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Baptism: A Public Declaration of Dependence

Baptism declares we are unashamed of the Christ who died for us.

I was driving into church and I put in a cassette tape of the song "Mercy Came Running." I arrived at the worship center and went up to my office, did a little preparation and came down to the stage.

One of our ushers motioned me over. He said, "Randy, there is a car in the parking lot, a black Jeep, and the car is running. The lights are on. The doors are locked, and there's no one in it." And I said, "Well, that would be mine."

I was so captured by the words of this song that when I came up to the parking lot it seemed to me to be way too mundane to commit myself to earthly things like actually turning the lights out and the car off. I just left it all running. And I did not know that I did that. That scared me until I realized that I had been ministered to by the words of that song.

The song is a picture of the temple. There was a very special place in the temple called the Holy of Holies where the ark of the covenant resided. It was a place where God chose to let his presence rest. In that little room was the justice of God, the righteousness of God, but also mixed in were the grace of God and the mercy of God. This room was sectioned off from all the people of Israel because they had sin in their life and they could not approach the presence and the mercy and the grace of God because there was a veil. There was a physical veil but there was also the spiritual veil of sin in their life and they could not gain access to God. But God's presence was in this room.

The writers of this song say, "Once there was a holy place, evidence of God's embrace." "I can almost see mercy's face pressed against the veil." I want you to go there with me. I want you to picture in the Holy of Holies this place where no one but the high priest was allowed to enter once a year to offer a sacrifice of atonement for the people. Imagine the face of mercy just pressed against the veil wanting to get out.

The song goes on to say, "Looking down with longing eyes, mercy must have realized once his blood was sacrificed freedom would prevail." The scene shifts over from the Holy of Holies to Golgotha where Jesus is hanging on a cross and God the Father is looking down and says: Once this transaction takes place, all mercy will break loose. And the sky grew dark and the earth began to shake, with justice no longer in the way. The veil was rent from the top to the bottom and mercy came running. And it chased us down and it wrapped his arms around us, and we experienced it.

Baptism is an act of worship

We come today and we lift our hands to God in humility and we thank him for chasing us down through the death of Christ. That's what worship is. If that doesn't do something for you, you need to become a Christian today because whatever you did didn't work.

Jesus himself said he wanted everyone who had been embraced by this mercy to come to him in an act of worship called baptism. Upon profession of our faith, upon recognition that God apart from our deserving it, saved us from our self and from death for eternity, he invites us to stand in front of a group of people and be baptized.

I want those of you who grew up in church to think how odd it is that one of the things we do to declare our allegiance is rather bizarre. A guy stands in the water next to another person and dunks them under the water. And then they lift him back up again in the presence of a lot of people. It seems odd. Well, it is kind of odd, and it is kind of a humiliating. It was designed to be that way by Jesus himself.

I went to a pastors' conference, we were sitting around telling stories of congregational life. And someone told the story of one guy who did baptisms in the middle of the church service. And because of this he needed to stay dry so that he could back out and speak to the congregation. So he wore waders. And one day some person who was much larger than him got into the water and displaced the water up over the waders. And he couldn't move. He never said anything to the congregation. He simply did his entire sermon from the baptistery tank. When the service was over and everyone was gone, he dunked under the water and got the waders off.

I heard another story of a minister who was doing baptisms and a guy came to be baptized and the minister asked him why he wanted to be baptized. And he says, "I'm looking for Jesus." And so the pastor holds him down and brings him up, and he says to him, "Did you find Jesus?" And he said, "Well, no." So he takes him down again, brings him back up and he says, "Did you find Jesus?" He said, "No." Takes him down a third time and brings him back up, and he said, "Did you find Jesus?" And the guy finally says, "Pastor, I don't think he's down there."

