Son of God

Scripture: Matthew 3:13-4:11


Title: Jesus – Son of God

Key Idea: Jesus shows he is God’s Son through total commitment and trusting obedience to the Father


  • Introduction
  • Jesus’ baptism
  • Jesus’ testing
  • Conclusion


As most of you know by now the church lounge is under renovation at the moment. The purpose is to strengthen the room in case of an earthquake

–         One of the things the builder is doing (as David showed us last week) is attaching the brick work to the wooden frame using metal ties like this

–         Without the ties the brick wall would be independent of the frame and in an earthquake would be weaker without the frame to support it

–         The ties keep the bricks in the right position

–         Obviously just one tie isn’t going to be sufficient – we need the right number of ties


Here’s another picture – this one is of a ship’s mast and sail

–         Hopefully you can see that all the way up the mask there are ties keeping the sail attached to the mast

–         I guess without these ties the skipper would have no control of the sail    or the boat

–         As with the brick wall and framing, one tie isn’t going to be enough – you need a number of ties


This next picture is of a father and son walking hand in hand by the sea

–         In some ways the father is like the frame and the son is like the bricks

–         Or the father is like the mast and the son like the sail

–         The son is close to the father and gets strength from the father

–         They are connected not just by a single biological tie but by the bond of many shared experiences

–         This father and son are creating a bond simply by spending time together


Today we continue our sermon series on the titles ascribed to Jesus

–         So far we have looked at Jesus the Wonderful Counsellor, the Prince of Peace, the Everlasting Father, Mighty God, Jesus as Lord and Son of David

–         This morning we look at what it means to say that Jesus is the ‘Son of God’


The gospels of Matthew & Luke both make it clear that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, not by a man, so in a very unique sense Jesus is God’s Son

–         However, there is more to being someone’s son than mere conception

–         Conception is one tie between father and son but one tie isn’t enough

–         To be a son, in the full or whole sense, is to have a certain quality of relationship with the father – a relationship characterised by closeness & trust, with many ties or shared experiences


To help us explore what it means to say that Jesus is the ‘Son of God’ I’ve selected Matthew’s account of the baptism and testing of Jesus

–         From Matthew 3, verse 13, we read…

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us


In this reading we see the quality of Jesus’ relationship with God

–         Jesus demonstrates he is God’s Son through total commitment and trusting obedience to the Father


Jesus’ baptism:

At Christmas time I was given the gift of a book written by the Frenchman Antoine De Saint-Exupery (my apologies for butchering the French language)

–         The book was called The Little Prince

–         It is wonderful and packed with many profound things including this…


One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.


This is very true – God is both essential to us and invisible to our eyes

–         Not just God though but also the many ties that are essential to our relationship with God


Once the wall lining goes up in the lounge we won’t see the ties anymore but they will be there, invisible, holding things together


Prayer is an essential tie in our relationship with God but you can’t really see prayer – it’s something done in faith


Likewise, the Word of God is invisible – sure, you can read words on a page in a Bible but that’s not the same as discerning the Word of God

–         You can only see the Word of God by faith with the heart


Communion is another invisible tie in our relationship with God

–         We might be able to physically see, touch and taste the symbols of bread & wine but the essence of communion is invisible

–         The bond we have with Jesus (and each other) through breaking bread and sharing the cup can only be seen with the heart


Same thing with baptism – baptism is a relational tie with God; Father, Son & Spirit – it’s an outward sign of an inward reality

–         People see you getting wet but they can’t see the internal bond God is creating between you and Him


Our reading from Matthew earlier begins with the baptism of Jesus but what Matthew focuses on is not the part people can see with their eyes but the part that can only be seen clearly with the heart


To everyone else Jesus was just another person in the crowd coming to be baptised by John – but John could see what was invisible to everyone else

–         John saw with his heart – he recognised who Jesus really was and said it’s me who should be baptised by you


But Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” Then John consented.


This tells us Jesus was getting baptised out of obedience to God

–         John’s baptism was for the repentance of sins and yet Jesus was sinless so he didn’t need John’s baptism – there was an element of humiliation in it for Jesus, like he was being tarred with the same brush as a thief or a liar even though he was not guilty of anything

–         God’s purpose was for Jesus to save the people from their sins

–         By being baptised Jesus was identifying with sinful humanity and publicly accepting God’s purpose for him, which was to go to the cross

–         Identifying with sinful humanity created a bond with us

–         Accepting God’s purpose created a bond with God


16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”


Now we don’t know if the bystanders saw the Spirit descending on Jesus and heard the voice from heaven or whether only Jesus was aware

–         Either way it is a divine affirmation that Jesus is the Son of God

–         The Holy Spirit is the ultimate bond (or tie) between God the Father and Jesus the Son


Those who are familiar with the Old Testament will hear echoes from the past

–         In the Hebrew Scriptures God refers to the nation of Israel as his son who he brought out of Egypt

–         This means Jesus is like a new Israel and, through Jesus, God is bringing about a new exodus, setting his people free from sin & death

–         Likewise, in Psalm 2, the king of Israel is referred to as God’s son

–         Most (if not all) of the kings of Israel failed to live up to the title of God’s son through their disobedience to God

–         But Jesus succeeds through his trusting obedience to God the Father


There are many other allusions to the Old Testament in these verses but the main point is: God the Father validates Jesus as his Son and expresses his pleasure that Jesus has embraced God’s purpose for him


Jesus’ testing:

There is a wonderful scene in the book I was talking about earlier where the little prince meets a fox and asks if the fox will play with him

–         And the fox replies, ‘I can’t play with you. I’m not tame’

–         When the little prince asks what does ‘tame’ mean, the fox explains,

–         ‘It means “creating a bond”.’ (A tie)


The conversation goes back and forth for a bit and then the fox says…

–         “One only understands the things that one tames. Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me.”

