Summary: This sermon addresses the elements of baptism as well as why we perform this sacrament.
A Baptist congregation installed a new full immersion baptistery in the sanctuary as part of an extensive remodeling project. But the county building inspector wouldn’t okay its’ installation. “I can’t,” he said, “unless it has a separate septic tank.”
The trusties couldn’t understand why a septic tank would be needed for the baptistery. The building inspector saw their puzzled faced, so he explained, “It’s to avoid pollution in the ground.”
One of the church trustees finally said with a grin, “I guess it would pollute, with all those sins washed away!” (Helen Daley, 1001 Quotes, Illustrations & Humorous Stories)
That’s really what it’s all about. Baptism is the washing away of sins.
Today we’ve had the privilege of seeing another soul enter the Christian family through the baptism of Brendan Schlak. Last week, Christian Bressler was also baptized with a private ceremony between services. With two baptisms in eight days, I thought it quite fitting then, to take a moment from our regular scripture readings today and reflect on what baptism is and how it affects our lives.
No one here needs to be reminded that 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, Peter told the crowd to, “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” Saul, 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, 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 (Acts 10:48).
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. Most, if not all of us, received baptism in a church very similar to this one. With all the references to baptism, there’s no doubt that this is an important part of our Christian lives. Today, 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 the great Apostle Paul delivered an address to a multitude in Jerusalem (Acts 22:16). The Roman soldiers had rescued him from the hands of the 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, came to Paul and said: “Brother Paul, receive your sight.” Following this, Paul had scales fall from his eyes and received back his sight. Then Ananias, after telling him that God had chosen him to be His witness to all men, said 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 everybody. In Matthew 28, Jesus gave us the Great Commision. 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 is to be decided by ourselves. God has not directed how we are to act in these situations. The congregation may determine to have many special events or festivals, or it may decide to have very few – God has not prescribed these. Baptism, however, has been directed and all should receive it. As faithful Christians, we should follow suit.
When God informs us Baptism is for all, the children are included. They are part of all nations, for whom Baptism is intended. What right have we or anybody else to exclude children, whom God has not excluded? In the Old Testament, circumcision was used to identify male children as sons of God. Only 8 days after their birth, this practice was administered to infants. St. Paul clearly tells us that baptism is the counterpart of circumcision (Colossians 2: 11-12). Similarly, baptism should be offered to infants as well as anyone else. All are subject to the mandate of Jesus. Preach to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.