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APRIL 9 2017 THE GLORY AND IMPORTANCE OF BAPTISM

The Glory and Importance of Baptism

 

Scripture reading: Acts 8:26-40.

 

[I. Introduction] Philip was one of the deacons of the church in Jerusalem. A great persecution rose up against the church so that the members were scattered. Only the apostles remained in Jerusalem. Philip was one of those who was scattered. He went to Samaria and preached the gospel to crowds of people. He was an open air preacher!

 

Then angel of the Lord spoke to Philip and told him to take a desert road to Gaza. Humanly speaking, for him to turn away from the multitudes who were so eagerly responding to his preaching and to go to the uninhabited territory in the south must have seemed incomprehensible and even foolish. Yet Philip was obedient to the will of God and followed this direction without question. This is a wonderful frame of mind to be in! When you know that God has led you somewhere and it seems to be a place with little opportunity, you can still have an assurance that you are where God wants you to be. (How God leads us, and discerning that leading, can be thorny issues. See the sermons The Will of God and Open Doors for more on that subject.)

 

Philip hears the Spirit tell him to join an Ethiopian that is riding in his chariot and reading from the prophet Isaiah. So he does. The Ethiopian is reading from Isaiah 53, which is a prophecy about Jesus, but he doesn’t understand it. So Philip told him the good news about Jesus! Verse 35 says, “…beginning with this Scripture…” meaning that he started with where the man was at and then taught him using other Scriptures, too.

 

Philip met this man where he was at, both physically - on the desert road to Gaza - and spiritually – with his limited understanding of Isaiah 53. We, too, need to meet people where they are at. It is a good thing to invite people to church. But it is even better to meet them where they are at. Visit them in their homes. Invite them for a cup of coffee near where they live or work and just talk to them. Find out where they are at in their spiritual journey. Everyone is on a spiritual journey whether they know it or not. Some are walking the streets of the City of Destruction. Some are on the way to the Wicket Gate, the Narrow Gate, but aren’t sure where it is. Some have fallen into a swamp. Some are looking for Mr. Civility in the town of Morality. Some are on the road called Danger. Wherever they are at, you can be like Philip and show them the Narrow Gate, which is just Jesus Himself.

 

In verse 36 we read:

 

And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”

 

It is evident, of course, that in Philip’s explanation of the gospel he included baptism. For, it was the charioteer himself who asks to be baptized. This is the disposition of a heart that is truly touched by the Spirit of God. It joyfully anticipates baptism. It desires it. The heart seeks it once the mind knows that it is God’s will.

 

This was my experience when I was a young man of 20 years. I had recently surrendered by life to the Lord Jesus Christ and a kind, elderly woman (probably the same age I am now!) knew I was ignorant so she invited me to her home on a Monday night and “explained the way of God more accurately.” Her name was Eva Costello. (Interestingly, her husband was an atheist and he could hear her teaching me. I sometimes wonder if he ever came to faith.) When she finished teaching about baptism, I asked, “when can I be baptized?” It was winter and she thought that the following Sunday would be a good time because that would allow time for the baptistery water to get heated. I did not want to wait that long. I insisted on being baptized that very night. So she called the minister and we met down at the church building with his family and I was baptized in frigid water! But it was glorious! When I came up out of the water Eva and the minister’s family were singing Amazing Grace. To my ears they sounded like angels! This is the disposition of a heart that fully received the gospel. It joyfully desires baptism.

 

Then we read that Philip baptized him and the eunuch went on his way rejoicing!

 

Why did Philip teach him about baptism and then baptize him? Because this is not something Philip, or Peter before him in Acts 2, came up with. Baptism was both instituted and commanded by Jesus himself. When we hear the Great Commission, what is often most emphasized is the word, “Go!” Less emphasized is “make disciples.” Often what is neglected is “baptizing them.”

 

Many of us have it memorized.

 

            Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…(Matthew 28:19)

 

Baptism is both important and glorious. First and foremost we must see that baptism is not a work of man. It was instituted by Jesus and commanded to be carried out by Jesus. Those who have truly submitted to the Lordship of Christ will always obey that command. Those who have not fully submitted to Jesus as Lord will hold back. Yet, Jesus calls us to submit to him whole-heartedly, not partially.

