Friday, January 19, 2018
“What Does Baptism Do?”
January 14, 2018, Second Reformed Church
This Sunday, we remember the baptism of our Lord. Jesus is about thirty years old when He goes to John the Baptist at the Jordan and asks John to baptize Him.
Just prior to Jesus ascending back to His throne at the Right Hand of the Father, we read, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:16-20, ESV).
Why did Jesus instruct them – and all believers – to baptize and be baptized? Does baptism do something?
I wonder what answers we would hear if we went around the congregation.
People have said, “We baptize our children because it’s kind of like we’re dedicating them to the Lord, like Samuel, so He will care for them.”
“We baptize our children because it is a way to get the church to see them and teach them how to be moral – how to be good people – by the time we come back to church for them around their thirteenth birthday.”
“We baptize our children because that’s how God saves them.”
When I was in seminary, I took a class that had about ten of us in it: eight Methodists, a Nazarene, and me. And whenever anything debatable came up in class, the eight Methodists would sit back and watch the Nazarene and me debate.
You may not know that Nazarene doctrine states that, in baptism, the infant receives salvation.
So, when we were talking about what baptism does, the Nazarene guy argued that an infant that is baptized receives salvation and the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, and should he renounce Christ later in life, he would lose his salvation.
I disagreed and said that salvation cannot be lost, so that is not what happens when an infant is baptized who later renounces Christ.
So, he asked me what happens to an infant in baptism if he eventually renounces Christ.
I gave him the wrong answer. It was a funny answer – I said, he gets wet. But that’s not the right answer.
Baptism does one thing relative to the infant who never savingly believes in Jesus Alone, and it does two things relative to the infant who does savingly believe in Jesus Alone.
In our Thursday night study this week, we saw Paul comfort the Thessalonians by saying if you believe the Gospel – Who Jesus is and what He did to accomplish salvation – you are one of the people given to Jesus for salvation, you are one of the elect, you are really and truly, forever the property of Jesus.
So, what does baptism do?
Let’s begin by asking what John the Baptist was doing.
John the Baptist was baptizing repentant people for the forgiveness of their sins.
Matthew tells us in the text just prior to the one we read this morning:
[John the Baptist said,] “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:11-12, ESV).
John says he baptizes those who come to him repenting of their sins. John explains that just as water washes away dirt, the waters of baptism symbolize – they are a sign – that forgiveness – salvation – is only found through confession and repentance of your sins to God.
Baptism is a sign of the Gospel. Baptism symbolizes that all humans are sinners and in need of forgiveness – of being made clean. It symbolizes that forgiveness of our sins is not something we can do – we must go to Someone Else Who is sinless to have our sins washed away. We must go to the One Savior that God has provided to repent of our sins – to ask for forgiveness and promise to turn around – to not commit those sins again – and that Savior – Who we know is Jesus – and He Alone – grants us forgiveness through His work, His Merit, His Authority, His death, and His resurrection.
This is what baptism does for every person who is baptized – even the person who never savingly believes – baptism puts the sign on them and before all those who witness it – that you cannot forgive your own sins – you cannot make yourself clean. Someone Else has to cleanse you of your sins. And no one who has received this sign can remove it.
In the TV show, “All in the Family,” Mike says to his father-in-law, Archie, that he renounced his baptism years ago, and Archie responds, “Try renouncing your bellybutton.” In other words, Archie rightly says just as you cannot renounce your bellybutton, you cannot renounce the sign of baptism once it has been placed upon you. All who have been baptized bear the sign of the need for a Savior.
But, you can bear the sign and not believe. Being baptized does not cause you to believe in Jesus savingly.
Now, we turn back to this morning’s Scripture, as we notice that John the Baptist doesn’t think it is right for Jesus to be baptized by him:
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’.”
John’s baptism is a baptism for sinners who recognize that they are sinners and repent of their sin and want to be forgiven and know they need to look outside of themselves for forgiveness.
