Well we’ve made it, the final instalment on baptism. As I pray each week may you enjoy the read, and may you be challenged and encouraged on your journey with or to Jesus our King.
Today I want to begin with a bit of my story, more importantly I want to begin by telling you about a journey that I have been on for about two and a bit years.
This journey began in our home during small-group one evening. We were working through Tim Keller’s new study called Gospel in Life. And we came to the part in the study where it asked a series of questions, of which one of them was this: [read it in the book p86 Question 4]
Now, we discussed this question but as we were talking, this discussion lead to another more compelling question: “Should hell be our motivation for evangelism?” Basically, should the only reason for telling someone about Jesus be to rescue them from the flames of Hell?
Now as you can well imagine, a question like this stirred up some passionate debate. And we spent a large portion of the rest of the night discussing the topic and the implications that would result if we answered yes or no.
Now we didn’t really come to any conclusions other than that the majority of the group agreed that hell should be our motivation for evangelism.
Me on the other hand, well, I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth, and an emptiness that you could imagine feeling when meeting your hero for the first time and discovering that they’re actually a lot less impressive in real life.
The question for me was this: “Is escaping hell really the good news that motivates us to share?” See the thing that gave me the empty feeling inside was the feeling of, “is that it? Is that the sum total of all the good news that we’re meant to be motivated to share?”
I could’t come to terms with the possibility that it was, that hell was it. Surely there has to be a better motivation for evangelism than the depressing notion of hell, but if there was then what was it? What should be our motivation for sharing the Gospel?”
Trying to answer this question sparked for me an ongoing journey of discovery. One that has deconstructed all my previous understandings about God and the Universe and the gospel, and has then built in their place a new gospel/kingdom reality.
Now we could go on by looking into the finer details of what I have been discovering, but besides the boredom and comatose that I would induce by telling you everything, there is actually a much simpler and less painful way of answering the question of motivation for evangelism.
And believe it or not it is found in the act of Baptism. The waters of baptism are filled with all the motivation we need to share the Gospel. See when we witness and partake in the act of baptism we actually begin to discover that the gospel is not about an escape from something as much as it is an entrance into something.
So, with this in our minds, back to our first question; “is hell a motivation for evangelism? Yes it is, and I’m sure you’ve heard a number of messages about that fact. But I want to ask you, is hell what motivated the apostles and the early church when it came time to evangelize?
Was hell what filled the pages of their letters to the church? And to that we can answer with a resounding no. The apostles focused on, and were motivated by, something else, something more amazing, something that was joyous news as much as it was good news.
See hell as a motivation for evangelism is like going up to someone who has just been given, as a gift, a new Ferrari to replace their old Cortina, and saying “Isn’t it good that you don’t have to drive that old Cortina bomb anymore?”
To which they reply, “Well yes it is good, and I’m glad, but wow I’ve just been given a Ferrari. Can you believe it, a Ferrari; just look at how awesome it is; listen to the sound of that enormous engine; feel the incredible acceleration. I can’t believe how amazing it is.
Now does that discount the fact that this someone is free from having to drive that old Cortina? No it doesn’t, but the fact that this person has just been given an incredible car certainly does put a different shine on things. And it is the same with our motivation for evangelism, the good news.
So what is this joyous good news, and what does baptism have to do with it? Well good question, I’m glad you asked, because I just was going to tell you.
Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at baptism, firstly we discovered that baptism was the signpost that pointed to the baptized’s decision to follow Jesus and pledge their allegiance to him.
It’s a sign that we wear along with a changed life that tells everybody that, “guess what? I am his and he is mine, Jesus lives in me.” That’s great news isn’t it?
Secondly we also discovered that baptism was in fact a gospeling event. A dramatic symbolically charged act that pointed to good, no, great news.
Firstly the waters of baptism acted like the grave. As the baptized is put under we declare to the world, that Jesus died for the forgiveness of sin, and we as the one being submerged are re-enacting our death to sin and to our old way of life.
This means that we are free from the bondage of sin, free from condemnation, free from separation from God, and free from hell. Why? Because we share in the death of Christ.
Colossians 2:14 puts it so eloquently, “He [That is God] forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”
When we die with Christ, we give up our old way of life and our sinful nature, and we hand it to Jesus. And with Jesus it has been nailed to the cross. Dying with Christ means that he has bore the consequences of sin for us. It is done. Again what great news that is.
This is such great news that even in the pit of utter despair it brings hope and comfort. Horatio Spafford, was a prominent chicago layer in the late 1800’s. He and his wife lost their only son to Scarlet fever when he was only 4. 1 year later, on a family holiday, the ship that his wife and four daughters were on hit another ship and subsequently sunk within minutes.
Horatio was delayed in Chicago so was not on that ship. He received a telegram from his wife 9 days after the tragic events telling him the news. He boarded the next boat out to England to be with his wife.
On that voyage, and after just sailing over the crash site he went in to his cabin and penned the words to that great hymn. One of the verses goes like this:
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
It is well, with my soul,
In the midst of great tragedy, through the trials and stresses of life what great news it is to know that because of what Christ has done sin has been dealt with and we are free from it’s sting.
Anyway lets move on because the richness of baptism continues, as the one who is being baptized is put under water the declaration goes out, that they have been buried with Christ. In a world where it is all about me this aspect of baptism is extremely significant and again, is great news.