That's bizarre and funny. But it's something that our Leader, our Savior asked us to do. Every single one of us. You may recall the words of Jesus before he left the earth in Matthew 28:1920. These are some of the final words he left with us. It's called the Great Commission, things that he has given us to do. Those of us who have come to faith in Christ are to make it our life to share what we've experienced to others. When they come to faith in Christ, we are to encourage them to get baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our Leader told us that we are to engage in the practice of worship called baptism.

Baptism is a reminder that we cannot save ourselves

The question is what is baptism? Look at the idea Paul presents in Romans 6. Don't get caught up in some of the difficulties of those first seven verses, just the big picture. See if you can capture just the biggest concept that he has here.

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sinbecause anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

For those of us who have trusted Christ, he is talking about something that has happened in a very private and inner moment in our life. For me it was 1974. Baptism is an external expression of this internal reality that took place. The Bible teaches us, and particularly the first three chapters of Romans, that all of us were not only born into sin but we were conceived into sin. When I was conceived in the womb of my mother, a number of things were transferred to me. A lot of the genetic make up. I got my mother's face and my dad's cholesterol. But one thing they passed on to me as was passed onto themthat is undeniable and true for everyone in this roomwas a sin nature, a contaminated nature. I didn't ask for it, but I received it. And the Bible says that because this nature exists within all of us we cannot enter into the presence of God. God is a holy God, and he cannot be in the presence of evil without that evil being atoned for, being made right.

The problem is is that I cannot and you cannot rid yourself of this sin nature. So what happens to us is that we must live our life separated from God, much like that Holy of Holies. We cannot break through the veil. And the Bible says that on the day that we come to the point of death if we have not been able to make right before God the sin nature within us, if we have not been able to rid ourselves 100 percent from it, then we will die. Our lives will be offered up as the wages or the price of our sin. So we will continue for all of eternity to be separated from God. The beginning of the Christian conversion takes place when an individual recognizes and admits that they have a sin nature within them that's keeping them separate from God now and for all eternity.

If a person comes to recognize that they are going to forever be separated from God, it takes away a little bit of the joy in life today. Imagine yourself standing before a jury and a judge guilty of the crime that they have charged against you and the judge brings the hammer down and says, "You will be sentenced to death." And so you enter into a cell and in that cell you must wait three months before they bring you out and lay you on the stretcher and inject that stuff into your veins and you will die. You could say, "But I have thirty days left. I'm really going to enjoy them." I think it would be very difficult to enjoy life on death row. The same reality is true of every one of us when we come to terms with the reality that we have been sentenced to eternal death and separation from God. And some of you have a year left. Some of you have twenty years left. Some of you have fifty years left. But regardless of the time you live with the reality that you are simply sitting in a cell on death row.

God recognized this problem and he sent his own Son to earth. His Son is God who knew no sin. So he not only is God but he took on the likeness of man, and he is fully man. He lived his life for 30 years, and then we, that is the human race, decided to place him on a cross for something he did not do. When he offered up his life, the Bible says that God chose to take all the sins of the world, every one of our sins past, present and future, and laid it on Jesus at his death. And he was crucified and he died. Three days Jesus was dead. But because Jesus did not know sin, he conquered over death and he rose again.

Baptism is an external expression of an internal reality

This is mercy at the highest level. God said to every one of us:

You're in trouble and you cannot fix your problem. I'm going to make a deal with you. If you will come to terms with the fact that you're in trouble and that you're on death row, I will allow you to claim my Son's death for yourself; so that when you die, I attribute the righteousness of his death to you so that your sins, although they are still a part of you, I do not see and they have been made right not by the works which you have done but by the work my Son has done for you. But you must receive it, so that when you die, you will spend eternity with me. Not only will you spend eternity with me when you die, but also at the moment you accept me, you are no longer separated from me. From that day forward you will have access to me.

