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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Let Us Not Make Too Little of the Sacrament of Baptism
Text:LD 26 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Baptism
 
Added:2022-07-13
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Genesis 9:1-17

Lesson: Lord’s Day 26

 

LET US NOT MAKE TOO LITTLE OF THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM

  1. What Baptism Does for God

  2. What Baptism Does for Us

 

  1. Psalm 149:1-2

  2. Psalm 104: 1, 2, 8

  3. Hymn 58:1-3

  4. Hymn 2

  5. Psalm 89: 1, 3

  6. Hymn 56:1-4

 

Words to Listen For: manger, flaw, dishwasher, idol, bored

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. How is baptism different from prayer?

  2. How is baptism more like a married couple?

  3. What part of baptism can be described as justification?

  4. What part of baptism can be described as sanctification?

  5. What is the order of membership & baptism?  Why is this important?

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


Beloved in Christ our Lord,

How good is your memory?

If you’re like me, your memory is all too good in certain areas, remembering embarrassing, silly, or even sinful moments from my past, but then, at the same time, quite poor in other areas, such as remembering people’s names, or even some commitments.

Remembering is a very interesting theological concept too.  The book of Deuteronomy was written as a reminder.  Time after time in Deuteronomy we hear:

     REMEMBER what God did.

     REMEMBER what your forefathers did and don’t do the same

     REMEMBER God’s laws and do them.

The book of Deuteronomy is all about remembering.  And God put all that remembering there for a reason - as human beings, our memories are quite poor.  Even those of us with really good memories...when it comes to things that matter, our memory is quite poor.

I don’t mean remembering facts and dates for a history test, or having a photographic memory of the catechism, knowing in a split second where something is, and reciting it flawlessly...but I mean in terms of the gospel.

In terms of the gospel, not so much in REDEMPTIVE history, but the gospel in YOUR personal history.  God has saved you so many times, and you’ve forgotten that He was even there.  Somehow, our memories about God, His love and His salvation, just don’t seem to stick too well in our minds.  Each new time we encounter a difficulty, so much of our confidence and assurance just goes right out the window.

     God, where are you?

     What are you doing?

     Don’t you see me struggling here?

So quickly we forget all the times in our histories where we were in similar situations, and God saved us miraculously.  By giving us the strength to continue on, by giving us the support we needed, by assuring us that He does really love us and that He does really care for us.

And this is the foundation for our hope.  This is the foundation for our Christian lives.

And, when we hear the term “foundation” in relation to Christianity, a verse like 1 Corinthians 3: 11 might pop up in our minds - “No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Our Saviour is our foundation.

And yet, we must unpack that a little bit more.  What ABOUT our Saviour is our foundation? 

What about Him can we look back on when we fear and when we doubt?  Do we look back on Him as an infant, smiling up at Mary and Joseph from the manger?

Do we look back at Him as a preacher, sitting in a boat, preaching to those on the shore about the seed of the gospel and the different types of soil?

No.  We do not get comfort from a cute baby, we do not get real, lasting, solid comfort from a preacher, even if that preacher is Jesus Christ.  But instead, we get real, lasting, solid comfort, a firm and solid foundation in the promises of the gospel.  The promises of God that are all yes and amen in Jesus Christ.  The promises of the gospel that tell us who we are and what our God has done for us.

We learned last time that these promises are shown to us in two main ways - the preaching of the Word, and in the sacraments.  The preaching only has an effect when it is filled with promises of who our God is and what He has done.  The sacraments only have an effect because they are visible representations of the promises of the gospel.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is truly the only thing that can help in the dark and forgetful night of the soul.  And the famous reformer Martin Luther knew this as well.

Though he fought against the wrong belief that it is baptism itself which saves you, he still took great comfort in the fact that he was baptized.  It is said, about Luther, that in times of great affliction and anxiety, he would take a piece of chalk and write on his desk, again and again, “I am baptized.  I am baptized.”

We would truly do well to take a page from Luther’s book and truly make use of the means of grace which God has given us to strengthen our faith.  It is in the dark when we truly need the light.  It is when we are forgetful that we need to remember.  And so, congregation,

LET US NOT MAKE TOO LITTLE OF THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM

  1. What Baptism Does for God

  2. What Baptism Does for Us

 

What Baptism Does for God

This is a strange idea, isn’t it...what Baptism does FOR God?  Baptism is given TO US, FROM GOD...why would God need anything?  How could baptism help Him?

Surely, baptism is for us.  Like prayer.

Because, is prayer really for God?  It’s not.  God doesn’t need to be told or reminded of our needs.

Prayer is for us, to show our thankfulness and to remind us that God is in control.  It is our memory that needs help in this, not God’s.

And yet, take a look once more at our reading from Genesis chapter 9.

We pick it up at verse 12

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:  I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 

There are striking similarities between the rainbow and baptism, even though we should not consider the rainbow as an Old Testament sacrament.

Here, just like baptism, and its Old Testament counterpart - circumcision, the rainbow is a sign of the covenant.  It is a visible sign, and it is a visible SEAL, in that, in it, contain the promises of God.

