Baptism: Where We Have Been Right

Acts 2:37-39

There is a preachers story (which means it’s probably a lie) about a revival preacher who had gathered a crowd down by a river and he was preaching and baptizing folks. The town drunk happened upon the crowd and walked into the water and stood next to the Preacher. The minister turned and asked the man, are you ready to find Jesus? The drunk looks back and says, Yes, sir.

The minister then dunked the fellow under the water and pulled him right back up. Have you found Jesus? the preacher asks.

No, I didn’t! says the drunk. The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer, brings him up and says, Now, brother, have you found Jesus? No, I did not Preacher. The preacher in disgust holds the man under for at least 30 seconds this time brings him out of the water and says in a harsh tone, Friend, are you sure you haven’t found Jesus yet?

The old drunk wipes his eyes and says to the preacher… Are you sure this is where he fell in?

Every preacher has a baptism story. Some of them are funny and some of them are serious. But it seems that there are just as many opinions as there are stories. Over the centuries people have debated what baptism accomplishes, to whom it should be administered, and how much water should be used. Most of us here this morning have grown up with a prominent teaching on baptism. We believe that baptism has a prominent place in Scripture; but even though baptism holds a prominent  place in our belief, we don’t talk about it as much as we once did. I believe there are a couple of reasons we aren’t talking about it in our churches.

1) A reaction to an over emphasis.

I believe that many of us got very uncomfortable going to a church where once a month there was a sermon on baptism. And as we got uncomfortable we realized that we were hearing a lot more about baptism than we were hearing about Jesus. We had become guilty of making baptism the message and not our response to the message of Jesus.

We have often been guilty of teaching that the Plan of Salvation is the Gospel. Now I am thankful for the Plan of Salvation. I won a few ribbons in the 2nd and 3rd grade because I knew the 5 steps to salvation. But the Gospel is not the plan of salvation. The Gospel is the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I remember when I was 18 years old working with a congregation in Hazel Green Alabama. Someone though it would be a great idea for a kid who was studying counseling to preach one Sunday morning. So I wrote my first sermon and the congregation was gracious as spent 30 minutes chasing rabbits. that afternoon one of the Elders approached me and said I needed to end every sermon with the Plan of Salvation, Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, Be Baptized, and Live A Godly Life. I agreed because I knew it was a good idea. But something happened when I actually read my Bible. I realized that there is not a single sermon that wraps up with the plan of salvation. All the New Testament sermons are focused on Jesus and His kingdom. The only preacher to mention baptism was Peter, and that was after someone interrupted his sermon and wanted to know, what am I supposed to do?

2) A reaction against legalism.

Another reason we quit talking about it, is that we are reacting to a legalistic teaching that says baptism is something I do to save myself. That what legalism is all about when we believe that by my thoughts, deeds, actions, and reactions I am able to save myself. I am a little afraid to ask folks how they know they are saved because I fear their answer would be, I got baptism right. The only reason that we are saved today is because what Jesus Christ did on the cross.

When I was younger I used to like to argue, I know big surprise, and when we talked about baptism someone would always ask me, let’s say you are studying with someone and they desire to be  baptized. On the way to the building a log truck comes out from no where and hit’s the car and the man dies. Do you believe that man is going to hell? I always struggled with that question because my legalistic nature would say without a doubt. So today I find it easier to avoid log trucks and legalism.

3) Not wanting religious controversy

Have you ever been in a meeting where everyone has an opinion? You get to the point that you are to tired to argue so you just let it go. We got tired of being known as that group of people. We got tired of talking to people who didn’t know the difference between Believe, Baptized, Saved and Believed, Saved, Baptized. So we just left the conversation.

Now I need you to hear me say that I believe strongly in baptism. I am excited that the walls of division among belief groups are coming down we are able to learn from one another. One of the things I appreciated the most about doing Graduate work at a Baptist Theological School was what I was able to learn about grace. I didn’t grow up talking about grace. Just like they had something to offer me in the study of grace, I believe we have something to offer in the discussion about baptism.

