing that can get in the way.
Another thing I think many of us can find is money. Especially an Alexander Hamilton $10 bill, you know? My wife went and saw Alexander Hamilton whenever I was speaking the other day. I felt so betrayed, so betrayed. I don’t know if any of you’ve seen that. But nevertheless. I digress.
But it is easy, for some of us, whether we’d admit it or not, to say, “Hey, I need a certain amount of resources.” And that really is gonna be the ultimate thing that determines my major decisions. Then another thing that can come up is Starbucks. I mean, how many of us don’t wake up, and like, we aren’t really alive until we have our Starbucks. We have our midnight Mint Mocha Frappuccino. You know? Those are fantastic.
Got another one here. It’s just a picture frame. And this one speaks a lot to me. Cause a lot of my own junk can come from trying to please my parents, wondering what would they think? And I know, sometimes, even parents and even people who aren’t even alive, we still wonder, what would they think? And we can cause a person to be in the authority seat in our lives and miss out what God wants for us.
But the beautiful thing about all of you who are gonna get baptized today is you are making a declaration of who is in the authority seat. You’re saying that the Bible or the Word of God is what matters most. Cause, all throughout the Bible, if you read the entire New Testament, you will see again and again and again that when people make a public declaration of faith, they’re challenged to go be water baptized. So it’s a really, really big deal.
And the best way I can describe this is through kind of a personal experience I’ve had with my own father. So for a number of years, I’d go down, I’d visit him and have a great time with him, often over Thanksgiving. And they turned one of their two bedrooms into a library. So my dad would say, “Hey, Todd, let’s go spend some time kind of going through these books,” in his library, cause he used to be a college professor. So he’d read a book about counseling. We’d read a book about... relationships cause he thought I needed some relationship advice—he was probably right. We’d read a book about Theology cause he used to teach at a seminary.
And, you know, at first, I kind of resisted this thing that he wanted to do. But then I felt like God kinda spoke to me. And God was like, “You know what, Todd? Going through these books may not seem like they’re that interesting to you. But this is really, really important to your dad. And if it matters to him, it should matter to you. If it matters to him, it should matter to you.”
And, again, just recently, you guys know my dad’s health and his situation. He’s got rid of all of his books because he just really can’t comprehend them anymore. And I went, I was in that room, it was an empty room. And I was reminded, man, I am so glad for those numbers of years I was able to embrace that tradition.
But I want to challenge, because I think you all know this from some part of your life. There’s a person in your life—maybe they’re your kid, maybe they’re your spouse, maybe they’re your parent. They’re someone. And you will do everything you can to find out what interests them. What do they like? What football team do they really like? What’s their favorite food? Or whatever. And you know why you do that? Because you wanna connect with them. Cause you care about them. Because you’re like, you know what, if it matters to them, it will matter to me. If it matters to them, it will matter to me.
And that is what Baptism is all about. I mean, let’s be honest, it’s kind of a strange family tradition, right? You get a bunch of people together, and you have some people who say they’ve made this public profession of faith, and they get submerged in water and they come back up and people cheer and all that. It’s kind of strange. But, again, the point of Baptism is like, you know what, it’s just, it’s what God asked us to do. It’s an authority question for our lives. And when we say yes to Baptism, we’re just saying very, very clearly, “If it matters to You, it matters to me.”
And I’ve talked to people who’ve got baptized over their lives, or over my ministry, and often people will be like, “Hey,” some people will be like, “Hey, I love water. Like, I was the guy who like stayed in water parks all day like Magic Waters in Rockford, whatever, like, that was my thing,” and they love it. “I wanna get baptized every time we do it.” I’m not saying we should do that. But then, there are other people, who are like, “You know what? I hate water. I hate people watching me. I got really nice hair. Don’t mess up this do.” You know? They’re like, “You know, I don’t wanna be wet. You know, clothes being wet is just not my thing.” But again, I would just encourage you, if God’s speaking to you on this, just say yes. If it matters to Him, it should matter to us.
Baptism is a way that we declare our authority.
Well, the final thing that we’re gonna look at, number three, is that Baptism is a way that we remember our source. And we can see this from Jesus at the Feast. You see, the Feast of Tabernacles had seven days of dwelling in a tent. But the eighth day was completely different. The eighth day was actually this water celebration. And the high priest would lead a whole bunch of people, and they would go down to the pool of Siloam, and they would take a golden pitcher, and they’d fill up the water from that pool, and that pool had magic powers in it. That’s what they, you know, so many times, people would get healed when they’d walk in that pool.
So then they would take that pitcher filled with the water, and they would take it back to the temple, and then they would pour the water out on the courts of the temple. And they did that because that was symbolizing that one day, this magic water, this incredible power that God has, would flow from the temple—which represented the presence of God—and would flow to the four corners of the world. It was a really, really, really big deal for them.
In fact, when they did it, they would cry out this Scripture from Psalm 118, they would cry out, “Hosana”—or “Lord save us”—“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” From the house of the Lord, from the temple. “We bless you.” And you see, for 1,500 years, they did that same tradition. But then, Jesus comes on the scene. And He says these words in John chapter 7. It says, “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink”—Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink, and—“Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’”
Is anyone thirsty this morning? Thirsty not just for Starbucks coffee or Gatorade or water, whatever, but thirsty like... thirsty for love. Thirsty for hope. Thirsty for joy. Thirsty for life. Thirsty to be known. Thirsty for a future. Whatever your deepest soul thirst is, the beauty of Baptism, the beauty of this image of water, is Jesus says, “Thirst no more. Wait no more. I have come; I am here. And when you drink from what I offer you—” Like, this says, “It’s not just you getting satisfied.” It says, “Springs of living water will flow from within you.” It’s a really, really big deal.
