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Author:Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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Congregation:The Reformed Church of Oamaru
 Oamaru, New Zealand
Preached At:Reformed Church of Mangere
 South Auckland, New Zealand
Title:The Promise In Water
Text:BC 34 (View)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

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


(Reading: Exod.4:18-31; Col.2:6-19)


The Promise In Water!



Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ...


     It is clear that circumcision was a rite in the Old Testament Church.

          We all know of Genesis 17 and the covenant God made with His people which circumcision symbolised.

              Our reading from Exodus 4 showed how seriously the Lord regarded circumcision.

                   To think that He nearly killed Moses because he had not circumcised his son!


     We must particularly note the shedding of blood in circumcision.

          It was a feature of much of the worship and dedication of the Old Testament people of God.

              Who knows how many countless hundreds of thousands – even millions! - of animals were sacrificed in the worship of God?

     Imagine how much blood from those animals was sprinkled over the sacred utensils!

          And then the blood of humans was spilled as well in this very painful rite of circumcision.

              Didn’t the wife of Moses express it so graphically in Exodus 4 verse 25?


     For that is one thing we know about now even more than the Israelites knew back then.

          Because they would seen the anguish their baby boys went through to have their foreskins cut off at such a young age.

              But we know today, through medical testing, how really traumatic for a young child that rite actually is.


     Now, there were many other races who also circumcised their baby boys, or, later on, their adolescent boys.

          There are even those religions which circumcise their little girls.

              But none of those had the reason for this ceremony that God gave to his people.

     This is what we note in our first aspect.

          For here we see THE REASON FOR BAPTISM.


     The first paragraph of Article XXXIV is clear here.

          Baptism has replaced circumcision.

              And it has replaced it in a way which is even more comprehensive as to who receives it now.

     For now it is girls as well as boys, women as well as men.

          And it’s for all those Gentiles who are in God’s covenant community – many more of them now than the Jews in it!

              And certainly many more altogether since Pentecost than all the Israelites in the Old Testament Church!


     There is also something else we need to note in the first paragraph.

          For when our Article says Christ is the end of the law we must be clear that this doesn’t mean there is no law anymore.

              Christ is the end of the law because in the moral sense He has obeyed it.

     And by obeying it He showed the beauty and depth of its meaning.

          In this sense He upheld the law, as Romans 3 verse 31 says.

              He gave it its fullest spiritual significance.


     The Law He brings an end of is also that which in its ceremonial aspects look forward to His coming.

          All those shadows of the Old Testament were now swallowed up by the substance!


     We only need to refer here to the book of Hebrews.

          In chapter 8 verse 5, it says of the Old Testament priests, “They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.”

              And, then, in chapter 10 verse 1 it declares, “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves.

                   “For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.”


     It is a few verses further on in Hebrews 10 that it’s clear Christ brings an end to all those offerings by offering Himself.

          As verse 10 says, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”


     This is why Article XXXIV confesses that all shedding of blood in worship has come to end in Jesus Christ.

          Now water is the sign because of the washing away of sins through Christ’s doing and dying.

              The Confession confirms that baptism is the rite of initiation.

     For it says baptism separates us from all other people and religions.

          Indeed, it even says that baptism is the mark and ensign of Christ which we bear.

              For baptism is the witness to us that the Lord will forever be our gracious God and Father.


     At this point we need to realise a number of parallels between circumcision and baptism.

          For like circumcision, baptism is similar to a badge a person wears to show his identification.


     As circumcision was a token that an Israelite belonged to the Lord so baptism signifies the same.

          You can compare Exodus 12 verse 48 with Acts 19 verses 3 till 5 to see that.


     Then we note that as circumcision witnessed to the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness which we have in Christ so does baptism.

          You can compare Romans 4 verse 11 and Acts 22 verse 16 to see that.


     And further we see that as circumcision was the symbol of purification, so is baptism.

          You can compare Colossians 2 verse 11 and Romans 6 verse 4 to see that.


     It is helpful here to also draw a distinction between baptisms.

          Because before Christ instituted this baptism just before His ascension, there had been other baptisms and ritual washings.

              John the Baptism certainly practiced it.