And, what’s more, both the rainbow and baptism serve to remind God of His promises.

We read this twice here in this passage.

Verse 15 - I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh

And repeated in verse 16 - When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant.

But what does this mean, God remembering?

Surely our God does not forget as we do.  This is a human flaw, and our God is beyond such limitations and weaknesses.

And He is.  He is perfect.  Perfection itself dwells in Him.  But, when Scripture speaks of God REMEMBERING, it is not that this memory comes up against divine forgetfulness, but instead, it is God zeroing in, so to speak, on this one particular time in history.

Let me try to explain using an example

Imagine a husband and wife.  They have been together for quite a while now, and have many children and many memories.  Though their relationship has ups and downs, there is, at the core, a deep love and respect there between the couple.

From time to time, the husband will pull out a photo album, and reminisce about the days gone by.  And sometimes, he will call his wife over to look at their wedding photos.  Or photos of their son’s 3rd birthday party.  And sometimes, when this happens, one of them will turn to the other one and say, “Oh...I do love you.”

You see...the love was there the whole time, but focusing in on particular things brings it to the forefront.

It is like this with God.  Even though He remembers everything with a perfect memory, He has filled redemptive history with special and significant moments that God tells us we can use to hold Him to His divine promises.

Time after time, Israel is told to remember the Exodus.  That time in Israel’s history, where God saved them powerfully and majestically.  And God remembers too.

Time after time, God refers to Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Our God takes covenants very seriously.  He is our covenantal God.  Faithful to His promises.

And so, in our baptism, just like in the rainbow, there is something truly wonderful and beautiful - there is mutual remembering.

God says, “Just as you remember, so do I also remember.”

But what exactly is God remembering in baptism?  In the rainbow, God is remembering His promise to never again destroy the earth with a flood.  But what about baptism?  What exactly is God promising here?

In baptism, we who are baptized, are promised all the promises of the gospel.

As the catechism so beautifully puts it,

We are washed with Christ’s blood and Spirit.  Let’s start with the blood.

To be washed with Christ’s blood mean to receive forgiveness of sins from God, through grace, because of Christ’s blood poured out for us in his sacrifice on the cross.

In a word, baptism promises us JUSTIFICATION.

Just as water washes the dirt away from the body, so too, are we promised that the blood of Christ will wash away all our sins.

And we desperately need this washing.  We desperately need to be washed in Christ’s blood because of our past.  Because, if we are honest about our past, honest with ourselves, honest with God...we know that our past reads far more as a past of sin and failure than it does of belief and faithfulness.

Our lives, even though we are Christians, are in constant need of cleansing.  It’s just like doing dishes or doing laundry.  As soon as you’ve done one load of dishes in the dishwasher, you feel like you could do another load right away.  There are dirty dishes waiting for the clean ones to be emptied, so that they can take their spot.

And the same is true for us with our sins.  We are caught in this never-ending cycle:

     We sin

We ask for forgiveness

We receive forgiveness (thanks be to God!).

But then we sin again, and the whole cycle starts over.  Multiple times per day even...and far too often, for the same old sins.  We struggle with our pride, and catch ourselves thinking too highly of ourselves, or too critically of someone else.  Our tongue is, as James puts it, a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  We speak without thinking, insulting, using foul language, making crude jokes.

And this leads to the question...is one baptism enough?  If we need this cleansing again and again, shouldn’t we receive the sign again and again?  If we receive forgiveness each day, wouldn’t it be so wonderful to be washed clean, again and again?

But no, for this would be misunderstanding baptism.

Baptism represents our new birth into the family of God.  Baptism itself does not wash away our sins, it is a sign of this wonderful promise for those who are in the household of God.  If we would have to be rebaptized each time we sin, then God’s love and grace would be conditional and temporary.  But thanks be to Him that they are not!  Baptism, once properly done, should never be repeated, for we cannot be reborn twice!

Being washed with Christ’s blood reminds God of the sacrifice of His beloved Son, and that, through that blood, we are His adopted sons and daughters, also beloved by Him.

Our baptism serves as a reminder for God.  As His Word so comfortingly says: God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His.”  We could even say: the Lord remembers those who are His.  We have this seal of baptism on us.  We bear the mark of baptism, and this is an everlasting covenant.  It will not wane or waver.  Once we are baptized, it can never be undone.  Baptism is an action that has been completed, and yet the results of that action are continuing on, in full effect.

I have been washed with the blood of Christ, and I continue to be a washed person.  This truth can never change, and like Martin Luther, I can return to it, time after time and remember.  Even though I do not remember my own baptism, each baptism I see reminds me of what was done to me and what was done for me.  Baptism serves as a reminder for God, and a firm foundation of comfort for us.  Our second point.

There are those who say that Martin Luther was inconsistent, relying so much on his baptism to give him comfort.  They say that this was some remnants of the Roman Catholic church that were never reformed in his understanding.  They say that Luther carried on some residual belief that baptism actually saved you.  But this is not true.  Luther was very aware that it was Jesus Christ, and Him only, who saved him.

