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Why We Baptize

Liturgy  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  39:59
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Baptism is a worshipful way to make a whole-body appeal to God for His saving grace and symbolizes how we have received that grace by taking refuge in Jesus Christ crucified and risen.

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Why We Baptize Series Introduction & Prayer I got a magazine in the mail a few weeks ago from a company that specializes in church furniture—pews, pulpits, communion tables, etc. As I flipped through the pages, I found a section dedicated to items used by people in pastoral roles. There were shirts with white collars some priests wear. There was also a large selection of increasingly elaborate preaching robes followed by an assortment of increasingly large cross necklaces made of wood and metal. Finally, I found what can only be described as a throne for the pastor or priest to sit on while facing the congregation from the platform during the entire service. I ordered all four but unfortunately none of them arrived in time to start this series on Liturgy. Just kidding. But those are probably the kinds of things that come to mind if you are even a little familiar with the word “liturgy.” You probably associate the term with Catholic, Lutheran, or Anglican churches. You might think that a church is “liturgical” when it has a large and ornate building, a solemn and silent atmosphere, and a highly structured and formal church service. But those things don’t define liturgy; they describe one type of liturgy. The word means, “a form… according to which public religious worship… is conducted.” According to that definition, liturgy is a fact for churches, not an option. Every church is liturgical because worship requires a form of some kind. “Formless worship” cannot exist any more than a “square circle” can. The form may be elaborate, ceremonial, and structured or casual, spontaneous, and unorganized but where corporate worship exists, so does a liturgy of some kind. My aim in this new series is not to compare and contrast various forms of worship within Christianity. Some people are better led to worship through a formal liturgy while others are better led to worship through an informal liturgy. Neither have exclusive rights to being the biblical approach. Because we are sinners, both have the potential to be false and because God is gracious, both have the potential to be genuine. I think we will always lean toward a more informal liturgy here at ekklesia but I never want our forms to become flippant, irreverent novelties we perform primarily to please and attract people. I also never want them to become rigid, lifeless traditions we perform while our hearts are far from God. I want us to be a church filled with both reverent joy and joyful reverence. I want us to approach God like He’s both a consuming fire and a loving Father. I want us to praise Jesus for being both our crucified Lamb and our conquering Lion. I want us to seek the Spirit as the one who both convicts and cleanses us of our sins. So, my aim in this series is to submit our liturgy to the scrutiny of God’s Word, hoping that our forms will be as genuinely biblical and worshipful as God’s grace will allow. Over the next several weeks, we will look at six forms of worship we practice here at ekklesia: baptism, singing, prayer, giving, preaching, and communion. Just a heads up: we might make a few changes to help emphasize the form of the week. May God help us to improve our worship by seeing its biblical foundation so that “together [we] may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6). Outline, Sermon Text, & Prayer Today we are starting with baptism, which is the only form of worship we will look at in this series that doesn’t happen every Sunday. In fact, it’s something we’ve only done once here at ekklesia but we do believe it should happen when the church gathers and hope to do it regularly in the future. I’ll give a quick outline of where we’re headed. The sermon text is 1 Peter 3:18–21. Among everything puzzling this passage has to say, the main idea is that Jesus’ sacrificial death has brought us to God. I will labor in God’s grace to make this text clear and show how it relates to baptism but, if it gets confusing, just remember everything we read in vv. 19–21 exists to support that main idea in v. 18. That’s where we will start today, looking at The Suffering of Christ and what it means for us in v. 18. Then we will look at how Jesus’s death and resurrection were foreshadowed in The Days of Noah (vv. 19–20) and are commemorated in The Appeal of Baptism (v. 21). “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:18–21). Point 1: The Suffering of Christ (v. 18) Let’s take v. 18 phrase by phrase. “Christ also suffered once for sins.” Like all of our lives, Jesus encountered various kinds of suffering in life. The word “once” makes it very clear which act of suffering Peter is talking about: the greatest suffering Jesus had to endure, His death on the cross. His crucifixion was certainly an instance of extreme physical suffering but Peter wants us to see past that to a different kind of suffering, a suffering for sins. There was a penalty involved in Jesus’s suffering, a penalty that was justly deserved because of sins, a penalty earned by sins, that’s what “for sins” means. But the next phrase, “the righteous for the unrighteous,” tells us that Jesus didn’t commit the sins and justly deserve the punishment of God’s wrath; we did. He was righteous—sinless, innocent, obedient, perfect—and chose to suffer on behalf of