                   And it is quite similar to Christian baptism.


     Scripture calls both Christ’s baptism and John’s baptism a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

          Yet John only baptised in Israel and only those who came to him.

              But Christ’s baptism was for after Pentecost and was for all the nations.


     Another way of noting the difference in these two baptism was where they were looking.

          For John’s baptism looked forward while Christian baptism looks back on the fulfilled work of Christ.


     So we have seen THE REASON FOR BAPTISM.

          Next Article XXXIV tells us of THE MEANING OF BAPTISM.

              We move to consider the second paragraph, our second aspect this afternoon.


     Congregation, you will find in much of Christianity today two completely different understandings of what baptism is.

          The most commonly held view amongst Protestant churches in New Zealand is not, though, the view of Scripture explained here.

              For that is the belief that baptism is primarily a testimony to faith and a witnessing to the world that you are a Christian.

     Therefore baptism is very much what you choose to do.

          It is essentially man-centred.


     But the baptism spoken of here, though, is very much God-centred.

          Because baptism is a means of grace given by God in which the divine initiative and action is recognised and stressed.

              This is why the Confession says quite expressly that this is not done by “external water, but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God.”


     The word “signifying” is a key word here.

          Because in the past the Church has become caught up in using a certain type of water.

              The Roman Catholics have blended water and salt, as though that had something in it.

                   And when royal baptisms, or other important baptisms, were conducted, often it was the water of the River Jordan which was used.


     Yet baptism is only a sign.

          And as a sign it tells us that the meaning of holy baptism is to show us visibly what we already know savingly.

              For it’s about the Gospel.

     It declares to us that, as water takes away dirt from our body, so the blood and Spirit of Christ takes away the impurity of our soul – our sin.

          1st Corinthians 12 verse 13 is clear about this.


     Developing this further, we say that the “blood of Christ” is the sign of all His suffering which climaxed in the shedding of blood on Calvary.

          In that suffering He bore the punishment for our sins.

              That way He paid our debt.

     So we can say that His blood, His suffering, cleanses us from sin.

          For that’s what takes away the guilt of sin.

              This is justification.


     Following this the Spirit of Christ renews us, frees us from the slavery of sin, makes us die to sin, and teaches us to live lives pleasing to God.

          The Holy Spirit more and more takes away the pollution of sin.

              This is sanctification.


     Dear believer, you can see why baptism holds the place it does in the Christian church.

          And you can see why it is that it must be understood the right way in the Christian church.


     But moving along in Article XXXIV we see, thirdly, THE BLESSING THROUGH BAPTISM.

          Because it confirms the promise.

              And while we may say that this has been said before, here it’s shown in action.


     Congregation, we have seen how baptism is a ‘sign’.

          But now we meet it as a ‘seal’.

              And as we have seen, a ‘seal’ confirms the promises of God.


     We have to be careful, still, not to place this assurance in baptism itself.

          The Roman Catholic idea that baptism gives supernatural grace is not on.

              You can’t say that the sign and what it represents are always connected.


     You see, the Church of Rome teaches that baptism is essential for salvation.

          They declare that an un-baptised person cannot receive any grace whatsoever.

              That’s why they administer emergency baptisms.

     You can imagine the problems that leads to!

          Because then it is all up to a man – the closest man being the priest who can get there in time!


     Neither does baptism seal a cleansing from sin.

          It doesn’t declare a presumptive regeneration.

              Again, we have to move away from the actual physical sacrament itself.

     As the third paragraph in Article XXXIV says, “The ministers, therefore, on their part administer the sacrament and that which is visible, but our Lord gives that which is signified by the sacrament…”.

          It’s the spiritual thing that matters.


     So baptism is covenantal.

          God promised in His covenant to bind His grace to the use of sacraments.

              And that’s more than just giving or receiving.

     All those aspects mentioned in the third paragraph – the washing, cleansing, and purging of our souls, the renewing of our hearts and filling them with all comfort, the true assurance, the putting on of the new man and putting off of the old man, can only come through faith.

          Which is exactly what baptism encourages us to do!


     J. van Bruggen compares this to the receipt of a cheque.

          The cheque itself does not say you have $100, but that you are entitled to $100.

