I will never forget the experience as along as I live. I had spent the summer preparing for my freshman year of college. My friend John and I had worked out twice a day, most every day, getting in shape for the fall football season. At the end of my senior year in high school, when John had called to ask if I needed a work-out partner for the summer, I had thought that it would be a great opportunity to get in the best shape of my life for August two-a-days. God had bigger plans. Football is far behind me now, but that one summer radically changed the course of my life.
God used John to introduce me to Jesus. At the end of the summer, before I left Duncan to report for two-a-days, I went to visit a minister in town named, Dr. James Smith. I told him that I had accepted Jesus into my heart and that I wanted to be baptized. I didn’t really understand the full meaning of baptism, I only knew from reading the Bible with John that summer that Jesus was baptized, so I wanted to be baptized as well. When I told Dr. Smith about my desire to be baptized he pulled out his Bible and read to me. He read from Romans 6:1-11. Allow me to relive that moment if you will.
1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin– 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:1-11 NIV)
Dr. Smith told me that we were going to hold my funeral. The old Mike would die and a new Mike would be raised to life. Dr. Smith explained to me that the water that would fill the baptistery would be regular tap water, but the experience of dying to myself and being raised to a new life would be extraordinary. He explained to me that in a symbolic way my sins would be washed away and I would be raised up with a clean slate. Those were welcome words to me.
He filled the baptistry and we set a time for me to come back and be baptized. As I returned to the church I went in to change and entered the water. Dr. Smith, a little man, not tall in stature, and slim, looked up at me and said, “Mike, I will lay you down in this watery grave, but I don’t have the strength to raise you up to a new life–Jesus alone can do that and He will.” Dr. Smith laid me back in the watery grave and when I came up out of the water I saw a picture of Jesus that was hanging on the side of the baptistry wall. I can’t explain to you what a powerful experience that was for me.
I have gone back to that watery grave over and over again throughout the past 34 years of my life. I’ve gone back there when I have failed the Lord miserably and the enemy has tried to convince me that I’m a fraud, a fake, not really a child of God. I’ve gone back to those waters in my mind when I’ve felt abandoned by God and wondered if He really loved me. Oh, I’ve gone back to that watery funeral of mine each and every time I’ve had the blessing of sharing in someone else’s baptism. What a blessing!
Fast forward almost thirty years. The day was May 6th of 2006 and I was standing in the waters of the Jordan River. The River! I had read about it, envisioned Jesus walking into the water, and imagined how John the Baptist must have felt when his Savior asked him to baptize Him. Let me read to you from Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism.
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17 NIV)
Can you imagine how John the Baptist must have felt? I had dreamed of going to the River, but never really believed that I would get to go there some day. By the grace of God I was standing where Jesus stood. For the time that we have remaining I want to try to help us better understand “baptism.” What is it? What does Scripture say about baptism? Why is it important? I believe these are important questions for us to understand because of the climate of the times in which we live. Outside of the Church, folks don’t have a clue what baptism is all about. Inside the church we have so much confusion about baptism–it’s meaning and purpose in the life of the believer. Some believe that you have to be baptized to be saved. Others believe that baptism is an out-dated, archaic relic from times past. Many have questions about who should be baptized and how we are to be baptized. Should the preacher pour water over my head, sprinkle me, or dunk me in the water? Should I have my baby baptized? Is there a certain age at which time I should go through a confirmation class so that I can be baptized? Those are all great questions, important questions. We won’t tackle all of them individually, but hopefully by the end of our study we can get some answers. Let’s begin by taking a brief look at where baptism originated.
In the Old Testament God provided the Law for His people. Alongside of the Law they were given guidelines on what sin-stained people who break the Law should do to become clean. God provided sacrifices to atone for the sins of His people. Alongside of the sacrifices, there were “cleansings” for everything from mildew on the walls of a person’s house (Leviticus 14:33-53), to the healing of a leper (Leviticus 13:1-36), to the cleansing of a woman after childbirth or menstruation (Leviticus 12:1-8), to the preparation of Moses and Aaron, the priest, to serve before the Lord (Exodus 40:28-32). In many Jewish homes there were mikvahs, or ritual baths, that were used for the purpose of these cleansings. Rivkah Slonin writes about the use of the mikvah by the priests and the people of God by saying,
In Temple times, the priests as well as each Jew who wished entry into the House of God had first to immerse in a mikvah. On Yom Kippur, the holiest of all days, the High Priest was allowed entrance into the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of the Temple, into which no other mortal could enter. This was the zenith of a day that involved an ascending order of services, each of which was preceded by immersion in the mikvah.
