“Baptized Into Life”
Pentecost 3A, Proper 7 – June 25, 2017
Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39.
Our baptism identifies us with Jesus, both his death and his resurrection, and it spiritually marks us as belonging to him. Have you been baptized?
When Jesus died, he died to every hold sin or temptation would ever have on him. When he rose, he rose to eternal life. His body changed into a heavenly body – one that can operate in both the material and the spiritual realms. The major difference between his body and ours, I think, is that his body still bears the scars from his flogging, the scars from the Crown of Thorns, and the holes where the spikes were hammered into his hands and feet, and the spear that was thrust into his side.
Like Jesus, we are given assurance through both baptism and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we are also going to have a resurrected body that is totally free from temptations and sinful appetites. Therefore, we will no longer be slaves to sin (:11). I’m really looking forward to being free from temptations and sin. How about you? So,
Why Are We Baptized?
The practice of water baptism begins with John the Baptist. His was a baptism of repentance and a preparation for the advent of his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, whom he baptized.
One reason we are baptized is because Jesus said to be. In the Great Commandment at the end of Matthew’s Gospel (28:19), Jesus commands us to go into the world and make Disciples – baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And since Pentecost we are the inheritors of that command to go, and the work of faithful disciples. In First Corinthians Paul makes reference to his baptizing the household of Stephanas (1:16). Peter baptized the Roman Centurion Cornelius and his household (Acts ). When Saul of Tarsus was blinded by Jesus on his way to Damascus, the Holy Spirit sent a disciple of Jesus named Ananias to pray for Saul and to baptize him (Acts 9:18).
Next, we see the importance of baptism carried out in the developing church through the rituals of Baptism. Baptism and Holy Communion were considered the two foundational sacraments of the Church, and remain such even today.
Every Christian denomination believes in the need for, and practices the sacrament of baptism, although the particulars of who is to be baptized, at what age, by whose hands, and how much water is necessary, are different across the Christian faith. That should tell us that “how” to baptize is not as important as receiving baptism. When we get to heaven I suspect God is going to be less interested in our ritual of baptism compared to the fact we were baptized in the name of the Trinity and set on fire by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
On a purely spiritual level, there are other understandings for why we practice the sacrament of baptism. Our baptismal ritual, for example, says that “we are marked as Christ’s own” through the sacrament of Baptism. So, is baptism just a ritual or does something spiritual happen to us? Is the blessing in the ritual or in the work of the Holy Spirit through the ritual and in the soul of the one being baptized? Does God make a commitment to us during baptism?
Paul writes about Baptism as a dividing line in our lives. Before Baptism we were dead in our sins – lost sheep without a shepherd.
Through Baptism Everything Changes.
If we were baptized as an infant or young child, we don’t know that everything changed. We don’t understand that, at our baptism, we were spiritually marked by the Holy Spirit as belonging to Jesus Christ. We can’t see that marking through our normal eyesight. It is a spiritual marking and is visible only through spiritual eyes. But that doesn’t mean it is not real.
I went to hear a Christian comic a long time ago. During his show – a witness for Jesus Christ through comedy, he gave this testimony: “At one time I was into serious Satanic worship. I was rising in the Church of Satan. I became part of a gang that was trusted to go into the community and look for young children we could kidnap and use as human sacrifices to Satan. The Devil gave us a spiritual power to identify the best prospects. We were able to see the mark of the cross on children who had been baptized. We left them alone because their souls were already spoken for by Jesus Christ. That got me thinking. I was already aware of the power of Satan. Yet, here was a power through Jesus Christ that was able to turn us away. The more I thought about it the more I concluded that to be marked by Jesus is more powerful than the power of Satan. That eventually led to my leaving the cult and becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.” So, something powerfully spiritual happens even at infant baptism.