At the same time, Luther was right to gain assurance from his baptism.  He did not sin, or make baptism into an idol when he scrawled “I have been baptized” over and over on his desk.

We must remember that the Belgic Confession, when referring to the sacraments says, “the signs are not void and meaningless so that they deceive us.”

Indeed, they are full and meaningful.  Though it is our Lord who has given them power, and our Lord who Himself is their power...the sacraments do indeed have power.  They are not merely empty signs for us.

And before we begin to delve too deeply into what baptism does for us, and why we can look to it for our comfort, it is important to note that this sermon is part of a set of 2 sermons on baptism, as informed by our catechism.  Lord’s Day 26 and Lord’s Day 27.  We must not make too little of baptism, nor should we make too much of it.

And so, while I will attempt to present a balanced approach, this afternoon, it may seem that baptism is being over-emphasized, whereas in the next sermon, it may seem to be under-emphasized.  And this is how our catechism may seem as well, if we were to look only at one Lord’s Day or the other.  And so, just as Lord’s Day 26 and 27 should be viewed together, so too this sermon should be viewed with the next one.  They are meant to be understood together.

_____________________

But, having established that being washed in the blood of Christ is a reminder to both God and us that our sins are truly forgiven by the atoning death of Christ, we move on to the other washing of baptism.  The fact that we are washed by the Spirit.

Just as being washed with the blood of Christ can be summed up in the one word: justification, so too can being washed with the Spirit also be summed up in one word: sanctification.

Our God promises us that we are being renewed more and more each day.  We are being sanctified.  We are being made more and more like Jesus Christ.

And it is here where we can find comfort that, even if it feels like we are just spinning our wheels and making no headway in our Christian walk, repeating that endless cycle, we are actually making headway.

Not because of ourselves, not with our own natural strength, but in the strength of the promised Holy Spirit, enabling us to work out our salvation.  And we do so with fear and trembling, in awe that the Holy Spirit would dwell in such weak, flawed, and sinful vessels.

You can think of it like this perhaps.  Living the Christian life is like climbing a mountain.  Before the Spirit was at work in us, we were simply laying dead at the foot of the mountain.

But, when we were justified by Christ, we were raised from the dead and could start climbing.  A weak climber, to be sure.  A slippery mountain, definitely.  But by the power of the Holy Spirt, we begin to climb that mountain.  Taking three steps forwards and sliding back down two steps.  And as time goes on, as the Spirit continues to grab hold of more and more of our life, as we learn to keep step with the Spirit, suddenly we realize that we are climbing three steps forwards, and only 1 step back.  Then four steps forwards, one step back.

And when we look back down, and remember our past failures, we must realize that the fact we did things back then that we are ashamed of now...this is proof that the Spirit is working!  This is proof that we have increased in holiness and in sensitivity to what is sinful in the eyes of God.

The catechism does not go wrong in saying that “as surely as water washes away dirt from the body, so certainly His blood and Spirit wash away the impurity of my soul.”

How do you think Noah and his family looked at the sky each and every time they saw a rainbow?  Do you think they ever got bored with the sign?  Oh there’s another rainbow, let’s go about our business now.

No!  Noah, a righteous man, each time he saw a rainbow, Noah would stop what he was doing, lift his eyes to heaven, and thank God with heartfelt thanksgiving that he and his family were spared.  That God had given him and the rest of the world such a wonderful promise, that no matter the evil of mankind, God would never destroy the world again with a flood.

     Instead of destroying His people, He would REDEEM them.

     Instead of leaving the world in darkness, sending it to a watery grave, He would RESTORE it.

     Instead of rightfully abandoning the people who abandoned Him, He would bring them into fellowship with Himself once more.

And this too, is what baptism represents.  We baptize, our infants, and new members, coming in from outside the Christian faith, we baptize them because they belong.  They belong to God’s covenant and congregation.  More on that next time, in Lord’s Day 27.

But God’s covenant people are those who belong.  And, as members of the covenant, they should be baptized.  The baptism is a PUBLIC SIGN of their entry into the people of God, it is not the entry itself.

For, if there was an infant who was too weak and sick to come home from the hospital for a month, would she not be a member of the church?  No!  She was a member of the church from the moment of her conception in the womb.

If there was an adult who came to faith in the one true God later in life, and had true faith that he professed before the elders, but was involved in a fatal car crash on the way to his baptism, should be say that he was never a member of Christ’s church? That he missed it by that much?  No!

As members, infants and adults should be baptized.

And so congregation, right now, unable to congregate, when we doubt our salvation, when we fear for the future, let us remember that we were baptized.

Write it over and over in a notebook, write it on a whiteboard, tack it up on the calendar in the kitchen.

     I AM BAPTIZED.

     I AM BAPTIZED.

     I AM BAPTIZED, and so I have received the promise that I am forgiven.

     I AM BAPTIZED, and so I have received the promise that the Spirit is making me holy

     I AM BAPTIZED, and so I belong.

AMEN.




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

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