 

We, each one, like the Ethiopian, ought to call out, “What prevents me from being baptized?”

 

What is the significance of baptism? Why is it important? What are the reasons that we should be baptized? The answers to these questions are all the same. The Scriptures reveal at least five glorious accomplishments that occur at baptism. For those who have been baptized, seeing these accomplishments will cause you to more fully appreciate what your baptism has affected. For those who have not seeing these things may encourage you to obey the Lord.

 

[II.] We must be baptized in order to experience salvation from the world.

 

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, 19             in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20     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. 21       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, (I Peter 3:18-21, ESV)

 

The New King James Version for verse 20 has:

 

who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited[a] in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.

 

The NIV reads the same way: “eight, in all, were saved through water.”

 

It is clear that Peter is writing that, in Noah’s time, the water saved him and his family. What did the water save them from? Our first thought might be to say that the water saved them from the wrath of God. But that cannot be right because the water was the exercise of God’s wrath on the world at that time. What saved them from God’s wrath, which was the deluge – the water - was the Ark. The Ark saved them! And, that Ark was a type of Christ who saves us from God’s wrath today.

 

The water did save them from something. It saved them from the evil influence of the world. The water removed them from the world and the world from them.

 

After Noah’s day water is used again to separate Abraham from the world of his day, Ur of the Chaldeans, a wicked place. Abraham is the first person to be called a Hebrew. The name “Hebrew” is derived from the Aramaic word ebhrai, which means “one from the other side.” Other side of what? Answer: The other side of the Euphrates River, which separated the Chaldean land from the Promised Land, the land of Canaan. Abraham crossed the river and separated himself from Ur and his family. He was a water-crosser!

 

When the Israelites were slaves in their world, the land of Egypt, Paul tells us that they were baptized into Moses and into the sea (I Cor. 10:1-2). They were water-crossers!

 

God desires his chosen people to be separated from the world and baptism pictures that. It not only pictures it, but in some way it effects it. I have noticed over the years that those few people who claim to be Christians but yet have not been baptized have a difficult time keeping themselves from the drawing power of the world.

 

We must be baptized in order to experience salvation from the world.

 

Note what the apostle says next.

 

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,

 

[III.] Secondly, we must be baptized to appeal to God for a good conscience. A clear conscience, a good conscience is the most precious thing that a person can have in this life.  Our consciences are cleansed by the blood of Christ, meaning his sacrifice on the cross (Hebrews 9:14). But our appeal to have it made real to us is done by baptism. That is what the apostle clearly states. Baptism is our appeal to God for a good conscience. Do you wish to have a good conscience? Then make certain that you are baptized! These are not man’s words. They are God’s.

 

Why do you think the Ethiopian went on his way rejoicing after his baptism? He had a good conscience! He knew with certainty and his baptism testified to the fact that his sins were forgiven and he was right with God!

 

This was also my experience 42 years ago. When I came up out of the water I knew I was a different person. It is not just that I felt different. I was different! For the first time in my life I had a good conscience!

 

Peter also says that it is through the resurrection of Christ. Somehow baptism and a good conscience are associated with Christ’s resurrection. Peter does not tell us how that is but the apostle Paul does. This brings us to the third glorious benefit of baptism.

 

[IV.] We must be baptized to be in union with Christ.

 

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2    By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3    Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4             We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

5             For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:1-5, ESV)

 

The apostle Paul here describes our union with Christ. Baptism pictures in a vivid way our oneness with the Lord Jesus. Since baptism is immersion, the going down into the water pictures the death of Christ with which, because we are one with him, we participate. The coming up out of the water pictures the resurrection of Christ with which we also participate. Oh! It’s glorious! What a privilege to take part in what Christ has accomplished!

 

Being in union with Christ means that we receive the benefits of all that he accomplished and that God the Father looks upon us as if we were his only begotten Son.

 

Imagine yourself at the airport, about to board a plane. The plane is on its way to sunny Hawaii, and Hawaii is where you want to be. What relationship do you need to have with the plane at this point?

Would it help to be under the plane, to submit yourself to the plane’s eminent authority (if a plane could even have authority)? Or would it help to be inspired by the plane? To watch it fly off and whisper “One day, I hope to do that too”. What about following the plane? You know the plane is going to Hawaii, and so it stands to reason that if you take note of the direction it goes and pursue it then you too will end up there.

