Come to the Party
Matthew 28:18-20 / 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Dr. Jim Denison
According to tradition, Queen Victoria of England looked out her castle window one morning and saw a beautiful flower blooming. It was early spring and the flower was unusual. Delighting in its beauty, she stationed a palace guard by the flower to keep people from trampling it, then soon forgot about it. Centuries later, a guard still stood at that plot of grass.
Sometimes we do things and never know why.
Today we have baptized, and soon we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Let’s be sure we know why. And let’s make these ordinances symbols of the larger Christian faith we should celebrate every week in worship and every day of the week. For Christianity should be a continued celebration, a party of faith. Unfortunately, often it’s not.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote in his diary, as though recording an unusual event: “I have been to church today, and am not depressed.” Oliver Wendell Holmes said he would have become a clergyman except that so many clergymen looked and acted like undertakers. You’ve perhaps heard about the man who went to the airport to pick up the visiting preacher, whom he’d never met. He walked up to a man getting off the plane and said, “You must be our minister.” The man said, “No, it’s my ulcer that makes me look that way.”
The routine and ritual which sometimes characterizes our faith stands in sharp contrast with the kind of joyous faith I witnessed last week in Cuba. Their Sunday morning worship service began at 9:00 and ended at 12:50. The exuberance of their worship and their faith was thrilling. In the midst of oppressive poverty and governmental control, their joy in Jesus was contagious.
Mother Teresa said, “You’ll never know that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.” They have only Jesus. And he’s enough.
Today let’s learn from them, and from the ordinances Jesus has given to us. Let’s learn to celebrate our Christian faith with exuberance and joy.
Why baptism matters
Years ago, a machinist at Ford Motor Company in Detroit became a Christian and was baptized. He took his baptism seriously. He had been stealing parts and tools from Ford for years. The morning after his baptism he took all the stolen parts and tools back to his boss. He explained his situation and his recent conversion and baptism, and asked for forgiveness.
This response by an employee was without precedent. Mr. Ford was visiting a European plant at the time, but he was cabled concerning the details of this matter. His response was requested. Mr. Ford immediately returned a cable with his decision: “Dam up the Detroit River, and baptize the entire city.”
Jesus went even further. In his Great Commission he ordered his church to baptize all nations (Matthew 28:19). Why?
The word “baptize” comes from a Greek word which means to “dip” or “immerse.” The word was often used in the ancient world to describe the act of dipping a cup in a stream or washing clothing. To “baptize” something is literally to immerse it in water.
John the Baptist was the first person in the New Testament to baptize people. He did this in the Jordan River when they repented publicly for their sins and chose to follow God in faith. This was their witness to their community.
When Jesus began his public ministry, he started by being baptized by John. He was not repenting of his sins, of course, since he is the sinless Son of God. Rather, he was giving witness to his faith in his Father and supporting John’s ministry.
Later, Jesus commanded all his disciples to continue this work of baptizing: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Baptism thus began with John and is commanded by Jesus Christ for us today.
The symbolism is simple. Jesus has washed away our sins, purging the person we were before faith in him and raising us to new life. Baptism pictures this event: washing away the “old man” and raising the “new man” in Christ.
Who should be baptized?In the New Testament, the only people who are baptized are those who have come to personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Because baptism “pictures” your faith commitment, it makes sense that it should follow it.
As you know, many other traditions baptize infants upon their parents’ faith. This is a beautiful dedication of a child to God, but it has no New Testament precedent. We believe in dedicating children to God as well, and do so often in worship, but we don’t use baptism to do so.
This is not a denominational issue. If your baptism followed your personal salvation and was done by immersion as in the New Testament, we would certainly add no other requirements. Typically one of our staff members or counselors would talk with you regarding your faith and baptism experience, and prepare you to join our church family.
If you have not been baptized by immersion, why should you be? Not merely to join a church, as though this were “hazing” to join a fraternity. Biblically there are two reasons: to be obedient to the will of God, and to show others your faith in Christ.
First, consider the obedience of baptism. Jesus commanded us to do this. The early Christians followed that commandment very carefully, baptizing those who became Christians at Pentecost (Acts 2:41) and those who trusted Jesus as a result of personal witnessing (Acts 8:38). Baptism does not make you a Christian, but it is an important act of obedience to Christ.
Second, consider the witness of baptism. The water does not wash away your sins—it symbolizes the fact that Jesus has already done this. But it makes this symbol public. You say, “Jesus is my Lord,” repeating the statement of faith used for twenty centuries. You tell the world that you love Jesus, then you show them by submitting to baptism and picturing the forgiveness and salvation Jesus has given to you.