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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Washed in Christ: Certainly, Completely, Conclusively
Text:LD 26 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Baptism
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-03-13
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 25:5,6                                                                    

Ps 138:1  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Ezekiel 36:16-38

Ps 51:1,3,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 26

Hy 63:6,7,8

Hy 7:1,2

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


Beloved in Christ, the birth and baptism of a child are special events for the family of God. There are so many reasons for thanksgiving. We thank God that the mother was given strength for labour and delivery. We thank God that the child was brought into the world, alive and healthy. We thank God that He grows his church in this way, one child at a time. And, above all, we thank God that He gives each child his covenant promises.

We’re thankful too, that baptism is a fairly common experience among us. Yet with baptism being a normal feature of our worship services, we’re probably in danger of overlooking this sacrament. And with all of us having been baptized at some point in our lives, we might think that baptism is only a matter of course.

For you know the routine. That familiar form is read: “The doctrine of holy baptism is summarized as follows: First, we and our children are conceived and born in sin and are therefore by nature children of wrath…,” and so on. The Form is read. A prayer is offered. The parents rise and are asked three pointed questions, to which they give their ‘I do.’ Then they step forward, and the minister says those familiar words, “I baptize you into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

It’s all done quickly and done simply. Not even half a cup of ordinary water is sprinkled on the forehead of the child as the minister says those solemn words. And that’s it—all done, another child baptized. Time to get on with the rest of the service.

Now, one big benefit of preaching through the Heidelberg Catechism is that we get an annual refresher in our knowledge of the Bible’s teachings, including the doctrine of baptism. For we all forget. Even if we’ve memorized Lord’s Day 26 and 27 in the past, even if we’ve heard that Form read countless times, we forget. What exactly is going on at baptism? Why the water? Why the sprinkling? What does all this mean for my Christian life tomorrow when I go back to school and work and play? I preach God’s Word to you as it is summarized in LD 26,

In the blood and Spirit of Christ we are washed:

  1. certainly
  2. completely
  3. conclusively

 

1) We are washed certainly: We’ve said that we’re used to a certain routine when a child is presented for baptism. This isn’t bad in itself. But again, so that we don’t watch baptism in an unthinking way, we must see what lies at its very heart.

So take away everything that is just done as tradition or routine. Take away the fancy gown, the nice baptismal font, and the Grandma (or whoever) holding the baby. Take away that familiar Form. Take away even the three questions to the parents as they stand at the front of the church. Take it all away, and what do we have?

We have the simple act of sprinkling water on the forehead of a child. Whether one sprinkle, or three; whether with a lot of water or a little—however it is done, at the heart of baptism there is water, applied to the body of the one being baptized. This is what the Catechism calls the sign of “outward washing” (Q&A 69). Though no soap or brush is used, this is washing. Though the water is hardly ‘worked in’ but only touched to the skin, this is washing.

And just like baptism hardly looks like a washing, so those who are baptized hardly look like they need to be cleaned. If anyone is clean and fresh and nice smelling, it is (usually) a newborn baby. Yet these sparkling clean little children are brought into God’s church so that they can be washed.

As we think about baptism as washing, let’s remember Lord’s Day 25. Then we said that the sacraments are physical acts that point us to spiritual truth. With things that can be seen with the eyes, the sacraments teach us about what cannot be seen. And here is the invisible reality to which that the sprinkled water of baptism points: it is an act of spiritual cleansing; it is an act of sin-purifying, a powerful taking away of dirt from the soul.

For there is something else that’s not seen at a baptism. And that is sin: festering, hideous, filthy sin. Has an actual sin already been committed by that little child, just ten days old? Is there a transgression that needs to be washed away that Sunday morning? Likely not, but it doesn’t matter. Sin always goes way deeper than what can be heard or felt or seen.

This is what theologians call the ‘pollution’ of sin in the human heart. For sin has seeped into the centre of every person from the day of Adam. It has ruined our original beauty, and it has contaminated our desires. Even that little child needs to be washed, for even that little child is stained and polluted at her very core.

Parents will attest to this. Their child might look innocent and pure at first, but it doesn’t take long for sin to rear its ugly head. We start to sin already when we’re very young, and we continue in sin until the day we die. For we can’t escape or fully suppress the pollution that is residing in our hearts.

If you’ve ever driven by an old landfill or garbage dump, you’ve seen a picture of this pollution. It might be buried deep under a layer of tons of soil and rock, but the mountain of rubbish is still there. It doesn’t go away. And over the years, potent gases still leak out, and toxic soup still trickles from the ground. In the same way, the moral pollution that naturally lives inside us will bubble up from within and cause harm.                

So we really do need to be washed from sin. God calls his people to be holy, just as He is holy—and He even lets us share in his holiness! The garbage dump can become a beautiful garden! This is why God always insisted that his people be clean, separate from everything that could make them defiled. The Israelites couldn’t touch a dead body, or someone with leprosy, or eat unclean foods. The lesson was that God wanted a wide-reaching holiness from his people: He wants a life that is pure, a heart that is clean.

