March 9, 2008
Pastor Brian Shimer
"Baptism-the mark of discipleship"
Matthew 28: 18-20; Acts 2:14 ff
- We are reviewing some of the basic principles of our faith during these Sundays in Lent. So far we have looked at the 10 commandments, the fact that our God is a Triune God, Jesus the Son of God, and last week I aimed to deal with an aspect of the sacrament of holy communion.
Today we are looking at the sacrament of baptism. By the word Sacrament the church is speaking of an outward sign of a spiritual reality -- in this instance the outward sign is the use of water to picture a spiritual reality, the work of God within a person's life. In this congregation we affirm infant and adult baptism. We recognize that although this often is not the case, that God's utmost desire is that children would be raised in the faith by their parents.
For parents who are Christian to have their children baptized into the faith is then an act of their faith and an act of commitment that they as parents will do their all to raise this son or daughter to grow to know Jesus. Because of families where this is the case, some children grow into faith so naturally that they notice no abrupt turning points to Jesus. They will describe how they have always prayed to Jesus, loved Jesus, known Jesus and Jesus them. For most of these children, they will encounter a time in life when the faith that has been theirs by inheritance becomes theirs by owned belief. It has been an amazing and wonderful journey to watch as each of our girls have thus grown into their own expression of faith in Jesus; they have grown into their baptisms.
Adult baptism is that which occurs when an adult who has never before accepted Jesus Christ comes to faith and in recognition of this profession of faith is baptized.
Whether of infants or adults, the act of baptism acknowledges this simple reality: God makes baptism valid, no matter the age of the person involved. Baptism was God's idea and God will make it valid. The church just makes it regular, we put baptism into practice. But baptism is always made effective by the person's faith being baptized.
- When I was worshiping with the Gateway community last week, I had someone come to me to ask if it is okay to be re-baptized. This woman's husband was traveling in Israel and she was going to suggest that he be baptized in the Jordan River while he was there, but did not want to suggest it, if that would be a sin.
While baptism never needs to be repeated, God makes it valid - Jesus never was baptized a second time - and the person's faith in God makes the baptism effective it is not a sin to reaffirm that baptism as this husband may do while in Israel.
I remember when I was a college student at UC Santa Barbara and came under the teaching of an on campus Baptist group which taught that only adult baptism by immersion counted for anything, and that infant baptism is no baptism whatsoever. They were very strong in their opinion that if not baptized properly then not saved. So, I went and talked to my United Methodist Pastor Ehrhardt Lang, a godly man, a lover of Jesus, a man of the Word and he showed me that it is God who spoke of baptism and made it valid, and it is my faith in Jesus that makes it effective.
He said, "if you want to reaffirm your faith in Jesus in this way, if you ask Jesus and you have a joy that this is from him, then do so but know you do not have to in order to seal your salvation - you are baptized and the Holy Spirit is already the seal on God's saving grace in your life."
So in reaffirmation I was immersed and it did nothing to change my experience of Jesus except to help me know that what I already had was legitimate. People speak of wanting to be able to "remember" the "experience" of going under the water and coming out - but a pool can help you do the same. And truly: how many truly "remember the events" of their baptisms? Better is to "remember the fact" of the event. The reality is that if baptized as an infant or an adult, it is important to remember that you are baptized - hence the frequent sprinklings we have given one another over the years saying "remember your baptism and be thankful".
- In Scripture we learn that baptism is a mark of becoming a disciple of Jesus - Jesus gave to the disciples a mission statement in Matthew 28, which is in our local church mission statement as well to "make disciples of all nations" which means not just "national entities" but actual language or ethnic groups around the globe.
Jesus gave this mandate having been given all authority in heaven and on earth - so it is with the backing of heaven that we are to make disciples.
The main verb in this statement is that verb "to make" - the others could be translated in this fashion: "In all your going" or "as you are going" and as you are "baptizing" and as you are "teaching" make disciples - make followers of Jesus of those whom you baptize and teach. Clearly, from this statement the mainstays of discipleship ministry are baptism and teaching those who thus convert to do what the Lord Jesus commanded - which begins with loving God and loving others.
Now, in this statement then, baptism finds a central place and it is mentioned first, prior to teaching. Jesus said of his own baptism that to be baptized was a means of fulfilling all righteousness - he did not need to repent of his sin, but modeled for us that following him would mean also to be baptized. At this baptism, you remember that it was not just Jesus who showed up but the Father spoke from heaven and the Holy Spirit descended as a dove and rested upon him, thus making water baptism an act through which the triune God impacts our lives.
The idea of baptism in or into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit points then to the involvement of the three-one God in this event. You heard Peter's first message in the book of Acts called his listeners to repent and "be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ" for them to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Now when he says and the rest of the book of Acts says baptism "in the name of Jesus" it does so because Jesus is the means to the Trinity - he is the Way, the "only name under heaven by which all humanity may be saved" - so for the book of Acts to talk about baptism into or in the name of Jesus is to talk of something that includes the fullness of the Triune God working in the life of the one baptized.
- If we traced baptism in the book of Acts we would find that the early church believed it belonged to the beginnings of faith.
"Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" Some translations include Philip's response: To this Philip said, "if you believe with all your heart, you may." The official answered, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." (8:37-34). And they stopped their journey and he was baptized.