In many ways mikvah is the threshold separating the unholy from the holy, but it is even more. Simply put, immersion in a mikvah signals a change in status — more correctly, an elevation in status. Its unparalleled function lies in its power of transformation, its ability to effect metamorphosis. (Rivkah Slonin, The Mikvah, www.chabod.org)
When I was in Israel I saw some of the ancient mikvahs and I was told that when archeologists began digging around Nazareth and Sephorus they distinguished between the ancient Jewish and Gentile homes by whether or not they had a mikvah.
The mikvah was such an important part of Jewish life, and still is for many Orthodox Jewish people today. Although there are similarities between the Jewish cleansing that took place in the mikvah and Christian baptism there are even greater differences.
Jews had to visit the mikvah time after time for their ritual cleansing, but because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross we are cleansed once and for all. The mikvah was a “children’s sermon” if you will, a simple way of communicating a deep truth. The water could cleanse the skin, but it couldn’t take away sin. The cleansing that took place in the mikvah was only a shadow of the true forgiveness that would one day come through the Messiah when He dealt with our sin once and for all. Paul wrote about the religious festivals, feasts, and other observances by saying,
17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Colossians 2:17 NIV)
This is also true for baptism. All the water in all of the oceans of the world can’t remove the sin within the human heart. Not even the waters of the Jordan are effective to restore us to God. The writer of Hebrews describes for us the greater power of the blood of Christ over the blood of sacrifice that took place at the Temple.
13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:13-14 NIV)
If water is ineffective in removing our sin and making us right with God, then why should we be baptized? That is a great question. Before we get to that question let me ask another question–who should be baptized? The Bible teaches that there are two things that need to happen before someone is baptized. First, a person must repent of their sin and ask Jesus into their heart as their Lord and Savior. This is the most important step that any of us will ever take in life. By confessing that we are sinners we agree with God that we are not God, that we’ve lived life different than God desires for us to live, and that we need a Savior. By asking Jesus into our heart we are made right with God, at that moment. It is not confession and baptism that makes us right with God–it is Jesus alone that makes us right with God!
The second thing that needs to happen before a person is baptized is that he or she needs to understand what baptism signifies. Baptism is an outward sign of what has already happened in our hearts. When we accept Jesus we turn our backs on our old way of living and say, “Not my will, but Your will Lord.” When we are laid to rest in the waters of baptism we are dying to ourselves. When we are raised up out of the waters of baptism we are being raised, by God, to a new way of life. This is symbolic of what has already happened the moment someone accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior of their life. Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said,
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19 NIV)
If a person has confessed their sin, accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior of their life, and understand the meaning of baptism then there is no reason to prevent them form experiencing baptism. Many call this “believer’s baptism.”
There are people from all kinds of church backgrounds that attend this church. Some of you were raised in churches where believer’s baptism was practiced, others were raised in churches where your parents had you baptized when you were a baby, others were sprinkled as a young person following confirmation, and still others of you didn’t grow up in church at all and you are still wondering what baptism is all about. I have had many people ask me through the years about their being sprinkled as an infant. They wanted to know if they were truly “saved” if they were sprinkled as a baby? That’s a great question. We have to remember that baptism is not for salvation. When we accept Jesus into our hearts, it is at that moment that we are forgiven for our sins and made right with God. You can’t be more right with God then the moment you confess your sin and ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior. Baptism is an act of obedience following what God has done.
I’ve had folks ask me to baptize their baby and I tell them that I would be happy to lead them in dedicating their child to the Lord like Hannah did with her son, Samuel, but I can’t baptize a baby because: 1) he or she can’t confess their sin and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. 2) He or she doesn’t understand the significance of baptism. I see the wheels turning in some of your heads. You are thinking, “Mike, does that mean that you don’t think infant baptism is relevant?” I think infant baptism is meaningful for the parents, if the parents are having their baby sprinkled because of their love for the Lord and their desire to raise their child in a Christian home. Remember, baptism, sprinkling, pouring, or any other amount of water will never save anyone. Baptism is an act of obedience following a transformation that has already happened in the heart.