–         “What must I do to tame you?” asked the little prince

–         “You must be very patient”, replied the fox. “First you will sit a little distance from me, like that, in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings.”


The author of the Little Prince lived in the desert for some years, he loved it there. The desert is a lonely place, a place without words, without misunderstandings


Straight after his baptism the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert, just as the nation of Israel were led into the desert after their exodus from Egypt

–         Why does the Spirit do this?

–         To test the strength of the bond between Jesus the Son and God the Father

–         God was confident in the quality of his relationship with Jesus – he trusted his son to choose the right path


The devil tries to break (or at least fracture) the father / son relationship between God & Jesus through three temptations – all of which have to do with power


The first temptation comes after Jesus has been alone and without food for 40 days – when he is at his weakest

–         The devil says, ‘If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread’

–         On the face of it the devil doesn’t appear to be asking Jesus to do anything obviously bad – it’s not like he’s suggesting Jesus steal the bread from orphans – and so we might be puzzled by Jesus’ response


Two reasons I think Jesus said ‘no’

–         Firstly, Jesus is at war here with the forces of evil – He is in combat against the devil

–         When you are at war you don’t do what the enemy says – you don’t let your opponent set the agenda

–         Jesus wasn’t going to start taking orders from the devil even if what Satan suggested seemed harmless enough

–         Jesus was only interested in doing what he saw God his Father doing – which brings us to Jesus’ second reason for saying ‘no’


God isn’t sitting on a cloud untouched by human suffering

–         God is present and involved with his creation

–         Human suffering, animal suffering, the poisoning of the air, land and sea affects God – he feels our pain

–         Jesus the Son only does what he sees God his Father doing – he sees God close to people and affected by our lives and so he knows that God wants him to enter into the human experience as well (like Father like Son)

–         Part of the human experience is hunger and powerlessness

–         If Jesus used his special power to satisfy his own hunger then he wouldn’t be entering into the human experience, he would be avoiding it

–         To avoid the human experience would be a denial of his baptism and a denial of God’s purpose for him and a denial of himself as God’s Son

–         It is God’s will to save humanity and that meant it was necessary for Jesus to enter into the experience of those he’d come to save

–         By fasting and experiencing hunger Jesus was creating a bond or a tie with those who have known hunger & powerlessness


As well as entering into the human experience generally, God wanted Jesus to enter into Israel’s experience particularly – and part of Israel’s experience was hunger & vulnerability in the wilderness

–         As Son of God, Jesus is doing for Israel what Israel failed to do

–         In all three temptations Jesus refutes the devil by quoting Scripture from Deuteronomy chapters 6 & 8

–         Deuteronomy 6-8 forms part of the instruction Moses gave to the people toward the end of their time in the wilderness

–         Moses was basically saying that God had been training Israel to trust and obey him – much like a Father teaches a son – and here’s some of the things they should have learned from their experience


Lesson number one: ‘Man cannot live by bread alone’ (and by man we mean humankind – men & women)

–         Eating food is essential to survival in this life

–         Likewise, obedience to God’s will is essential to this life and the next

–         Jesus’ refusal to break his fast until God said so proved the point that doing God’s will is even more life giving than eating bread

–         Fulfilling God’s purpose satisfies our souls in a way that food can’t


Having said all that Jesus didn’t always fast – in fact he had a reputation for eating well

–         On another occasion in the wilderness Jesus would use his power to miraculously multiply loaves and fishes to feed thousands

–         On that occasion Jesus was actually proving a similar point – that God is the source and sustain-er of life

–         Jesus had just been feeding the people with God’s word through his teaching – then, after he had fed their souls with his sermon, he fed their bodies with food – because we need both for life


So if you’re thinking I might do a fast for 40 days like Jesus – then don’t, it will kill you (you’re not Jesus)

–         If you want to give up something don’t give up food which is good for you – give up the things that are bad for you, like complaining or self-pity or gossip or resentment or worry or excess screen time


Jesus’ obedience in submitting to God’s will for him shows that Jesus trusted God to provide bread for him when God was ready

–         And this is exactly what God did – after the devil had left, angels came and took care of Jesus’ needs


The second temptation comes in the form of a vision

–         The devil transports Jesus to the highest point of the temple and invites him to jump off, saying…

–         “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ”

–         The devil wants Jesus to act as though God is there to serve him

–         Leverage your relationship with God, get him to pull some strings for you


Notice how the devil uses the Bible to entice Jesus here – he makes it seem like a good idea, a holy idea even

–         The devil misuses holy Scripture by taking a verse out of context and applying a crude literalism to it – what we might call ‘proof texting’

–         Jesus isn’t fooled though – he finds the true meaning of Scripture by putting things in the right context

–         He understands Scripture because of his closeness to God the Father


Again Jesus quotes Scripture from Deuteronomy

–         “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

–         This is another lesson Israel should have learned in the wilderness

–         ‘Don’t put God to the test’ means don’t try and force God’s hand

–         Don’t put God in an awkward position

–         Don’t try to manipulate God

–         Don’t take advantage of your relationship with God for selfish ends

–         It’s the Father who teaches the Son, not the other way around


God wasn’t asking Jesus to jump off the temple roof

–         God was asking Jesus to hang on the cross

–         Jesus shows he is the Son of God by obeying the will of the Father


The third temptation also comes in the form of a vision

–         This time the devil isn’t so subtle – he shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour and says…

–         “All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.”

