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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
 
Title:Baptism signs and seals God’s promises for us and our children
Text:LD 27 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Baptism
 
Preached:2009
Added:2010-08-09
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 5
Hymn 1A
Psalm 105:1-3
Psalm 71:1-3
Hymn 6

Readings:  Genesis 17, Deut. 30:1-10, BC Art. 34 
Text:  Lord's Day 27
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,

 

This afternoon we’re continuing to consider the teachings of the Bible regarding holy baptism.  And as we begin to do that, I want to draw your attention to a Christian tradition in connection with this sacrament.  If you ever happen to be in Europe and visit some of the old, old churches there, you’ll see a pattern.  In most of the oldest church buildings, the baptism font was located in a separate room at the back of the church.  The room was called a baptistry and the baptistry typically had eight sides, as did the baptism font itself.

 

There is a long Christian tradition of building baptism fonts with eight sides.  In some of our Canadian Reformed churches, you’ll see baptism fonts with eight sides as well.  But what’s the significance of the number eight in connection with baptism?  First of all, 1 Peter 3 connects baptism and the Great Flood in the days of Noah.  Peter says that eight people were saved through water and this points to baptism.  Second, baptism is associated with the resurrection of Christ in Romans 6.  Jesus Christ rose on the eighth day – the seven days of the week before plus one day.  Finally, in Colossians 2 the Holy Spirit connects baptism with circumcision.  And what does circumcision have to do with the number eight?  Well, Israelite boys were to be circumcised on the eighth day.  All that is why many baptism fonts have eight sides.  It reminds believers of some of the rich Scriptural truths regarding holy baptism. 

 

This afternoon we want to consider some of those truths as we look at Lord’s Day 27.  We’re going to see that “Baptism signs and seals God’s promises for us and our children.” 

 

We’ll consider:

 

1.      What God does in baptism

2.      Who should be baptized and why

 

Baptism is simply an outward washing with water.  In the history of the church, there have been those who argued that this washing itself washed away sins.  Here we can think especially of the Roman Catholic Church.  The Roman Catholic Church has long taught that baptism actually washes away sins.  Just as we have the Heidelberg Catechism, the Roman Catholic Church also has its catechism, the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Regarding baptism, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “By baptism, all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin.” (1263).  That view is what’s at the background of question 72 in the Heidelberg Catechism. 

 

We confess that it’s only the blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit that cleanse us from all sins.  Baptism itself does not actually wash away our sins – it’s simply an outward washing with water.  Because it’s only outward, there’s a need for an inward washing with Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit. 

 

However, a Roman Catholic would then respond and say, well then what about Titus 3:5?  Titus 3:5 says that God “saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the Bible speaks this way because baptism “signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one can enter the kingdom of God.”  According to the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, baptism is not merely a sign and seal, rather it actually accomplishes the washing away of sins.  And they say that Titus 3:5 supports them on this.

 

So what do we do with that?  If baptism is really an outward washing that points to the washing believers receive with the blood and Spirit of Christ, why does Titus 3:5 speak that way?  The answer begins with the fact that Titus 3:5 doesn’t actually mention baptism as such.  It mentions what baptism signs and seals and alludes to baptism by mentioning washing.  So, we have to go back to the nature of a sacrament.  A sacrament is not magic.  Rather, a sacrament is a visible preaching of the gospel.  We can see water taking away dirt from the body.  Get dirty, take a shower and that’s what happens.  Baptism is a kind of washing and just as water takes away dirt from the body in the shower, so also the blood and Spirit of Christ take away our sins.  The physical points us to the spiritual, the external washing points us to the internal washing. 

 

But more importantly, there’s the matter of assurance.  Baptism is a pledge from God, a guarantee from God that all who believe in Jesus Christ are truly cleansed from their sins.  It’s just as real and certain as the water that you can see and touch.  We’re reminded of this whenever we witness a baptism.  You see, loved ones, it’s not only the parents and the child who are participating whenever a baptism is administered.  In fact, all of us are participants.  We’re all being reminded and assured that as surely as the water being sprinkled is real, so truly and really have we, the congregation of believers, we have been cleansed from our sins spiritually.  Baptism is a divine pledge.

 

It’s also a sign.  And of course, there’s a difference between a sign and the thing being signified.  If we were to head over to the freeway and find a big green sign that says “Toronto (or wherever) – 35 Km,” no one would in their right mind would say that the sign is Toronto.  Rather, the sign points to Toronto.  The big green object is the sign, Toronto is the thing being signified.  The same is true with baptism – baptism is the sign, the washing with Christ’s blood and Spirit is the thing being signified.  In baptism God wants to assure us by pointing us to the reality of what Christ has done for us.  God is signing and sealing his promises to believers, to us. 