the unrighteous—sinful, guilty, disobedient, imperfect. He suffered God’s penalty for sin as a righteous man substituting Himself for unrighteous people like you and me. He died chiefly as a willing substitute for sinners, not as an unfortunate victim of an unjust ruling. What would motivate a righteous man to do such a thing? What could it possibly accomplish? Jesus did it “that He might bring us to God.” Our sin, our willful rebellion against God, meant that we not only needed to be brought back to God but that we could not bring ourselves back. We were hopelessly separated far from God by our unrighteousness and substitution was our only hope of being brought back into relationship with God in which we are reconciled, restored, and beloved children and heirs of eternal life. A righteous man had to assume our unrighteous identity and take our punishment upon Himself while also allowing us to assume His righteous identity and take His reward as our own by grace through faith. This transaction is made available to us because although He was “put to death in the flesh” He was three days later “made alive in the spirit.” He is a living God, ruling and reigning over us in grace. If you are a Christian, this is your reality. Jesus has brought you to God, the King of kings, Lord of lords, the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the beginning and the end, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, the Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the One who is and who was and who is to come. And He has brought you as one joyously welcomed, infinitely loved, and eternally kept by the unchangeable, unfailing, never-ending grace of Christ Jesus crucified and risen. If you repent of your sins and believe in Jesus’s sacrifice for you, then this is what His suffering freely purchases for you forever. There is no better news in the universe nor greater hope in the midst of our own suffering than behold the gospel promises of God to us in Christ. Point 2: The Days of Noah (vv. 19–20) After this amazing verse packed with gospel truth, things seem to take a strange turn in vv. 19–20 as Peter writes, “in [the spirit, Jesus] went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.” I was so perplexed by this passage in seminary that I wrote a paper on it. Now, anyone can write a paper and seminarians are required to; so, don’t be impressed by that or take me to be a scholarly authority on this passage because of it. The only reason I mention it is to say that I’ve spent time thinking about and researching how to understand this passage and, with the help of many others from the 1st century to 21st, I have settled on what I believe Peter meant. To help you see it, I’ll quote four theologians, two of them being the Apostles Peter and Paul. A theologian named Wayne Grudem wrote, “The verse does not refer to something Christ did between his death and resurrection but something he did ‘in the spiritual realm of existence’ (or ‘through the Spirit’) at the time of Noah. When Noah was building the ark, Christ ‘in spirit’ was preaching through Noah to the hostile unbelievers around him… The text speaks… of something that Christ did on earth at the time of Noah. Wayne Grudem, “He Did Not Descend into Hell: A Plea for Following Scripture Instead of the Apostles’ Creed,” JETS 34.1 (1991): 110–111. Similarly, theologian Millard Erickson wrote, “Christ preached ‘in spirit’ through Noah as Noah built the ark. This was a message of repentance and righteousness, given to unbelieving people who were then on earth but now are ‘spirits in prison’ (i.e., in hell).” Millard J. Erickson, “Did Jesus Really Descend to Hell?” Christianity Today, February 2000, 74. I think those interpretations are correct not merely because they are the most logical but because they align with what Peter wrote earlier in this letter in 1:10–11, “…the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” In those verses, Peter says that the Spirit of Christ was at work in the OT prophets to help them predict and prophesy about His salvation, grace, sufferings, and glories. Paul says something very similar in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” “The Scriptures” at that point consisted only of what we call the OT and Paul—just like Peter—claimed that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ happened just like the OT prophets said they would in their writings. So, when Peter looks back at the true story of Noah building the ark to escape the deadly flood of God’s judgment, he sees Christ in the Spirit patiently proclaiming a message of salvation to people who are now in spiritual prison because they refused to obey that message. In other words, just as Jesus wrote truth in the Spirit through the prophets, so too He proclaimed truth in the Spirit through Noah. If that’s what Peter means, why mention it here? What is the purpose of these verses? Simply put, he wants to connect three things: the flood and ark of Noah’s day, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and our baptism. Point 3: The Appeal of Baptism (v. 21) Translated literally, the word “baptism” means, “to immerse” but, in the Bible, it also stands for a Christian religious ceremony in which people are immersed in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit soon after they repented and believed the gospel. Baptism has many layers of symbolic meaning. In Romans 6:1–4, it symbolizes our participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. In Acts 22:16, it symbolizes the washing away of our sins. Here, Peter says it symbolizes (or “corresponds to”) being brought safely through God’s judgment by taking refuge in something. To