–         The devil is offering Jesus a cosy alternative to his mission

–         Imagine the good you could do if all the kingdoms of the world were yours – this is an easier way than the way God has for you


But Jesus isn’t going to repeat the mistakes of the Israelites in the wilderness who bowed down to the statue of a gold bull and says…

–         “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ”

–         Jesus loves God his Father and wouldn’t trade him for all the kingdoms of the world – that’s the quality of their relationship, that’s the strength of their bond



Jesus shows he is God’s Son through his total commitment and trusting obedience to the Father

Most of Jesus’ contemporaries couldn’t see he was the Son of God because they were looking with their eyes and not with their hearts

–         It was only after his death and resurrection that it began to dawn on people who Jesus really is

The good news is: through faith in Jesus God tames us – through Jesus, God creates a bond making us his friends and family


Questions for discussion or reflection:

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

–         Why do you think this stood out to you?

2.)    What (or who) ties Jesus to God?

–         What (or who) ties us to God?

3.)    Why did Jesus go to be baptised by John?

4.)    Who did the son of God refer to in the Old Testament?

5.)    The baptism of Jesus sounds many echoes of the Old Testament. What echoes can you hear?

6.)    Why did the Spirt lead Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil?

7.)    Discuss / reflect on Jesus’ response to the three temptations and their relationship to Israel’s experience in the wilderness

–         In what ways has your faith / relationship with God been tested over the years?

8.)    How might God tame us?




Scriptures: Various

Title: Baptism

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


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


–         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 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 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



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



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



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



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



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

Confirming the covenant

Scripture: Genesis 17


Title: Confirming the Covenant



  • Introduction
  • Confirming the covenant (1-16)

o   Naming

o   Committing

o   Circumcising

  • Abraham’s response (17-27)
  • Conclusion



This morning we continue our series on Abram by looking at Genesis 17

–         Last week, in chapter 16, we heard how Abram had a son (Ishmael) through Sarai’s maid servant Hagar

–         By the beginning of Genesis 17 it has been 13 years since Ishmael was born even longer since God first cut a covenant with Abram in chapter 15

–         Now, in chapter 17, God confirms his covenant

–         With the covenant encounter in Genesis 15 Abram wasn’t required to do anything, but in Genesis 17 God does require a response from Abraham


Genesis 17 is relatively long so I’m going to handle it in two parts

–         First we’ll read verses 1-16 which deal with confirming the covenant

–         And then we’ll read the rest of the chapter later which describes Abraham’s response. From verses 1-16 of Genesis 17 we read…


When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.

11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring.

13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”


May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us


Confirming the covenant:

In this reading God confirms his covenant with Abram and this confirmation involves three things: naming, committing and circumcising

–         First let us consider naming…



In the state of Andhra Pradesh in southern India, there is an indigenous mission organisation called India Rural Evangelical Fellowship

–         It was begun in 1947 when Prasada Rao began training evangelists to go out into rural villages to preach the gospel

–         Prasada also took orphans into his home to show them the love of Christ

–         By the late 1990’s there were over 120 itinerant evangelists reaching 360 villages bringing many to Christ and planting churches

–         When these Indian believers were baptised they were often also given a new name – a Christian name

–         Many of the given names in India have a history that link the individual to the gods of their culture

–         So adopting a new name is a way of severing ties to the old life [1]

–         It’s a way of saying you are a new creation, on a new path with a new future


In verse 5 God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and in verse 15 the Lord changes Sarai’s name to Sarah

–         ‘Abram’ means ‘exalted father’ and ‘Abraham’ means ‘father of many nations’

–         ‘Sarai’ and ‘Sarah’ mean the same thing: ‘princess’

–         Perhaps the name Sarai looks back at her royal ancestry, while Sarah looks forward to her royal descendants – kings will come from her [2]

–         But the meaning of Sarah’s name isn’t as important as the fact that she is now included in the covenant – previously her role was unknown


God is renaming Sarah & Abraham because he is bringing about a new creation through them and (you will remember from Genesis 1 that) naming is one of the things God does in the act of creating

–         Their new names then are a reminder that God has severed the ties of past barrenness and given them a new future that is fruitful and blessed



Naming is one aspect of confirming the covenant

–         Articulating the commitment is another aspect


In medieval times soldiers were sworn to allegiance by being dubbed a knight [3]

–         So becoming a knight wasn’t just a reward for service rendered it was a way of confirming loyal commitment to the king

–         The knight would get down on bended knee as a sign of his submission to the monarch

–         There were certain perks or privileges to being a knight I suppose – like enjoying a higher social status

–         But there were also responsibilities – like being obedient to your king


When God appears to Abram, in chapter 17, he begins by saying…

–         “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless…”

–         ‘God Almighty’ means ‘God above all else’ or ‘God of nations’ (as our national anthem affirms)

–         Von Rad says the Hebrew word translated as ‘blameless’ here signifies wholeness of relationship and integrity rather than no sin [4]

–         I guess it’s another way of saying, “Do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God”

–         ‘To walk before God…’ means to orient one’s entire life toward God

–         Like when we sing ‘Jesus, be the centre…’ we are really saying we want our lives to revolve around Christ

–         God is commanding Abraham to live his life in such a way that every single step is made with reference to God

–         It’s sort of like God (the King of kings) is dubbing Abraham a loyal knight of his realm

–         And Abraham’s response is to fall facedown as a sign of his submission


For his part God commits to giving Abraham the land of Canaan and many descendants but that is more of a reiteration of things God has said on other occasions

–         At the heart of the covenant is the Lord’s commitment: I will be your God


If we think of God’s covenant like a set of Russian dolls, then the inner most doll is the Lord’s commitment to be Abraham’s God

–         I will be your God speaks of loyal relationship

–         Some of the other inner dolls include God’s promise of blessing, land and descendants but at its core God’s covenant is a relationship