 

That brings us to the next question and that involves who should be baptized and why.  Naturally, if God is signing and sealing his promises to believers in baptism, we would expect that believers should be baptized.  All Christians should be baptized.  That’s not a controversial position in the Christian faith.  That’s a clear teaching of Scripture.  Everyone agrees with that.

 

Mostly everyone will also agree that baptism is tied to the covenant of grace.  Baptists like John Piper agree that like circumcision was the initiation rite of the old covenant, baptism is the initiation rite of the new covenant.  Even if they won’t call it a sacrament, they’ll agree that baptism is connected with the covenant.  The issue is:  who belongs to the covenant of grace in the New Testament era?  They agree that only those who belong to the covenant should receive baptism.  So, who belongs?  Is it believers only as our Baptist friends say, or is it believers and their children?          

 

One of our readings was from Genesis 17.  In that passage, God institutes circumcision as a sign and seal of the covenant of grace in the Old Testament.  The covenant is not only with Abraham, but also with his descendants.  Circumcision was to be the sign of that covenant.  What is clear is that the children were included.  The covenant was not only with believers, but with believers and their children. 

 

The New Testament looks back on this and says that this was the old covenant – or you could say, the old covenant administration.  Not only that, but Hebrews 7:22 and Hebrews 8:6 tell us that the new covenant administration, the administration of the covenant of grace after Jesus has come, is better.  The old was good, but the new is better.  Keeping that in mind, we can ask our Baptist friends to explain to us how excluding the children of believers in the new covenant makes the new covenant better.  Is it really an improvement to exclude the children of believers? 

 

As it is, there are many indications in the New Testament that the Lord Jesus and the apostles regarded children as continuing to belong to the covenant of grace.  For one thing, they’re never excluded.  Some time ago as we were going through Mark we came to the passage where Jesus declared all foods to be clean, thus setting aside the Old Testament dietary laws.  On that basis, if the Baptists are right, we might expect Jesus to declare that children are now also excluded from the covenant of grace.  But he doesn’t do that and neither do the apostles.  In Acts 2:39, the apostle Peter says that the promise is not only for those who believe, but also for their children.  In 1 Corinthians 7:14, the apostle Paul says that the child of even one Christian is holy – there’s something different about that child, just as in the Old Testament.  The holiness of God’s people in the Old Testament was directly connected to their covenant status.  To be holy is to be a part of the covenant.  So, also 1 Corinthians 7:14 supports the assertion that the children of believers are members of the covenant, and if they’re members of the covenant, they ought to receive the sign and seal of the covenant in baptism.

 

But our Baptist friends may say that this doesn’t account for the differences between the old covenant people of God and the new covenant people of God.  For instance, John Piper argues that the old covenant people of God were a physical people, a nation, a political entity.  However, the new covenant people of God are a spiritual people.  Entry into the old covenant was by physical birth, but entry into the new covenant is by spiritual birth.  To support this, Piper appeals to Hebrews 8 which speaks about the new covenant and quotes from Jeremiah 31.  In the new covenant, says Piper, everyone will know the Lord.  In the new covenant, the people of God are a body of believers.  According to John Piper, only believers belong to the new covenant and so only believers should be baptized.

 

Loved ones, at first glance, that sounds like a persuasive case.  But look at what we read from Deuteronomy 30.  In that passage, Moses speaks about God circumcising the hearts of the people of Israel.  That’s a manner of expression that we actually find quite a bit in the Old Testament.  It wasn’t enough for the people of Israel to be physically circumcised.  For the covenant of God to be a vital and living reality, there also had to be a circumcision of the heart or the ears (as it says in some places).  In fact, Piper is quite wrong when he says that the old covenant was purely physical and had nothing to do with one’s spiritual state.  You can’t say that the old covenant was physical and the new is spiritual.  The Bible doesn’t support that claim.

 

And this is reinforced when we go to the New Testament and we see the way Paul uses the same language as Deuteronomy 30 in Romans 2:28-29.  Paul says, “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.  No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is a circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.”  It’s also worth noting that the promise of Deuteronomy 30 about circumcision of the heart is applied to entire families; it’s not just for individuals.  There’s no hint there that the old covenant was about the physical and external – there were promises there too for what happens internally by the Spirit.  Both circumcision and baptism point to a deeper spiritual transformation.  As the Belgic Confession puts it, “baptism has the same meaning for our children as circumcision had for the people of Israel” and that’s why Paul calls baptism the circumcision of Christ in Colossians 2:11.  The Christian church has always recognized that connection and here again, if you want proof, consider the tradition of an eight-sided baptism font.               

 

Furthermore, we should also note that Jeremiah 31, which is what Hebrews 8 quotes, Jeremiah 31 speaks of a covenant that God makes with “the house of Israel.”  That too is language that speaks of the family.  In the Old Testament, a “house” points to family relationships.  God made his covenant in the Old Testament with families, with believers and their children.  And so also Hebrews 8, drawing on Jeremiah 31, gives us no reason to believe that things are different in the New Testament era.  Also, today God makes his covenant with households. 

