By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett – Asbury Free Methodist
May 14, 2023
On June 11th, God willing and weather cooperating, we are going to be having our church service outside in the parking lot and a barbeque after that. Included in that service will be some testimonies and some baptisms. If you are a follower of Jesus and you have never been baptized, I want you to consider being baptized on that day.
This morning I want to talk to you about baptism. For those of you who haven’t been baptized, I hope to help you to understand what it means. For those of you who have been baptized, I want to affirm what you did. For those of you who will be witnessing the baptism on June 11th, I want you to understand what we are seeing.
To do this, I am going to walk with you through a number of scriptures. Let’s start with the baptism of Jesus. John the Baptist, a forerunner of Jesus, preached in the wilderness alongside the Jordan River. He called the people of Israel back to
Matthew 3:1–6 (NIV)
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’ ”
4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
It was prophesied that there would be a person who would prepare the way for the Messiah. John the Baptist was that man. He preached in the wilderness a message of repentance. His message was – the kingdom of God is near – turn from your sin and turn towards God. As a sign that they were enacting what John was preaching they
Matthew 3:6 (NIV)
6 [confessed] their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
It was a baptism of repentance. The people who were being baptized were signifying that they were turning to God.
Now Jesus shows up on the scene.
Matthew 3:13–17 (NIV)
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
The reality was that Jesus had never sinned, so as John said, you don’t need to be baptized. In fact, I should be baptized by you. But Jesus uses this curious phrase, it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” He was saying I need to complete everything that forms part of a relationship of obedience to God. Then he was baptized.
In being baptized, he set an example for us to follow. Baptism is part of what forms a relationship of obedience to God. Jesus set an example that we are to follow.
If you are a follower of Jesus, then you need to follow him into the waters of baptism. You are only a follower of Jesus if you actually follow.
Let me take you to the end of Matthew. Jesus had been crucified and resurrected. He is just about to ascend into heaven. This is one of the last instructions he left with his disciples. You might know it as the great commission.
Matthew 28:18–20 (NIV)
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The disciples were given the task of making disciples. The disciples were to do two things with those disciples. The second was to teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. But the first thing they were to do with those disciples was to baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
If you are a disciple of Jesus, then one of the first things that happens in a disciple’s life is that they are baptized. If you consider yourself a disciple of Jesus, then you need to be baptized. Not only are we following Christ’s example, but we are also following Christ’s command.
One more Bible story. It was the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came upon the 120 people praying in the upper room. It caused a ruckus in Jerusalem. Peter stood up and preached about Jesus and how he was crucified and was raised to life. When the people heard his message, here is what the Bible says,
Acts 2:37–38 (NIV)
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “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.
Peter says repent. In other words, change your mind about who Jesus is. You crucified him, but he has proved himself to be the Messiah and the one who is able to forgive sin. Repent, and as a sign of that repentance, be baptized – every one of you. There needs to be a sign of your turning to Jesus. That sign is baptism. Three-thousand people chose to follow Jesus that day.
From the birth of the church, the sign that you have turned from sin and turned to Jesus – was baptism in Jesus’ name. If you have turned to Jesus – if he has forgiven you of your sin – the sign that has happened is baptism. Part of declaring our allegiance to Christ is baptism. If you are in Christ and Christ is in you, you need to be baptized.
That is the “why” of baptism. In baptism, we are following the example of Jesus. We are following the command of Jesus. We are declaring our allegiance to Jesus.
Now let me tell you about what is actually happening in baptism. Come with me to Romans 6. In Romans 5, the apostle Paul has been talking about how amazing grace is. Even when we were sinners, Christ died for us. The more sin there was, the more grace increased to deal with all the sin. There has been grace upon grace.
So, he follows his own logic and says – well, if grace increases as sin increases – then shouldn’t we sin all the more so we will see more grace.
Romans 6:1–4 (NIV)
6What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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.
I am going to come back to this passage in a moment. But before I do, I want to take you to
Galatians 2:20 (NIV)
20 I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
If you are a follower of Jesus, this is not something that you aspire to. This is something that is true of you. When you gave your life to Jesus – when you said, “Jesus, I believe that you died for my sin, I give you my sin, and I receive your righteousness. I trust you to deal with my sin and give me new life. When you became a Jesus follower – something died in you.
The Bible says that if you are in Christ, you are a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come. The old you that was estranged from God, the old you that carried the guilt of your sin, is gone. It has been replaced with the new you. One who has been made clean before God. One that walks in relationship to God. The old you was crucified. The new you lives by faith in Jesus, who loves you and gave himself for you.
That is true of everyone one who has put their faith in God for the forgiveness of their sin and become a child of God.
With that understanding, come back with me to Romans 6 and notice what it says about baptism.
Romans 6:1–4 (NIV)
6 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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.
What it is saying is that what you are saying in baptism is that when you go underneath the water – you are identifying with Christ’s burial. You died with him. Your old self was crucified with him. When you come out of the water, you are saying that just as Christ was raised from the dead, you, too, have been raised to new life. The resurrection life is in you.
In other words, in your baptism, you are re-enacting on the outside what has taken place on the inside. You are re-enacting in your body what has taken place in your spirit. Do you understand that? Let me see you nod your head.
Being baptized does not mean that you are perfect. It means that Jesus is in you and that you intend to follow Jesus. Baptism does not mean that you have it all together – but it does mean that you are trusting Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin. Baptism does not mean you have everything figured out in the Christian life. In fact, it is meant for those who have started down the path of the Christian life and know they want to follow Jesus for the rest of their life.
I have been a pastor for almost 38 years, so let me answer the most commonly asked questions about baptism.
