Baptism

Scriptures: Various

Title: Baptism

Key Idea: Baptism is like a bridge, it connects people

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Belief
  • Repentance
  • Identity
  • Discipleship
  • Grace
  • Entry
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

–         Hamilton is a city of two halves in a way – it is dissected by the Waikato River and consequently there are a number of bridges spanning the river, providing points of connection for people on either side

–         There is a flat looking bridge known as the Whitiora Bridge

–         I remember walking across that as a 7 year old when it was first opened

–         But probably my favourite bridge is the one with the humps – the Fairfield bridge

–         It’s older than the Whitiora Bridge and more interesting to look at

–         As a school boy I remember hearing stories of how someone rode the humps of the bridge on a motorbike – probably just a folk legend

On one occasion I found a 5 speed push bike in the water near the river bank underneath the Fairfield Bridge

–         I handed it in to the police and after a few months, because no one claimed it, they said I could have it. I rode that bike for years

 

This morning our message focuses on baptism

–         Baptism is a word that means to submerge or immerse

–         It is also a ritual of Christian initiation

To help us understand the meaning of baptism and what it stands for I’ve come up with the following acronym: BRIDGE:

–         Belief, Repentance, Identity, Discipleship, Grace and Entry

–         In some ways baptism is like a bridge – it connects people

–         First let us consider the belief that goes with baptism

 

Belief:

Belief in Jesus is central to Christian baptism

–         In particular belief in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead

–         And belief that Jesus is Lord

In the book of Acts the apostles preached that Jesus is the Messiah and to prove their point they spoke of how God raised Jesus from the dead

–         For example, in Acts 18, after Paul had preached about Jesus, we read that: Crispus, who was the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his family; many other people in Corinth heard the message, believed, and were baptised.

–         In this situation, as in others like it, belief & baptism go together

 

Sometimes we understand what something is by reference to its opposite

–         The opposite of belief is cynicism

–         Many of the Jewish religious leaders of Paul’s day were cynical about Jesus – they didn’t believe Jesus was Lord & Messiah

–         In other words, they didn’t want to submit to his authority

–         But Crispus stands against the flow by submitting to Jesus in baptism

Christians are not cynical or hard hearted (or at least they are not supposed to be)

–         Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that he still lives today

–         If we believe that Jesus is the Messiah of God who has conquered death then it logically follows that Jesus is Lord – that he has legitimate authority over life & death and over us

–         To be baptised is to submit oneself to the Lordship or authority of Christ

–         It is to say, “From this time forward my first allegiance is to Jesus. He is my King, I give Christ my loyalty and the keys to my heart.”

For most of us these days submitting to any sort of authority can be difficult

–         Our society places a high value on personal freedom

–         Not only that but we tend to be suspicious of those in authority

–         What we need to understand is that Jesus is no ordinary king

–         In submitting our will, our desires, our wishes & dreams to Jesus we are placing our very lives in the hands of someone who is wise and gentle and compassionate and good – someone who loves us personally and has our best interests at heart

–         We each have a choice: either we take charge of our own lives or we let Jesus be in charge

–         Jesus is a far kinder authority than we are, even to ourselves

 

Now I’m aware that not all of you come from a Baptist background – some of you may come from an Anglican or Catholic or Lutheran background where the tradition is for infants to be baptised

–         So, if belief in Jesus’ resurrection and Lordship is central to Christian baptism, how does infant baptism fit with that?

–         (Because babies aren’t able to make that choice for themselves)

–         Well, in the case of infants, it is the parents and the community of faith who believe on the child’s behalf until such time as the child is old enough to confirm their belief in Jesus for themselves

–         While we don’t practice infant baptism in this church we do accept people into membership who have been baptised as babies and later accepted Jesus as Lord & Saviour

–         We believe in a God who is generous & spacious – we don’t believe God would exclude people on a technicality like how much water was involved or when the baptism took place

 

Belief in Jesus goes hand in hand with baptism in the New Testament, as does repentance

 

Repentance:

Repentance is a change of mind which leads to a change in behaviour

–         If we truly believe that Jesus is Lord then we will be willing to make changes to our lifestyle as Jesus requires us to

–         A belief in Jesus that does not result in some kind of positive change, over time, probably isn’t genuine

 

Complacency is the enemy of repentance

–         Often it is only when we are deeply troubled that we change

The year was 1970 something – I was about 8 or 9 years old I suppose and my grandfather took me and three of my cousins to the winter show in Hamilton

–         The winter show was sort of a make shift carnival with various rides and side shows

–         You know there was a Ferris wheel and dodgems and a shooting gallery and put the ball in the clowns mouth and candy floss and so on

There was this one ride called the ‘Sizzler’