And, again, that’s what Baptism’s all about. It says, “Not only is my past washed clean,” that’s really important, but that water also says that my present is held firm by what Christ has done, and my future, the rest of my life and all eternity, my future is secure. It reminds us to remember our source because the day is coming when we’re gonna need to remember it, when life’s gonna get a little bit hard.
Okay, the best way I can picture this is through kind of going through, you know, an experience with my son. He’s about a month old, and, you know, I had kind of drawn the early shift, you can see a picture of him again there. And believe it or not, he doesn’t always look like that. There are other moments. And this was one of those moments.
So, yeah, not fun, not fun. So 3 a.m. Wake up. Feed him. Change him. I am like desperately trying to keep his face from looking like that, and I am losing the battle. I know many of you parents and grandparents know what I’m talking about. Finally, I do all my magic tricks, I shake him, I dance him, I do whatever I can at 3 a.m., and I get him to be quiet. In his crib. Score, you know, it’s like the... so exciting. So I sneak out of the room. I go back to my bed. And I lay down.
And yes, he’s crying. There we go again. But then I remember something. I have one of these little baby monitors. I don’t know if you guys have seen this, but these are monitors—my wife wanted an audio monitor. I’m like, “No, we’re going big. We’re getting the video monitor.” So I look at him in the baby monitor just to see how crazy he’s going. You know what? He’s completely asleep. He’s completely asleep. And I was experiencing what psychologists will call “phantom cries.” Phantom cries.
Where the reality of what’s really happening does not square with what’s going on in our minds. It does not square with what’s going on in our emotions. It does not square with life as we’re actually experiencing it. And, again, God created us, and He knows what we need. And He knows that there is something so powerful about a physical reminder. He knows that when you physically go into this water, you just feel something, you are cleansed, and you come out of this water, and God does something powerful in you.
Again, no two people experience it quite the same, but it is a really, really powerful thing. I think that’s why God asks all of us to engage in this experience. And I just wanna encourage you this morning, cause I’m sure some of you here are getting baptized, you’re like, “Hey, if I’m honest, I’m hearing some phantom cries in my life. Maybe, intellectually, I know that I should be able to have faith in God, and I should feel a sense of peace, but it is just not real to me.” Or “I know that this situation is gonna work out; I know all things work together for the good, but I’m not experiencing that. The way my life actually feels is really, really hard.”
Well, the beauty of Baptism is it is this experience that you remember all your life about the reality of the grace of God and the power of God. In fact, I know many people who, I take their Baptism picture, and they put it up in their office. Or they put it up at home. They put it in a place where they can be reminded that even if life feels one way, the reality is completely different. You’ve been washed clean. You’ve been set free. God has great things in store for you.
So, again, we’re gonna close now. And we’re gonna dive into something really, really important. Because we’re gonna challenge every single one of you here to say, what is God speaking to you in this? What is your yes to the work that God is doing in your heart? Because, in our story, after Jesus gave this great exclamation about how He offers living water, there were three different responses. There were some who wouldn’t have it. To be honest, they ignored Him. They refused Him. They didn’t wanna say yes to what He was offering.
There were others who were kind of new to the scene. But they heard what Jesus was offering, and they said yes to that, they leaned in to that. And then there’s this one guy who’s an older guy. And he had been around things of faith for a long time. So he had a lot of reasons to resist. But when he heard this offer of living water, this offer of life, he leaned in. And he said yes. And it’s a powerful story of how people responded to Jesus. And God’s gonna do powerful things in our service in these next few moments.
Because there’s a danger, there’s a danger—you can be a part of a church family and you can see other people getting baptized, you can watch the pictures, you can see the videos, you can go to a service like this year after year. And you can say, “Hey, that’s great for somebody else.”
But let me tell you. It’s a whole other thing to be on the sidelines of an experience like that versus to actually experience the unique thing that God wants to do in your life when you do it. It’s like, I can remember going to many, many, many weddings. I hated going to weddings. But I’ll tell you, my wedding—when I watched my bride walk down the aisle... there’s nothing like it. And many of you, whether you’ve gone to a graduation ceremony of somebody else, or some other ceremony of any kind, you know that when you actually experience this tradition, there’s nothing like it.
So, again, God’s invitation for you today is to say yes. Say yes to baptism. Say yes to whatever thing He’s calling you to do. And some of you, if you’re honest, you’re at the end of your rope right now, and you need to be reminded once again that Jesus is the source of your living water. That you have been baptized. That you have been washed clean. And that He will continue to give you life and hope and strength and joy.
So I’m gonna ask us to bow our heads. And each of us is gonna do business with God. And I would just encourage you, what is that thing that God’s speaking to you about? And some of you are here this morning, and you know what? You’re like, “I hear about this offer of life from Jesus, but if I’m honest, I haven’t accepted it personally myself.” So I’m gonna lead us all in a prayer. But especially if you have not accepted Jesus, I would encourage you, mean these words from your heart, and you can accept Him to be the Lord and Savior of your life today. So let’s pray.
God, I thank You that I’m forgiven. I thank You for what Jesus did for me. For no matter how great or terrible my past and story is, I could never be good enough, but Jesus paid the price that I could not pay. Because of what He did, I say yes to that. And my soul is washed clean. And I can have a relationship with You. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen. Amen.