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.
Forgiveness of Sins
But, what is the real benefit that baptism gives us? Of course, we have obedience to the Word of God, but it’s so much more than that. Baptism confers the forgiveness of sins.
Ananias said to Paul, “Be baptized and wash away your sins.” Now, Paul had many sins. One long chain of wrong-doing was the persecution of the Christian church at Jerusalem. This weighed heavily upon him, even though he had done this work of the devil in ignorance. Wash your sins away in baptism, says Ananias. Now, no washing will help to rid us of our sins. All the waters of the ocean cannot cleanse our heart and conscience. And yet the little water of baptism because of God’s Word will do it will make us white as snow in the eye of our Heavenly Father. In other words, Baptism brings real forgiveness.
Is baptism such a good and pious act that it can atone for our wrong doing? No. The few words spoken, the little water applied, and the prayers offered cannot make amends for the wrong we have committed. Nothing can cleanse us from our own disobedience to the will of God.
But the truth is that baptism does grant the great treasures which God in His infinite love has prepared. To understand the benefits of baptism, you have to look to Calvary. On that cross was prepared both forgiveness of sins and salvation. Ever since Jesus died, there is God’s pardon. What we have to do, is reach out and accept what is offered.
Paul, in Titus 3:5, described baptism as the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. That’s what it is. Through the waters of baptism, our sins are washed away and we are regenerated in the process. Through baptism, we become new.
In Acts 22:16, Peter said “Repent and be baptized every one of you… for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. Time and time again, we find references to the cleansing power of baptism. Through this sacrament, we are washed clean as snow. Through this regeneration we are made clean in his sight. In the process, we are bestowed with the Holy Spirit who strengthens us and helps us keep on the straight and narrow path. God invests us with the merits of Christ and cleanses us from our past making us acceptable in His sight.
The pardon of God is the gift given to us in Baptism. That is the glorious thing which Baptism assures us of – God’s mercy and pardon, the forgiveness of sins, and the blessings of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s a story that has another way of looking at it.
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.
There is no better gift we could receive than God himself descending on us and into our lives. But, such is the miracle of baptism. Healing comes to us in many ways through the Water, the Word and the Spirit.
As we reflect on Shaun’s baptism, we should look to our own blessings as well. We should look back to our baptism with gratitude and joy. Our baptism was a gracious washing and cleansing of the guilt we have, and the bringing into our hearts of the Holy Spirit. We can cling to the forgiveness that was given to us and remember that that blessing is still with us at this very moment. The promise stands. It is ours whenever we grasp it. (Inspired by a sermon from W. Arndt, “Baptism,” The Concordia Pulpit 1932)
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, through your Son and the Holy Spirit, you have blessed us with the regenerating waters of baptism. Let us always reflect on the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf as the true living water. Thank-you for the blessings that you’ve bestowed on us and help us continue to recognize the hope that is in our lives today.