              That cheque is a pledge, a proof of that entitlement, proof of the promise.

     The recipient who trusts the reliability of the cheque will say, “I have $100.”

          Yet that cheque itself is not $100, nor the guarantee that its owner has it, but the evidence and the guarantee of the promise made and his entitlement to the $100.

              In order to receive the amount stated on the cheque, you need to go to the bank and cash it.

                   Likewise, to receive what is promised in holy baptism you need to go to the Lord Jesus Christ.


     This is what Peter writes in chapter 3 of his first letter.

          There in verse 21 we read, following the story of Noah being saved through the water of the flood, “this water symbolizes baptism that now save you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.

              “It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”.


     So, dear believer, when you take your baptism seriously it makes a lot of difference.

          For then you’re reminded of your sinfulness, your salvation through Christ, and your service to the Lord in thankfulness for all He’s done.

              So honour your baptism, work with it, and take to heart what it teaches.


     Then you will also appreciate the last aspect for our sermon this afternoon.

          Because that is how you will see THE EXCLUSIVENESS IN BAPTISM.


     Here we come to the last two paragraphs in Article XXXIV.

          Two paragraphs which are very clear that baptism is meant to be a once only event.

              And having seen how it is God’s work we believe this.

     For if it were our work, as the Anabaptists believe, then once might not be enough.

          And certainly the baptism done to babies could never count.

              They don’t know what they’re doing!


     Well, that’s the reasoning of the Anabaptists.

          There is a huge difficulty with that, however.

              As de Bres points out in the Confession, the difficulty is with the teaching of Scripture itself.

     That is the teaching we have already seen.

          For baptism not only replaces circumcision – it enlarges it!


     A helpful way of understanding infant baptism here is to consider the various objections to it.

          Perhaps you’ve heard some of these too.

              And maybe you were a bit caught out then?


     One objection is that in the New Testament there is no command for infant baptism.

          The same case is made against tithing and against following the Sabbath law.

              But they were never distinctly abrogated, were they?

                   Neither Jesus nor the apostles says they’re gone, do they?


     That children should receive the seal of the covenant was already commanded in the days of Abraham.

          The Lord never took that principle away, although he did change the rite involved because of Christ’s doing and dying.


     If you were to be consistent with this Anabaptist reasoning, women should not be permitted to participate at the Lord’s Supper either.

          That’s not commanded anywhere.


     Another objection is that in the New Testament there’s no example of infant baptism.

          But again, that’s an argument from a silence in the New Testament.

              And, really, it isn’t a silence anyway.

     In Acts 10 and Acts 16 we read three accounts of whole households being baptised.

          And maybe there weren’t any children in those three households, which is pushing it, but in the light of the Old Testament it’s quite clear.

              By the rule established in the Covenant the family also belonged to the congregation through the father.


     Ah, the Anabaptist may object next, children don’t understand baptism.

          But they didn’t understand circumcision either and yet the Lord commanded it.


     And then there is the objection: We don’t know if they going to believe.

          They say this is jumping the gun a bit!

              However, we don’t baptise on the basis of their faith.

                   As we heard before, this is all about God’s command and promise.


     Congregation, it is all very one-sided.

          Because it all comes from God’s side.

              He graciously calls to Himself a certain people.

     A people who definitely aren’t anything special in themselves.

          But a people who are His through the doing and dying and rising again of His Son.

              And that’s the people He also chooses to keep through countless generations.

                   Acts 2 verse 39 draws that line clearly through the New Testament too.


     Well, there’s not much we can say is there?

          The Lord has done it all.

              And He continues to keep doing it all.


     In the light of all this, what a precious promise we have in the water.

          Water which is absolutely essential for physical survival.

              And water which now pictures for us our eternal survival through the blood of Christ.


     You won’t forget – will you?





Let’s pray…

     O loving Heavenly Father, how much don’t we thank and praise You for the Son of Your love.

          You provided for our ultimate need in His sacrifice.

              The sacrifices which assures us in baptism that we counted as righteous in Your sight.

     What grace!

          And what glory!

              In Jesus’ saving Name, we pray, Amen.





* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. Sjirk Bajema

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