************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 34 ************
By: Rev. Robert Godfrey
This sermon was preached on March 14, 2010
Belgic Confession Article 34
When you look at the essentials of a group you usually find the group's identity. You can identify a business by its essential model or purpose statement or a recreational club by its activities ("we camp, fish, hunt, & raft…these are our essentials"). It is the same with religion. The essentials of a religion can identify it, "There is no God, but Allah, and Mohammed his Prophet. All these essential statements bring identification to the groups. And not only do they identify the group, but they unify the group by these essentials as well.
That is what we find taking place in Ephesians chapter 4. Paul is spelling out the essentials of the Christian church to identify the true church that they might be united. He calls them to be one by proclaiming this simple early statement of faith from verses 4-6. It is a bare bones Apostle's Creed we find given to us. A statement of oneness centered around a list of "ones". Paul is stressing the theme of one. Just as he calls them to be one, he tells them that they must believe in one Body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
And notice in this lengthy list of essentials to the Christian faith, baptism is right up there with the rest!!! Obviously it was an issue that needed to be stressed. It was as important as all these other fundamental points of faith. The article of the Belgic Confession that we have looked at this morning makes that same point too. "We ought to be baptized only once…for we cannot be born twice." On this day we stress that point too, that there is only ONE baptism. As the Nicene Creed puts it, "we affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." So we must ask ourselves this morning why? Why is it so important? Why must we understand it? Why can't we take it for granted? Why must there only be ONE baptism? Because of what baptism means, how it is given, and who it is for.
I. What Baptism Means
Remember that sacraments are signs and seals, and the nature of the sacrament baptism is one that can only happen once. This is because it is one that points to Christ's shedding of blood, and as the confession says, it "put an end to every other shedding of blood." When Christ came and died there was no more need for any bloody sacrifice, his blood paid it all, and we see that in two very important ways in baptism.
A. A Replacement of Blood (Circumcision)
The confession helpfully states that in Christ we find that circumcision is abolished. Remember that bloody covenant sign given in Genesis 17. That mark of blood that set the people of God apart. In Colossians 2:11 we're told, "In him you were also circumcised, putting off the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men, but with the circumcision done by Christ." Baptism has become the replacement for circumcision, and baptism, just like circumcision, can only take place once. This is significant for a number of reasons.
First, we are received into the church, as we have seen take place today. Today in our presence these three young ones have been received into God's people. And indeed there is a duty for all of us that comes along with that. We are to care, nurture, and edify these young ones, and to support their parents in the task. Secondly we're told these children are set apart from others. There are many ways Christians use to show that they are set apart. I remember when the WWJD bracelets were popular as a way to inform people that you were a Christian. Some people wear cross necklaces. Others have bumper stickers with Christian phrases on them. All these are done as visible signs to say, "I am a Christian." In this sacrament today with the sprinkling of water the statement has been made that these children are not of this world, and I say to you parents; this is a day that you can ever point your children back to to show them that they are set apart. Third we are dedicated to him. In scripture we often find dedication in Scripture referring to the spoils of war in the Old Testament; the precious metal that was dedicated to the temple. Often that translates to us in the present where we have a dedication service of a new church building that has been built to show that it is being given to the work of the Lord. Today parents you are dedicating your children to the Lord. Make them an offering that seeks to please the Lord in all they do. Finally, we see that this replacement of blood is a witness that God will be our God and that He is now our Father. God tells us "I will be your God, and you will be my people." And circumcision was the mark chosen of old to show that claim. Today young ones receive baptism to make that same claim. What a joy that is for you couples today. To the Lord's covenant faithfulness. Just as he has been your God, He promises to be their God.
