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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:The Gift of a Relationship with God
Text:LD 27 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Baptism
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-03-20
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 89:1                                                                        

Hy 1

Reading – Genesis 17

Ps 111:1,3,5   

Sermon – Lord’s Day 27

Hy 58:1,2,3

Hy 56:1,2,3,4

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


Brothers and sisters, God washes the dirty, purifies the filthy, and He revitalizes hearts that used to be dead. This was the wonderful teaching of Scripture in Lord’s Day 26, where we confess that we are washed in the blood and Spirit of Christ. The sprinkling with water at baptism points us to God’s miraculous cleansing.

Now, when we talked about baptism in Lord’s Day 26, the whole time we were making an assumption—taking something for granted, if you will. Our assumption was this: that infants, too, should be baptized. We marvel that God declares even to little children, just a week or two old: ‘You belong to me.’

So we ask today: If that little child belongs to God, is it then automatic that He’ll wash away all her sins? We say that infants should be baptized—can we assume too, that all such infants are therefore saved in Christ? We should be careful. Assumptions can be very dangerous, especially when they involve our walk with God. When it comes to baptism, we need to be clear. What is God saying to you through the sprinkled water? Are we baptized and therefore forgiven—as simple as that?

Beloved, the good news is that there’s nothing about God’s promise of mercy that we ever need to doubt. We know there is ‘power in the blood,’ that Christ is more than able to wash us clean. We also know that God delights to show mercy through the covenant of love. So we witness baptism as God’s ceremony of promise, God vowing to give forgiveness and renewal. It’s a promisea firm promise, a true word.

God gives his pledge, He seals his vow, He extends his grace. And God does this, so that we might answer. God promises, that we might respond. Forgiveness and cleansing come to those who fear the Lord and delight in his Word, all the days of their life. So baptism isn’t the end of the story, it’s just the beginning, as God wants to live in covenant with us for all time. So let’s consider God’s covenant with us, his people, summarized in Lord’s Day 27,

The Lord makes a relationship of love with us. This covenant:

  1. comes from God
  2. is sealed with blood
  3. includes our children
  4. calls us to faith

 

1) this covenant comes from God: We all know a little something about relationships. For example, if you’re in elementary school, you might have a relationship with a handful of classmates. You’re friends, which means you talk together, and you play together every lunch hour. Or think of the marriage relationship, when a man and a woman love each other, make promises to each other, and agree to live together. In both friendships and marriages, people form relationships that are marked by devotion and loyalty.

And how did your relationship begin? There’s usually someone who takes the first step. A boy in Grade 3 will go up to the kid who just moved into town, and he’ll ask if he’d like to come over on Sunday. Or the young man who’s interested in the young lady will work up the courage and then invite her to go out sometime. Someone initiates. But after the first move is made, if a lasting relationship is going to be formed, both sides have to be interested. You have to ‘get along,’ with someone, you have to ‘click.’

God the Lord has formed a relationship with us. And it’s not one-sided, but a mutual relationship, where we’re very much involved. Yet the whole thing is his creation. God didn’t just take the first step, and then wonder where it would go. He didn’t put in a request, and then wait for us to answer. He decided to start it, and then He also brought it about. Jesus says, ‘You didn’t choose me, but I chose you’ (John 15:16). He is God, after all, and we’re only his creatures!

This truth is evident from the very start of God’s covenant of grace with his people. In Genesis 12, God came to Abram when he was living in Ur, somewhere in Mesopotamia. Quite out of the blue, God appears, and He announces that He is going to form a special relationship with Abraham and his family: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (v 2). This is a life-changing intervention. If God had not appeared, Abram would’ve stayed in the darkness, remained a pagan just like his dad was—and he would’ve been lost and condemned. But God initiates.

A few chapters later, God seals this special relationship in a ceremony of blood. You might remember the story, how Abram has to cut some animals in two, then separate them into two rows, with a gap in between. And then God moves his presence among them, seen in that flaming firepot. This mysterious ceremony means that God is actually calling a curse on himself, swearing by himself that He’ll most certainly keep his covenant. And what does Abram do during this ceremony? God has made him fall into a deep sleep (Gen 15). On this particular day, it’s very clear that the LORD isn’t waiting for Abram to do his part.

It’s kind of like how so many babies sleep all the way through their baptism, even as God puts his name on them. It really shows how the LORD is the one reaching out, establishing the relationship. He doesn’t actually need our consent and agreement. Grace comes from God spontaneously and freely.

And then in Genesis 17, God again appears to Abram to repeat what He said: “I will make my covenant between me and you” (v 2). In this chapter, no less than nine times does God refer to his relationship with Abraham as “my covenant.” In a similar way, the Catechism calls it “God’s covenant” (Q&A 74). The covenant is his: the promises are his, holy baptism is his, the terms and conditions are his. God makes known his love to his people, when and how and where He wants to. Why does this matter? Well, if God had to wait for our consent, holding out his hand for us to grab hold, He’d be waiting an awful long time.