–         By saying, I will be your God the Lord is offering Himself to Abraham

–         Sort of like when a couple adopt a child – they aren’t just offering to feed and house the child, they are offering themselves to that child

–         ‘I will be your father’ – ‘I will be your mother’

–         Or when a man & woman get married – they aren’t just offering a ring or a house or an income, they are offering themselves to each other

–         ‘I will be your husband’, or ‘I will be your wife’

–         I feel sad when I hear people in de-facto relationships say, ‘Oh we’re waiting until we can afford to buy a house before we get married’

–         As if financial security is an adequate foundation for marriage

–         Somewhere along the line our society has lost the idea that marriage is about giving yourself, not getting stuff


At its heart then God’s covenant is a relationship in which God offers Himself

–         God offers Himself to us most clearly in giving His Son Jesus

–         For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life 

–         You see, we don’t put our faith in Jesus just so we can avoid hell and get into heaven – Heaven is a perk, it’s a privilege, but it’s not the main point

–         We put our trust in Jesus so we can receive God Himself as our Father

–         Without the inner most doll of being in a loyal loving relationship with God, heaven becomes a kind of hell anyway

–         (Like being married to someone you don’t love for financial reasons)


 So confirming God’s covenant involves naming, committing & circumcising  

–         Naming – that’s about a new identity

–         Committing – that’s about loyal relationship

–         And circumcising – that’s about initiation and therefore belonging


Now we’re only talking about male circumcision here

–         Israel didn’t practice female circumcision (thankfully)

–         Male circumcision is when the foreskin of the penis is cut off

–         I don’t believe it is as harmful as female circumcision


Returning to our Russian dolls…

–         If being in relationship with God is the core of the covenant (the inner most doll), then circumcision is the sign of the covenant (the outer doll)

–         As a sign of the covenant it points to what’s inside


We might also compare circumcision to a passport

–         A passport identifies you personally and is a sign of your citizenship, it verifies where you come (or where you belong) and it gets you places

–         Without a passport you can’t get into another country

–         Without circumcision Abraham and his descendants couldn’t participate in God’s covenant


Circumcision wasn’t invented by God – it was already common practice in the ancient near east when God asked Abraham to do it

–         There were two main occasions why men might be circumcised

–         Perhaps when they got married, as a sign of entry into a new family

–         Or at puberty, as a rite of passage in becoming man

–         Both those occasions represented initiation or belonging to a new group

–         God borrowed the practice of circumcision and transformed it – giving it theological significance for Abraham and Israel so that circumcision became the sign of initiation (or entry) into God’s covenant [5]

–         Circumcision is how Israelites ‘opt-in’ to God’s covenant, in other words


God stipulated that males in Abraham’s household should be circumcised at 8 days old

–         Again we see a connection with the account of creation in Genesis 1

–         If the first seven days represent the creation of the cosmos then day eight represents the first day of a new week of creation – the creation of Israel

–         So circumcision was a ‘let there be light’ moment


The other thing we notice here is that circumcision involves cutting

–         You may remember from a couple of weeks ago, when we looked at Genesis 15, that a covenant is cut – it involves the shedding of blood

–         And in this case it is the most vulnerable part of a man that is cut

–         Having children, reproducing the next generation, has been such a big deal to Abraham and now God wants a piece of his reproductive organ

–         Wow – the symbolism is rich


As Christians we don’t need to participate in God’s covenant with Abraham

–         So guys, if you’re still in one piece down there, don’t panic – you don’t need to go cutting anything off


Jesus came to establish a new covenant for all people

–         And the sign of initiation into the new covenant is baptism (being immersed in water)

–         So our equivalent of circumcision is baptism [6]

–         Baptism is like a passport into God’s kingdom

–         In being baptised we transfer our citizenship as it were – we become aliens in this world and citizens of heaven

–         We break from the past and take on a new identity


When you are baptised as a conscious believer (or, if you come from an infant baptism tradition, when you confirm your baptism) you are essentially saying…

–         ‘Jesus I submit to you as King. No longer am I going to live my life to suit myself. I’m going to live my life to suit you.’

–         Being baptised or confirmed as a Christian is like being made a loyal knight (or dame) of Christ


Now here’s the thing…

–         These external signs of the covenant (whether it’s circumcision or baptism or confirmation) they don’t mean a thing if there’s no inner doll (no loyal relationship with God)

–         Baptism is an external ritual that is supposed to reflect an internal reality

–         If we’re only getting baptised out of conformity (because that’s what people do) then the sign is meaningless

–         Or if we get baptised just for what we can get out of it, with no intention of changing our life to suit Christ, then the passport is counterfeit

–         Whether we’ve been baptised as a baby or later in life as a believer the thing that makes our baptism effective and meaningful is having a committed loyal relationship with God (with Jesus), on the inside


To recap what we’ve covered so far, confirming God’s covenant involves naming, committing & circumcising  

–         Naming is about a new identity

–         Committing is about loyal relationship (the inner doll)

–         And circumcising – is a sign of initiation & belonging (like a passport)


Abraham’s response:

How then did Abraham respond to what God said?

–         Well, we pick up the story from verse 17 of Genesis 17…


17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

19 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers.

