I love the tradition some churches have of inviting all the children in the sanctuary forward when it’s time to baptize a baby. Having done that a few times myself, I enjoy the moment introducing the kids to their newest sister or brother in God’s covenant family. I also take the opportunity to ask the kids what water reminds them of. The answers always pour out: taking a bath, cleaning, swimming, brushing our teeth, drinking. Most (if not all) of the answers are cheery and I somehow connect them with baptism: Jesus, the Living Water, washes us clean from sin.
I have yet to hear a child caution me about the dangers of water, that it’s possible to drown in water. Then again, to my knowledge, I’ve never had Demetrius Jones in any service where I’ve invited the children to the baptismal font.
In 2009, his story captivated the residents of northern British Columbia. While his parents and other family members at the campground where they are vacationing are looking the other way, the 3-year-old drives his toy truck (the kind he could sit in and steer) into the fast-flowing Peace River. In the blink of an eye, he is gone, out of sight. Precariously balanced on his overturned toy truck, Demetrius (everyone calls him Peanut) clutches its thin metal axle between the wheels. The slightest shift in his weight and he will be tossed into the cold waters of the wide, fast-moving river. He is whimpering. A logjam looms ahead.
His family quickly realizes Peanut is missing. When no one can find him around the campground, they look downriver.
Search parties soon figure they are searching for a drowned corpse.
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This, it turns out, connects with baptism. In fact, the idea of drowning as a way to think about baptism goes all the way back to something the apostle Paul said: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death…”
Baptism and death belong together: We identify with the death and burial of Christ when water makes contact with our heads and the heads of those we love. Drowning is a frightening thought, but the connection between baptism and death is clearly presented in Scripture.
Because death by drowning is such a frightening thought, it makes the next thing Paul writes incredibly powerful Good News: “…We were therefore buried with [Christ Jesus] through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we, too may live a new life. If we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” In a way we touch and see, baptism reveals a fantastic rescue: A watery grave does not have the last word for those who are baptized. Jesus lives, and so do we – today and for eternity!
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As family members and others in the campground get into their boats to go downriver searching for Peanut, fear paralyzes his parents. The river is the highest anyone has seen it all season.
The searchers approach a logjam 6 miles downriver from the campground. They circle around it a couple times but see no sign of Peanut. At this point, turning back seems the logical thing to do, but they press on. Nearly two miles farther downriver, the men in the boat spot something in an eddy. What they first think is the head of a bald eagle is actually the blond hair of a little boy. He is kneeling on his overturned toy truck, clutching the axle and shivering as the water lapped around him.
“I’m coming! Don’t move!” calls one of the men in the boat who proceeds to jump into the frigid, 10-feet-deep water, and catches hold of Peanut. The men are even able to rescue his toy truck!
Back at the dock, Peanut’s mom watches the boat return but only sees the men and the toy truck. Just when the horror is about to make her sick to her stomach, one of the men in the boat shifts position slightly and she catches sight of Peanut’s head. He is in one of the men’s arms – shivering, but smiling! They rush him to the hospital where he is warmed up, assessed, and released in two hours.
Afterward, Peanut sometimes still asked, “Trucks go in water, Mommy?” And his mommy always answered, “No, Demetrius, they do not!”
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Jesus rescues us from the deep, treacherous waters of sin. Through Him, our sins are washed away – a common picture of baptism. But even more than that, we die to sin, and then are raised again in Jesus Christ. The water of baptism reminds us that we have drowned. But Jesus is the divine Rescuer, bringing us back to the dock in new life for now and eternity.