As here in Acts 2 Peter called the people to repentance and baptism, so in Acts 8 Philip told the Ethiopian Eunuch about baptism in his sharing about who Jesus was for when the eunuch saw water he exclaimed:
In Acts 9 Saul who becomes the apostle Paul is baptized after his conversion by a reluctant Ananias in Damascus. Saul, you will remember, was traveling to Damascus in order to drag away Christians to imprisonment or death because of their adherence to the Way. En route he was blinded by an encounter with Jesus, spent three days fasting and praying, and Jesus sent Ananias to him. Ananias said: "Brother Saul, the Lord-Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here-has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And we read in the passage: "Immediately something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength" (9:17-19). Clearly here, as is explicitly said in Acts 2, baptism is accompanied by the filling of the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 10, the Lord surprised Peter and his companions at the house of Cornelius when the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius, his relatives and his close friends whom he had gathered to hear Peter even before they had been baptized, even before they had confessed their belief in Jesus! The astonished Peter exclaimed: "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." And they were baptized-- we do not know from the description whether this baptism would have included children.
In Acts 16, when Paul and Silas were in the jail at Philippi and God opened the doors, the jailer was about to kill himself imagining that all the prisoners had escaped, but Jesus was not organizing a jail break, but a new birth! So, upon finding everyone still there, the jailer fell on his knees before Paul and Silas in their cell and asked "what must I do to be saved?". Imagine the conviction and the impact of the living God upon this man's heart through that event! He converted and we read an amazing note here that he and all his family were baptized. Clearly this baptism could have included his children, which would have been a logical piece of Christian discipleship because of the Jewish circumcision rite that took place with infants as a mark of belonging to the Living God and because of Jesus' own attitude toward children which was to "let them come" and encounter Him.
In Acts 19 Paul encountered disciples in Ephesus who had been baptized but not "into Jesus" and they had not received the Holy Spirit. In his inquiry of them he learned they had only received John's baptism, which was a baptism of repentance. But this meant they had not known to receive Jesus after that baptism. They had not been baptized INTO the name of the Lord Jesus, which for these disciples made all the difference as they were then filled with God's Holy Spirit. .
- Again and again the book of Acts baptism into Jesus' Name was a baptism into faith in the living God, which was accompanied or preceded by the filling of the Holy Spirit. In these first years of the church both adults and possibly children were baptized. So, what did it to mean that they were baptized into the Name of Jesus?
If we look at the book of 1 Corinthians we will find some explanation of that meaning. In the first chapter, Paul was seeking to sort out how divided the church has become. They had aligned themselves under different leaders saying, "I belong to Christ" and another "I belong to Paul" or "I belong to Apollos". Paul counters their claims with these questions: "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?" Thus asking questions which for Paul dealt with the idea of "belonging" to the one they claim as their leader.
Clearly for Paul, then, baptism into the name of Jesus meant once baptized you 'belong to' Jesus. He returned to this idea again in the 6th chapter in his argument for sexual purity saying that the body belongs to the Lord so they ought to keep it pure.
Also in these questions Paul connects the idea of crucifixion with baptism asking, "Was Paul crucified for you?"
To be baptized Paul makes clear meant that the crucifixion of Jesus became a crucifixion "for" the one baptized. Since you "belong" to Jesus through the act of baptism, what Jesus has accomplished by his death applies to you all the more. Also in this passage again, Paul names the few he did baptize while in Corinth and this list included the "household of Stephanas" which again would have quite possibly included both adults and children.
In the 6th, 10th and 12th chapters Paul returns to baptism showing baptism linked to the work of the Holy Spirit and the affirmation of God the Father. In the 12th chapter, it is our baptism by one Spirit into one body which brings us unity in Christ. By being brought into the Name, we are brought into His Body, and brought into unity one with another.
In numerous letters which Paul wrote he elucidates some of his thinking about baptism in the context of other topics - as in the book of First Corinthians while seeking to settle the dividedness of this congregation. In Romans 6 for example, while dealing with the thesis that "we who died to sin" cannot "live in it" any longer (6:2), Paul argues that this death happens in baptism for we were baptized into Christ's death. We went "under" the water (whether the water is sprinkled, poured or we are immersed, we are still "under" that water) and thus died with Christ in order to be raised with Him in his resurrection, raised to "live a new life". This is a death to the power of sin in our lives - so that we will not need to live as slaves to sin any longer but can serve the living God.
The focus given in both Colossians and Ephesians is that baptism is not only a death and burial with Jesus but also a resurrection with him through faith in the power of God who raised Jesus from the dead (Col 2:12), even to the point of being enthroned with Jesus in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6). Holding to these realities Martin Luther the great reformer would cry out against the onslaught of the devil: "I am baptized!"
- There are many other allusions to baptism throughout the books of the New Testament, ones we cannot take time to discuss. One thing is certain, the authors are unified in proclaiming that baptism is an important part of what it means to be a Christian believer - in making disciples we baptize and we teach. Since baptism is something God makes valid - it is not necessary to repeat the act of baptism any more than Jesus' death needed to be repeated for each successive generation. It is a one time action which invites us into the fullness of what God has for us in salvation - the experience of dying and being raised with Jesus, seated with Him in his resurrection. We are filled with God's Holy Spirit, united into one body in the church. By it we are said to belong to Jesus and since we have died to the power of sin, we can live out a life that brings praise to God. Remember your baptism and be thankful! Is there anyone here who even today would like to receive baptism as your step into faith in Jesus?