11 Whoever touches the dead body of anyone will be unclean for seven days. 12 He must purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third and seventh days, he will not be clean. 13 Whoever touches the dead body of anyone and fails to purify himself defiles the Lord’s tabernacle. That person must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on him, he is unclean; his uncleanness remains on him.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody's chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don't harm yourself! We are all here!”
29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved - you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptised. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God - he and his whole family.
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know Him, but the reason I came baptising with water was that He might be revealed to Israel.”
32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Him. 33 I would not have known Him, except that the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”
What is Baptism?
Is it a great family occasion?
Is it a means of thanking God for the gift of a child?
Is it a way of asking God to bless a child?
Or is it something more?
If there’s one thing that the Church thrives on, it’s tradition.
But the danger of Church tradition is that what we do in the Church can easily become more important than who the Church is about. We have to guard against making the institution more important than Jesus.
Martin Luther, during the reformation in the early 16th century challenged the status quo of the existing Church, which had become so wrapped up in ‘Church stuff’ and tradition.
But he also said we shouldn’t just throw out tradition – the two Sacraments that we celebrate in the Reformed Church today were given to us by God Himself, and that is why we need to hold onto them.
Holy Communion is one of the sacraments given to us by Jesus, but today we’ll look at the meaning and significance of Baptism.
The origins of Baptism are found in the Old Testament. When people touched something that was considered unclean they had to go through a ritual washing before being allowed to participate in worship.
The priests and psalmists would wear sacred clothing, but they would have to be cleansed by water first.
In 63BC Judea became part of the Roman Empire. Many Jews left Palestine and moved to different parts of the Empire, taking their religious practices with them. The Gentiles, or non-Jews came into contact with them and many wanted to convert to the Jewish faith.
But because they were not Jews, they were only allowed to sit at the back of the synagogue. They weren’t allowed to participate fully in public worship.
But these new converts wanted to become full members of Israel. How could a Gentile become a Jew?
Eventually three conditions were prescribed:
1. They had to accept the Jewish faith
2. A man and his sons had to be circumcised as a sign of their inclusion into Judaism
3. A week later the whole family, including the wife and children had to go through the ritual washing away of their heathen uncleanness.
The problem though, and this is one which we still have today, is that the Jews and the Jewish converts tended to think that membership of Israel gave them some kind of right to salvation.
Circumcision did not create faith in an 8-day-old Jewish boy. It merely marked him as a member of God's covenant people Israel.
Likewise, baptism doesn’t create faith. Baptism is not a means of salvation – it is a means of grace. It is a sign of membership of the visible covenant community.
To put it a bit more bluntly, baptism is not a ticket to Heaven.
Being a member of the Christian Church does not guarantee salvation.
John the Baptist spoke about this same issue. He said that it didn’t matter if you are Jews; your sins have cut you off from God. Salvation doesn’t depend on any line of descent, but on our repentance, and on God’s mercy.
So rather than a baptism into Israel, John preached a baptism of repentance, into the true Church, and this is what we practice today.
On the Day of Pentecost Peter preached an amazing sermon and this is the conversation that followed: “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, 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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:37-39)
Peter called the people to repent and be baptised, but now in the name of Jesus.
The same ritual baths were used, but new believers were now baptised in the Spirit and this made them members of the Christian Church, the true Israel.
But what is it that we actually do at baptism?
There is a lot of symbolism, but we need to have an understanding of what we are doing, because if we don’t, it becomes just another ritual with no real meaning to us.
We tend to think of baptism as a new beginning, and that is absolutely correct.
But the implication is that if we start something new, something else has to end.
In Luke 12 Jesus is teaching His disciples, and in verse 50 He says, “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed.” Future tense!
He’s already been baptised by John the Baptist. The baptism that He is talking about here is His death.
Paul puts it like this in Romans 6: “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? 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.
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.”
This is the significance of baptism. As we go down into the water we are identifying with Christ’s death. We join Christ in the tomb so to speak, and as we die to self, so the water, which symbolises the Holy Spirit, cleanses us.
But it doesn’t end there. As Jesus rose from the dead, so we come up from the water. We are resurrected with Christ, and this is what Paul is talking about in Romans 6.
There is little doubt that early Christian baptism was by full immersion. The image of baptism and what we do is much easier to understand in full immersion baptism. So shouldn’t baptism then be by immersion?
It was certainly the common practice in the early Christian Church, but the word ‘to baptise’ has a range of meanings, including to dip, immerse, drench and wash.
