************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 69-74 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 26, 2011
Q & A 69-74
"The Promise of Baptism"
I Baptism Points to a Washing
A This morning, as I mentioned to the children, Jake and Stacy Soerens are presenting their daughter, Bailey Paige, for baptism. What does Bailey's baptism mean? According to the Catechism, Bailey's baptism means she is washed by the blood and Spirit of Christ. She is washed by the blood and Spirit of Christ as surely as water washes away dirt from the body. The Catechism believes in this so strongly that this is mentioned in five questions and answers. Baptism points to washing, to cleansing. Washing by the blood of Christ. Washing by the Spirit of Christ. As symbolized by the water of baptism.
B Now, water is the world's miracle fluid. An issue of the National Geographic called it "our most precious resource." It is the only substance necessary to all life. Many organisms can live without oxygen, but none can live without water – which is why NASA scientists got so excited when they discovered water on Mars because that, at least, raises the possibility of life on that planet. Water comes closest to being the universal solvent in that it is able to dissolve almost anything over time – even the molecules from a tumbler or glass. Water travels upward in defiance of gravity. So strongly do water molecules cling to one another that when one evaporates from the leaf of a tree, it pulls those behind like links of a chain. Water – in spite of the claims of Pepsi, Coke, or Coors – comes closest to being the perfect drink: refreshing, cool, satisfying, and no calories. Water is the only substance we routinely encounter as a solid, a liquid, and a gas.
When it comes to baptism, neither the Catechism nor Scripture are interested in any of these details about water. What they are interested in is the washing power of water. Because baptism points to washing. And washing points to water. This means that baptism must be done with water – either sprinkling with or dipping in. Which is why before worship this morning, Mike filled the baptismal font with water. I remember the time in another church that the lid was taken off the baptismal font. I dipped in my hand and felt nothing! I ended up using the ice-cold water on the pulpit.
In our culture, we place lots of importance on tidiness and cleanliness. Think, for instance, of the statement, "cleanliness is next to godliness." The advertising and manufacturing world certainly have picked up on this. Think of the products I showed to the boys and girls. And, of course, I could have shown hundreds of other products.
We should be glad about this stress on cleanliness. As recently as 150 years ago people had only three baths in an entire life: when they were born, married, and buried. In between these times the dirt and the smell were covered with layers of powder and oceans of perfume.
Our health-conscious and germ-resistant society should easily relate to baptism's stress on cleansing.
C Surely you recognize that we, as a people, need cleansing. Because we are filthy sinners. We are covered with the dirt and pollution of sin. As such, we need to be washed, we need to be cleansed, we need to be sanitized. We need this badly. Desperately. Because our sin is a stench before God.
(Gen 6:5) The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.
(Is 64:6) All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags ...
II Baptism Doesn't Wash
A The writers of the Catechism wanted to avoid the error of the Roman Catholics when it came to the sacraments. The Roman Catholics, you see, wrongly identify the sacraments with grace. So, to take the sacraments is to take grace. To participate in the mass and baptism is to obtain grace. According to this viewpoint the sacraments work apart from Christ, apart from the Spirit, apart from the preaching of the Word. The sacraments function as a kind of "small Christ." Thus, a daughter who has been baptized will go to heaven if she dies. A father who has participated in the mass has earned salvation.
B In contrast to the Roman Catholic view, the Catechism affirms that the sacraments do not take the place of Christ. The sacraments do not guarantee entrance into heaven. The sacraments are important for salvation but are not necessary for salvation. "Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins?" (Q 72). "No," says the Catechism, "only Jesus Christ's blood and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins" (A 72).
My parents and grandparents told me they remembered babies being baptized the first service immediately follow their birth, even if that service was Christmas day. Many times, I understand, the father would be standing alone while the mother was still recovering at home. Was this done because parents believed baptism brought salvation? I hope not. If it was, we need to distance ourselves from this kind of thinking. We need to remind ourselves that baptism is important for salvation but not necessary for salvation.
III The Promise of Baptism
A At the heart of baptism lies a promise. Not our promise to God – though parents do make promises when they present a child or themselves for baptism. At the heart of baptism lies God's promise to us.
What promise? Baptism is a holy sign and seal for us to see the promise of the Gospel: to forgive us our sins and give us eternal life by grace alone because of Christ's one sacrifice finished on the cross (A 66). More specifically, baptism is a promise that "as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly his blood and his Spirit wash away my soul's impurity, in other words, all my sins" (A 69). Baptism is God's promise that we are "washed with Christ's blood and Spirit" (Q 70).
B To whom is the promise of baptism given? For whom is it meant? First of all, it is meant for the person being baptized – whether the person being baptized is a little baby or whether it is someone being baptized as an adult. God's promise to the person being baptized is spiritual washing: "the blood and Spirit of Jesus wash away our sins just as water washes away dirt from our bodies" (A 73); and, "the washing away of our sins spiritually is as real as physical washing with water" (A 73).