When we are baptized as adults it is usually because we have recently given our life to Christ and are just being baptized into God’s new covenant people of faith and grace. We realize the changes that have taken place in our life because we are walking out of darkness into light, out of ignorance into truth, out of weakness into the strength and power of Almighty God in Jesus Christ.
When we are baptized and sealed with God’s Holy Spirit we are marked as Christ’s own. We now belong to him. We have died with him in his death, and we have risen with him into eternal life. And the life we now live, we live no longer for ourselves but that we might help others come to know the joy of a relationship with Jesus; and that they might also be marked through baptism as belonging to Jesus.
“But”, you say, “what does our baptism mean when we still sin, and when the Devil fills our life with temptations. I feel like such a failure. Where is the joy? Where is the peace? Where is the value of my baptism?
Every Christian has times of doubt, times of moral failure. So,
How Does Baptism Save Us?
Martin Luther was a Monk in the 16th Century. He was also a scholar and a Professor. The more he studied the Bible the more he became convinced that salvation is totally the work of God. It is through our faith in the grace of God. It is not our doing. It was done for us by Jesus Christ. And the more convinced he became of the saving worth of God’s grace the more he realized that the Roman Catholic Church of his day was turning salvation away from grace and into human works such as the purchase of indulgences. Luther wanted to debate these points so he posted 95 Theses on the church door in Whittenburg, Germany with an invitation to discuss and debate. Long story, short. The Protest–tent Revolution took place and the Catholic Church split. Protestantism was alive on the Continent and soon many different variations began to emerge.
Luther, now ex-communicated from the Church, soon became the head of a new church in Germany – The Lutheran Church. Because much responsibility was upon him Luther was also regularly attacked by the Devil. His thoughts and moods were under constant temptation to doubt that God was with him.
During this period Luther wrote: “To appreciate and use Baptism aright, we must draw strength and comfort from it when our sins and conscience oppress us, and we must retort, ‘But I am baptized! And if I am baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.’ ... ” (Large Catechism).
In other words when in our life the fertilizer hits the fan, our self-esteem plummets, our conscience accuses us saying: “You are the worst of all possible Christians. Why don’t you just give up? You are a fraud and will never get it together,” when disappointments sap us, we feel abandoned and rejected, sinful and worthless, then there is baptism as the last resort of certain hope. Luther himself was crushed by doubts and depression many a time which means that he speaks from experience when he admonishes: “Just tell the devil, the old deceiver: ‘But I am baptized! And I have the promise that God loves me and saves me. Get away from me.'”
Can you relate to that? Do you see your baptism as the sure-fire commitment of God to you – the sign of saving love through water and the word, which neither angels above nor demons below can weaken or diminish? Can you dare believe God makes an ironclad commitment to you?
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s recover a better understanding of our baptism. I read from Titus 3:3-8: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying … “
The washing – the baptism – of rebirth and renewal, bathed in the Holy Spirit.” God saved us through baptism: the washing which cleanses us from the old muck of sin, death and the devil, the washing which makes us reborn so that we become holy heirs of heaven, the washing which renews us through the Holy Spirit. What grace! What power! What awesome changes happen within us at baptism!
Baptism has the potential and power to bring about rebirth and renewal, faith in Christ, but if we don’t respond, if we reject faith, then we do in fact reject God and miss out on his grace. Baptism won’t save us if we turn our backs on God. A person may cry out in despair and desperation: “I long for God. Right now I cannot sense his presence. I cannot see my way. But, be still my soul, I am baptized. He will be faithful to me.” That’s quite different from the person that has no time for God, has no yearning for God, resists obedience and eases the conscience with a casual throw-away line: “No worries. I can do what I want, please myself. At least I’m baptized.”
Baptism marks us as Christ’s own and brings us into the covenant community. But we still need to make a mature decision to believe in Christ and live as one who believes. Then, all things are possible. Jesus said in verse :38 – “Whoever finds their life (on their own) will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
Have you been baptized into Life? If you desire to be baptized please let me know. God bless you!