–         The Sizzler goes round and round in circles really fast

–         Any way my three cousins and I all sat in a bench seat on the Sizzler and the ride started

–         As the speed was building I noticed the safety bar had come undone

–         We tried to fix it but it wouldn’t latch properly so I yelled out for the operator to stop the ride but the operator ignored us – we were just kids

–         My grandfather could see we were in distress and he asked the operator to stop it but the operator said he couldn’t because the ride was on a timer

–         We did our best to hold on but eventually the G forces became too much and we were thrown out onto the tar seal

–         We lost a bit of skin off our hands and knees and face but we were lucky really not to have been thrown into the metal fence

–         Funny thing was, as soon as we came off the operator shut the ride down

–         Hmm, so much for it being on a timer

Repentance is about change – a change of mind that leads to a change in behaviour

–         When we are deeply troubled we want change and we want it now

–         My cousins and I wanted change on the Sizzler but the operator wouldn’t repent – It was only after he saw us come off that he became troubled enough to change

 

In Acts 2, when Peter preached to the crowd in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost he spoke about Jesus’ death & resurrection saying…

–         “People of Israel, know for sure that this Jesus, whom you crucified, is the one that God has made Lord and Messiah.”

–         When the people heard this, they were deeply troubled and said, “What shall we do?”

–         Peter said to them, “Each one of you must turn away from their sins & be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven…”

The crowd in Acts 2 were willing to repent (to change and turn away from their sins) because they felt deeply troubled at what they had done to Jesus, God’s Messiah

–         Someone once said, ‘Jesus comes to disturb those who are comfortable and to comfort those who are disturbed.’

 

It’s not just Peter who put repentance & baptism together – so did John the Baptist and the apostle Paul

In his letter to the Romans Paul writes…

–         What shall we say then? Should we continue to live in sin so that God’s grace will increase? Certainly not! We have died to sin – how then can we go on living in it? For surely you know that when we were baptised into union with Christ Jesus, we were baptised into union with his death. By our baptism then we were buried with him and shared his death in order that, just as Christ was raised from death by the glorious power of the Father, so also we might live a new life. 

Baptism with repentance gives us a fresh start, a clean slate from which to move forward

The Great Flood of Noah’s day offers an image of baptism as a fresh start

–         In a sense the whole earth was baptised in the flood and God made a fresh start with Noah and his family

–         Likewise, after 40 years wandering in the wilderness, the people of Israel went through a kind of baptism, when they passed through the River Jordan, before making a fresh start by entering the Promised Land

 

There is a danger with any sort of ritual that it can become convention, just going through the motions

–         Baptism doesn’t mean business as usual

–         Baptism usually involves being disturbed enough to repent (to change our mind & behaviour) and make a fresh start

 

Identity:

Receiving a new identity – becoming a new creation in Christ is part & parcel of the fresh start implied by baptism

Some of you here follow the Super Rugby competition which has recently finished

–         When I say the colours red & black, what team do you think of?

–         What about yellow & black, which team wears those colours?

–         A sports team is known by the colour of their uniform

If someone has been playing for the Crusaders and then repents and changes to the Hurricanes they don’t keep wearing their old red & black colours – they start wearing their new yellow & black colours

In his letter to the Galatians Paul writes…

–         You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

When we are baptised into Christ we are clothed in his colours – his identity

–         That means we are no longer defined by our past mistakes or by superficial things like our gender or our ethnicity or our occupation

–         We are defined by Christ and given a new identity as children of God

–         We become a new creation in Christ – we belong to God’s family

 

Last week I spoke about naming as an act of creation by God

–         God gave Abram the new name of Abraham

–         And he gave Jacob the new name of Israel

–         Many centuries later Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter, meaning rock

–         When the Lord changes a person’s name he is giving them a new identity

–         It is no accident that when infants are baptised they also receive their Christian names – signalling the child’s identity in Christ

 

It is not easy or popular these days (in NZ) to identify yourself as a Christian

–         The politics of identity has become complex and fraught

–         Standing in solidarity with Jesus can be uncomfortable

 

Belief, repentance, identity and discipleship

 

Discipleship:

Baptism is a commitment to become a disciple of Jesus

–         A disciple is essentially a student or an apprentice – someone who learns from and follows the example of their master

–         And in the case of Christian baptism the master is Jesus

At the end of Matthew’s gospel, after his death & resurrection but before his ascension to heaven, Jesus says to his disciples…

–         “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…”

Baptism marks the beginning of Christian discipleship – of learning the ways of Christ

–         And it’s important to understand that baptism is a beginning

–         Baptism is not a badge that says you’ve made it – it’s not a sign that you’ve got your black belt in loving God and your neighbour

