Summary: Baptism is an outward act, with visible elements, that is key to the inward attitude and acceptance into God’s kingdom.
Before performing a baptism, the pastor approached the young
father and said solemnly, "Baptism is a serious step. Are
you prepared for it?"
"I think so," the man replied. "My wife has made appetizers
and we have a caterer coming to provide plenty of cookies and
cakes for all of our guests."
"I don`t mean that," the pastor responded. "I mean, are you
"Oh, sure," came the reply. "I`ve got a keg of beer and a
case of whiskey." (A Funny Stuff, http://www.afunnystuff.com/jokes/Religious-jokes/Baptism-preparations.html)
We all enjoy a funny story from time to time. As this story points out, baptism isn’t always understood by everyone. Today we’ve had the privilege of seeing another soul enter the Christian family through the baptism of Shaun Greene. With such an important event, I thought it quite fitting then, to take a moment and reflect on what baptism is and how it affects our lives.
Baptism plays an important role in the Christian church. Even before Jesus’ ministry began, John the Baptist preached to repent and be baptized. The greatest event in John’s career took place when he baptized the Lord Himself. It was one of his central teachings. But also one of the central teachings of the New Testament.
The apostles also baptized. On the first Pentecost, when 3,000 people embraced Christianity, The Apostle Peter said, “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” Paul, after being blinded while speaking to Jesus, was told by Ananias to be baptized which changed the great persecutor of Christians to the great Apostle Paul, and evangelist of the gentiles. And again in Acts 10:48,, Peter preached to the household of the centurion Cornelius at Caesarea, and the Holy Spirit fell on the group of people who heard him and there Peter commanded that they should be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
The words of Jesus and the letters of the apostles speak of Baptism in various passages. All indicate that this sacrament was in frequent use. With all the references to baptism, there’s no doubt that this is an important part of our Christian lives. Tonight, I’d like to look at why this is an important aspect of the Christian faith.
Given by God
First, baptism is an institution given us by God Himself. In Acts 22:16, the great Apostle Paul delivered an address to a multitude in Jerusalem. Roman soldiers rescued him from the hands of a mob, and Paul asked for permission to speak to the immense concourse of people. When this was granted, he launched into an account of his life as a Jew, and of his conversion to Christianity. He told of how, after Jesus spoke to him on the way to Damascus, he was blinded.
A devout disciple of Jesus, Ananias was sent by the Lord. He spoke to Paul telling him that God had chosen him to be His witness to all men, saying to him, “Why do you delay? Arise and be baptized.” It is God’s will that you be baptized. Why are you hesitating? In Paul’s case, it was God’s explicit will that he receive Holy Baptism, but not just him.
We see from the Scriptures that this applies to everyone. In Matthew 28, Jesus gave us what is often called the great commission. He said, to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Baptism then, is not something we can choose to do, or not do. It’s a directive from God Himself that we, as obedient sons and daughters of God, need to follow. In many matters, God has given us no command as to the course we are to pursue. We may, for instance, eat meat or be vegetarians – that’s to be decided by ourselves. God has not directed how we are to act in these situations. Baptism, however, has been directed and all are to receive it.
Outward Act with Visible Elements
But, baptism is more than just a ceremony instituted by God. Baptism is a religious ceremony involving an outward act. Ananias told Paul to arise and to be baptized. What was to be performed was addressed to Christ and involved prayer. He was to “call on the name of the Lord.” Ananias does not give a description of the baptism or method of the ceremony. It was not necessary. Paul, through his contact with the Christians, had full knowledge of the various features of this sacrament.
We see from the New Testament that baptism includes the application of water. More than that is not revealed to us on the outward act. The same word is used for baptizing people, washing of dishes and even the ceremonial cleansing of a couch. With such a widespread use of a single word, it would be difficult to say that one form is to be preferred over another. This is why we see immersion, sprinkling and pouring as different baptism methods. What is required is that water be applied in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, as prescribed by Christ in Matthew 28:19. Water and the Word is all that’s required.