Now, I don’t know where you come from biblically, You may be confused because you have traveled from faith to faith until you don’t know what you believe, or you may be born and raised Church of Christ and have all of this imprinted in your subconscious. My plan is to spend a few weeks revisiting God’s idea of baptism, because I believe it holds an important place in the Kingdom and in the scriptures. Wherever you are today I hope that you will open your Bibles, your minds, and hearts, as we take a fresh look at baptism.

But let me warn you that’s going to be a bit harder than you might think. My problem, and probably yours as well, is when I study my Bible I know what I believe before I even open my Bible. So today when we read these scriptures we already know what they are supposed to say because of how we were taught to see it. But not everyone has the same view.

It’s like a man who is traveling through Anniston and sees a wild pack of dogs attacking a boy. The man gets out of his car, grabs a stick and beats the dogs off the boy and as he is helping the boy up a man runs over to them as introduces himself as a reporter for The Anniston Star. The reporter says you are a very brave man for helping this young boy and I can see the headlines, Anniston man saves boy from wild pack of dogs. The man replies well I’m not from Anniston.

The reporter says, “The headline will read, An Alabama man saves a boy from a dog attack.”

The man replies “I’m not from Alabama, I’m from Vermont.”

The reporter says, “The headline will read, Yankee kills families pets.”

The way you look at something decides how you will respond. As we get into this study I am asking you to try to get a fresh perspective on baptism. So let’s revisit some well known passages and see what God has to say about the topic of baptism.

Matthew 28:18-20 - Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The first thing you need to notice is that baptism is an indispensable part of becoming a disciple of Christ.

We must also notice that Jesus separated baptism from the things that a new Christian needs to obey. Some folks teach that baptism is a good thing that a Christian needs to do, just like reading their Bible, or praying, or going to church. But that’s not where Jesus puts it. As you look through scripture you will see lots of lists of things that Christians are supposed to do. But baptism is never on a list of Christian duties. Because according to Jesus it is a part of you becoming a disciple.

Mark 16:15-16 - He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Pretty straightforward language in the English, but in the Greek it reads a bit differently. It's a part of the beauty of the Greek language that we miss in English. The way that the Greek words are constructed here you have a choice. You will either believe in Christ and be baptized or you deny Christ. There is no option of doing one or another. You either do both or you do nothing. As you read through the scriptures you will notice that there was no such thing as an unbaptized believer. If you believed, you were baptized.

John 3:5 - Jesus answered, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

I was at Target a while ago, patiently waiting in line behind a guy who left his wallet in the truck. He asked me if I would mind if he ran out and got it. I said I didn’t and he took off. Well he comes running back in and his card wouldn’t swipe. I have been there and gone through that. He looked at me and said he was sorry and again I said I understand no problem. Well they finally got a manager to come over and help out and 15 minutes later it was my turn. The casher commented on how patient I was and asked me if I was a born again Christian. I think she misunderstood what Jesus is saying in tis passage.

Jesus makes a tremendous link between water and spirit. He says to enter heaven you have to be born again of the water and the spirit. In the Bible every Christian was born again, and those who were born again were Christian. Saying born again Christian is as redundant as the sign at the gas station which says “please prepay in advance”. Like there is any other time to prepay. 

Acts 2:38 - Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every 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.

Peter is preaching the first gospel sermon here. Now I want you to notice that he wasn’t working towards the plan of salvation but how Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy. The crowd interrupts Peter and says we’ve blown it, now what do we do. How do we get right with God? Peter says repent of your sins and be baptized. When a person comes to the Lord, they obviously believe and have repented, and then were baptized. Two things happen:

They find freedom as the guilt of their sins are washed away.

And they have freedom from the power of sin through the Holy Spirit.

Romans 6:3-4 - Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives

This might be the most important verse in the Bible about Baptism, because it explains the significance. The significance is not in the water, not in what you are doing, The power is in what Jesus did. Paul says when you have been baptized what happens is that you are buried with Christ and you are resurrected with Him.

Now you might think that’s just symbolism. I would grant you that it’s symbolic. But I think that Paul would argue with you that it’s more than just symbolism. Paul is not teaching symbolism. Paul is teaching participation. He is saying what is happening at that moment is that you participate in the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus. The whole reason that we can be saved is because of what happened on a day back in Calvary and then three days later when Jesus was resurrected. That is what saves us.

