Immersed in Grace
IMMERSED IN GRACE: A HOMILY ON BAPTISM
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: August 10, 2019
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
We have gathered together this afternoon in order to celebrate the grace of baptism. Yes, grace indeed! Baptism is not a religious work that we undertake in order to impress God or win His favor. Baptism is not something to ‘check off the list’. Instead, baptism is a grace, a gift from God to us. We enter into the baptismal waters because we believe the promises of the gospel, because we believe the good news of God’s mercy to sinners, because we have been drawn to Jesus and our desire is to be immersed in Him, in His kingdom, and in all that He is for us.
There are at least six realities that baptism proclaims, and I want to briefly call your attention to them. This is important, because the physical act of immersion into water is not self-defining. It is God’s Word that fills the ordinance of baptism with meaning and significance.
1) Jesus Identifies with Us
First, Jesus identifies with us in the waters of baptism. One of the most remarkable things in all of Scripture is that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. In all other instances, John the Baptist baptized sinners who needed a fresh start – and don’t we all? So, they came to John confessing their sins and seeking a clean slate in the waters of the Jordan River. But Jesus was not a sinner. And yet, He came to John in order to be baptized in the same waters that the sinners were being baptized. He did it “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Beyond that, Scripture doesn’t say much about why Jesus was baptized. But we must remember that He was baptized in the same place where sinners were baptized. To borrow a line of thought from an early church father, we may say that Jesus didn’t submit to baptism in order to be purified, but instead to purify the waters for sinners like us. Jesus meets us in the waters of baptism. Adrian, Caleb, Amber, and Peter, the Lord Jesus Christ is not ashamed to identify with you in the baptismal waters.
2) Spiritual Washing
Second, baptism pictures the washing away of our sins. “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” (Acts 22:16) The physical water, of course, doesn’t cleanse our soul. Christ, the Lamb of God who died for our sins, is the One who cleanses us and gives us a fresh start as we believe His promise and receive His grace. But immersion into water pictures this cleansing, this washing away of our sins. We might even put it in stronger terms: the ordinance of baptism is a sign and seal of our purification from sin and of our spiritual union with the One who purifies us. Even as bath-water is effective to wash away the dirt of our bodies, so the grace that baptism-water represents is effective to wash away the dirt of our souls. Adrian, Caleb, Amber, and Peter, always look to the cleansing power of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
3) Union with Christ in His Death and Resurrection
Third, baptism proclaims our union with Christ in His death and resurrection. The symbolism is quite clear: we are submerged into water, we go under the water, symbolizing the reality that the Christian is buried with Christ; then we are raised up, we are lifted up out of the water, symbolizing that the Christian is risen with Christ. Physical baptism pictures the death-and-resurrection reality of spiritual baptism. “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)
The Christian was “baptized [immersed] into Christ.” The Christian was “buried… with him by baptism into death.” The Christian was “also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12) Adrian, Caleb, Amber, and Peter, let your baptism fortify you to think and live a holy life: since you have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection, “you… must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11) Baptism proclaims “dead to sin and alive to God.” Baptism proclaims “from death to life” (Romans 6:13). Adrian, Caleb, Amber, and Peter, let the grace of baptism spur you forward in the life of faith – and always remember that although you were born in sin, now you belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. You are His! And that makes all the difference.
4) Escape from Judgment
Fourth, baptism pictures your escape from God’s judgment. The waters of baptism represent in a very real way the floodwaters of divine judgment that swept sinners away in the days of Noah. But Noah and his family were saved through the waters because they took refuge in God’s gracious provision of the ark. Like the sinners of Noah’s day who were swept away, we also deserve to be swept away and to perish under the righteous judgment of God. But God has made a way of escape, God has set forth the gracious provision of something better than the ark. Speaking of Noah and his family, the apostle Peter writes that “eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” (1 Peter 3:20-22)
Because Christ died for our sins and suffered God’s judgment in our place (1 Peter 3:18), and then rose again in victory over sin and death (1 Peter 3:21-22), we who believe are also “brought safely through water.” Those who are savingly united to Jesus Christ will never be harmed by the floodwaters of divine judgment. Adrian, Caleb, Amber, and Peter, do not think of Jesus as a mere sentimental friend; instead know and take to heart that the manly Lord Jesus Christ saved you from God’s wrath by bearing it in His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). The Father so loved you that He sent His Son to be your Savior.
5) The Gift of the Holy Spirit
Fifth, baptism points you to the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit. “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.” (Acts 2:38) “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:4-6). When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove. When a believer is baptized, the Holy Spirit is also very actively present: the Holy Spirit has already been at work bringing the gifts of salvation into the believer’s life, and the Holy Spirit continues to be at work leading the believer into newness of life and empowerment for service. Adrian, Caleb, Amber, and Peter, you cannot live for Jesus in your own strength. Be sure that your own strength will always fall short. Therefore live in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit will produce the fruit of holiness and love in your life.
6) The Fellowship of Believers
Sixth, baptism is the visible act that brings you into the visible fellowship of believers. The word ‘visible’ is important. When you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are spiritually brought into God’s forever family, and that reality cannot be improved upon. But that spiritual reality is meant to be expressed visibly and publicly. Baptism is the bridge between invisible faith and visible fellowship: ““And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:40-41) Believe and be baptized and become a visible part of Christ’s public body – that is the Scriptural order. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13) There is “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5) – and all believers share in this “one baptism” and in the spiritual unity that is signifies. Adrian, Caleb, Amber, and Peter, baptism marks you out visibly and publicly as a follower of Jesus; it marks you out as a visible member of Jesus’ church; and it sets the stage for a lifelong commitment to be an active participant in the body of Christ.
Those of us who are already baptized believers have a special responsibility to receive the newly baptized as fellow members of Christ’s body, to love them as brothers and sisters, and to do all that we can to help them grow into maturity. At the same time, we have a special responsibility to receive from them, to welcome their participation, to appreciate their unique personality and gifts, and to let them serve us in whatever ways the Lord has planned.
A Final Word and Blessing
In recent weeks I have the had the opportunity to sit with Adrian, Caleb, Amber, and Peter and learn about their lives and their faith. I encourage all of you to have those kinds of life-sharing conversations with one another, for it is a great way to love one another and grow deeper bonds between us. As for Adrian, Caleb, and Amber, they all came to Christ in their childhood or youth, and many of us have had an opportunity to interact with them and see them serve Christ and His church in various ways. What a wonderful thing it is to grow up in a Christian home, to be surrounded by godly influences, to receive good teaching and encouragement from the church and from other Christian ministries, and then to be given opportunities to serve even in their youth. As for Peter, he is probably less well known to most of us, and therefore he was treated to the most theologically rigorous baptism interview of the four – and he is still showing up today! Peter actually wanted to be baptized about 15 years ago, but for better or for worse it didn’t happen at that time. But he stands here today, with Adrian, Caleb, and Amber, believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and intending to follow Him.
May the Lord bless each of you with this grace of baptism – with the grace that has brought you to this point, with the grace that meets you here even now, and with the grace that carry you forward in the days ahead. His grace is strong, and He bids you to live in it!