So, Jesus comes to His cousin, John, and asks John to baptize Him. Jesus comes to John, who was filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb and jumped up and down in the womb in pure joy at recognizing Jesus, the Savior, in the womb of Mary.
This is John who exclaims and explains:
“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God’” (John 1:29-34, ESV).
John certainly understood more after Jesus’ baptism, but he understood enough that when Jesus comes to him and asks him to baptize Him, John says, “You are the only One Who doesn’t need to be baptized – You have no sins to forgive – I need You to baptize me.”
How does Jesus respond?
“Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
What does that mean?
What is “righteousness”?
Righteousness is being morally perfect, sinless, having kept all of God’s Law.
How does being baptized by John help Jesus to be morally perfect, sinless, having kept all of God’s Law – remembering that Jesus is sinless, and baptism is only for sinners?
It may help to remember that we read earlier that Jesus said that we are to go out, preaching the Gospel, baptizing in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
John Calvin explains that there are at least four things happening in Jesus’ baptism – in His fulfilling all righteousness:
First, in being baptized, Jesus fully obeys His Father.
We remember from our study of the Gospel of John that Jesus did not come to do His own will but the Will of the Father. Jesus came to save the people the Father gave Him by obeying and submitting to everything the Father commands.
Jesus says, “but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. …” (John 14:31a-b, ESV).
Even to the end, Jesus prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39b, ESV).
Second, in being baptized, Jesus submits to God’s Law.
As we have already seen, Jesus says we are to be baptized. Since Jesus has to be like us in every way – excepting sin – to be our Substitute, He also is baptized.
Third, in being baptized, Jesus consecrates and institutes baptism as a sacrament.
This we see in the Great Commission.
And fourth, in being baptized, Jesus makes baptism a seal of the believer’s salvation.
Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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” (Romans 6:3-4, ESV).
And now we understand the two things that baptism does for the believer: first, baptism is a sign on and to the believer that Jesus lived a righteous life and died to pay for our sins, and second, baptism is a seal of that salvation of and to the believer.
The Heidelberg Catechism explains what the sacraments are:
66. Q. What are the sacraments?
A. The sacraments are holy, visible signs and seals.
They were instituted by God
so that by their use
he might the more fully declare and seal to us
the promise of the gospel.
And this is the promise:
that God graciously grants us
forgiveness of sins and everlasting life
because of the one sacrifice of Christ
accomplished on the cross. (http://www.heidelberg-catechism.com/en/lords-days/25.html).
When Martin Luther was feeling accosted by the devil with temptation, he would respond, “I have been baptized. I am a Christian.” (https://yinkahdinay.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/luther-baptizatus-sum-i-am-baptized/)
In other words, I have been baptized – I bear the sign of the work of Christ that justifies and makes righteous all those who believe in Him. And I am a Christian – and that baptism is a seal of my salvation because I am a believer in Jesus Christ Alone for salvation.
What does baptism do?
For everyone who is baptized, it is a sign of what Jesus did – that He lived a perfect life under God’s Law, died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, and physically rose from the dead, and ascended back to His throne.
And for the believer, baptism is that sign as well, but it is also a seal – a confirmation – an assurance – of that salvation. So we can look back on our baptism and remember, as Paul says in Romans 6, that we who believe savingly in Jesus have been buried with Him through baptism and have now been raised to new life, which can never be lost or stolen away from us.
So let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the sacrament of baptism that Your Son instituted while He was on earth. We thank You that baptism is a visual representation of the Gospel – it is a sign that says what Jesus did to save His people. We thank You that it is also a seal of the Gospel – that all we who have believed savingly in Jesus can look back on our baptism and what it symbolizes and be assured of our eternal salvation through the work of You Son. And we thank You for sending God the Holy Spirit that He would cause us to believe in Jesus Alone for salvation. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Thursday, January 18, 2018
Thursday, January 11, 2018
Tuesday, January 09, 2018
January 7, 2018, Second Reformed Church
In the Western Church, the first Sunday of January is Epiphany. This is the day that we remember that magi from the east came and gave gifts to the Baby Jesus. The word “epiphany” means an “appearance” or “manifestation” and usually refers to a god.