You should read Ezekiel 16 later. It’s a striking chapter where God says that his covenant people are like a newborn baby. But not a cherished baby brought carefully to the front for baptism, but one that was born, then abandoned on the verge—not even washed from the blood of birth, and left to die. That’s who we are, by nature. But passing by in his infinite mercy, God saw us, cleansed us, and chose to raise us to maturity. And then God gave us his oath: He made a covenant with us, his radiant bride.

Just like in the marriage of husband and wife, God loves us as his beautiful bride. Yet from start to finish, the relationship is founded on his work alone. If not for God, that squalling baby by the side of the road would never have had a chance!

Think of how much God gives through his covenant. In Genesis 17, He promises the world to Abram. God would make him very fruitful; God would make nations and kings come from him; God would give him a prosperous land as a lasting possession.

And that’s just the beginning. For to us God promises even more, even “the redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit” (Q&A 74)! By God’s grace, you have a claim on the things that you truly need: God will justify you, sanctify you, and one day glorify you. God has promised to take away the guilt of your sin, and to restore your soul through his Spirit.

We should be greatly humbled. Like it says in Deuteronomy 14:2, “Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the LORD has chosen us to be his treasured possession.” Not for our worthiness, not for our faithfulness, but out of the sovereign love of the Lord God.

The fact that our relationship with God is his work makes us very humble. At the same time, it should make us confident. God’s Word and purpose are so sure! Who can break apart what God has brought together? Who can thwart God when God decides to show love? We have every reason to trust him. We have every reason to serve him. We see this in our second point,  

 

2) this covenant is sealed with blood: Whenever we talk about the relationships that we have with one another, we also have to acknowledge how they go wrong. Every relationship bears the pain of disappointments and broken promises. That firm friendship you had in high school is broken almost overnight—it’s broken when someone better comes along, or as you begin to grow in different ways.

Or think of a husband and wife, who strive every day to honour their high and noble promises to one another: “to love and to lead, to submit and to help, to be true for as long as they both shall live.” Though they strive, they can’t keep these promises perfectly. Those who marry will face troubles in this state.

Yes, our human connections are often fragile. But here too, God’s relationship with us stands apart. It’s not just another relationship that will wither with time. For God will not abandon us for someone ‘better.’ And God will not just ‘try to be true.’ God will not break the word He has spoken to us. For that is who our God is. He is faithful in his covenant love.

Think of Psalm 136, where the chorus is repeated over and over again: “The steadfast love of the LORD endures forever. The steadfast love of the LORD endures forever.” After 26 verses, we have no excuse for doubting the LORD: God’s love will never fade! God’s love endures forever, because it is loyal love, faithful love.

When God revealed himself to Abram in Genesis 17, the very first thing he said to him was this: “I am God Almighty”; or “I am El Shaddai” (v 1). For Abram needed to know that God was unlike anything or anyone here on earth. That He is Almighty means his power is without limit, his strength without threshold. This is how God can promise all those things: countless offspring, mighty kings, a generous land, even redemption from sin and the Spirit of life! God is Almighty, so He can promise us all things, and give all things!

Because God is Almighty, the relationship that He initiates with his people is eternal. God said: “I will establish my covenant…as an everlasting covenant” (v 7). From God’s perspective, the relationship that He makes with his people need never be broken. It is sealed and secured and eternal.

Even so, this relationship needs a proper foundation. For God can’t undermine his own holiness, can’t overlook how his covenant partner is untrustworthy. He can’t ignore how his bride has sold herself on the streets more than once. He has to wash her.

Therefore God, once again, takes the relationship fully into his hands. If sin keeps us from him, if sin ruins our fellowship with God, then He will take our sin away, and He will create a lasting peace. He will lay the foundation for a new bond. And it is a bond in blood.

Think of Genesis 15 again, and all those animals sliced in half. Though it was only animals that were slaughtered, this blood was atoning blood. Life is in the blood, and God wants our life. So this blood, like the blood of circumcision, like the blood of all the old sacrifices, was blood that took sins away. It was blood that made peace.

Because of blood, the LORD sealed his love to Israel. It wasn’t because the sacrifices they brought were so perfect. It was because all along God was looking ahead to the precious blood that would be poured out by Christ. Scripture calls Jesus the mediator of the covenant. He is the one who goes between God and us, who makes peace. Call him ‘the matchmaker,’ the relationship facilitator—and one who is so personally involved in the covenant that all our sins are laid onto him. The life of Jesus was extinguished, so that ours could be renewed. His blood was fully poured out, that ours would never be. 

Whenever we see the waters of baptism, we’re meant to think of Jesus’s life-giving, soul-restoring, peace-making blood. Be grateful for his gift of blood! Cherish it as your only hope! By Christ’s blood, God seals his steadfast love toward us. He cleanses us and restores us to wholeness. It is through Christ that we may live again in fellowship with God, both we and the children God gives us.

 

3) this covenant includes our children: In this church we baptize infants. And while we’re very familiar with that truth, don’t overlook the miracle. For God Almighty doesn’t exclude the most helpless from his love. A child hasn’t done a single thing when he’s baptized—they haven’t accomplished anything, they haven’t said anything or earned anything—most of the time, they’re sleeping when they’re baptized! But Christ takes them in his arms and blesses them. The Father places the children of believers under his promise.