Does baptism save you?
No. You are saved by grace through faith. Salvation is a gift of God. It doesn’t come by works.
But one of the signs that you have truly been saved is that you follow Christ’s example and that you follow Christ’s commands. So, if you are a follower of Jesus – then it follows that you follow Jesus. You follow him in baptism.
Again, baptism is an outward sign of what has already happened on the inside.
Next question. Well, what about the thief on the cross. He wasn’t baptized, but he made it to heaven. True. He didn’t have the opportunity to be disobedient. But if you have given your life to Jesus, and have the opportunity to be baptized, then why wouldn’t you.
These next questions – I am going to answer as Free Methodist. Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Baptists would answer the following questions differently – but the Free Methodist Church takes a middle ground.
I was baptized as a baby – do I need to be baptized as an adult. The answer is no. But you do need to own your baptism as an adult. You need to, as an adult, publicly declare that baptism applies to you. The usual way to do this is through confirmation.
If you have been baptized as a baby but have never been confirmed, then that needs to happen. That is where you stand up in front of the church and publicly and formally own your baptism. Some people choose to be confirmed through baptism as an adult.
People come to me and tell me I was baptized as a baby, and I was confirmed. But sometime after that – I became a Christian. Should I be baptized? My answer to that is probably. If you confirmed something that wasn’t true, you need to make it true. I would encourage you to do that through baptism.
Next Question. I am afraid of going under the water, or I have a physical disability that doesn’t allow me to get into the water – how can I be baptized.
We accept baptism by pouring or sprinkling. When we are baptizing by immersion, I will be happy to baptize you by pouring. This means that you will get wet, but you will not have to put your head under the water.
Next Question. I have been walking with Jesus for 30 years, but I have never been baptized. What will people think if I am baptized now? They will think what they will think. You can’t control that. But what you are demonstrating is that you can follow Jesus despite what people think. You are also demonstrating humility and obedience. God blesses that.
Last question. What should I expect when I am baptized. If you are baptized, we will sit you in a small pool outside. I will ask, “Have you received Jesus as your saviour and Lord, and do you intend to follow him for the rest of your life?” – Proper answer is yes to both those questions.
I will then says, “Upon confession of your faith I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I will help you as you lay back into the water, and I promise to help you come back out of the water.
Some people have told me when I have baptized them that they have had a profound spiritual experience. Others have told me that all that happened is that they got wet. The point is not the spiritual experience. The point is that you are being obedient to Christ.
The other thing that you are doing is driving a stake in the ground of your memory – that say I am going to follow Jesus- for the rest of my life.
I want to end by telling you a story and then walking you through some logistics.
In the year 2000, there were 15 couples associated with the church I was pastoring that got married that year.
One of the most unique couples was Neil and Stephanie Dixon. They were originally scheduled to get married in the fall at Sunnyside, where I pastored. However, Neil’s mom was diagnosed with an aggressive kind of cancer, and they needed to move the wedding up into the early summertime if she was going to be able to attend.
The problem was that there were a number of people who were coming from England and other far away places who had already booked their plane tickets for the fall, and there would be no way that they could readjust at the last moment.
The solution, have a second wedding in the fall. So, that summer, I drove down to a beautiful Anglican church in Southern Ontario. Neil and Stephanie stood before the altar, and repeating after me, they made their vows to one another. It was simple and beautiful.
They signed the marriage licence, and it was official. They were married. In the presence of God and the witnesses there, it was wonderful.
Now came the fall wedding. Invitations were sent out. Stephanie wore her wedding dress. She walked down the aisle just as she had done in the first wedding. Neil and Stephanie reaffirmed their vows to one another. The same vows that they had made the first time. It was another beautiful wedding. Although they didn’t call it that, they called it a marriage celebration.
Neil and Stephanie’s marriage celebration is a beautiful illustration of what baptism is.
They weren’t any more married after the second ceremony than they were before. If they had never had the second ceremony, they would have still been married.
But the ceremony was a beautiful testimony for those who had travelled from far away and for those who were from nearby of their love and commitment to one another. It was an outward symbol of what had already happened in that beautiful Anglican church.
Not only that, but it was also appropriately named. It was a marriage celebration. It was a celebration of their love.
Baptism is a celebration of your love for Jesus. It is an act of obedience to Jesus. It is a way of showing others that you follow Jesus. It is an outward symbol of what has already occurred on the inside. If you are a follower of Jesus – be baptized.
Let me give you some logistics. As I said, God willing, we are planning to have a baptismal service on June 11th. That is a month away.
But here is the issue. In a week and a half, I am going on holidays for a couple of weeks. I like to have a short chat with each person I baptize just to make sure we are on the same page. So, if you want to be baptized or confirm your infant baptism through adult baptism – then I need we need to have a conversation in the next week and a half.
I am going to pray and ask God to help you with your decision.
Sermon Questions – Baptism
1. What are you celebrating this week?
2. What is your biggest burden this week?
3. Read Matthew 3:1-6. What does John’s name (vs. 1) tell us about John? What was his baptism all about?
4. Read Matthew 3:13-17. What does this passage tell us about Jesus’ baptism? When Jesus said, “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness,” what did he mean?
5. Read Matthew 28:18-20 – What does this tell us about baptism?
6. Read Acts 2:37-38. What does this tell us about baptism? Does baptism forgive sin? If not, what does this verse mean?
7. Read Galatians 2:20 – What does this tell us about people who trust Jesus?
8. Read Romans 6:1-4 – Describe the imagery that Paul uses to describe baptism.
9. As you think about these scriptures as a whole, what is your conclusions about Baptism? What are your questions about baptism?