–         Or to use a Star Wars reference, baptism doesn’t make you a Jedi master, rather it makes you a Padawan – a learner or apprentice

–         So you don’t have to have it all together to get baptised – but you do need to be serious in your commitment to learn from Jesus

 

We learn how to be like Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit…

–         By reading the Scriptures; especially the gospels

–         By being in community with other believers

–         And by having a go at doing what Jesus taught

When it comes to reading the Bible we tend to get more out of it when we listen to sermons or read Bible study notes or discuss the meaning of the Scriptures with other Christians in a study group

Of course we need more than reading and sermons and Bible study

–         In the Christian life understanding comes with practice

–         For example, we learn to pray by reading what Jesus taught about prayer, and by listening to other Christians praying and by praying ourselves

–         We learn patience by not having all our prayers answered quickly but by being made to wait sometimes

–         We learn forgiveness by being part of an imperfect community of faith where we are forgiven for our mistakes & have to forgive others for theirs

When we are new to the Christian faith it is important to have a few older more mature believers we can go to for guidance or encouragement

–         And when we’ve been walking with Jesus for a while it is important to be available to those who may want a bit of support in their faith

–         Whether we’ve been on the journey for a short while or a long while we all have something to offer toward each other’s faith development

 

Baptism is like a bridge – it connects people

–         B is for Belief, R is for Repentance, I is for Identity, D is for Discipleship and G is for Grace

 

Grace:

The classic definition of God’s grace is ‘unmerited favour’

–         This means grace is something favourable or pleasant & good that God gives without us having to earn it

–         Grace goes beyond the contract – beyond the letter of the law

Imagine for example that you have an employment contract that allows you up to 5 days a year sick leave and that sick leave doesn’t accumulate beyond 5 days

–         If you get sick and need to take time off then the first 5 days of sick leave is not grace, it’s something you are entitled to under the terms of your contract – your employer is obligated to pay you that much, no one is doing you any favours

–         But if you have to take two weeks off to recuperate and your boss decides she will pay you for a second week as well, without taking your annual leave, then that is unmerited favour

–         Your boss is not obligated to pay you – she is showing you grace

 

Baptism is a ceremony that celebrates God’s grace – sort of like a wedding is the ceremony that celebrates marriage

 

God’s grace has many dimensions to it – very briefly 2 significant aspects of grace in baptism include: forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit

In preparing the way for Jesus, John the Baptist said,

–         I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire…” [1]

Then, about 3 years later, in Acts 2 at Pentecost, Peter says to the crowd…

–         “Repent and be baptised, everyone one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

–         The grace of forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit – God’s unmerited favour

Now it needs to be said that the Holy Spirit is free to move as He wishes

–         There are some in the book of Acts who receive the Spirit before being baptised in water and others who receive the Spirit after

–         In any case it is the Holy Spirit who makes our baptism effective

 

Baptism is like a bridge – it connects people

–         Belief, Repentance, Identity, Discipleship, Grace & Entry

 

Entry:

The bridge of baptism represents entry into the church universal

In Anglican churches the baptismal font is at the front door to symbolise that baptism is entry into the church

Baptism isn’t something people do in isolation – it is a ceremony that joins the one being baptised to the community of believers throughout the world and indeed throughout history

–         Baptism is something Christians share in common

–         So in being baptised we aren’t just identifying with Jesus, we are also identifying with his body, the church

–         Baptism then is about belonging to a community of Christian faith – becoming part of God’s family

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul touches on the mystery of our oneness in Christ when he writes…

–         As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  [2]

Christian believers are connected in a profound way by Jesus, so we need to tread gently in each other’s lives – what one believer does is felt by another

 

Conclusion:

Baptism is like a bridge, but we don’t build the bridge on our own

–         Jesus, the master carpenter, does the building by His Spirit

–         We need to decide if we will cross the bridge

 

Questions for discussion or reflection:

1.)    What stands out for you in reading these Scriptures and/or in listening to the sermon?

2.)    What is your experience of baptism? (E.g. Have you been baptised? If so, when and how? What led you to your baptism? Or, what keeps you from being baptised?)

3.)    What core beliefs do we affirm in baptism?

–         What does it mean to submit to Jesus’ authority?

4.)    What does true repentance look like?

–         What is the catalyst for true repentance?

5.)    In what sense do we gain a new identity at baptism?

6.)    What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ?

–         How might we work out our discipleship today?

7.)    What is grace?

–         How is God’s grace present in baptism?

8.)    Take some time this week to reflect on Ephesians 4:1-6 and our oneness with other Christian believers throughout the world and throughout history.

 

[1] Matthew 3:11

[2] Ephesians 4:1-6

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