(Matthew 28:19 NIV) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
From time to time we have the opportunity to do what I call "one weekers” – our typical sermon series line up and there is a gap of one week, and so we have the chance to do things that do not lend themselves easily to a series, but are surely worthy of at least one week. And so this past spring I spent a week going over our teaching on Holy Communion. If you weren’t here that Sunday, or are interested in reviewing it, I would highly recommend it to you – you can pick up copies back at the bookstore (for free) or you can listen to the podcast or read the message on line at www.room211.org under the Messages tab. Lots of people expressed appreciation for that teaching, and some of you asked whether I might do the same sort of thing with Baptism. Today you get your wish.
Last Sunday I was just back from vacation, and Pastor Grulke was handling things just fine here, so I had the chance to go to another congregation for their 9:30 service before coming here at 11:00. It was a good chance to see what I could learn from someone else. And I have to say I liked much of what I saw, and learned some great stuff. But. Ahhh, you knew it was coming. But. But it wasn’t quite Room211. And as I was sitting there I thought to myself, "Wow, has God blessed us here or what???” Seriously though, they did quite a few things very very well. And it so happens that their topic that morning was … you guessed it … baptism.
They played some wonderful videos of people telling their stories and then getting baptized – each time someone was baptized on the video, everyone cheered. It was exciting to hear people talk about life change, about what Jesus was doing in their lives … but I have to be honest with you, somehow about the third or fourth testimony we heard and baptism we watched, it started to feel a little hollow to me. Besides that, all sorts of questions came winging through my mind. Why are they dunking those people under water? Why not sprinkle them like we do in my church? Why dunk them only once, instead of three times? Some of them had been baptized before – they said so in their testimonies – why were they doing this again? What did they hope to accomplish by this? Why was this time any different? They talked about life change, but did these people really think that because of this ceremony they were going to be … what … sin-free the next day? That their addiction to gossip or alcohol or porn or anger was going to go away just like that? And on and on the questions rolled through my mind.
After about the 6th baptism we watched, I had to go – Room211’s 11:00 service was coming up and I didn’t want to be late for that – but I was glad I went, not only because of the positive stuff I observed but also because I knew I had personally experienced a ton of questions that I was going to have to answer this Sunday. To answer these questions, I think it’s best if I back up and just start reading some Bible passages to you. Because in the final analysis you didn’t come here to hear what I had to say today – you came here to hear what God has to say. So let’s dig in to His Word, and then when we’ve done that, let’s go back to my questions and figure out why I was feeling … so hollow … as I watched those baptisms. Why I wasn’t as excited as the other folks around me seemed to be.
(Matthew 28:18-20 NIV) Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Baptize = to wash. This is often a ceremonial washing, not for physical cleanliness but in order to "set aside” the thing being washed for some special use. Baptism: a ceremonial washing in order to set aside the thing being washed for some special use. Think about that in terms of the baptism of humans: it is not about physical cleanliness, but about being set aside for something special. Pretty sweet, huh! In that regard, check out how this Scripture agrees with that definition:
(Mark 7:3-4 NIV) (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
So the question then, in baptism, is what are we being set aside for? Peter answers this in Acts chapter 2, when he was preaching to a great crowd of people who had gathered in Jerusalem some 50 days after Jesus’ death and resurrection:
(Acts 2:36-39 NIV) "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah." 37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-- for all whom the Lord our God will call."
We are being set aside for inclusion in the Kingdom of God. For the forgiveness of our sins. As Peter spoke to the crowd that had gathered, he called the adults to repentance. To a change of heart. And to be baptized that they might be set aside for God. And, he said, this promise is not only for you, but for your children! I can easily picture dads and moms in the crowd, repenting of their sins, being baptized, and presenting their children also, that they too might receive this gift from God, that they too might be set aside for God’s kingdom. The same thing happened when Paul became a Christian, as God sent a guy named Ananias to him, and Ananias said to Paul:
(Acts 22:16 NIV) And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.'
Again we see that in baptism there is this washing away of sins. Thus the use of water is so apropos – to remind us of the spiritual washing that is taking place, the spiritual transformations which are taking place. And so it says in Paul’s letter to Titus:
(Titus 3:4-6 NIV) But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,
Are you getting the picture here? Baptism is not something we do for God, but is something God does to us. "He saved us through the washing of re-birth.” Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see. Baptism is God’s grace, God’s gift. It is God’s grace and God’s gift which replaces a ceremony that had been in use for thousands of years among God’s people. What was that ceremony? Circumcision. On the 8th day of their life, little Jewish boys had been being circumcised since the time of Abraham, almost 2000 years before Jesus. By that ceremony they were welcomed into God’s family. In Colossians, Paul writes to a bunch of Gentiles, people who were not Jews, people who had never been circumcised, and check out what he says:
(Colossians 2:11-13 NIV) In him Christ you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,
You see, it is not that baptism somehow saves apart from Jesus Christ and His death on the cross; rather it is a ceremony which God has given us to connect someone to Jesus Christ and His death on the cross. And so Paul says, "God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” Baptism is not what we do for God; rather it is what God does for us.
Why do I get excited when we have a baptism here in Room211? Because God is at work, and when God is at work, it is always exciting. I’m so glad for Steve Wells and for his challenge to our leadership team a few years ago when his daughter Maya was about to be baptized. As he was wrestling with what baptism was really all about, he challenged us and said, "if baptism is really all about God actually doing something, actually welcoming a person into His kingdom, then why is it that when you baptize someone, you all just sit there like bumps on a log, as if nothing is happening??? If something is really happening, then why don’t you act like it? Why don’t you jump up and cheer?” And you know what? He was absolutely right. And so began our tradition of jumping up and cheering at every baptism. We are not cheering the family and we are not cheering the adult or the baby who is being baptized; we are cheering for God, for His willingness and even eagerness to love us sinners and to welcome us into His kingdom.