Baptism is the moment in your history when you know that you have been linked to that moment at the cross and the tomb. The blood from that cross comes in to contact with your life when you participate in Christ’ death, burial, and resurrection.

1 Peter 3:21 - Baptism is like that. It saves you now—not because it removes dirt from your body but because it is the mark of a good conscience toward God. Your salvation comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

In his letter, Peter has been talking here about how Noah and his family were saved from the judgment of God through the water on the ark. Then he makes a parallel argument. Baptism is not just an outward deal. You are not taking a bath to get rid of physical dirt. It is the appeal or pledging to God a clean conscience. And the Power is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Peter got this right. If you want to contact the blood of Christ you make an inward pledge for a changed life.

I don’t know how God is supposed to make it any plainer than He has made it. What else is he supposed to say? Baptism Super de Doper Saves you? Peter is making a pretty clear statement that baptism is our response to the Gospel. It’s not an outward expression, but an inward pledge of 4 things:

1) It is a request for newness.

It’s a part of becoming a disciple, being saved, a new birth, remission of sins, receiving the Holy Spirit, becoming a new creature, and on and on and on.

I love when Hollywood gets something right. And it happens so rarely that it sticks out in my mind. My senior year of high school Harrison Ford was in a movie called Regarding Henry. In this move Henry is a creep, cheating on his wife, his daughter is scared of him, he is dishonest in all of his business dealings, a prince of a human. One night he steps into a convenience store to by cigarettes that is being burglarized. The thief panics and shoots Henry but it doesn’t kill him. Because of where he was shot, oxygen didn’t get to his brain and he had forgotten everything. They have to reteach him everything. When he is able he goes back to work and sees how unethical he was, and quits. He realizes how scared his daughter is of him and he begins to reach out to her. He is appalled by number of women he has had affairs with and he stops that. His life has changed. The question that Hollywood asked in this movie was, how do you change a jerk? The answer they give is you kill him and let him start all over. That’s God’s answer. How do you change a sinner? You kill him and let him start all over. That’s what Baptism is all about.

2) It’s a statement of Faith

God has always asked people to express their faith. The Old Testament is filled with crazy stories:

Snakes are killing children of Israel so what do you do? Go out and look at the golden snake on the pole.

What about when they marched around the Walls of Jericho 7 times? Did the walls fall because they marched right. No the walls fell because of the power of God.

Naaman has to go dip in an old dirty river 7 times to be cured of his leprosy. Was it the water or was the power of God?

God wants to see our faith expressed. And baptism is an expression of faith.

3) It’s a Call for unity

Baptism adds you to the family and the body of God. It doesn’t matter what the preacher, song leader, bible schoolteacher’s wife thinks about you, you are family.  We are called to love one another like a body does. In your body, there is unity. Every part needs every other part. When the body fights against itself, we call that disease. But a healthy body is one that is in unity. Baptism is a call to unify us but unfortunately more often than not we have used it as a tool to divide us.

4) It’s a Pledge of Allegiance.

It’s when I say I am serious about this, I am ready to declare my allegiance to Jesus Christ. It’s like the little boy who walked up to the preacher after a sermon on baptism and said I am ready to be advertised. That’s a truer statement than we think. Baptism is an advertisement of who I live for and who I am.

I know the sermon has been a bit long but here’s what I need you to take with you as we close this morning:

First I want you to know that Jeremy Houck deeply and strongly believes in baptism.

Secondly, I pray that you can remember what happened at your baptism. It’s interesting to me that the scriptures we read today were not written to the pagans but to people who had already been baptized and added to the family of God.

Paul is reminding us in Romans 6 that when we were baptized we were buried and resurrected with Christ. We were dead to sin and alive to God and a baptized person doesn’t act the way you are acting. A baptized person lives a life trying to emulate Jesus Christ.

And finally, one more scripture. Acts 22:16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

If you believe in Jesus and have not made your faith a verb, then what you are waiting for? Baptism is not a declaration of your perfection, it’s admitting that you cannot be perfect so you are accepting Christ’s love. The time of waiting is over, if we can help you make your belief active then will you come?

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