Zaccheus walks into the temple. Since Jesus visited his home a few weeks ago, he’s a changed man. He has restored everything that he cheated anyone of, like he promised–and that took a while–and word has spread far and wide of the tax collector who has repented. As he passes through the temple gate, whispers spread through the crowd like a wind through dry leaves. He stops inside the gate and looks up at the inner temple. It’s been so long since he was welcome here. So long since he came here to worship.
A wizened priest approaches him, suspicion etched deep in his wrinkled face. “What brings you here, tax collector?”
Not long ago, the man’s tone alone would have been enough to drive Zaccheus out of the temple. But he’s a different man now. Zaccheus bows his head. “I need to be circumcised again.”
Does that sound odd to you?
As circumcision was the rite of entry under the Old Covenant, baptism is the rite of entry in the New. Some folks have taken that to mean that we should baptize babies born into Christian families, but that’s only because they haven’t thought it all the way through. You circumcise an Old Covenant baby after he’s born into the Old Covenant, which was simple enough. Under the New Covenant, though, people are born twice. Which birth do we baptize them after? If baptism is the new circumcision, what is the new birth?
Well…the new birth. So once the person is born again, we baptize them. If the man wanders away, becomes a gambler and a drunkard, joins the Hell’s Angels, sells automatic weapons to third-world dictators, the whole works, and then comes back, does he need to be baptized again?
No. The original baptism counted, and it still counts. His many sins are an insult to his baptism, but they don’t undo it, anymore than cheating on your spouse undoes your wedding. You can’t commit adultery enough times to make your wedding didn’t happen. (You might induce your spouse to divorce you, but that’s a different thing.)
Now, if this man comes to me, repentant of his life and seeking to return to the Lord, will I receive him? Of course! If he wants to be rebaptized as a symbol of his repentance and return, will I refuse him? Of course not!
A couple whose marriage was dead and has come alive again may renew their wedding vows. I see nothing wrong with renewing the man’s baptism. But that is what we’re doing — renewing it.