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Summary: This sermon takes a biblically balanced view of baptism and what it symbolizes. It is topical and alliterated. Power Point is available, just e-mail me.

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If this sermon is helpful to you look for my latest book, “The Greatest Commands: Learning To Love Like Jesus.” Each chapter is sermon length, alliterated, and focuses on the life and love of Jesus. You can find it here:

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WHAT IS BAPTISM?

Scott Bayles, pastor

First Christian Church, Rosiclare, IL

I’ll never forget the day I decided to take the plunge. The room was no bigger than a walk-in closet. It didn’t help that lining one wall end to end was a series of large metal filling cabinets, making the space seem smaller and even more intimidating. I sat there in a cold metal folding-chair surrounded by three silver-haired gentlemen—elders. I wasn’t on trial, though it felt like it. I was actually there because I had requested to be baptized. Quickly, I was ushered into the tiny little office to discuss my decision with my pastoral leaders. They patted me on the back, told me they were proud of me, and then it came—the question. “So, have you committed any sins?”

I didn’t know how to answer. I was like a deer caught in the headlights. I thought, “Have I sinned? Of course, I’ve sinned. Why do you think I’m asking to be baptized?” But I was afraid of what their next question might be. I was certain they were going to ask me what sins I had committed. I thought I was going to have to confess every misbehavior and impure thought I ever had. So I did the only reasonable thing an eleven-year-old boy could do in that situation. I lied. “Nope,” I said hurriedly. Then they gave me another pat on the back and said, in that case, I really didn’t need to get baptized. I tried again a month later. This time I knew the right answer and not-surprisingly they didn’t ask me what sins I committed.

Your story may be a little bit different than mine; but all the same, baptism is a defining moment in any believer’s life. Baptism separates the tire kickers from the car buyers, it signifies a change in culture, and it celebrates the union of sinner and Savoir. Sadly, baptism has also been the center of controversy among Christians. The danger lies in two extremes—either we make baptism too important or too unimportant. Either we deify it or we trivialize it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both the Baptist Church and the Church of Christ posted articles in our local paper this week debating the essentiality of baptism. One says, “I’m saved because I’m baptized.” The other says, “I’m baptized because I’m saved.” I’m not sure any scholar or saint will ever fully appreciate what this moment means in heaven. Any words on baptism, including mine, are simply a human effort to explain a holy event. In our churches, debates about the essentiality of baptism have been common—yet serious discussions about baptism’s essence are very rare. In my opinion, arguing over whether or not baptism is essential to salvation reveals very little, but looking into its essence can open our eyes to see the power of Jesus to cleanse and renew broken lives, directing them toward a new purpose. I believe we do that by placing baptism where it should be—at the foot of the cross.

Baptism is like a precious jewel—set apart by itself, it is nice and appealing but has nothing within it to compel. But place baptism against the backdrop of our sin and turn on the light of the cross, and the jewel explodes with significance. Baptism at once reveals the beauty of the cross and the darkness of sin. As a stone has many faces, baptism has many sides: cleansing, burial, resurrection, the death of the old, and the birth of the new. And as a stone has no light within it, baptism has no inherent power. But just as the stone refracts the light into a rainbow of colors, baptism reveals the many colors of God’s grace. In its essence, baptism is first of all a symbol of reunion.

• A SYMBOL OF REUNION

Baptism is important because, in its essence, it connects us as believers with Jesus—reuniting sinner and Savior. And to understand and celebrate the intimate connection we share with Jesus, let’s go back to the a couple thousand years to the muddy shores of the Jordan River. The Bible says:

At that time Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River and wanted John to baptize him. But John tried to stop him, saying, “Why do you come to me to be baptized? I need to be baptized by you!”

Jesus answered, “Let it be this way for now. We should do all things that are God’s will.” So John agreed to baptize Jesus.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he came up out of the water. Then heaven opened, and he saw God’s Spirit coming down on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love, and I am very pleased with him.” (Matthew 3:13-17 NCV)

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