But the promise is also meant for the church. Which is why we insist that baptisms be public and not private. Which is why baptism is a means of grace for the entire congregation enabling each person to understand more clearly the promise of the Gospel.
C When we look at baptism we are to see two washings – one that happens instantly and one that continues for the rest of our life. The instant washing takes place with the blood of Christ. Baptism shows us that we have been washed with Christ's blood. To be washed with Christ's blood means all my sin and the guilt of my sin has been washed away. Not just the sins I was born with, not just my actual sins, but all my sins and their guilt have been washed away by the blood of Christ. That's what baptism shows us.
Furthermore, baptism also shows us a lifetime washing – a washing by the Spirit of Christ. To be washed by the Spirit of Christ means the pollution of sin is in the process of being washed away. Yes, I have to struggle against sin all my life. Nevertheless, I have been renewed and Christ's Spirit is at work within me making me more and more like Christ and getting rid of all sin in my life. This work continues until I die or until Christ comes again.
IV Baptism Must Become a Reality in our Lives
A The promise of baptism is not unconditional. God does not promise that everyone who is baptized will be washed clean. For, my brothers and sisters, baptism must become a reality in our lives before we are washed.
How does baptism become a reality in our lives? Two things are needed. First, we must accept the promises of baptism for ourselves. In other words, we must respond in faith to the Gospel. We must claim for our selves the promise of Christ to make us clean. We must admit we are sinners who need to be washed by the blood and Spirit of Christ. Those who are baptized must reach the point where they confess Christ before men.
B Second, we must live out our baptism. Paul starts Romans 6 expressing amazement about sin in the life of Christians – deliberate sin, unrepentant sin. "Shall we go on sinning," he cries out (Rom 6:1)? "By no means [because we] were baptized" (Rom 6:3). He then continues with:
(Rom 6:11-13) In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (12) Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. (13) Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. (Cf Col 3:1-3)Do you see what needs to be done? People who have been baptized need to become more and more dead to sin and increasingly life a holy and blameless life (A 70).
This is not easy to do in today's world. There is so much that would make us unclean. In fact, everyday in the world we are surrounded by the dirt and pollution of sin. Not only that, but the dirt and pollution are to be found within us; within us there is an old man of sin that fights and resists holiness and righteousness. Without and within we are being tempted and enticed and lured to follow the way of sin and evil.
On our own we do not stand a chance in this struggle. The temptations are too strong, the enemy is too great, and our flesh is too weak. However, this does not mean we are helpless and defenseless. Don't forget, baptism signifies we are washed by the Spirit. So, let me remind you that it is the Spirit Who is at work within us. It is the Spirit Who equips us and defends us. It is the Spirit Who enables us to take our stand against the devil's schemes. It is the Spirit who gives us the full armor of God (cf Eph 6:10ff).
V The Baptism of Children
A Let's end by talking about the baptism of children. The Catechism mentions two arguments for the baptism of children. First, the promise of baptism – to wash and cleanse by the blood and Spirit of Christ – is meant for children as much as it is meant for adults. Remember what Peter says? "The promise is for you and your children" (Acts 2:39).
Children need the promise of baptism. Children need the promise because children, no less than adults, are lost and polluted in sin. Children, no less than adults, need washing and cleansing. Children, no less than adults, need to be washed by the blood and Spirit of Christ.
I was talking with a young mother who said to me, "My kids don't lie." Of course they do. They are born liars because they are born sinners. They need washing by Christ's blood and Spirit. They need the promise of baptism.
Here we have the essence of our difference with Baptists. From a Baptist point-of-view, baptism points to faith and not to promises. Baptism, for them, says something about the person being baptized. Baptism, for them, takes the place of our public profession of faith. Baptism, for them, is a man-ward sacrament. We, however, declare that baptism looks at God and His promises and not man and his faith. Everything else up here points to God: the pulpit from which we preach the Word of God and the Lord's Supper table. Wouldn't it seem surprising that baptism is any different?
B Second, children are baptized because they are part of the covenant. And, the Bible teaches that members of the covenant receive the sign of the covenant. In the Old Testament the sign of the covenant was circumcision; in the New Testament the sign of the covenant is baptism.
I want you to notice how much better baptism is than circumcision. Circumcision was for males only; baptism is for males and females. Circumcision was for Jews only; baptism is for Jew and Gentile. Circumcision involved the painful shedding of blood; because Jesus shed blood once for all times and all people, no shedding of blood is required in baptism.
Remember this, congregation, that baptism points to washing. It points to washing by the blood and Spirit of Christ.
Now that we have heard Scripture's teaching about baptism, I would like to ask Jake and Stacey to stand and answer the questions for baptism ...
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