We have a book titled “Revelation” in our Bibles – and, I know, many of us respond to the mention of the book of Revelation in fear – there are monsters and wars and plagues and horsemen and evil and demons. We think that way because our pastors have done a poor job of explaining the book, and popular culture has twisted it into movie franchises. The word, “revelation,” means a “revealing” – not far from “epiphany,” as we consider it this morning.
Our Scripture is likely a familiar one to most of us -- the visit of the magi. The magi were astrologers from the area of modern day Iraq and Iran. They were people who studied the stars to make predictions and interpret events, and they had seen a star, which was in some way fantastic, or significant, and some number of them -- we're not told how many -- followed the star to Israel. Now this was some time after Jesus' birth.
The magi understood the sign of the star to mean that a new and special king had been born, so they thought the place to look for the king would be in the palace in Jerusalem. They met King Herod, who was not pleased to hear that they were looking for a King of Israel other than him. So Herod called for his priests and scribes to see what they made of the words of the magi, and the priests and scribes thought that this must be a sign of the birth of the Christ -- the Savior of Israel, and the prophets said that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem.
Herod then spoke with the magi in private and asked them when the star appeared and charged them to go and find the Christ and then report back to him so he could go and worship Him. But we know from the verses following this morning's reading, that Herod's actual intent was to find the Christ and kill Him, so Herod would not lose his power as king.
So, the magi went on their way and followed the star, and it led them to the house in which Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were living. Now, we're not told whose house this was, but they were now living in a house -- they were not still in the manger -- despite our beautiful crèches, the magi came to the house they were living in some time after Jesus' birth.
And it is at this point in our text that we reach the point I want us to emphasize -- the point I want us to get this morning -- and it is this: Jesus was worshiped. He is and will be worshiped. It is a matter of His Nature and Being that He will be worshiped. Our only right response to coming into the knowledge and the presence of Jesus is to worship Him.
Epiphany is a fulfillment of this prophecy: “’Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’” (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:23, ESV). Epiphany is God manifesting Himself – appearing among us – in the person of Jesus.
This is the revelation that these magi came to understood – what God, the Holy Spirit, revealed to them. The magi, these pagan astrologers, walked into the house and saw Jesus, and what did they do? "They fell down and worshiped him." What an amazing thing! These grown men come into the presence of a very young Baby, and their response is to fall down and worship Him. Why? There can only be one reason -- they recognized that this little Child is more than a mere human Baby: He is God Himself.
One author writes, "If then they had been seeking a king of this world and thus had found him, they would have been more perplexed than delighted, because they would have undertaken an effort of so great a journey for nothing. Yet because they were seeking the heavenly king, even if they saw nothing regal in him, they were nevertheless delighted, content with the testimony of the star. Their eyes could not see an unworthy boy, because the spirit in their hearts was revealing him to them as an awesome thing. If, moreover, they had sought him as a king of this world, they would have stayed with him, as is often the case when people abandon one king and transfer their allegiance to another. Instead they adored him and returned home that they might have Jesus the just, heavenly king over their souls and the king of their home country as ruler of their bodies" (ACC, NT 1a, 28).
We also see in this that Jesus is to be worshiped by all peoples -- Jews and Gentiles. Against the idea popular among the Pharisees, the Christ was not coming for the biological Jews alone, but for the Israel of God which included both Jews and Gentiles -- in other words, every type of person there is on the earth.
Luke tells us of the Jewish shepherds "And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them" (Luke 2:20). And he tells us of the prophetess, Anna, "And coming up that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38). In these verses, we see that Christ did come for the Jews, but in verse eleven of this morning's text, we see that He also came for the Gentiles -- for all the other nations of the world and from them He also commands worship.