summarize Genesis 6, evil dominated the world—“every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5); the human heart was hemorrhaging evil nonstop. So, God justly determined to bring judgment upon the world because of that evil. He used a flood that covered the earth for about 5 months as the instrument of His judgment. However, God provided a solitary way to escape that judgment called an ark. Noah heard and believed God’s warning and was brought safely through the waters of His judgment by taking refuge in the ark. Do you see how this corresponds to baptism? Evil dominates our hearts. God justly determines to bring judgment upon us because of that evil. An eternal lake of fire is the instrument of His judgment. However, God provides a solitary way to escape that judgment—His Son, Jesus Christ. All who hear and believe God’s warning will be brought safely through His judgment by taking refuge in Christ. When someone is baptized in the name of Jesus, they are declaring that Jesus is the ark who will bring them safely through the waters of God’s judgment—the one and only gracious provision who can save them from the wrath of God for their sins. That is the awesome connection Peter reveals to us about baptism. But his instruction doesn’t stop there; he writes, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). There are some churches that claim the act of baptism itself—apart from repentance from sin and faith in Christ—just baptism alone bestows upon a person the forgiveness of all sin and all the blessings of new birth. In other words, if you get baptized but don’t repent and believe in the gospel, you will still go to heaven. There are other churches that claim a person needs to have repentance and faith before getting baptized but also claim baptism is absolutely essential to salvation. In other words, if you repent and believe in the gospel but don’t get baptized, you won’t go to heaven. These views are basically opposite and yet both sides support their view with this verse—or, rather, part of this verse. “It says, ‘Baptism… now saves you.’ Period. End of story. Baptism has saving power.” Always keep reading. Peter explains what he does and does not mean. “Baptism… now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Let me illustrate this by asking a question. If baptism means “to immerse” but also refers to a Christian religious ceremony, how can we tell the difference? In other words, what transforms merely getting wet and removing dirt from your body into the Christian religious ceremony of baptism? People get immersed in water all the time. My son was immersed in water from the hose yesterday evening. Some people in our church went water skiing yesterday and I’m sure were immersed in water at some point. Anyone who took a shower this morning was immersed in water. Did we accidentally baptize our son yesterday in the back yard? Do water sports count as baptism? Do we baptize ourselves every morning in the shower? Of course not. Why? Because they are missing one of the necessary ingredients of baptism, “an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” It is not the merely physical act of removing dirt from a person’s body that saves but the faith-filled appeal to the crucified and risen Christ expressed in baptism that is the source of saving power. It doesn’t save without the appeal to God; therefore, it is the appeal to God that saves. That word, “appeal,” means “to ask or make a formal request.” William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 362. So baptism is not about you doing something for God or yourself; it is about asking God with your entire body to do something for you through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In order to make that appeal, a person who is baptized must believe that they need to be saved and that Jesus died and rose again to save them. So, baptism is not something we do but something that is done to us as an expression of our faith. Application: Baptism as Worship For Christians already baptized Recall your baptism as an expression of your faith. In times when your faith is tested, recall your baptism as a moment when you were so persuaded of the gospel that you appealed to God with your whole body for salvation. For Christians not yet baptized. Let’s not delay. For non-Christians already baptized Imagine yourself standing before God Almighty and He asks, “Why should you gain entrance to eternal life?” If you reply, “Because my parents asked a priest to pour water on my forehead when I was a baby” or “Because my pastor baptized me in the Jordan River on Easter morning.” What do you think God will say in response? You may be deceived into thinking as long as you have baptism you don’t need repentance and faith but God is not. Baptism is not a “Get out of hell free” card. Do not be deceived: baptized or not, you will not be saved without genuine repentance from sin and faith in Christ crucified and risen for you. For non-Christians not yet baptized In Acts 2:14–36, the Apostle Peter, the same man who wrote the sermon passage today, preached the gospel to a large crowd of people in Jerusalem. In response to his words we read that many in the crowd “were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And 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’” (Acts 2:37–38). I pray that you have been cut to the heart today by God’s word and that you would respond by repenting and “[appealing] to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” If anyone here who has not yet expressed that appeal by getting baptized would like to, please come see me after the benediction. 6
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