Summary: How can baptism do such miraculous things?
The world has been riveted by the news out of Ft. McMurray. That beast of a forest fire has altered the lives of thousands. What amazes me is how quickly events unfolded. Many still went about their business on a Tuesday morning—attending school, visiting friends, putting in another day at the office—even as firebombers buzzed the community. But by 6 pm that evening everyone was ordered out of the city and just like that 88,000 people were on the run.
Fire has a way of getting people moving, as one St. Albert firefighter knows all too well. About a week before the Ft. Mac fires, there was a brush fire at Big Lake, just outside of St. Albert. Fire crews were on hand to douse the flames when the wind shifted and the fire whipped up into a tornado forcing one firefighter to seek refuge in the waters of the Sturgeon River. I doubt it was the most refreshing bath he’s had, but it must have been the most powerful, as those waters saved his life from the fire.
Have you ever taken a bath like that—a plunge into water that saved your life? If you are baptized, you’ve received such a bath—a better bath than anything else because baptism saves you from the fires of hell. As we continue our sermon series on baptism today, we want to find out what makes baptism so powerful. Listen to our text from Acts 2:37-39. “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.’”
Our text fits well with the church event we are commemorating today: Pentecost. It was on this day 2,000 years ago when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in visible form. Who is the Holy Spirit? He is God, along with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit’s job is to point us to the work Jesus did to win salvation for all. But the Holy Spirit does more than point to Jesus, he actually works in our hearts so that we come to believe and trust in Jesus. You could say that the Holy Spirit is like an IT tech who enables your computer to connect to the internet by making it sure it has the right network key. Without that network key, your computer won’t be able to surf the net, no matter how advanced the computer is. Likewise without the Holy Spirit, you can’t come to believe in Jesus, no matter how smart you are.
It was this Holy Spirit who descended on the disciples in what looked like tongues of fire that danced on top of each of them. The Holy Spirit was perhaps illustrating how he was about to make each one of the disciples’ tongues dance with languages they had never studied before. And so John started speaking in Latin perhaps, Andrew in Arabic, and Thomas in Persian. Why was there a need for these communications skills? Because many non-Hebrew speaking people had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost, which was originally an Old Testament harvest festival. And now by giving the disciples the ability to communicate to these strangers in their own language, there would shortly be a harvest of souls as they would come to faith in Jesus.
Although we don’t know what language each disciple spoke, we do know what their message was. It must have been similar to the message Peter shared with the residents of Jerusalem that day. Peter told the crowd that had assembled that since they had agreed to have Jesus crucified, they were guilty of killing their God and Lord. Our text describes the crowd’s reaction: they were “cut to the heart.”
Every time we gather for worship here, the Holy Spirit endeavors to recreate the events of Pentecost. No, he hasn’t enabled me to preach to you in a variety of languages, but he works through the message to cut open your heart and mine. You see, our purpose in gathering for worship is not to slap each other on the back and congratulate each other on how much more righteous we are than everyone else out there. Rather we want to be reminded first of how often we have failed to live as righteous people. For example we often fail to control our selfishness when we heave a big sigh when asked to complete our chores. We fail to show forgiveness when we give way to that rant that has pent up inside of us. We fail to show concern when we don’t bother to pray for anyone else other than for ourselves and our immediate family. We also show that we’re not really committed to God’s ways when we put off dealing with those pet sins of ours.