He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” 22 When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him. 23 On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, 25 and his son Ishmael was thirteen;


May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us


One of the wonderful things about the Bible is its honesty

–         The Bible doesn’t paint an unrealistic picture of humanity

–         It tells it how it is, revealing human beings in all our complexity and imperfection


When we ask the question: how did Abraham respond to God? Genesis 17 gives us a wonderfully honest answer

–         Abraham’s response was a bit of a mixed bag

–         First he threw himself face-down in submission to God, a good start

–         But then he laughed in disbelief and suggested Ishmael as an alternative to what God had planned (not such a good follow up)


We have to remember that for the past 13 years Abraham probably thought that his son Ishmael (born to Hagar) would inherit God’s promise

–         If that’s the case it must have been a bit of shock for Abraham to hear that his hope had been misplaced all this time


Our human imperfection draws out the beauty of God’s grace

–         God doesn’t rebuke Abraham – he doesn’t withdraw his covenant because Abraham laughed in a moment of doubt


Instead God says a son will be born to Sarah and you will name him Isaac

–         The name ‘Isaac’ means ‘laughter’ – Isaac will be a source of joy to Abraham & Sarah

–         But God won’t forget Ishmael – Ishmael will be blessed too and will be fruitful, only he won’t inherit God’s covenant promises as Isaac will

–         God did in fact greatly increase Ishmael’s numbers – millions of Arabs today are descended from Ishmael


Despite an initial flicker of doubt Abraham finishes strongly, not wasting any time in obeying God

–         Abraham performs the rite of circumcision that very day on every male in his household, just as the Lord had told him

–         God is big enough to handle our doubts – what counts in the end is obedience



We’ve heard today how God confirmed his covenant with Abraham and how Abraham responded to what God said

–         Confirming the covenant involves naming, committing and circumcising

–         Naming is about identity

–         Committing is about loyal relationship

–         And circumcising is about initiation, or opting into the covenant


Through Jesus, God has established a new covenant, not limited to ethnic Israel but available to anyone who is willing to receive Christ by faith

–         We opt in to this new covenant, not through circumcision, but through baptism


To those who have been baptised the question remains:

–         Is a loyal relationship with Jesus still at the centre of your life?


And to those who are yet to be baptised…

–         Are you willing to submit and commit to Jesus?


Questions for reflection or discussion:

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

2.)    What is the significance of God renaming Abraham & Sarah?

–         What does your name mean?

3.)    What did God mean when he said to Abram, “I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless.”?

4.)    At the core of the covenant is God’s commitment, “I will be your God.” What does this mean? What is God offering in saying this?

–         How does God offer Himself to us today?

5.)    In what sense is circumcision (for Israel) and baptism (for us), like a passport?

6.)    What might be the symbolic significance for Israel in circumcising boys at 8 days old?

7.)    What gives circumcision (for Israel) and baptism (for us) it’s meaning?

–         What sorts of things empty circumcision and baptism of meaning?

8.)    How did Abraham respond to what God said? (vv. 17-27)

–         How does God handle Abraham’s moment of doubt?

9.)    Have you been baptised?

–         If you have, is a loyal relationship with Jesus at the centre of your life?

–         If you haven’t, are you willing to submit and commit to Christ?

[1] This illustration was found in John Walton’s NIVAC Genesis, page 468

[2] Bruce Waltke, Genesis, page 262

[3] This illustration was also found in John Walton’s NIVAC Genesis, page 468

[4] Bruce Waltke, Genesis, page 259.

[5] Incidentally, keeping the Sabbath was a sign to show continued allegiance to the covenant. So you can see why the Pharisees got a bit touchy when Jesus challenged their rules around the Sabbath. From their perspective it may have seemed like Jesus was being disloyal to the covenant, when in fact Jesus had come to establish a new covenant


[6] And our equivalent of keeping the Sabbath (refer above footnote) is sharing communion


Scripture: Mark 16:16a “Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved”


Title: Baptism


Key Idea: Baptism is where God’s grace meets our faith



  • Introduction
  • Baptism is where God’s grace meets our faith
  • Conclusion




This morning Duan is being baptised

  • The word ‘baptise’ means to dip or immerse
  • There is a pool of water here at the front – we call this the ‘baptistery’
  • Duan will go into the water, make a profession of his faith in Jesus, then be immersed under the water before coming out again
  • That is the act of baptism


Baptism comes up in the New Testament quite a bit

  • John the Baptist immersed people in the Jordan river to get them ready for the coming Messiah
  • Jesus himself was baptised by John, as a sign that he had come to take away the sins of the world


Later Jesus went through another sort of baptism – not in water – but on the cross, when he was immersed in suffering

  • After his resurrection from the dead Jesus commanded his disciples to…


Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. [1]


Throughout the Book of Acts, the apostles did as Jesus instructed…

  • They preached the gospel and when people believed in Jesus the apostles baptised them


Baptism is where God’s grace meets our faith:

We could go on listing other New Testament references to baptism but the key idea I want to communicate this morning is…


Baptism is where God’s grace meets our faith


Or as Beasley-Murray puts it…

  • “Baptism is… the divinely appointed rendezvous of grace for faith.” [2]


In the New Testament the same gifts of grace are associated with faith as with baptism – so grace, faith and baptism go together

  • Baptism is a nexus point for God’s grace & our faith

Just so we are on the same page…

  • By grace we mean a multifaceted gift from God
  • A gift, by definition, is freely given – we don’t pay for it
  • So grace is unearned – it costs God but it doesn’t cost us


And faith is believing (or trusting) to the point we are prepared to act on that belief


Baptism is where God’s grace meets our faith


Let me illustrate by way of analogy

  • Imagine someone tells you that Mexted Motors are giving away cars – brand new cars at no cost
  • All you have to do is turn up at their car yard, collect the key, get in the car and drive away


Grace is being given the new car for free


And baptism is the rendezvous point for collecting the new car – that is: the yard at Mexted’s


Faith is believing that what you have been told is true and then acting on that belief by walking down to Mexted’s, collecting a key, getting in a vehicle and driving away

  • Faith is not saying, ‘I agree that Mexted’s are giving away cars’ and then sitting at home on the couch
  • Faith is acting on your belief – trusting that what you have heard is true


Baptism is where God’s grace meets our faith


Now, in many ways this is an inadequate analogy for baptism

  • We don’t just turn up to collect the goodies from God and then drive away – see you later. No
  • In baptism we become forever friends with Jesus
  • So when we get in the car (when we are baptised) the Spirit of God is already there waiting for us – ready to show us the way to go through life

Translating the analogy for you…

  • Duan has heard the gospel preached
  • He has heard the good news that God has grace – a wonderful multi-faceted gift to give away
  • And he has come to the waters of baptism in faith to receive God’s grace
  • After receiving the grace God wants to give, Duan will continue his journey through life with God


So what is this grace of God?

