In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader—one of the stories that have come to be known as the Chronicles of Narnia—C S Lewis tells the story of a boy named Eustace who finds himself in a dragon’s lair, surrounded by wealth beyond his wildest dreams. There are mountains of gold coins, jewels, rings and bracelets.
He puts a bracelet on his arm and promptly falls asleep. When he wakes he finds that he has turned into a dragon. The greed of his heart had so consumed him that it had become physically manifested.
This seemed good for a while. He could now fly and do things that others could not. But the good feelings didn’t last. The bracelet that had hung loose on his arm as a boy now dug painfully into him as a dragon. Soon all he wanted was to be rid of the dragon skin and be Eustace the boy again. But wishing didn’t make it happen. One day it finally hit him that he would never be a boy again. That night, he cried big, salty, dragon tears.
Eustace now realised the worthlessness of money, jewels, wealth and luxury.
He also realised he didn’t want to be the boy he had been: complaining, arrogant and conceited. He finally recognised his need for a new heart, a new mind and a new beginning.
what baptism means
This story gets to the heart of what it means to be baptised. The English word baptise comes from the Greek word baptizo, meaning “to dip in water.” The Essenes—a Jewish monastic sect that lived in the desert near the Dead Sea—baptised people to make them ceremonially clean and thus acceptable to God. Jesus took this ritual to do with ceremonial cleansing and applied it to a person’s relationship with Himself. Baptism means several things.
United with Jesus in His death and resurrection. In Mark 10:38, Jesus asked His disciples, “Are you able to be baptised with the baptism of suffering I must be baptised with?” (NLT).
The expected answer here, of course, is “no.” But the disciples said “yes.” And Jesus affirmed them, saying, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptised with my baptism of suffering” (verse 39, NLT). Jesus was talking about His path to the cross by which He saved a lost world from sin. On the cross, Jesus took all sin upon Himself and became separated from God.
His disciples obviously could not do that. But when they said “yes,” Jesus affirmed their faith in the sense that they would share in His death and resurrection; they, too, would die and rise again but through the metaphor of baptism.
The apostle Paul affirmed this meaning of baptism. In Romans 6:3, 4, he said, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him 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.”
A meaningful relationship. Living the new life following baptism includes having a close relationship with Jesus.
However, in order to have a meaningful relationship with Jesus we must do certain things:
- We must communicate with Him through prayer and Bible study.
- Once God’s Spirit has implanted love in our minds, we must make an effort to respond to life’s circumstances with thoughts and behaviours motivated by love.
- We must give up the world’s values and take on the values of Jesus, which are often in complete contrast.
- We must practice humility, placing the needs of others before our own.
Blessings of God—a spiritual thing. Some people focus on the blessings they believe come from being baptised.
They quote Scripture, well-meaning but often out of context, and argue that in being baptised or paying tithes or giving offerings, one will be physically blessed by God. They say things such as, “Your business will grow; you will have good health; your farm will not be destroyed by drought.” John the Baptist suggested that the baptism of Jesus would have more to do with the spiritual world than the physical when he said, “I baptise you with water, but he [Jesus] will baptise you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8).
When Jesus talked about “rewards,”
they were always to do with the kingdom of God within us and the kingdom of God to come. The spiritual rewards that Jesus talked about were not based on what we do or don’t do— but on what He has done for us. They are gifts from God, which cannot be earned, bought, destroyed or taken from us.
A difficult path. Jesus always made it clear that in following baptism, one had to be prepared for persecution, pain and trouble. Even in the Old Testament, going under water had connotations of persecution and trial. David said, “Don’t let the floods overwhelm me, or the deep waters swallow me, or the pit of death devour me” (Psalm 69:15, NLT). And so, going under the waters carries with it the idea that the journey will be difficult—a narrow path and a road less travelled, but a road full of discovery about God and about ourselves.
We all sometimes ask, Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? Am I a worthwhile person? Can my life make a difference? Where am I going?
Is there life after death? The answer to these questions often comes during times of heartache, pain, sickness, trauma and difficulty.
That’s why the Bible says we should “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ’s, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).
back to Eustace
In C S Lewis’s story, a lion named Aslan comes to Eustace as if in a dream—terrifying and beautiful. Aslan tells Eustace to follow him. They arrive at a garden, and in the middle of the garden is a big round bath with steps going down into it. Eustace thinks the cool water will help relieve the pain in his arm, so he starts to step into the water, but Aslan tells him to undress first.
Eustace starts to scratch, and some of the dragon scales come off. As he scratches harder, more and more scales come off, and in a minute or so, he steps out of his skin. He feels good.
But as he is about to enter the water, he looks down and sees his feet. They are all rough and scaly, just as before. In fact, his whole body is still covered with scales, so he scratches until one comes off. Then he scratches until the next one comes off. But each time he looks at himself in the water, he sees the same rough, scaly skin. All his efforts at scratching off his scaly suit of skin are in vain.
Then Aslan says, “You will have to let me undress you.”
Eustace is afraid of the lion’s claws, but he’s also desperate, so he lets Aslan undress him. Aslan scratches Eustace with his claws and they penetrate so deeply Eustace thinks they have gone right into his heart. The pain is worse than anything he has ever felt before.
Finally, Eustace’s skin lays on the grass, only now it is so much thicker and darker than before. The skin on Eustace’s body, on the other hand, is as smooth and soft as a baby’s.
Then Aslan picks up Eustace and throws him into the water. The water burns terribly but only for a moment.
It becomes perfectly wonderful, and he finds that all the pain has gone from his arm. He is a boy again! Then Eustace sees why: he isn’t the same boy, for he has met Aslan.
That’s how it is with Jesus. To be baptised means giving up of one’s old life and adopting a new life. No longer is the best place the best place. In the new order, the first are last and the last first; the rich are poor, and the poor are rich; the blind are made to see, and the seeing are made blind.
When a person is baptised, he or she is a different person, for they have met with Jesus and have been filled with His Spirit.