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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Baptism in the Light of Both Testaments
Text:Genesis 17:1-14; Col. 2:8-15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Baptism
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-01-22
Updated:2020-01-22
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


 
 
 “Baptism in the Light of Both Testaments”
Genesis 17:1-14, 23-27; Colossians 2:8-12; Belgic Confession Article 34
 
Baptism has often separated sincere Christians from one another. Although we will spend eternity in heaven with Baptist brothers and sisters, here on earth there is a line of separation and division. The line of separation and division concerns not only who should be baptized – only believers, or, believers and their children – but the line of separation and division also concerns how they should be baptized: Should they be sprinkled? Or should they be fully immersed?
 
One reason for this division, which has marked church history and will most likely continue to until Christ returns, is that when someone reads just the New Testament without studying its relationship to the Old, one can easily conclude that only a believer should be baptized, and then only by immersion.
 
By saying that, I am not implying that Baptists only read the New Testament. There are many deep, solid Reformed Baptist theologians. The early Baptist Confessions were Reformed in their theology and there is currently, especially among Southern Baptists, a resurgence of Reformed theology.  I am not implying that all Baptists only read the New Testament. But it is clear that there are millions of professing Christians who teach that only believers should be baptized, and baptized by immersion, because they read and emphasize the New Testament almost exclusively and somewhat superficially. 
 
If, for example, you just read the account of the Ethiopian Eunuch and Philip recorded in Acts 8:36-39 you might understandably say, “The Bible teaches believer baptism only and it teaches baptism by immersion.” After all, the eunuch was baptized after he believed in Christ, and Acts 8:38 says, “Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.” And verse 39 describes how “they came up out of the water.”
 
People who use this and other passages to say that the New Testament only teaches “believer baptism” fail to realize why there are so many references in the New Testament to believers being baptized. The reason is that the gospel was going out to the Gentiles for the first time. Adults heard the message that formerly had only been given to Jews; they believed, and of course were baptized with “believer baptisms”.  
 
The Sacraments Are Rooted in the Old Testament
 
We agree that any adult who professes faith in Christ alone for salvation must be baptized with a “believer baptism”.  But we also baptize the believer’s family, including any infants in that family. Why is that?
 
We understand, first, that baptism has its roots in the Old Testament. Just as the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper has its roots in the Old Testament Passover Feast, so, too, baptism has Old Testament roots. It is rooted, and springs out of, the sign and seal of circumcision. Consider the link between circumcision and baptism in Colossians 2:11-12: “In Him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead.”
 
Baptism serves as a sign and a seal that we are in the covenant God made with Abraham, who is the spiritual father of all who believe for, as Galatians 3:29 puts it: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
 
In Genesis 17 we read how the Lord commanded Abraham to have all the males circumcised, with the future generations circumcised when they were 8 days old. That rite of circumcision was a sign and a seal that the males – representing the heads of their families – were set apart from the world and identified with Israel; they were identified as belonging to the Lord.
 
Circumcision was a bloody ordinance that pointed ahead to Christ. But in baptism we have a bloodless sacrament that points back to Christ. As the Belgic Confession puts it, (in the opening paragraph of Article 34): “We believe and confess that Jesus Christ …has by His shed blood put an end to every other shedding of blood, which anyone might do or wish to do in order to atone or satisfy for sins. Having abolished circumcision, which was done with blood, He established in its place the sacrament of baptism.”
 
Since we see that baptism springs from the rite of circumcision, just as the Lord’s Supper springs from the Old Testament Passover feast, we also recognize that baptism is for believers and their children, just as circumcision was. When we look at the reason for the baptism of infants, we look at the Old Testament as well as the New.  But many of our Baptists brothers and sisters look just at the New Testament.  They seem to fail to grasp what an old Puritan theologian, Thomas Watson, said about the correlation of the Old Testament and the New. Watson said: “God speaks through one mouth, but the one mouth has two lips – the Old and the New Testament.”  
 
The Lord’s Supper springs from the Passover feast. Our Baptist brothers and sisters admit to that.  And baptism clearly springs from circumcision. You cannot understand the New Testament sacraments if you do not see their roots in the Old Testament ceremonies.  Our Christian friends who believe in “believer baptism” only – many of them sincere, wonderful Christians – err because they base their teaching on baptism only from Matthew 1 through Revelation 22.  But we base our teaching on “both lips” of God – from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22.
   
Circumcision was for infants, specifically the males, since men would represent the household.  The Lord was very clear in his command to Abraham that male children were to be circumcised when they were 8 days old. In Genesis 17:12 the Lord commanded Abraham “For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised.” The circumcision identified the male children as children belonging to Israel, and thus to the Lord.   Abraham, as an obedient believer in God, was circumcised but so were the male children who were too young to express their faith. They were circumcised when they were 8 days old.
     
We see the same actions in the New Testament. When one of the parents believed in the Lord and was baptized, so too were their children. We read about that several times in the New Testament. For instance, in Acts 16 we read about Lydia’s baptism and the baptism of the Philippian jailor. In both instances Scripture makes it plain that they – and their households – were baptized.
 