That leads me to another question: “How much water should be used in baptizing someone?” A handful, a cupful, a pool full? How much? Let’s go back to the first Scripture that I read to you today and find out what we can learn. Read along with me from Romans 6:3-5.
3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4 NIV)
The root of the Greek word found in this section of God’s Word for “baptized” is “baptizo.” The word means, “to dip in or under,” “to dye,” “to immerse,” “to sink,” “to drown,” or “to wash or bathe.” The word was used to describe what happened to ships when they were attacked…they sank. This is the same Greek word that was used by Jesus when He gave the Great Commission to His disciples in Matthew 28:18-20. Read along with me.
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)
The same word is used by Paul in Galatians 3:27 when he wrote about being “baptized into Christ.” Read along with me beginning in verse 26.
26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29 NIV)
What does Scripture teach about baptism? We’ve learned that the word means to be “sunk like a ship,” “dipped like a t-shirt being dyed,” or “immersed.” How much water does it take to save us? No amount of water can save us! Any of you who have been around here any amount of time know that I want to know what the Bible teaches. I don’t care what the common practice of society or the Church is, I’m not trying to win a popularity contest or build a big church, I just want to know what God’s Word says and follow it. With that said, I continue to remind us that water does not save us–Christ alone can do that! The reason I point this out to you is because if water is the key ingredient to salvation then the thief on the cross did not go to heaven and Jesus was wrong in his theology. In Luke 23:39-43 we read about the thief on the cross and his request of Jesus.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43 NIV)
We don’t read a word about Jesus asking the Roman soldiers to take the thief down from the cross and baptize him. Jesus didn’t cause rain to fall to sprinkle him. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
There was a time in my life when I was asked to go and speak to someone who didn’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior and he was on his death bed. I drove down by Paul’s Valley and entered his house. We talked for awhile about his illness, his family, and the long life that he had lived. During our conversation I said, “Jack, the Lord has been good to you hasn’t He?” Jack agreed with me. I said, “I was wondering, have you ever asked Jesus into your heart as your Lord and Savior?” Jack said, “No, I never did.” I asked, “Have you ever thought about doing that?” Jack said, “Yeah I have, but I can’t go to church now.” I said, “Jack you don’t have to go to church to become a follower of Jesus. He will forgive you of your sins and come into your heart right here in your bedroom.” Jack was quiet. I asked, “Jack would you like to do that? Would you like to ask Jesus into your heart?” Jack looked at me and said, “Yes I would.” Jack and I prayed together and in an instant, before he ever stepped foot in a church, memorized the Lord’s Prayer, or stepped into a baptistery–Jack was reconciled to God. What an awesome thing!
This did pose a problem for Jack’s family though. Jack’s family was sitting in the kitchen and they believe that to be saved you must be baptized. I went in to talk with them and tell them what had happened. I said, “Now Jack is in there in his bedroom weak as a cat, with tubes and hoses running in and out of his body. I need to know what you all would like for me to do about Jack’s baptism?” I told them the story of the thief on the cross and said, “If you want we can fill the bath tub with water and you all can immerse him or we can find the biggest tea pitcher in the house, fill it to the rim, and pour is over Jack’s head as we baptize him, but Jack is already reconciled to God.” They were so thrilled that Jack had accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. They agreed that it wouldn’t be wise to immerse Jack in the bath tub in his condition so we got the biggest tea pitcher we could find, I filled it to the brim with water, we put towels all around Jack’s head to absorb the water, and we shared in Jack’s baptism. I believe in the practice of immersion, but I believe even more in the power of the blood of the Lamb to cleanse the human heart!
All of this talk about baptism, what is it, why do we do it the way we do, who should be baptized, and how should we be baptized is nothing more than a lecture on a topic for those who have come here today to fill a pew. But, I believe there is someone here this morning who has been drawn to this place for just such a time as this. God has been working on your heart, you are ready for a new life, and this morning you’ve heard that new life is found in Jesus alone. I want to invite you to respond to His invitation this morning. Come forward and give me your hand as you give Jesus your heart.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 22, 2013