Being buried with Christ is a step of faith and trust. Because we have died we need to be buried. And as we heard last week, the dead can’t bury themselves. And so being buried with Christ means that we are relying on the body of Christ, to bury us, but then to also bring us out of the water and into our new family that is the body of Christ.
As the baptized is put under the water and raised again, we as the church, make a commitment to the one being baptized. We commit to love and to care for the new family member. In a sense this is why we have church membership; it is a recognition of the commitment and care that we have over each other, a recognition that we’re in this together.
And so when Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 24-26 “…But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
Baptism in a sense signifies that we have died to ourself and have been brought, through our burial, into a new family. Paul in Galatians 3:26–28 makes this point, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Baptism and our burial represented in it is good news in a world where it is survival of the fittest and looking after number 1 is so prevalent. Being buried with Christ means the opposite. As ones witnessing the baptism we pledge to care for the one being baptized, and the one being baptized submits to our care.
Paul sums this up so well in the book of Philippians, but we’ll just read Philippians 2:3–5 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.
This is good news.
Finally, and I’ve been trying to hold of from saying it all these weeks, and it’s been so difficult, because in Baptism as in the Gospel everything is so intrinsically connected, and you cant have one aspect with out the other, but I didn’t want to give the end away, so at least I’ve tried.
But Baptism also signifies,new resurrection life haah. In Romans 6:4-5 we read …just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
As we are raised out of the water we re-enact Jesus being raised from the dead, which just by itself is great news, but infinitely better than all those telesales adverts there’s more, and there really is more.
This hope is huge and is both reality now and into the future. In Romans 8:18-25 Paul tells us what this new life consists of, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
In these first verses, verses 18-21, we hear the first lot of Good News. Jesus’ resurrection will in fact liberate God’s good creation that has been subjected to sin and decay. And restore and redeem it. Making it new again.
As we read in the last two chapters of Revelation, “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away (Revelation 21:1) He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5 NIV11-GK)
How it will happen we don’t know, when it will happen we won’t know either. But one thing is certain everything will be made new again. God through Jesus and beginning with his resurrection is doing it. But what’s the point of a new creation, new creation needs new humans and so as we read in 22-23
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”
We too will one day be made new. Immortal, imperishable, free from illness, free from suffering, New humans to dwell in God’s new creation, with Jesus as our king dwelling with us. And do you know what? That is good news, really good news.
All this gives us hope and comfort for living in a broken world today, despite all the suffering and struggle there is, despite all the sickness and death; one day it will all be put to rights, and we as new humans will be able to enjoy it in perfect harmony with God and with each other.
Verses 24-25 “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
Finally there are two hopes going on here, one hope that we do not have, that we wait patiently for. That is the hope that we’ve just talked about, the hope of resurrection life, of a new creation, of everything put to rights.
But what is this hope that is seen, that we as believers already have? What is Paul meaning when he says, “hope that is seen is no hope at all.” For me I get this sense that the hope being referred to here is a hope that we had before we committed our lives to Christ but is a reality now that we have.
This hope-come-reality is discovered in the early church practice of anointing after the act of baptism, when the baptized would rise out of the water they were anointed with oil. And oil in the Bible is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Now anointing with oil is not something we really do now, but still as we rise from the water we rise to new life in the spirit, God dwelling in us. And with this fact there is something very important that happens.
In verses 14-17 of Romans Chapter 8 we read, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
In the act of baptism we are telling the world that I have been made alive and that now as the Spirit lives in me I am God’s Child and an Co-heir with Christ. What then shall we say in response to this?
Romans 8:37-39 “…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And that my friends is Good News.
Now as we close I want to conclude by saying how great is baptism, such a simple act but so packed with hope and good news and such depth. And so really it is not baptism that is great but what, more importantly who, it points to.
Now for those who haven’t been baptized, you’ve heard all about it, Jesus was baptized, Jesus commanded us all to be baptized, it is such a rich grace filled act, be baptized, take that step, make that commitment to die, and be buried, and rise with Christ.
For those of you who have been baptized, but who are not members, membership is so much more than a legality, and a commitment to attend those boring members meeting, membership is a commitment to each other, to love and to care, and to commit to the body of Christ.
And so again you’ve heard all about it, and how we are buried and raised into a new family, talk to Lindsay, or Vaughan, or myself, become a member and complete the baptism process.
Now for those of us who have been baptized and who are members, You may be sitting back thinking to yourself, yep I tick all the boxes, I’ve done all I need to do. Well, these last four weeks haven’t just been an big information session, nor have they just been an opportunity to reflect on a happy occasion in the past. We’ve looked at baptism over these last few weeks to spur us on in the faith.
And so while our baptism is something that has happened in the past it is something that we actually need to reaffirm and commit to each and every day. Baptism believe it or not is a daily task.
Martin Luther the great reformer said when commenting on Romans 6, “Baptism means that the ‘old Adam’ [the sinful nature/flesh we have from conception] in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance, and that all its evil deeds and desires be put to death. It also means that a new person should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”
Each day we need to reaffirm that the old self has died, we need to reaffirm our commitment to Jesus and to his body, putting my needs before the needs of others, and each day we need to rise as new humans, as loved sons and daughters of God filled with the Holy Spirit, ready to live live of the spirit and not of the flesh.
So let’s draw close to each other and spur each other on in this journey of daily baptism, and let’s be those sign-posts that point to Jesus.