The magi gave the Baby Jesus three types of gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And if we know what these things are -- what strange gifts they gave to this little Baby – we can see that they reveal Who Jesus is.
Gold we are familiar with -- this would be the type of gift that one king or leader would give for the birth of another king. That is not too strange -- they understood that Jesus is King.
But frankincense is the incense that God commanded to be burned on the altar in the worship of Him: Moses writes, "When anyone brings a grain offering as an offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. He shall pour oil on it and put frankincense on it and bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests. And he shall take from it a handful of the fine flour and oil, with all of its frankincense, and the priests shall burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord" (Leviticus 2:1-2, ESV). The only reason they would give the Baby Jesus frankincense is that they understood that He is God.
And then, the third gift, myrrh, is, perhaps the most perplexing of all: myrrh was used for embalming. Why would they give a baby materials for embalming the dead? There can only be one reason: whether they understood it or not, God was foreshadowing the death of Jesus in this gift to Him as an infant. For Jesus would be embalmed, as John records: "Nicodemus, also, who earlier came to Jesus by night, came [to bury Jesus] bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight" (John 19:39).
One author writes: "For they opened their treasure chests, and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Thus, they were fulfilling the acknowledgment of Christ on behalf of all nations. They were signifying the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: 'All those who are in Sheba shall come, offering gold and precious stones and spreading the good news of the Lord; all the sheep of Kedar shall be gathered together, and the rams of Nebaioth shall come, and they will offer pleasing incense on your altar.' They recognized him at once. They opened their treasure chests. They displayed their offerings, gifts in themselves fit for nations to give. For, realizing that he was king, they offered him their elegant and costly first fruits, fit for the Holy One. They offered him gold they had stored up for themselves. Moreover, recognizing his divine and heavenly coming to them, they made an offering of frankincense, a beautiful gift like the soothing speech of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, understanding as they did that human life is but a sepulcher, they offered myrrh" (ACC, NT 1a, 28).
So we see that Jesus is worshiped by the magi. He is worshiped as God. He is worshiped as King. And He is worshiped symbolically through their giving of gifts that symbolized His Kingship, His Divinity, and the fact that God would accomplish His Work of Salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Christ.
Now, Jesus is seated at the Right Hand of the Father. He is ruling over all things and getting ready to return. And to we who are here this morning, let the magi be an example to us: Jesus is to be worshiped. He is to be worshiped for His Authority. He is to be worshiped for being the Incarnate God. He is to be worshiped because He Alone has achieved the Work of Salvation that saves His people from their sins and the Wrath of God.
And it is not just the people who believe in Jesus Alone for Salvation who will worship Him. No, the Scripture tells us that Jesus will be worshiped by every human being who will ever live. Some will worship Him in the joy of His salvation; others will worship Him in the horror and the damnation that comes from never receiving His salvation. Paul writes, "For we will all appear before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and ever tongue shall confess to God.' So then each of us will give an account of himself to God" (Romans 14:10b-12, ESV). And again, "Therefore God has highly exalted [Jesus] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father" (Philippians 2:9-10, ESV).
Throughout the worship service, we worship Jesus through many different acts. We are about to worship Jesus through the receiving of the elements of the Lord’s Supper. We do not worship the bread and the cup; they are merely human elements, but Jesus meets us in those elements when we eat and drink, and He we worship. We worship Him because He is our God and has saved us and is bringing us into holiness in His likeness. We worship Him because He is here right now and meets with us and strengthens us as we receive the elements. And we worship Him because He will return again, and on that day, all will worship Him forever.
Let us pray:
Almighty and Worthy God, we come to this place to worship because You are Worthy. Your Son Alone is God and King and Savior. Increase our joy in worship. Lead us to tell others that there is a God and King and Savior Who is worthy of worship. And make us ready now to commune with Him in this supper, and may You be glorified as we celebrate. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.