  • Well, firstly Duan, there’s no free car
  • And that goes for the rest of you as well
  • I don’t want anyone turning up at Mexted’s this afternoon, saying…
  • “I’ve been baptised. Where’s my free car.”


Seriously though, Jesus embodies the fullness of God’s grace

  • All the different facets of God’s grace we find in Christ
  • Jesus is God’s gift to the world for the salvation of creation


When we are baptised into Christ we receive forgiveness from sin [3]

  • And union with Christ [4]

With forgiveness God wipes our slate clean – He doesn’t hold our wrong doing against us

  • That means our guilt is removed – we’re justified & accepted before God
  • Not only are our sins forgiven – but sin also loses its power over us
  • The power of sin is death – because we are forgiven, death can’t hold us
  • And because we are justified, the accusations of the evil one won’t stick


In believers’ baptism we also receive from God union with Christ

  • Baptism is sort of like a wedding ceremony in that it unites us to Christ
  • Just as marriage is for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, so too union with Christ is for better or worse, through thick & thin
  • Baptism doesn’t mean the end of suffering or difficulty in this life
  • But it does mean the end of trying to cope with difficulties on your own


It also means a change to our lifestyle

  • I remember when I married Robyn, I had to change my mind set
  • No longer could I think like a single man
  • Now I had to consider Robyn in everything I did
  • I needed to learn to listen to her and tell her what I was thinking & feeling
  • It’s the same with our union to Christ – we have to consider him in all our decisions – how will this affect Jesus?
  • We need to listen to him and be honest with him – we call that prayer


Union with Christ is a biggy – it comes with a number of benefits

  • For starters union with Christ gives you the Spirit of Jesus
  • The Holy Spirit is the key to everything really
  • The Spirit precedes baptism in that He leads us to Christ and makes faith & repentance possible
  • Faith is a gift from God
  • The Holy Spirit is also given in baptism [5]
  • One of the Biblical metaphors for the Holy Spirit is water
  • We are baptised in water as a sign that through our union with Christ we are being immersed in God’s Spirit
  • The Holy Spirit then follows baptism – we go on being filled with the Spirit who empowers us to live the Christian life


Union with Christ gives you the promise of resurrection

  • In Romans 6 Paul writes: Don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?
  • …If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. [6]


Because Jesus is God’s Son, union with Christ makes us sons & daughters of God

  • As co-heirs with Christ we will inherit God’s kingdom


And last but not least, union with Christ means we become members of the church universal

  • Duan’s baptism is not something which is done in isolation
  • It’s not just between him and God
  • Duan’s baptism is between him and God and us
  • Duan is being incorporated into Christ’s body, the church
  • So we who have been baptised are affected by this
  • We are encourageed and strengthened by it


There is much more I could say about baptism but that’s enough for today

  • The main point is: Baptism is where God’s grace meets our faith


We will now hear a testimony from Duan…






[1] Mark 16:15-16

[2] G.R. Beasley-Murray, ‘Baptism in the New Testament, page 273.

[3] Acts 2:38

[4] Galatians 3:27

[5] 1 Corinthians 12:13

[6] Romans 6:3 & 5

Israel’s Baptism

Scripture: Exodus 14:5-31

Title: Israel’s Baptism


  • Introduction
  • Israel’s baptism
  • Moses’ leadership
  • Jesus’ identity
  • Conclusion


Please turn with me to Exodus chapter 14, page 72 in your pew Bibles

  • Today we continue our series on Moses
  • By this point in the story God has struck Egypt with the tenth plague – the death of the first born
  • Pharaoh has sent the Hebrew people away and they are making good their escape
  • We pick up the story from Exodus 14, verse 5…

[Read Exodus 14:5-31]


May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us

Impressionist - Starry Night


On the wall here is a painting by Vincent Van Gogh

  • Can anyone tell me what style this is painted in? [Wait]
  • Yes – that’s right, ‘Impressionist’ (or post-impressionist)

Impressionism is not interested in capturing a scene with photographic accuracy

  • Impressionism is about capturing the light and movement of a scene
  • This painting is called ‘Starry Night Over The Rhone’
  • You can see how Van Gogh is trying to give the impression of the star light reflecting on the rippling waters of the river – light and movement

Some would describe the account of Israel crossing the Red Sea as impressionistic [1]

  • It recalls a real historical event, perhaps not with photographic accuracy, but certainly in a way which conveys the light & movement of that night


We see a real movement for Israel in Exodus 14

  • Not just in the geographical sense of moving from one location to another
  • But in a spiritual sense as the people move from terror to trust – from fear of death to faith in God
  • In fact, as Christians looking back at this, we get the overall impression that Israel (as a nation) went through a kind of baptism when they passed through the Red Sea
  • This was a conversion experience, an internal change took place for them

Israel’s baptism:

Verse 8 of Exodus 14 tells us the Israelites were leaving Egypt triumphantly

  • They were full of confidence and bluster in other words

Triumphalism is the counterfeit of true faith

  • Triumphalism feels like what we imagine faith should feel like, but it actually isn’t faith

Triumphalism insulates us from reality

  • Faith exposes us to reality

Triumphalism is the advertisement

  • Faith is using the product

Triumphalism is maxing out our credit card and telling ourselves we will pay for it later