B. Washing in Blood (The Blood of Christ)
Furthermore, when we look at baptism, it is not only a replacement of blood, it is a washing of blood that cleanses from sin. In Titus 3:5 we are told that Christ "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." What better picture of that washing, what better picture of that total dependence, than a child laying, held, waiting for the water of baptism. This is a rich reminder that all that had come in the Old Testament symbolism was pointing forward to Christ. As we find the Confession pointing to circumcision and the Red Sea, we see that with Christ's coming there was no more need for the shedding of blood. In Hebrews 9:13-14 we read, "For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more wil the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God." In the Old Testament there was a constant need for blood in order to have cleansing. But with the coming of Christ that has ended. His blood is final. That is why today we have water to symbolize the perfect cleansing blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. His is the new circumcision. He brings the final washing of blood, and it can only happen once. One Baptism because of what it means. It is also one baptism because of how it is given.
II. How Baptism is Given
As a sign and a seal baptism is given once. It comes to us in the name of the Lord, by the servant of the Lord, and by the Lord himself.
A. In the Name of the Lord
Why does baptism come to us in the name of the Lord? Because that is how it is commanded. As it was established in Matthew 28:19 at the time of the great commission the disciples were told to go forth "Baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." This must take place for a baptism to be true, and it must be a true understanding of who God is. When this takes place it shows us what being baptized in the Lord truly means. It shows us that we have union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. Baptism, therefore, also does not just fall out of the sky, but it comes…
B. By the Servant of the Lord
Article 33 of the confession tells us that the sacraments are "visible signs and seals of something internal and invisible. The servant gives us the visible, he administers this important sign this amazing seal. Therefore it is not something to be done haphazardly. Because at the end of the day it is not just Pastor Dieleman or I administering the sacrament. It is…
C. The Lord Himself
The Lord gives the fulfillment of the thing signified. The Belgic Confession wonderfully spells out how the Lord gives the thing signified by the sacrament. Just as the water cleanses a child, it is the Lord who truly washes, renews, assures, and clothes. He washes us by cleansing and purifying our souls. He renews our hearts, taking us from darkness into light. He gives us assurance of His Fatherly goodness and that we our His children. He clothes us with His righteousness that we put off the old man of sin, and the new man of righteousness. This is how we receive this sacrament, and how it is given points us to the might and grace of our Lord. And in His might it only need take place once. Finally, it only need take place once because of who it is for.
III. Who Baptism is For
It is a Sign and Seal
A. For Believers
All of this is for believers. Clearly in the early church this was who baptism was first and foremost to come to. We find that when the apostles go proclaiming the gospel in Acts 8 and 9 and 10. When a believer comes to faith who has never been baptized, then indeed they are to be baptized. They are to receive the promises of God in this glorious sign and seal. But now we come to the million dollar question. What about children? Well indeed we say that Baptism is not only for believers, but it is also for the children of believers.
B. Children of Believers
We see evidence for this in Acts 16 when the household of Lydia is baptized and Acts 18 when the household of Cornelius is baptized. But beyond these instances, we find proof in what baptism represents. Baptism is a replacement for circumcision. In Colossians 2 we find Paul making that statement very clearly, that baptism is the new circumcision. It is the covenant mark that believers and children of believers are to bear. Furthermore, it is for children because it represents the washing away of sins. And when I make that statement, we should pause a moment and ask, "What are we saying here? What does that mean? Are these children's sins forgiven the moment the water hits their heads? Or is this just some formality we do, in which case what's the point?" Well the answer is that today we give the sign, trusting that the Lord will give the thing signified. John Calvin so eloquently states, "God through baptism promises us forgiveness of sins…This promise [is] offered through baptism, therefore, let us embrace it by faith."
That is why baptism isn't something that is just neat for the child, or for the family, or even for the congregation as we care for these children. For each and every one of us today who believe is a reminder of God's promise fulfilled. And for all who have not yet proclaimed their faith it is a call to embrace that promise made to you at baptism. Embrace this wonderful promise that you see today. And even for some who may be unbaptized and unbelieving. Today is also a day for you to see the wonderful promises of our Lord. Remember this sign and seal is not just for children. It is for believers and their children.
So today as we look on this beautiful sacrament that the Lord gives us in our weakness. As we consider its promises that are yes and amen in Jesus Christ. Let us stand united in this one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Just as we share one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one God, and Father of all who is over all, and through all and in all. And one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
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