January: MATTHEW 3; MARK 1; LUKE 3
I will always remember the day I was baptized because it happened exactly on my eighth birthday, which happened to fall on a Saturday that year. Maybe, that helped the day become so memorable to me. I still remember the talk that was given by my bishop. He had just returned from an ocean cruise. He described the difference between the first-class, second-class, and steerage rooms. Then he asked us, which room would you like to stay in? Of course, all of us wanted the first-class rooms. He talked to us t the similarities between these different rooms and the different degrees of glory and what we needed to do to get there. That talk solidified my understanding that my baptism was the initial step to obtaining the first-class glory. When my father confirmed upon me the gift of the Holy Ghost, I felt those hands of the priesthood on my head for days after. Even though that happened 60 years ago, the event was so spiritually significant in my life that I still remember the experience profoundly, even though other eight-year-old memories are long forgotten.
John the Baptist prepared the Jewish people for the coming of the Savior by declaring repentance. All people, in every dispensation, must go through the same steps laid out in the doctrine of Christ – faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. This cycle of change is to be reviewed throughout our lives and on into eternity. Pres. Nelson taught: “True repentance is not an event. It is a never-ending privilege. It is fundamental to progression and having peace of mind, comfort, and joy.”[i]
The Pharisees and Sadducees came to see John’s baptism. He definitely warned them to repent calling them a “generation of vipers” (Matthew 3:7). John the Baptist told them to “bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:…, And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (Matthew 3:8, 10) Part of repentance is giving up those favorite sins that easily beset us. If we do not, the future will be a bleak one of being cast into the fire of guilt and personal condemnation.
Our Savior was sinless, yet he also was baptized – not to be cleansed from sin, but to be our perfect example. Nephi’s final sermon in the Book of Mormon is on the doctrine of Christ and the Savior’s example of baptism. He explained: “And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfill l all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water! …And again, it showeth unto the children of men the strictness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them.” (2 Nephi 31:5, 9)
The blessing that one receives after following the Lord’s example of baptism, entering the water with real intent to follow Christ, is the baptism of fire or the gift of the Holy Ghost. Once we have received this gift into our hearts, “then can [we] speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.” (2 Nephi 31:13) In Mark’s gospel, after describing Jesus’ baptism, Mark depicted miracles of Jesus. Jesus cast out devils, heals Peter’s mother-in-law, and healed a leper. Similarly, after we are baptized, we experience the gift of healing and the ability to heal others as we share out testimonies and bring others to Christ.
To keep my baptism as the foundation of my testimony, I prepare for sacrament meetings to always remember the covenants I have made with Him. Elder Holland described the importance of the sacrament after we “Behold the Lamb of God” in our own lives: “Brothers and sisters, this hour ordained of the Lord is the most sacred hour of our week. By commandment, we gather for the most universally received ordinance in the Church. It is in memory of Him who asked if the cup He was about to drink could pass, only to press on because He knew that for our sake it could not pass. It will help us if we remember that a symbol of that cup is slowly making its way down the row toward us at the hand of an 11- or 12-year-old deacon.
When the sacred hour comes to present our sacrificial gift to the Lord, we do have our own sins and shortcomings to resolve; that’s why we’re there.[ii]
Mark described the voice of the Father proclaiming to all who witnessed Jesus’ baptism that “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) As I follow the weekly path of remembering my covenants and repenting and changing – mind, heart, and soul – then I look forward to the day when I will hear the Father say these same words to me. Pres. Oaks taught: “Overarching God’s plan and all of His commandments is His love for each of us, which is ‘most desirable above all things … and the most joyous to the soul.’”[iii] To hear those words would truly be joyous to the soul!
[i] Russell M. Nelson, “Christmas Devotional” 2018.
[ii] Jeffrey R. Holland, Behold the Lamb of God, April 2019.
[iii] Dallin H. Oaks, Cleansed by Repentance, GC April 2019.