Our Baptist brothers and sisters are quick to point out that Lydia and the Philippian jailer first believed and then were baptized. But in each case, the Bible says that their households were baptized too. Consequently, our Baptist friends say, “They must have all believed also; otherwise they wouldn’t have been baptized.”
 
But the Scripture doesn’t say that!  Acts 16:14 clearly specifies that “the Lord opened (Lydia’s) heart to respond to Paul’s message.”  Verse 15 could have made that same statement about her family, her “household”, but it doesn’t.  It doesn’t say, “The Lord opened the heart of her children, and since they believed they were baptized, too.”   It simply says, When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home.”
 
The same emphasis is put on the “household” in Acts 16:33, as the Philippian jailor “and his household” were baptized. Paul also mentions the baptism of households in 1 Corinthians 1:16. The word “household”, incidentally, is from the Greek word for family, “oikos” which frequently – many would say invariably – refers to everyone in a family, including infants and young children.
 
Our Baptist friends love to quote the Apostle Peter’s words in Acts 2:38: “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.” They point out that the baptism is done after repentance, therefore, it is “believer baptism.” But they seldom add Acts 2:39: “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off —for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  Yet both verses go hand in hand.
 
In the New Testament, just as in the Old Testament, the children of believers are identified with the Lord. In the Old Testament it was done by circumcision. In the New Testament it is done by baptism, which is bloodless since bloody sacrifices are no longer offered. And, in the New Testament, it includes girls in the covenant in a personal way. Instead of being identified just through the males in the family, whether a father or husband, they are identified individually in baptism.
 
The Sign, Not the Reality
 
Third, Baptism signifies the cleansing that we have from Jesus’ sprinkled blood, but it is not the reality.
 
Abraham made sure that every male in his household was circumcised, even Ishmael. Ishmael was not the child of promise, but instead the child of the bond woman.  In Galatians 4, as well as other passages, we see that Ishmael did not accept the promise of God to be his God. Yet out of obedience to God’s command, Abraham made sure that all his male children received the sign of the covenant, the rite of circumcision. That doesn’t mean that all the circumcised infants of the Old Testament were saved; but they were “in the covenant” in that they were identified as Israelites and were to be taught the promises of God’s grace.                 
   
The same is true for all those who are baptized as infants. They learn about the Lord at home, in Sunday School, in catechism and in the teaching ministries of the church.  Many learn about the Lord in Christian school or home school as well. In that sense, they are in the covenant. But if they harden their hearts against what they have been taught, they will not be saved. As Paul points out in Romans 9:6, “Not all who descended from Israel are Israel.”
 
Not every baptized child is one of God’s elect; not every child will be saved. Baptism doesn’t cleanse anyone from their sin, but it pictures that cleansing. The sacraments are signs pointing us to the cleansing from sin that we have through faith in Jesus Christ. As the Belgic Confession says: “This (salvation) is not brought about by the water as such but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God.”
 
It is significant that the Confession uses the word “sprinkling” in relation to “the precious blood of the Son of God,” because that language is drawn directly from Scripture.  For instance, as Peter begins his first letter, he writes: “To God’s elect, strangers in the world,  ... who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the  sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ - and - sprinkling by His blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.”
 
Significantly, Old Testament sacrifices involved sprinkling with blood. And the letter to the Hebrews equates that sprinkling, in Hebrews 9:13-14, and in verses 19-22, as does Peter, to the blood of Christ, sprinkled out for us. John Murray, a gifted theologian of a previous generation wrote: “It would be strange if baptism with water, which represents the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, could not properly and most significantly be performed by sprinkling.”
 
Sprinkling is certainly a Biblical and proper mode. While a superficial reading of the New Testament may seem to teach baptism by immersion, there is no single instance of baptism by immersion in the Scripture. Someone once said to me, “I want to be baptized just like Jesus was.”  I asked, “How was Jesus baptized?  How do we know whether He was immersed or whether John the Baptist sprinkled water from the river on His head, as portrayed in the “Jesus” movie?”
 
Both the baptism of infants, and baptism by sprinkling with water, have been carried on from the time of the Apostles. Baptists teach that we who baptize infants have carried over the practice from the Roman Catholic Church. However, we baptize infants because of the clear teaching of both Testaments of Scripture, linking circumcision to baptism. And if the mode of baptism was so important, the Scripture would stress the mode.
 
We also have the testimony of the early church fathers. Origen, a theologian and church leader who lived from the year 182-251, wrote, “The church has received the tradition from the Apostles to give baptism to little children.”   
 
Remembering Our Baptism
 
Anyone who reads the Belgic Confession, will see that it is a practical document. It is brim full of theology, but it is pastoral in that it takes the deep and wonderful truths of Scripture and then applies those truths to your life and to mine.
 
One main application, that I’m sure we don’t think about enough, is in the fourth paragraph: “Neither does this baptism only avail us at the time when the water is poured upon us and received by us, but also through the whole course of our life.” The Confession is pointing out that baptism, being a sign, should be remembered and cherished “through the whole course of our life” as it signifies and seals to us God’s redeeming love.
 