Why was I not so excited to witness all those baptisms last Sunday at that other congregation? Why was I not as excited as it seemed that the other people around me were? Because their view of what was going on in baptism was just so different from mine, and from God’s. They had spent 15 minutes teaching on baptism. Baptism, they said, was done because we wanted to obey God. That was the main reason why they said a person should be baptized. To obey God. And secondarily to identify yourself with Jesus. As a public promise to Jesus that the person was going to live from that day forward for Him. Are you understanding this? They were viewing baptism not as something God does for us, but as something we do for Him. They were saying that baptism is the beginning of my obedience to God; that baptism is the way I promise God that I’m going to live for Him.
You know what? I too have promised God that I’m going to live for Him. The first time I remember doing that I was pretty excited. And that lasted about a week maybe and then I realized I was still messing up and so I got depressed. But then I promised God again that from this day forward I was going to live for Him. And it was exciting. And I knew that this time I really meant it. But I kept sinning. So I promised Him again. In fact, this time I made a vow! I was going to live for Jesus! Completely. Totally. No more messing around. I was serious this time. And wow, was I ever excited! But guess what happened? I messed up again. I fell again.
That’s been going on in my life now for 40 years. And over those 40 years I’ve learned a thing or two. One thing I’ve learned is not to get too excited about all my promises and vows and commitments to follow Jesus. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I still make them. Pretty much every day. And that’s really important to do and I would commend it to you highly. Yes, I get up at the beginning of the day and make a firm commitment that today I am going to be conformed to the image of Jesus, that I am going to live like Him. I make those promises to God, but … I don’t get too excited about it, because at the end of the day I know I’m going to look back at myself and see that I’ve messed up.
So I’ve learned not to get too excited about myself. But a second thing I’ve learned is to get really really excited about Jesus. As time goes on I get more and more pumped about the promises and the grace and the mercy of Jesus. Why? Because He is faithful. Because unlike myself, I can count on Him. Because when Jesus promised in my baptism to wash away my sins and to welcome me into His kingdom, I can count on that promise being 100% guaranteed.
Well, I’m on a role here and I want to make sure I get questions about baptism answered.
Why do we baptize infants while other churches do not? Because baptism is not about what I can do for God, and so I don’t have to be an adult to get baptized. Baptism is about what God is doing for us. Jesus loves children and would love nothing more than to have them in His kingdom, and so we baptize infants.
Why do we use only a handful of water while other churches dunk a person’s whole body? Because baptism is a ceremonial washing, and any amount of water is just fine. If you you’re not baptized and want to be dunked, or immersed, as it’s called, just let me know – that’s fine too. But the issue isn’t the amount of water; it’s God’s promise connected with the water.
Can a person who is not baptized go to heaven? Sure. Because Baptism doesn’t save us. Jesus’ death on the cross saves us. Or should I be more specific and say "trusting Jesus to have died in my place, to have paid the price for my sins”, that is what saves us. Baptism is one way that God has promised to work that trusting faith in our hearts; hearing God’s word is another way. And so the thief on the cross, who was hanging there next to Jesus, when he realized who Jesus was and what he was doing, put his faith in Jesus and was promised eternal life.
If baptism is sort of like the New Testament version of circumcision, why did God give a ceremony in the Old Testament that onlyinvolved boys? What about the girls? Well, I suppose that there are a few explanations, but one that makes sense to me is to look at middle eastern culture even today – it mirrors much of Old Testament culture. It was a very patriarchal culture, and my guess is that girls were part of God’s family simply by their relationship with the men in the family who were circumcised.
ON SCREEN ONLY (Galatians 3:26-28 NIV) So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
I’m so thankful for the continuing revelation that the New Testament brings, for the radical words of St. Paul as he was inspired to write by the Holy Spirit and talk of baptism, saying that it was for Jews and Gentiles, for slaves and free, for male and female, that there was no longer any distinction for we are all one in Christ Jesus. In New Testament times God sent His Holy Spirit into our hearts, that He might have a unique and personal relationship with each one of us. These are indeed wonderful times to be alive!
I don’t remember my baptism, and now that I’m an adult, I’d like to be baptized again. Why don’t we do that? Very simply, if baptism was something that I did for God, if it was a way of me committing myself to God, then I’d be baptized, well, I guess every day! But if it is something God does for me, which it is, if it is God welcoming me into His kingdom and into His family, then for me to be baptized again would be the same thing as me telling God that the first time I was baptized didn’t work. Think of it this way – I would never go before a judge and adopt my children a second time; in fact I would be offended if someone thought that just because my children were young when I adopted them, that somehow that adoption didn’t count. No, I’ve adopted them, and they are mine forever. I’ll celebrate that adoption many times, but I won’t do it again.
Should I celebrate my baptism? You bet! Each day you and I should remember our baptism, remember that God has welcomed us into His family. Each day you and I should re-commit ourselves to live as children of God, to love Him with all our hearts and to serve Him with all our strength. Even though we know we will fail – thanks be to our heavenly Father for we also know He will forgive us and pick us up again to live for Him tomorrow.
If any more, send FB or email… Let’s stand for prayer …
Sermon Topics: Classic