This past week, I had the honor of preaching to a Lutheran congregation in New Jersey. I am a regular substitute for the pastor there, and the people know me and are always kind in their acceptance of me and tell me how they enjoyed the message. I never feel one hundred percent like I delivered anything worthy, but I’ve also been told that is not a bad mindset to have, considering our inclination towards the sin of pride.
The pastor there has been preaching through the book of Galatians and likes me to preach through the passages that are assigned that week. It’s a challenge for me being a lay-preacher, but so far, I’ve been able to develop the material and then preach on everything he’s ever asked me to, regardless of how I feel about the quality of content.
This past week, a portion of the scripture I was assigned to preach on was Galatians 3:26-27. There was more but, I just love when any scripture passage dips a toe in the waters of baptism. Pun intended. So this is basically part of that sermon I preached this past Sunday.
Lets look at the passage of scripture now:
26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
As I said earlier, I’m not a pastor, but when do preach I always feel a little of the weight of what it means to be a pastor in having to give people the encouragement of God’s Word. I want to make sure I give people the good news of God. If I could say I’m good at anything, it’s probably helping people see the bigger picture and how it matters to our lives in a more intimate way. So when I talk about Baptism here, I probably won’t explain all the nuances of the lutheran understanding of baptism in a way that satisfies a theologian’s more technical definition.
With that in mind, this is what I tried to have the congregation walk away with last Sunday:
Baptism is more that just a symbol.
At the time of the early church, baptism was so much more than what many view it to be today. I still remember the language from a couple of my old churches, “Baptism is an outward response to an inward change.”
I remember clearly having to go through a series of baptism classes before one church let me dip a toe in those waters as an adult. So it appeared, that despite what their view was doctrinally, baptism was at least important enough to hold classes on it.
For the earliest Christians, Baptism was important enough to view it as their first defining moment of faith. Faith without baptism, was not faith to the early church converts.
Jesus said in Mark chapter 14: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved…”
Let’s take those words to heart and see how they were applied back then:
In Acts, chapter 12, Lydia, a business women, who’s heart was opened by God (Gave her faith) was baptized. She and all her household as well.
In Acts, chapter 8, Simon the Magician, who did such great wonders that people believed he was already a man of God, heard Phillip preach the good news, and believed and was baptized, along with all the people who followed him.
Also in Acts, chapter 8, The Ethiopian Eunuch meets Phillip on the road, and after having the scriptures explained, stopped his chariot near some water so he might immediately be baptized.
There was no waiting. There was no classes to take. There was only, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved…”
I know the typical view of baptism is the line in the sand that some christian denominations won’t cross, but can you understand how God has often taken ordinary things and made them something more, used them for a greater purpose? There is a sweet mystery to embrace in that.
And for example, it’s not like God hasn’t used water before…
In 2 Kings, Chapter 5, Naaman, a mighty man of valor that the Lord had given victory to, was also a leper. That’s when Elisha the prophet told him to go dip himself in the waters of the Jordan Seven times. He did this and came up clean, healed of his disease. But, before you think his “great” faith was tied to his healing, go read it for yourself and see how stubborn he was. Namaan had to be persuaded by his servants to listen to the prophet and do what he was told. Do you think the first six times Naaman dipped in the waters, he was Mr. Happy?
Let me ask you this, do any of us ever do things for God, and maybe our heart and minds are not 100% in it, but God is still faithful and still moves?
It’s always God moving more than us being unwaveringly faithful.
God had used water to save the grumbling Israelites, who at times wanted to go back to Egypt. FIRST when he parted the red sea so that they might pass in between, and THEN when he folded it back over the Egyptians who were in pursuit.
God uses baptism… the same way God used a burning bush to speak to Moses, the ark to save a remnant of his people, and the cross and an empty tomb to save the world. When God uses something, it is imbued with his spiritual purpose, with his will. The same way he uses a very typical ordinary people, to reach the lost with his Word. It’s a mystery to embrace, not a symbol we should try to explain away.
The early Christians saw their baptism as a tangible point of entrance into their adoption and being called God’s own. Taking off the filth and shame of the past and walking out of it clothed with something greater. It was not an act of you, It was an act of God upon you, like faith is a gift from him as well.
Have you ever had the saved conversation with anyone?
“So, brother, when did you get saved?“
Some people can give you a date and time with details. They’ll tell you, “August 4th 1995, 12:45 AM. I was in my parent’s basement with my girlfriend and a bottle of bourbon. That’s when I got convicted and converted! That’s when I accepted him! Praise the Lordt!”
Some of us don’t have dates… I didn’t.
I had a series of experiences that were drawing me towards the truth of the Gospel, and later on, when I became a Lutheran, I came to the understand more clearly that I was being drawn towards a promise on my life, put on me by God in my baptism as a baby.
And we all know God keeps his promises.
Do you know about Hydro-dipping?
It’s a process of printing where a paint pattern design is placed on the surface of a bin or bucket of water, and the object that you want to paint is dipped under and when you bring it up out of the water, the paint designs is lifted up out of the water and onto the object. The first time I saw it I couldn’t help but see the parallels in baptism. It was so awesome and beautiful to see God’s inspiration there. This is your baptism, your connection to something bigger, your heritage now.
By faith, you’ve have put on Christ in your baptism. You have come up out of those waters, and the design of Christ’s life has been pressed onto you. His perfect walk, his significant death, his resurrection, all of it is applied in that once and for all covering. It doesn’t fade, or chip, or wear down. It is a forever coating on your life.
Jesus left that perfect coating on the surface of the baptism waters for you, and when he came up, you might say he was coated with all our sin and shame, so he might take it with him to the cross so it might finally die.
So, whether as a baby, a child or an adult, His promise for you are found in your baptism. if you don’t have a “born on” date like some others, that’s OK. When you wash your face, remember your baptism. Let it remind you that in baptism God has placed his seal upon you and has promised to never leave you.
I know I am probably belaboring this point. But beginnings are important to me. Baptism is important to me. It’s important, because my faith is sometimes shaky. I don’t always feel like I hit all my christian goals, and when I say don’t always, I might mean hardly ever. I fail, I make mistakes, I sin. Baptism is a promise I can return to again and again and be reminded that I belong to God. My identity as his child, paid for at the cross, verified by the resurrection, was sealed at my baptism once and for all. Sealed by God.
When I preached this past weekend, I wanted the congregation to have that tangible point of reference. I want you reading this, to have that tangible point of reference. Trust that God used this means of grace to make you His.
Ephesians 5:25-27 tells us about Christ’s love for us. (in the context here of loving our wives)
“…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Having cleansed the church, by the washing of the water WITH the word. It’s always God doing the verbs. It’s always God moving the needle for us, when it won’t budge for us. He makes us new. He makes us clean, by the washing of the water with the word…
No better place to end.
Baptism rant over.