Today we witnessed an ancient rite of the Christian church: baptism. Some things in our experience seem to continue indefinitely, as if they always have been and always will be. I'm here to remind you most things do not continue indefinitely, and some things as we know them will soon be discontinued.
One day soon there will be no more baptisms. That's right; everyone will have decided where they stand morally. Somebody--maybe somebody who is now alive--will be the very last person on planet earth to be baptized.
Everyone gets to decide who they will be. We don't get to pick our eye color or our sex or our height. Those things are morally indifferent; they are situational. God has left it to us to choose who we will be. Will I be an unselfish person or something else?
While we aren't judges we are choosers; we decide how we react to the circumstances of our lives. We live an an era of endless distraction. This is not a time of deep intellectual stimulation. Nor is there any great depth in our time of interest in moral values. The cares of this life chase out such topics. Our civilization is advanced and regressed at the same time. A practice thousands of years old wakens limited interest.
Which leads us to a very good question for 2019: What does baptism mean?
To understand this ancient rite we turn to the Holy Scriptures. Consider this list:
Baptism is an admission of guilt. It is an admission that one has sinned; one has come short of the glory of God. The wages of sin, the consequences if you will, of sin, is death. Baptism signifies burial. This is why we baptize a person by complete immersion (Matthew 3:6). Burial is the end; it is what you do with a dead body. Baptism thus marks transition. A person who is being baptized is confessing agreement with what Heaven says. It is good to be in agreement with what Heaven says. Unconverted people are defiant; they are not ready to admit guilt; they are full of excuses. You know it. I know it. That used to be us. We had all kinds of reasons and excuses and explanations for why what we wanted to do was acceptable and how Bible specifications could be just explained away. But a Christian person has come to a different place. He wants to know what God says.
Baptism is burial with Christ Baptism doesn't just stand for condemnation but for taking the step of joining Christ. And so, the language of Scripture is, that we are "baptized into Jesus Christ" (Romans 6:3). Baptism testifies that one has accepted Jesus. Jesus is a personal Savior. Accepting God always means more than we think. It indicates not only acceptance that we have been wrong and God has been right, but that God invites us into His family. We join in with God's viewpoint on what is wrong, but also with His viewpoint on what is right. There is a negative stance and a positive one. Some agree with the negative; they will admit that lying, stealing, and murder are wrong. But they don't want to agree with God about what is right. They are half-hearted, double-minded. But Jesus died a whole death for us and has promised a whole resurrection for us. He died for all of our sins and He offers to give us all of His righteousness. That is, when we unite with Christ we agree with Him that death is the penalty for sin. But not just any death. Only the death of Jesus can atone for sin. Jesus is the only way to heaven. It doesn't matter what the bumperstickers say; it doesn't matter what is momentarily popular in "Christianity." Don't worry too much about the T-shirts and the concerts or the colorful bits flitting through social media. What matters is being buried with Christ.
Baptism signifies pardon through Jesus (Acts 2:38). Without pardon for sin we are doomed. Admitting we are wrong is one piece. Agreeing with God about what is wrong is supremely aimportant. There is exactly one source of pardon: Jesus. Humans are all psychologically delicate. We have a will, a conscience, passions, reason, and everything needs to be finely tuned. When we do evil we wound our own conscience. A wounded conscience is trouble. God knows all this and He has prepared a way to heal us. One of the most important pieces is to be able to forgive and able to receive forgiveness. All forgiveness is connected to Jesus. It is through Jesus that we receive pardon. The Holy Spirit brings to us conviction of sin and a desire to receive forgiveness. God is the Deisgner of humanity; He knows how important this is and He has made it possible for humans to be forgiven and to receive pardon. He takes our sins away, He receives our punishment. Forgiveness is not a cheap escape but a very expensive thing. When God forgives us, the punishment doesn't go away; it is taken for us by Jesus. Jesus makes good mental health possible. He makes it possible for our sins to be taken away. Baptism is linked with forgiveness of sins. Jesus was punished for your sins at the cross. He offers to forgive you your sins. He is so willing. But His forgiveness is more powerful than we have thought. His forgiveness will heal you. He will abdundantly pardon and He will give you hatred for sin. They come together. They are the same gift.