That God works with families, with parents and their children, is obvious from the very beginning of time. God commanded Adam and Eve to increase and have children, and through these children they were to fill the earth and subdue it. In the perfect beginning, children had to stand together with their parents in the great work of serving God.

Yet children too, were infected by the first sin—that was seen in what happened between Cain and Abel. And so our children too, even our cute little offspring playing in creche right now, deserve nothing at all from God. ‘We and our children are conceived and born in sin and are therefore by nature children of wrath.’

Even so, God includes children in his saving plan. When God reveals his covenant to Abram, and God tells him to leave Ur, he’s not to leave by himself. He must go with his wife Sarah, because from these two senior citizens would come a great nation, with children who would be like the stars in the heavens.

For God expressly told Abram that the promises weren’t just for him, or for the days of his life. The covenant was established for generations to come (Gen 17:7). Forever, God will maintain his love for believers and their children. And it’s a love not just for Abraham’s biological children, but for all who are his children by faith. It’s even for us Gentiles who have heard the message of Christ. To Gentiles too, God says, “The promise is for you and your children” (Acts 2:39).

This should still fill us with wonder, hearing what God grants to the children of believers. God the Father adopts them as his own, makes them heirs, and promises to provide them with all good. God the Son promises to wash them in his blood and share with them his perfect righteousness. And God the Holy Spirit promises to dwell in them and to make them living members of Christ.

The baptism of an infant is a joyful occasion. Yet it’s also a solemn occasion, and for no one more than those two happy parents. For now they have work to do! God calls parents to the task of training, teaching, shaping and sharpening—that our children would come to walk with this great God, and to know him truly: to know his promises and to know his demands. We need to teach our children everything we know, and we even try to teach them more than we know—the lessons about Christian living that we should’ve learned better ourselves!

We do this teaching both by word and deed. That’s intimidating when we consider that children learn both from our positive example, and negative. One author put it, “A man who does not pray is teaching his children not to pray; he who neglects public worship of God is teaching his children to neglect it; he who does not read the Bible is teaching his children not to read it.” What do we teach our children by the things that we neglect?

But when we as parents strive to walk with the Lord, then our children see it. They understand what is important to us, they notice what always has our priority—and they learn. So the classroom of the home should be filled with an atmosphere of love, where the conversations filled with grace, and God’s will gets taught in relation to all aspects of life.

Your children, God says to parents, “must be…distinguished from the children of unbelievers” (Q&A 74). We should be set apart by something more visible than baptism, set apart by a life that marks us as the possession of God. You are baptized: How does that change how you talk? You are baptized: How does that change how you do your job tomorrow? How does it change how you respond to trouble, or respond to blessing? God sets us apart by the gift of baptism, and then calls us to put our faith in him.

 

4) this covenant calls us to faith: The blessings of God’s promises are so rich, like a well that never runs dry, food for the soul that never diminished. We give thanks for all that God gives, while also remembering that the covenant is a relationship. God starts it, God shapes it, God fills it with good things. But God also calls us to walk with him.

When God appeared to Abram for the first time, He surely overwhelmed him with the wealth of his promises. But in the midst of it all, there was also a powerful command, a weighty obligation: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household, and go to the land I will show you” (Gen 12:1). Abram is ordered to forsake almost everything he knew and venture into the unknown. So how could he ever leave, except by faith? Did he trust in this God and what He said? And Abram showed that he did believe, and it was credited to him as righteousness.

When God appears to Abram again in Genesis 17, he is 99 years old. God promises numberless children, though Abram doesn’t have even one son or daughter. God gives Abram the sign of the covenant, though Abram has no child of his own to give it to. But Abram believed. And that’s exactly what God wants from us: He wants our faith. He wants us to respond to his glorious promises with a ‘yes’ and ‘amen.’ Lord, I believe it!

Reading the Word that promises so much—even so much that is yet unseen, like heaven and glory and forgiveness—God calls us to faith. Unsure of where God is leading our lives, He calls us to trust. Through we dread to stand out in this world, He says, ‘Have faith.’

And more than just faith, God wants our obedience. For what does the LORD say in Genesis 17:1? “Walk before me and be blameless.” That’s a call for us, just as much as it was for Abram. God wants us to dedicate the rest of our days to the LORD’s glory. “I am Almighty God. Walk before me and be blameless.” If we say we love God and Christ, what does our love do? ‘This is love for God, to obey his commandments.’

A covenant child is marked not just by baptism. But he or she is marked by this longing: ‘In all things, I want to do the will of my Father in Christ! I want to live like a child of God, and walk like a disciple of Jesus.’ For you and me, that’s a daily and ongoing activity in the covenant, because that’s what good relationships are like: permanent, full-time. Every good relationship is marked by trust, by love, by openness, by loyalty—not just one day per week, or at those moments when we really need it. But every day: living and walking in a good relationship with God our Father and Saviour!

In our baptism, the covenant God came to us and He said: ‘I am God Almighty. You can trust in me. So walk before me and be blameless.’ This is his call to us, and He wants us to answer. God promises, and He wants us to respond, every day again.  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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