 

Looking back to the time of the apostles, first century Jewish parents converting to Christianity would have been flabbergasted at the suggestion that their children were now outside of the covenant of grace.  Imagine saying to them,  “Ten years ago they were included, but now that you believe in Jesus Christ, now they’re outside.  Sorry!”  As someone once said, if the apostles had ever made such a statement, the response of Jewish parents would have been, “I thought you were bringing us good news!”

 

But, brothers and sisters, the apostles did bring good news and that good news included the fact that children are included in the covenant that God makes with believers.  A couple of minutes ago, I mentioned Acts 2:39.  Peter said that the promise is also for your children.  Children were always included in the Old Testament and they’re still included in the New Testament. 

 

And so in Ephesians 6, Paul is writing to the children of believers and he addresses them as members of the covenant of grace.  He says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord.”  He reminds them of the fifth commandment (one of the Ten Words of the Covenant) and in so doing he draws a line between children of the covenant in the Old Testament and children of the covenant in the New Testament.  They have exactly the same responsibilities and privileges.  They’re also to be raised as Christians, as disciples of Christ.  In Ephesians 6:4, Paul says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  In other words, treat them for who they really are:  they are the Lord’s children and they should be raised as the Lord’s children.  They belong to his covenant, and they should be raised as those who belong to his covenant.  And for our purposes, if they belong to his covenant, they should receive the sign and seal of the covenant in baptism.

 

For many of us our first time coming to church was at our baptism as infants.  We were carried into church, we were carried to the front of the church, to the baptism font, and we had baptism administered to us.  That’s a powerful picture of God’s sovereignty in our salvation.  Every time a baby is baptized and we see it, we’re reminded that we are that helpless little child, totally dependent on God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  Not only baptism but also the baptism of infants, is a vivid preaching of the gospel of grace, and this is just one more reason why neglecting to baptize the children of believers is an impoverishment, not an improvement. 

 

Closely connected with that is what the Belgic Confession says about being baptized more than once.  In the days the Belgic Confession was written, some of the Anabaptists were baptizing and being baptized multiple times.  This was mostly because they regarded baptism as a confession of faith, and what could be wrong with confessing your faith as many times as you can?  As a missionary, I encountered this same point of view.  All of the people I was involved with as a missionary had been baptized as babies, but many of them had also been baptized as adults and sometimes numerous times.  But what if baptism is not about our commitment to God?  What if baptism is a sign and seal of God’s promises?  Then it makes no sense to be baptized repeatedly.  Further, baptism is a sacramental portrayal of our death and rebirth in Jesus Christ.  That rebirth can only happen once.  You cannot be spiritually born twice, therefore you cannot be baptized twice.  And the Confession also reminds us that baptism is not something that only benefits us when we receive it (which for most of us we don’t actually remember), but throughout our lives.  We can constantly look back to our baptism as infants and be reminded and assured that God’s gospel promises stand fast and firm.  God doesn’t go back on his Word.  His Word is dependable.  Being rebaptized or being baptized multiple times draws that into question. 

 

I know that there a lot more issues surrounding baptism, issues that I haven’t addressed.  Let me recommend a couple of books.  The first is a short defense of infant baptism.  It’s called Jesus Loves the Little Children, by Daniel Hyde.  This is an excellent brief look at why we baptize our children.  Rev. Hyde also looks at the history of infant baptism and he discusses the differences between dedication and baptism, something we don’t have time to look at this afternoon.  The other book is quite a bit longer and deals not just with infant baptism but with baptism in general.  It’s called the Promise of Baptism and the author is James Brownson.  Both of these books will answer a lot of the questions that I haven’t dealt with this.  So, if you do still have outstanding questions and need some help on this issue, please check out these books. 

 

Loved ones, baptism is an important subject.  It’s importance is found in its connection to the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  As we continue to witness baptisms and as we participate in the baptisms of our children and others, we can be sure that God will use this means of grace to strengthen our faith in Christ.

 

Let’s now pray and ask him for that very thing:

 

Heavenly Father, God of promise,

 

We thank you for the covenant that you have made with us and with our children.  We acknowledge your grace and we praise you for it.  Neither we nor our children deserve this great blessing of being called your people.  We don’t deserve to have you as our God.  But Father, we thank you for your Word which proclaims this truth to us and for the sacraments which confirm it.  We especially thank you this afternoon for what you communicate to us and our children in baptism.  We pray that through our baptisms you would continue to strengthen our faith in the Saviour.  We ask that through baptism you would continue to impress us with the wonder of grace, with your great love, with your saving power.  Please hear us in Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour, AMEN.           

 

            




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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