  • Faith is waiting until we can pay for it by cash

Triumphalism is telling ourselves we don’t need to prepare for exams – we just need to pray

  • Faith is studying

Triumphalism is the illusion (or the fantasy) that we cannot fail, that we are bullet proof, that we are always right and this will be easy

  • Faith is waking up from the fantasy, realising from experience that we can fail, that we are not bullet proof, that this life is difficult in practice

Triumphalism is what young men feel when they enlist in the army to go to war – “We’ll be home by Christmas”, they said

  • Faith is surviving the battle and learning respect for our enemies

Triumphalism is falling in love

  • Faith is the commitment to tough it out through the hard times

Triumphalism is what we Christians sometimes feel on a Sunday morning when we sing heroic songs to God, surrounded by people who think the same as us

  • Faith is Monday to Saturday when we are out in the world at work or school surrounded by people who think differently to us
  • Faith is also when we are at home struggling with grizzly children or at home by ourselves struggling with loneliness

We could go on but you get the point…

  • Triumphalism has no foundation – it is based on illusion
  • Faith has a firm foundation – it is based on reality

The Israelites left Egypt triumphantly, not realising their confidence had no foundation – it was based on a passing feeling

  • God was about to give them a firm foundation though – the reality of experiencing His salvation

From verse 10 of Exodus 14 we read…

When the Israelites saw the king and his army marching against them, they were terrified and cried out to the Lord for help. They said to Moses, “Weren’t there any graves in Egypt? Did you have to bring us out here in the desert to die? …It would be better to be slaves there than to die here in the desert.”


Their bubble of triumphalism has been burst

  • We shouldn’t be too hard on the Israelites though
  • Their backs were against the wall at this point
  • They were trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea
  • Or more precisely between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea
  • So they had good reason to panic

In that moment of terror, as they feared for their lives, and all trace of triumphalism had been drained from their hearts – it probably felt like they were a long way from faith

  • But in actual fact, the Israelites were closer to faith when they were scared than they were when they left Egypt triumphantly
  • The terror of the Egyptian army purged the Hebrew people of all illusion
  • The reality of their mortality wiped the slate clean to make room for faith
  • Fear is like a wind which blows the fog of fantasy away

You see, it is our thirst which makes us drink

  • It is our need which brings us to God
  • And it can be fear which brings us to our senses, clearing the way for faith

At God’s command Moses raised his hand and the Lord parted the sea so the people could walk through

  • Their walking through the sea was an act of faith
  • Faith isn’t just what we say we believe in the safety of church
  • Faith is what we do both in the ordinary moments of our lives and in those moments of utter desperation
  • Through the night the nation of Israel made its way on dry ground while God held back the water and the Egyptians

At the end of chapter 14, when the Israelites have made it through safely to the other side and they see the Egyptians lying dead on the seashore, we read how they [the Hebrew people] had faith in the Lord

  • The experience of God’s salvation has changed the Israelites
  • An internal shift has taken place within them
  • God has taken Israel from triumphalism through terror to trust
  • He has brought them from fantasy through fear to faith
  • The past is dead on the seashore – the future is open before them

It’s not that their faith is made perfect yet – baptism is just a beginning – the people still have a long way to go before they reach the Promised Land

  • But it is a start – the experience of God’s salvation has given Israel foundation for their faith

Okay, having heard about Israel’s baptism into faith, let’s now consider Moses’ leadership in this situation…


Moses’ leadership:

Although Moses is Israel’s leader, verse 31 describes him as The Lord’s servant

  • Moses is the original servant leader
  • Moses does not exercise leadership for his own benefit, as Pharaoh did
  • Moses exercises leadership in service to God’s agenda
  • He takes his direction from God and the people follow Moses
  • This serves both God’s purpose and the well-being of the people

One of the qualities required of leaders – and particularly of servant leaders – is differentiation

Differentiation is a term coined by the psychologist Murray Bowen

  • ‘Differentiation’ refers to a person’s capacity to “define his or her own life’s goals and values apart from the pressures of those around them” [2]

To put it another way, ‘differentiation’ is the ability to hold on to yourself, while staying connected to others

  • Holding on to yourself means holding on to who you are
  • Holding on to your beliefs and values – your integrity
  • Sticking to what you know is right and not being too easily swayed by other people’s feelings or opinions
  • Staying true to yourself, in other words

People who can differentiate in their relationships are able to stay calm, manage their anxiety and avoid blaming other people 

Rudyard Kipling has a famous poem – the opening lines of which describe differentiation. It goes like this…

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating…

                                  …you’ll be a man, my son!


Good leadership requires the emotional intelligence to differentiate – to hold onto yourself like this

Now this concept of differentiation or ‘holding onto yourself’ is not new – it’s been around for thousands of years

  • When our core beliefs and values (our true self) is informed by God, differentiation goes by the term: ‘Fear of the Lord’
  • “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”
  • It sets you free from the fear of lesser things – like the fear of man

To fear the Lord is to not be swayed by the opinion of others

  • So when people think you are a bit simple for believing in God
  • When they say that science is the answer to everything
  • And that religion is the opiate of the people
  • You don’t go along with that – you hold onto yourself
  • You stick to what you believe in your heart – that God is real and that one day, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord
  • But you’re not offended either – you don’t just walk away
  • You simply smile & ask them what they believe & quietly pray for them

To fear the Lord is to stay calm in a crisis, even when people are saying the crisis is your fault