In Acts 16 Paul baptised the Philippian jailer and his entire family. The jail would not have had a ritual bath, so it is reasonable to assume they were not baptised by full immersion, but they were baptised nonetheless.
The water is only a symbol of the spiritual cleansing that happens within a person. The very first Holy Communion in the upper room was an entire meal, yet for Communion in the Church today no one maintains that we have to eat a full meal.
So water is essential to Baptism, whether it is used by sprinkling, pouring or full immersion.
But let’s go back to a point I raised earlier. Just as bodily descent from Abraham does not redeem the Jews, neither does wetting our bodies with some water redeem us.
Paul says that we are saved not “with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God.”
It is only through God’s grace which is offered to us through the audible Word of the Gospel and the visible Word of the Sacraments, and our belief therein that we are saved.
That is why when an adult is baptised, the first question asked to him or her is, “Do you turn from sin and put your trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?” It is only if that person answers, “Yes, I do,” that they can be baptised.
So why do we baptise infants?
How can we baptise a child who is too young to have a faith or even understand what baptism means?
This has been a theological hot potato for many years, and there are logical cases for and against the practice of infant baptism, and I’m sure there are different opinions held by us here today.
It is not my task to convince you either way today, but it is my task to explain the Presbyterian stance on this issue.
Why do we practice infant baptism?
This is an extract from a document published by the UPCSA which might help:
“The basic reason for infant baptism is this. God has made a covenant of grace not with individuals in isolation from one another but with the community of people called the Church. All believing, practising Christians in that community share in the covenant. Children, however, are united to their parents in the family unit. So long as they are not yet old enough to decide otherwise for themselves, then, the children of such Christians are included in that covenant community as part of the family unit. The covenant of grace is meant to embrace them. They are members in the body of people whom God has redeemed from the domain of darkness and brought into the kingdom of His dear Son - until they become old enough to commit themselves to Christ and so remain within the community by their own choosing. That means they should be baptised. For baptism is the sacrament that accepts a person into the community of God's covenant. Indeed the baptism of a small child is a powerful witness to the grace of God toward us. For it witnesses that God's grace towards us precedes our understanding and even our own choice. Thus baptism is also for children whose parents are believing, practising Christians and members of the Church. Then when they are old enough to respond to the gospel with faith themselves, they are called to profess that faith publicly. If they do believe, they then confirm that their baptism has meaning and effect for them.”
The Bible teaches that infants are born sinful and are in need of forgiveness. Scripture says nothing about an ‘age of accountability.’
David says in Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
The Bible teaches original sin, that the corruption and guilt of Adam's sin is passed on to every human being at conception.
Not a popular doctrine with grandparents, but true nonetheless!
Jesus affirms this teaching when He says in John 3:6, “Flesh gives birth to flesh.”
It is true that there is no example in Scripture of a baby being baptised. However, to conclude from this that babies are not to be baptised makes no sense, because there are also no specific examples of the elderly being baptised, or teenagers, or little children.
Rather, we read about men, women and entire households being baptised. The authors of the New Testament do not give examples of every age group or category being baptised. Why should they have?
Because they understood that ‘all nations’ is all-inclusive.
The basic reason for baptising children is that God has made a Covenant of Grace not only with individuals, but with the community of people called the Church. Peter said, “The promise is for you and your children.”
All believing, practising Christians are part of the family of God, and their children are included too.
Until such time as they are old enough to make a personal commitment themselves, (sometimes called confirmation), children are included in the Covenant community.
This is why baptisms take place in a Church. There are unusual circumstances where exceptions may be made such as in hospitals or prisons, but baptisms are for the whole community.
That is why this morning as a community you were asked to witness Michael’s baptism, and to take part in it.
As the community of believers – the Body of Christ – you are committed to playing your part in ensuring that any child baptised in this community of Christ will be brought up in the Christian faith.
At every baptism the whole congregation should take part and celebrate what God has given us through our own baptisms.
This is one of the reasons I am saddened when people insist that children should not be allowed in Church as they are too much of a distraction. Of course they should be taken out if they’re screaming hysterically: We have to be practical and sensible!
But as far as possible they should be included in worship (in all its forms including Holy Communion), as soon as possible.
Children should not be banished from the Church community until we decide to let them in. It’s no wonder that all over the world young people wander away from the Church, because the Church has not made them feel part of the Body of Christ.
But maybe the final word on children should come from Jesus Himself: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them.”