Baptism stands for transformation through Jesus (Romans 6:4-7, 11). Jesus' forgiveness is the place where transformation begins. The goal of God is long-term. It is the complete removal of selfishness from the universe. And that means transformed people. Baptised people are humbled people. They have seen something of the cost of sin and they feel the suffering of Jesus is directly connected with their past choices. They feel that their future choices are directly connected to His power. They want Jesus to live in them, to be present in them, to live out His life within them. They want to be changed, to bring light into the dark world, and bring hope where there is only despair.
Baptism stands for reception of God's Word (Acts 2:41). All these changes come via the word of God. Through His Word He created the planets and the stars, oceans, turtles, caterpillars, and people. What supernatural agent of change is there for us? The Word of God. Not a magic book but the thought of God made intelligable. He gave you a mind which could understand His word. He gave you free will so that you could receive His word. In our passage in Acts two there is a clear sequence of events. First, the preaching of the Word, then, the conviction of sin by the hearers, then, they ask how they should respond, then, they are called to repent, and finally, to be baptized. All these pieces are encompassed in God's plan for each of us.
The culture surrounding us nurtures none of these. This is all nonsense to the secular mind. Why should we experience conscientious conviction? Why should we humble ourselves? Why is the life and death of a man named Jesus who lived two millennia ago important to my life? But the answer here is really good. We expereince conscientious conviction because God designed humans with that capacity. The human experience testifies to us that there is right, there is wrong, there is good, there is evil, there is rightdoing and there is wrongdoing. There is such a thing as sin. And how would you evolve a conscience? Why would we humble ourselves if morality were only a vague societal consensus, humans agreeing together about what humans define as right and wrong? Why is the evaluation of different behaviors as good and evil arise spontaneously in human hearts from one end of the planet to the other in so many varied cultures and settings?
The life and death of the man Jesus two thousand years ago matters to us because that man was God come in our human flesh. He lived an unselfish life and surrendered His life for us as God's own sacrifice for us, the just for the unjust. Jesus said, "I have come that they might have life" (John 10:10). God's plan of redemption outlined so clearly in Scripture is so generous, and matches the human experience so closely, and makes perfect sense. It elevates humans. We did not evolve out of a foul smelling puddle of slime. We do not exist because the right combination of inorganic acids and proteins was zapped with electrical charges producing the first protocells. All the human explanations fall flat. They cannot explain convincingly the human experience.
But Jesus is the prototype, God come in human flesh, the Pantokrator, Lord of All. But far from a distant and transcendant dictator, He is our sympathizing brother, who voluntarily took on the limitations of humanity and died in our place in order to bring salvation to us. Baptism marks that passage for us from death to life; it testifies to a conscious alignment with Jesus in life that triumphs in Christ's death. The Lord of all will resurrect all who receive His gift of life.
Maybe this all seems a bit unlikely from a scientific perspective. But let me share one last piece with you here. I want to share a brief exchange I recently saw between Peter Robinson and David Berlinski.
Robinson: So how is it that Darwin comes along and in what seems like 27 seconds, he's carried the field? That is to say, intellectually, in the academy?
Berlinski: Let's face it. Academics throughout the western world form a native conspiracy class, and they are very akin to a criminal class. They'll believe anything. And once they believe something, the conspiracy is held tenaciously. For what were very good reasons, Darwinian theory was accepted in the academic world way before it entered the public relations world, the world of the media, newspapers, and television. And it was accepted because it was a form of power. It was an advantagious acquisition to be able to say, Well, you guys out there in the Bible Belt don't understand a thing but we understand life. Knowledge is power in the academic world, and that was a devastating acquisition, the more so since it allowed academics to participate in a cultural war against religion, a rival center of power.... Darwinism provides a mythological framework for a scientific theory. It provides an account of human origins, it provides an account of biological origins, it provides an account of change. And that account at every point is the substitute for a biblical account.... For the first time an alternative miracle was available.
Robinson: It is a creation myth wihtout a Creator.
So yes, some of us question pretentious claims that this world is designed by an impersonal and unintelligent nature, that life came from nothing, and that the religion of the Bible is some archaic dead end. Jesus offers us all life, eternal life, and there is a doorway into His kingdom and you can walk through it. How awful it will be for those who accept a human lie and live their life by that lie and who find in the very end they were misled and have placed eternity out of reach.
I appeal to us all to pray to God, read His Word, search our hearts, and consider the extraordinary offer of Jesus to give us wholeness, an eternal tomorrow, and a hopeful today.
May the kingdom and its King, come.
Deer Park WA SDA 2019-05-18