  • So when the boss is swearing at you at work because things didn’t go well that day
  • Or you are the boss and your team is not talking to you because you had to make a hard decision that they can’t understand
  • Or you’re at home and your kids are telling you it’s not fair and you’re the worst parent in the world
  • Or you’re on the sports field and some clown is yelling at you from the side lines because they are frustrated with their own lives
  • In those situations, to fear the Lord, means remembering that God is your judge – no one else
  • Not your boss, not your teacher, not your work mates, not your parents, not your children and certainly not the random armchair critics

Fear of the Lord, in the specific sense of remembering that God is our judge, enables us to hold onto our perspective and not take the criticism personally

  • It helps us to turn the other cheek and stay in the conversation
  • To listen without reacting and to communicate without antagonising

Differentiation, fear of the Lord, holding on to yourself, whatever you want to call it – if you can do that, you have the makings of a servant leader

Moses could do that

  • In verses 10-14 Moses demonstrates a high level of differentiation
  • Moses holds onto himself under extreme pressure

The entire Egyptian army is bearing down on them

  • They have nowhere to run and Moses has brought them to this cul-de-sac of death
  • Over a million people are terrified and blaming him saying things like…
  • “Did you have to bring us out here in the desert to die? Didn’t we tell you this would happen?”

And how does Moses respond?

  • With a message of good news
  • He doesn’t get angry with the people
  • He doesn’t turn the blame back on them or give in to their fear
  • Nor does he walk away

Moses holds onto himself, while staying connected to the people

  • He keeps his perspective and he sticks to what he believes, saying…
  • Do not be afraid
  • Stand your ground
  • You will see God’s salvation

Stay calm – be still – wait for God

This is not triumphalism – this is an invitation to faith

For Moses to respond in this way (with a message of good news), under these circumstances, required a high level of differentiation

  • Moses feared the Lord, more than he did the Red Sea or the Egyptians
  • Moses was more concerned about God’s opinion than he was the opinion of the people
  • Moses was able to define and differentiate what he believed & felt from what the people believed & felt
  • And he was able to hold onto his personal conviction without letting go of his connection with the people
  • So he was not swamped or knocked over by the tidal wave of criticism coming his way

As I said earlier, the experience of God’s salvation changed the Israelites

  • Verse 31 again, When the Israelites saw the great power with which the Lord had defeated the Egyptians, they feared the Lord
  • In other words, they began to learn to differentiate
  • They began to learn to hold onto themselves
  • Or, as Terence Fretheim puts it…
  • “Israel’s perspective will now be shaped by what God does, not by what the Egyptians do…”  [3]

It’s fair to say that, at this point, Israel has not mastered differentiation by any means – but it is a start

  • By saving Israel, God has strengthened the nation’s identity as His people

Jesus’ identity:

Strength of identity is key when it comes to holding onto ourselves

  • Those who have a clear understanding of who they are and who they are not, are less likely to lose their shape or identity around others

Jesus had a strong sense of identity – He knew in His heart of hearts (through & through) that He was God’s Son

After His baptism in the Jordan River, by John the Baptiser, God said of Jesus,

  • “This is my own dear Son with whom I am pleased” [4]
  • With this clear sense of identity Jesus was able to differentiate – to hold onto Himself throughout His ministry

So when the Devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness saying, ‘If you are the Son of God’, do this, that and the other thing [5]

  • Jesus was able to refuse, saying in effect…
  • ‘I have nothing to prove. I am not defined by what I do or what I own or what other people think of me. I am defined by God.’

Jesus held onto Himself in His confrontations with the religious leaders too

  • Like when He broke their man-made traditions by healing on the Sabbath
  • Or when He stood up for a woman caught in adultery [6]

Sticking to your principles in the face of an enemy is one thing but, in many ways, differentiation is more difficult when it comes to family & friends…

Like when Jesus’ mother and siblings came to take charge of Him – to bring Him home with them – because they doubted Him

  • Jesus was able to stay true to God’s purpose for Him and say,
  • ‘Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, my sister, and my mother’ [7]
  • Sometimes our family make it hard for us to leave home – but Jesus feared God more than His mum

He also feared God more than His friends – like when Jesus predicted His own death & resurrection and Peter took Jesus aside to rebuke Him

  • Jesus defined His purpose as different from Peter’s purpose, saying…
  • ‘Get away from me Satan… These thoughts of yours don’t come from God, but from man.’ [8]

We could go on but you get the point…

  • Jesus had a strong sense of identity grounded in His relationship with God
  • And from this firm foundation he had a tremendous capacity to stay true to God’s purpose for Him through all kinds of circumstances


Differentiation, fear of the Lord, holding on to yourself, whatever you want to call it – it’s difficult to learn

  • None of us are quite at the level of Moses or Jesus (least of all me)
  • But that’s okay – we are all on a journey with this stuff
  • We don’t need to beat ourselves up about not being perfect
  • We do need to know that God’s grace is sufficient for us
  • And we also need to know what we’re aiming for

The temptation for us may be to try and manufacture our own identity…

  • Perhaps by what we do in racking up a long list of achievements,
  • Or by what we accumulate in terms of possessions,
  • Or maybe by pretending to be what we are not

Authentic identity cannot be manufactured

  • It can only be received as a gift from God

By the experience of God’s salvation the Israelites learned to fear the Lord and to trust Him as well

  • And through this process their identity as the people of God was strengthened

By the experience of Christ’s salvation of us we learn to fear the Lord and trust Him as well

  • And through this process our identity as members of the body of Christ is formed

Let us pray…

[1] For example, Terence Fretheim in his commentary on Exodus, page 158

[2] Quoted in Peter Scazzero’s book, ‘Emotionally Heathy Spirituality’, page 82

[3] Terence Fretheim, Exodus, page 156

[4] Matthew 3:13-17

[5] Matthew 4:1-11

[6] John 8:1-11

[7] Matthew 12:46-50

[8] Matthew 16:21-28