One of the criticisms of the Baptists against infant baptism is that infants cannot remember their baptism, so it has no meaning for them. “It is much better,” they reason, “to wait until a person professes faith in Jesus Christ. Then they can have a ‘believer’s baptism’ and it will stick in their mind and be meaningful to them.”
 
Someone who is baptized at an older age certainly will remember that experience, which is precious. But the Belgic Confession wisely points out that for those of us who were baptized as infants, the water of baptism not “only avail(ed) us at the time when the water (was) poured upon us and received by us, but also through the whole course of our life.” 
 
Although we might forget this practical truth, our forefathers in the faith did not. Martin Luther reportedly said to himself every morning as he got up, “I am baptized.”  It was his reminder that he was set apart by baptism, identified as a child of God. It reminded him that the outward sign of water with which he was sprinkled, pointed to the reality of the precious blood of Christ shed for him. The daily reminder that he was baptized set the tone for the entire day, as he reflected on all that was signified in his baptism when he was an infant.
 
John Calvin took a similar stance, writing: “As often as we fall away, we ought to recall the memory of our baptism and fortify our mind with it, that we may always be sure and confident of the forgiveness of sins” (Institutes 4.15.4). It is well and proper for all of us, whether baptized as an adult or as an infant, to remember “through the whole course of our life” the great blessings of the Covenant of God’s Grace, signed and sealed in holy baptism.
 
There is a stop sign on 54th Avenue by our church in Oak Lawn, Illinois. There have been quite a few accidents because people wrongly assume that it is a four way stop, but it isn’t. Also, when cars are parked up and down the street it is hard to see the cars coming down 54th Avenue. The purpose of the stop sign, of course, is to make us come to a complete stop. Pause. Look each way. And then carefully proceed in the direction we are to go.
 
The sacrament of baptism is also a sign. When we consider our baptism throughout the course of our life it helps us to stop and to remember God’s grace in our lives: It helps us to remember that God was very gracious to give us Christian parents.  When we think of our own infant baptism we remember that our parents stood where countless other Christian parents have stood, at the baptismal font. We remember that they took vows to faithfully raise us in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, as they taught us about the Lord from infancy on, just as Lois and Eunice taught Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5, 3:14-15). 
 
When we remember our baptism, we remember our church family, that they prayed for us, nurtured us, taught us and helped us to grow spiritually. And reflecting on our baptism helps us to think of how we are to live our life.  It is like that stop sign.  It causes us to pause. To look both ways. To think about the direction we are going.  Above all, thinking about our baptism points us to Christ and His blood shed for us.
 
The sacrament serves as a tangible reminder throughout our lives, not just at the moment we were sprinkled with water, that Christ shed His blood for us. It also seals His redemptive promises to us when by grace we have saving faith in Christ alone. Baptism is indeed, as the Bible and the Confession point out, a crucial sacrament to reflect on each day of our lives.
 
One of the many things I look forward to in heaven is the perfect fellowship we will have with all believers, Old Testament and New, Baptist and Paedo-Baptist (those of us who believe in infant baptism). Professing Christians have made an issue out of baptism that the Scripture has not made.  The Scripture treats baptism as a sacrament that signs and seals God’s gracious promises to us and to our children, and it does not specify the mode. 
 
Rather than being a source of division that separates Christians, in heaven we will realize the full implications of baptism and the Covenant of Grace that it signifies. For then the Covenant will be perfectly fulfilled, as the voice from the throne in heaven, described in Revelation 21, declares: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (v. 2,3). 
 
The reality of both sacraments will no longer be visually portrayed, but fully and completely realized as we will “no longer see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12), but will see our Lord face to face, having perfect fellowship with Him and perfect fellowship with all who have saving faith in Him, no matter what differences we may have had in our pilgrimage through life to the promised land. Amen.
 
 
 
                                                    - Bulletin Outline -
 
 
“You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.” Genesis 17:11
 
“In Him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men
but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism…” – Colossians 2:11-12a
 
                                “Baptism in the Light of Both Testaments”
              Genesis 17:1-14, 23-27; Colossians 2:8-12; Belgic Confession Article 34
 
I.  Reading just the New Testament may lead one to conclude that only a believer should be
     baptized, and that by immersion (Acts 8:36-39).  However, we understand that:
     1) Baptism takes the place of circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12) just as the Lord’s Supper
         takes the place of the Passover (Matthew 26:17-29)
 
 
 
 
 
      2) Baptism is for believers and their children (Acts 2:38-39; 16:14b-15, 33; 1 Cor. 1:16) just
          as circumcision was administered to male infants 8 days old (Genesis 17:11-14)
 
 
 
 
 
 
        3) Baptism is a sign pointing to the cleansing that we have from Jesus’ sprinkled blood
            (1 Peter 1:2; Hebrews 9:13-14, 19-22), but it is not the reality (Titus 3:5-7)
 
 
  
 
 
 
II. Baptism, being a sign, is to be remembered and cherished “through the whole course of our
     life” (Belgic Confession, Article 34) as it signifies and seals to us God’s redeeming love
     through His Covenant of Grace (Genesis 17:7; Colossians 2:11-12; Revelation 21:3-4)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Ted Gray

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