Of course, the key relationship you need with the plane is not to be under it, behind it, or inspired by it. You need to be in it. Why? Because, by being in the plane, what happens to the plane will also happen to you. The question “Did you get to Hawaii?” will be part of a larger question: “Did the plane get to Hawaii?” If the answer to the second question is yes, and if you were in the plane, then what happened to the plane will also have happened to you.

 

So it is with being in union with Christ. If we are one with Christ, if we are in Christ, then what has happened to Christ has happened to us. Whatever is true of him is true of us. He died; we died. He was raised; we are raised and we will be raised. He is loved; we are loved. This is both a mysterious and majestic truth! Baptism pictures this mystery.

 

We must be baptized to be in union with Christ.

 

[V.] Fourthly, we must be baptized to inaugurate our newness of life. After Paul describes our union with Christ, he adds in the second half of verse 4:

 

…just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

 

Baptism inaugurates and celebrates a new life! On January 20, 2017 there was the 58th Presidential inauguration. I like the Presidential inaugurations, even when a President who I did not vote for wins. It is part of our national heritage and it officially transfers the Presidency. I very much enjoyed watching our most recent inauguration.

 

We can imagine that a group of people who were unable to travel to Washington got together and would try to have their own inauguration for the President. The President, of course, would not be there and whatever else they did, no matter how good, would not make their inauguration official. In the same way, the Lord has ordained the display of our entrance into a new life to be baptism. There is no other way to be inaugurated into a new life.

 

Again, I recall when I came up out of that water, not only did I feel like a different person, I felt that I had a new life. But, it was more than a feeling. It was a reality. I had newness of life. Baptism ushers us into newness of life!

 

[VI.] Last, we must be baptized for entrance into Christ’s church.

 

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28           There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29     And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Gal 3:27-29)

 

Observe that in verse 27 Paul again brings up union with Christ and links it to baptism. He says that if we were baptized into Christ then we have put on Christ. We need to be baptized in order to clothe ourselves with Christ. But then he immediately says that there are no distinctions among God’s covenant people as there once was under the Old covenant. Paul is speaking of the church! In the church, and only in the church, the dividing wall of Jew and Gentile is broken down. Whether a slave or a freeman makes no difference. Black and white, white and Asian, Native American and white, Native American and black – all divisions are torn down and we are one in the church. But, in Paul’s thought this is all predicated upon our being baptized into Christ. Therefore, baptism makes us members of his visible church.

 

The church, since its earliest recorded history, has viewed baptism as the entrance rite into Christ’s church. This has been true of the church in nearly all of its various denominational expressions. Baptists are no different. In order to be a member of the local church one must be baptized.

 

[VII. Conclusion] Baptism is glorious because of the blessings that it bestows.

 

  • Baptism saves us from the world and its influence. Do you desire a separation from the world? Experience baptism. If you have already been scripturally baptized, then know that it has put you in a position where this will be a reality in your life.
  • Baptism bestows a good conscience. Do you have one? If not, undergo baptism. If you have already been scripturally baptized, then know that it has put you in a position where this will be a reality in your life.
  • Baptism places us into union with Christ. Do you wish to have all the benefits of what Christ accomplished? Be baptized. If you have already been scripturally baptized, then know that it has put you in union with Christ.
  • Baptism inaugurates a new life. Do you want a new life? Be baptized!
  • Baptism makes us members of the visible church. You may not have the benefits of church membership (and there are many) unless you are baptized. You can receive many helps by being a frequent visitor in church. You can even visit every single Sunday, but unless you are a member you miss many blessed helps. Time precludes us from naming them now.[1]

 

The scriptural requirement for baptism is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and repentance. If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and have repented of your sins then you qualify.

 

The scriptural mode of baptism is immersion. It is not sprinkling. The very word “baptism” comes from the Greek word βαπτιζω, which means “immersion.” In the account of Philip and the Ethiopian we saw that they had to go down into the water and had to come up out of the water. No need to go down into it if you are only sprinkling. Just reach down your hand and grab some from the edge!

 

Baptism is both important and glorious. We have two baptisms this morning. If there are any others who have not been scripturally baptized, this is your opportunity to do so.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] See the sermon The Importance and Essentiality of the Church for more on this.