But who can be stainless before God? Say an Israelite followed all the legal regulations for cleanliness. Even then, the impurity of their soul remained. Even if a child was baptized every Sunday for the rest of his life, the impurity of the soul would remain.

Ezekiel speaks about this persistent pollution. When he prophesied, the offense of Israel’s sin couldn’t be overlooked. The prophet himself was among the first group of exiles taken away to Babylon in judgment. And for God’s people in captivity Ezekiel had more bad news: Jerusalem and the temple are going to be destroyed, and a great number more people carried off. God could stand no longer Israel’s foul smell! He was going to burn it away with fire.

Says God of his nation in 36:17, “When the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own ways and deeds.” God saw their grievous sin—their violence, their idolatry, their blasphemy—and God was disgusted. Sin is an offense to the holy God.

The LORD puts it in striking terms, “To me their way was like the uncleanness of a woman in her customary impurity” (v 17). For another way that the people became unclean physically was when various discharges came from their bodies: semen or blood. That was one thing, an outward uncleanness that happened naturally. But it taught a lesson about being spiritually defiled, and this defilement was by their own choice. And in verse 17 God compares the constant uncleanness of his people to being like a period that never ends.

It’s similar to what Israel confesses in Isaiah 64:6, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” The Hebrew word that is used here for ‘rags’ doesn’t describe something like a kitchen cloth, a piece of material we use to wipe up a spill on the benchtop. It describes the kind of cloth used during a woman’s monthly uncleanness. Even when we try to be righteous, and we do good, we’re as unclean as a bloody rag in the sight of God!

It’s a shocking and uncomfortable image, and that is deliberate. For this image shows the nature of our sinfulness, whether we’re male or female, whether we’re young or old. For our sin is so persistent, naturally welling up from within us, day after day. And like a woman’s uncleanness held her back from worshiping God for a while, so sin constantly gets in the way of our service of the Lord. It pushes us out of the presence of God, alienates us from the God of our life (Eph 4:18).

We are defiled by the sin that flows unstoppably from within us: the thoughts we think about other people, the words we say, the things we choose to look at, and so much more. So God has every reason to cast us away like a dirty rag. Why would you hold onto such a disgusting thing? Into the garbage, and out to the road, and the sooner the better! But our God and Father is so merciful. He doesn’t leave us in our squalour forever.

Listen to how God promises his people a powerful cleansing. He will treat not just the outward symptoms, but get to their root cause, by washing our heart. “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols…I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses” (Ezek 36:25,29). God will cleanse us.

In the law, the LORD had already given Israel a system of cleansing. Through sacrifice and blood and bathing in water, they could be cleaned of their impurities. But this wasn’t enough: it wasn’t permanent enough, wasn’t thorough enough. So God himself will do it. The LORD began purifying his people through the punishment of the exile, sending them to Babylon where they could learn humility and obedience. But it’d never be enough.

So God takes a new initiative: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean.” It will be a drastic purification. And God is going to do this, not by the repeated punishment of his people, but by the one-time punishment of his Son. Through the blood of Jesus, God removes all the defilement and offense of our lives, and He makes us holy.

Here is the certainty of our washing: “Just as certainly as the water washes away dirt from the body, so certainly [Christ’s] blood and Spirit wash away the impurity of my soul, that is, all my sins” (Q&A 69). We can watch the simple act of baptism with confidence and amazement. We see the water sprinkled, and we know what it points to. We know God doesn’t just douse us with plain water, because all the waters in all the seas couldn’t wash away our sins. But speaking through baptism, through the outward washing, God promises that ‘so certainly’ does He cleanse our souls with Christ. At baptism we learn that we’re truly purified, spiritually scrubbed, made clean. With God’s sprinkled water in Christ Jesus I am washed: certainly, and completely washed.

 

2) We are washed completely: No one would deny that we’re sinful and in needs of cleansing. But when we get it, how complete is this forgiveness? We believe we are washed, but fully? What if I’ve done really wicked things, things hidden and never confessed? Is my cleansing complete? Can God forgive every single sin?

This is what the Lord our God does! See the key word ‘all’ in this Lord’s Day. God promises at baptism to “wash away the impurity of my soul, that is, all my sins” (Q&A 69). Think here of the other sacrament, Lord’s Supper, where God grants to you ‘the complete forgiveness of all your sins.’ Through the blood of Jesus Christ all my sins can be washed away!

Sins of my youth, and sins of today.

Sins of my lips, of my life, of my walk—of hardheartedness, presumption, and pride. Sins of yielding to Satan’s temptations, being unwatchful when I know him to be near. Sins known to others, and sins known only to me.

Sins in the study of God’s Word, and in the neglect of it.

Sins of prayer irreverently offered, or prayer coldly withheld.

God forgives my sins of omission—when I knew the good that I had to do (like helping someone in need), but when I failed to do it.

And He forgives my sins of commission—when I knew something was evil (like giving in to bitterness or anger), but I still did it anyway.

Sins of time misspent, and good gifts squandered.

