“God’s Symbol of Cleansing”

The following message is based on Acts 2:38 and is a treatment of the subject of baptism.  It was delievered on June 3, 2012

We know what landmarks are.  They are property or monuments that have functioned as helpful reminders of our past.  Mount Rushmore, reminds us of the strategic leaders in our country’s history: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.  They represent the founding of our country; it’s formative time; it’s most difficult time, and its time of international influence.  All of them represent the freedom and growth of the United States.

Landmarks serve as reminders of what has happened to us, as well as propelling us to where we’re going.  Merriam Webster defines a landmark as “an event or development that marks a turning point or a stage.”  Baptism and confirmation function as developmental landmarks in a Christian’s life.

Last week we discussed the importance of the Holy Spirit from the miracle on the Day of Pentecost.  Often referred to as the birthday of the church, Pentecost is when God gave us His Holy Spirit; 3,000 souls were saved and baptized.  Today, we look at a landmark in the Christian’s life, that by which we know as baptism.   What purpose does this “landmark” serve?  So we turn to the question, “Why be baptized or confirmed?”

BAPTISM IS A POINT OF ENTRY AND A POINT OF DEPARTURE FOR THE CHRISTIAN

For this, we turn to the early church and the testimony given to us in Acts 2.  It takes up where Peter is finishing his great sermon on the day of Pentecost.  In this sermon, he traces the history of the Jewish people and how the death of Christ should be understood.  Although it was God’s plan that Jesus go to the cross, it was also a result of the sin of the people of that time: Jewish, Roman and Gentile.  Peter was asked, “What must we do to be saved…?”  He then instructed the crowd on that day “Repent and be baptized, 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.’”

Athletes wear uniforms with pride.  The colors represent a school; the logo represents an organization.  Uniforms depict whose team you are on.  To hear of Derek Jeter speak of what it means to be a New York Yankee; when they talk about putting on the “pinstripes.”  Or when an Oakland Raider speaks of wearing the “silver and black,” you get a glimpse of how important and how prideful it is to don such a uniform. Baptism and Confirmation function as a type of uniform for the Christian.  In doing so, we are “putting on” a uniform of sorts.  Paul states in Galatians 3:27: “…for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

Confirmation is a time when those who have been baptized, confirm the faith that they were pledged to when they received their baptism as an infant.  The instrument of their confirmation is Peter’s Confession at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asked: “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is a joy to see people dedicate their lives to Christ and participate in Christian baptism.  These ten young people come from various homes within our membership.  We’ve taken good efforts to prepare them, not just for membership in Central Schwenkfelder Church, (which they will express next week), but in the kingdom of God.  One should reflect the other. It was on this confession that Jesus said He would build His church.

BAPTISM IS A LANDMARK OF JESUS’ CLEANSING GRACE THAT WASHES AWAY THE FILTH OF OUR SIN.

In Acts 2:38, Peter preached to the crowd at Pentecost: “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 “For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.”  I’ve often wondered why Peter included baptism in the invitation.  Was there something about it that benefited these new converts?  We find the answer to such a question in the phrase: “for the remission of sins.”  Acts 2:38 contains a phrase that denotes, “on the basis of the forgiveness of sins” or “with a view to the forgiveness of sins.[1] Baptism is not a condition for salvation, but a proclamation of it.

There are several places where individual benefits are illustrated to the participant.  For instance, Jesus told His disciples that on account of His authority in the entire world: “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… (Matthew 28:19-20).”  One of the distinguishing signs concerning the advancement and growth of the church was baptism.  People need to be reminded that God has provided a way that our slates can be wiped clean and our consciences can be pure by simply coming to the Lord Jesus Christ and asking Him to forgive you and cleanse you.  1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  That is good news in today’s world.

Moreover, Paul, possibly alluding to baptism tells us in Titus 3:5: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit….”  Just as we need to be made outwardly clean, and take a shower to remove the dirt from our bodies, so baptism functions as a reminder that God can purify the heart and cleanse the spirit. Peter, drawing from the illustration of the flood in the days of Noah, states: “There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:21).”  We may think that baptism is just something that God wants us to do for him.  Rather the opposite is true.  God wants us to participate in baptism to remind us what He has done for us!

History teaches that baptism benefits those who participate in it.  The Heidelberg Catechism, published in 1563, is a system of Scriptural teaching which came into being soon after the Protestant Reformation, in an effort to unite factions among the Luther and Reformed churches.  I happen to relish its teaching on baptism, that it confirms God’s grace to us.  It states that: “Christ has instituted this external washing with water and by it has promised that I am as certainly washed with His blood and Spirit from the uncleanness of my soul and from all my sins, as I am washed externally with water which is used to remove the dirt from my body.

Baptism also functions as that which propels us to mission.  We are reminded to live in the future as God’s people; to live out the baptized life.  These baptisms and confirmations today place these youngster’s in a minority among their peers.  You are now enlisted to be missionaries to the culture around you.  David Barrett has stated that “…in Europe and North America an average of 53,000 persons are permanently leaving the Christian church from one Sunday to the next.”[2]  Why is this?  One reason is that churches have lost sight of the good news of Jesus, that one can be cleansed from sin and reconciled to God through faith in Christ.  Unfortunately, many churches have chosen rather to peddle “…prosperity and dispense the gospel of narcissism,” as Ross Douthat states.[3]  In baptism, God’s calls us to a different way of belief and a different way of life.  We are called to share that difference to our friends and neighbors that so desperately need it.

Where is your landmark of the Christian faith?  Have you been baptized?  If so, hopefully you possess the faith that was reflected when you were, or when your parents offered you up in baptism.  Faith and the water should be connected, either as a confirmation, or as an indication.  If you have not, have you trusted Christ?  Do not withhold yourself from this sacred rite, which reminds us of the good news of Jesus Christ, that we can be made clean, whereas our sin makes us filthy morally and spiritually.  Now, baptism indicates the work of a loving God and a penitent sinner.  A wonderful landmark for all who want a changed life.


[1] Zerwick and Grosvenor, “Acts 2:38,” A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament, Fourth ed.: 356.

[2] David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006), 3.

[3] Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012.

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