Sins against God and sins against my neighbor.

Sins remembered, sins forgotten—all my sins, thrown into the depths of the sea.

This is God’s promise, from 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That’s a beautiful promise, and it comes with a built-in obligation: we must confess our sins.

What does it mean to confess? To bring our sins into the open, name them, and resolve to fight against them. Examine yourself for these sins and be honest about them and how they grieve the Lord. It is not God’s will that we simply continue with our lack of prayer, or our drunkenness, or our bitterness, but that we confess and repent. Bring your sins to God, and believe that God cleanses us, even completely.

When a flood hits a town, the destruction is horrible. Houses, barns, roads, bridges—all washed away. But even so, there is almost always left some evidence of what was there before. Splinters of wood, foundations of houses, the personal belongings of people now gone; you still can tell where a village once stood.

But when God sprinkles his water on us and washes us, there is nothing left of our sins. In his mercy God would never forgive us only partially. What would be the sense of that? For if there was even one sin remaining, we’d still be no further ahead. With just one sin on our account, we’d still be condemned. So through Ezekiel, God promises a cleansing that is complete: “You shall be clean…I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses” (vv 25, 29).

Think also of David’s prayer in Psalm 51. He prays not for a quick rinse, but asks for a complete cleanse: “Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (v 7). And God will do it. As God said to Israel in Isaiah 1:18, “Though your sins are like crimson, they shall be as wool.” That is dramatic, radical, and complete forgiveness.

We are sinners. If we’re completely honest, we’ll even say with Paul, “We are the worst of sinners.” We’ve thought terrible thoughts and done horrible things. There might be sins that we’re too ashamed even to bring back in our minds. But then by God’s grace we can also say with Paul, “We are washed, we are sanctified, we are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God!” (1 Cor 6:11).

Baptism signifies our new identity, which is wrapped up with our new purpose: to no longer live for sin and its pleasures, but to live in joy of holiness before God. The once-tainted prostitute has become a pure and sparkling bride! Christ has washed us, in order “to present [us] to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph 5:27).

We are still sinners—that is a truth and a battle that will remain for as long as we drag around this body of death. But then we must also see ourselves as those changed by Christ: we are forgiven and restored and called to a different style of life.

 

3) We are washed conclusively: The cleansing of our bodies is never done. Each morning and night we devote some time to personal hygiene; even a little baby must be bathed every few days. If we’re clean today, we’ll probably be dirty again tomorrow.

So also for our sins, sad to say. If we ask for forgiveness today, we’ll need to ask again tomorrow. That pollution of sin doesn’t just go away, but it just keeps on bubbling up. Left on our own, even our best intentions for new faith and obedience would come to nothing. And so the source must be treated, the heart made clean.

That is just what God promises in Ezekiel 36:26, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” There is a need for a new beginning. So God declares, “I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my judgments and do them” (v 27).

For God sends the Spirit of Christ, and He renews us. We’ve already said baptism points not to an external washing, nor to an incomplete washing. So now we say baptism points not to a temporary washing, but to a washing that will be permanent. God cleans us with the blood of Christ, and with his Spirit God will keep us clean! 

God says He’ll put his Spirit in us, and He will bring guaranteed results: obedience and faith. Though baptism is done in an instant, this cleansing in the blood and Spirit of Christ is a process that lasts for all our days: “To be washed with His Spirit means…that more and more we become dead to sin and lead a holy and blameless life” (Q&A 70). This is day by day process: being washed, being cleansed, being renewed.

It’s good to remember that this is a process. Sometimes we wish we could mature all at once—I’d like to be done with every sin, achieve a rock-solid holiness, have a no-stick coating on our heart so that Satan’s temptations can’t ever penetrate.

But being renewed takes a lifetime. As we grow in faith, we have to learn new habits. We have to keep fighting against our old desires. Just like that little baby has to grow physically, we have to grow. We have to keep increasing in godliness, keep loosening our attachment to this world. And this growth in holiness will only happen when we open the Word, and devote ourselves to prayer, and become living members of Christ’s church. Even when we press toward what is ahead, progress is slow. Yet we know God has started a work in us that He will complete.

At baptism, God promises to wash us, certainly, completely, and conclusively. This makes baptism a joyful event, a cause for deep thanksgiving. And baptism is not only about that beautiful little child, or about her parents, or even about the ever-growing church, but baptism is about bringing yet more glory to God’s holy name.

For after Ezekiel brought the wonderful news of restoration to Israel, maybe some people wondered: Why would God do this? Why bring back these unclean people and sprinkle them with purifying water? Why would God save us and wash us? And in answer God declares, “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for my holy name’s sake” (36:22). ‘This is why I’m doing it,’ the Lord says, ‘for the glory of my name.’

God’s amazing grace is meant to move us to worship him. The gift of baptism calls each of us to live for his glory. So we put our faith in God, the one who gives promises and keeps them. It is for the sake of God’s holy Name that we are washed, we are sanctified, we are justified. To him be all the glory, forever and ever!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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