What Jesus is saying to us is that when he died on the cross we were crucified with him. It was as though we were stuck up on the cross with him even though we didn't have to go through the pain of it, and we were dead in Christ because our lives were going nowhere without him. What enables a person to come to faith in Christ is the acknowledgement of that and one day standing before the Lord and saying "I can't do this on my own. I am claiming the death of Christ for myself. I believe that he is the Son of God and rose from the dead." And at that moment, in that very private moment of our lives we are washed clean with the blood of Christ. And we forever have a relationship with God now and for all eternity.

Baptism is an outward expression of what took place in us internally. Baptism doesn't save us; Jesus' blood saves us. Baptism is an act whereby the believer in Jesus Christ chooses to stand before the world to give an outward picture of something that happened to them when they trusted Christ. It could have taken place ten years ago or just that day. The imagery we have as we stand in the water is that when the person puts you under the water it represents being buried with Christ in his death. When you are brought up, it symbolizes being raised with him to new life.

The word baptism in Romans 6 is the Greek word baptizō. That word means to drown. And the imagery is that when we baptize somebody in obedience to what Christ invited us to do we immerse him or her completely in water, because we understand that is the meaning behind the word. And we understand that everyone who was baptized in the Scriptures, were baptized after placing their faith in Christ. So we don't believe in adult baptism, we believe in believers' baptism. That is, baptism is something that we do after we have accepted Christ. Baptism is the act of being immersed in water to publicly identify a private decision one has made regarding Jesus Christ. The question is Why is it so important?

Baptism publicly announces that we are not ashamed of Christ

Let me take you back to the 1st century in the days of the disciples in the city of Jerusalem. Most of the people living in the city were devout orthodox Jewish people practicing the Law as it appeared in the Old Testament. And whenever a Jewish man or woman or child, teenager, came to know Christ in that community, it was a very perilous thing. if you let it out that you had become a follower of Jesus Christ, it was known as the follower of The Way or follower of the Name, it was very likely that your family or business associates would cut you off. And so what was happening in the 1st century is a lot of people were taking on them the freedom and the mercy of Christ, but they were keeping it to themselves so as not to lose in the community. And Jesus said: I don't want you to be ashamed of me. If I did all this for you, is it too much to ask for you to stand up in public and do this for meto stand with me as I stood for you?

They would go out into the Jordan in this open place. They were joinednot only by the believers of that cell churchbut also by people in the community, businessmen and women and family members and relatives. People who stood on the banks and said, "If that person goes through with this, I'll never do business with them again." And the person being baptized knew that. Another person would come in and their family would be standing on the shore, saying "If they do through with this, identify themselves with Jesus, we'll cut them off. They will receive no inheritance. We will not speak to them again. They will be shunned." See the price they had to pay? Jesus said: I want you to do that for me.

Let me give you another analogy. I've known my wife Roseanne for 25 years and we've been married for 20 years. And she knows that I love her. I don't love her perfectly. I don't even love her half perfectly. But she knows that in my frailty I love her.

Let's say that on July 4th we're at the Ranger stadium and there's a ballgame and there's going to be fireworks afterwards and the place is packed. And I decide that I want the world to know that I love my wife. So I sneak down to the base of the stadium and I find a microphone that the lady who sang the national anthem used that day, and I grab the mike without any permission and I say, "Hey! My name is Randy Frazee. And I want all of you to know that I love Roseanne Frazee, my wife. All right? Thank you very much."

She would say, "Randy, you didn't have to do that. I know that you love me." I would say to her, "I know you know, but it was very important for me that everyone else know. I made a fool of myself today, and that's okay because I think the world knows now."

That's what baptism is. Jesus is in heaven at the right hand of the Father. When a person he has given his life for decides to stand out in public and identify with Christ, they get a hold of the microphone and they say "Hey! My name is ____, and I want everyone to know that Jesus Christ is my Savior and I'm not ashamed of it. Do to me what you may, but I'm not turning back." It is awesome when someone stands up and says unashamedly that they love you. The Bible says that there are no tears in heaven, but I imagine that every time a person stands up in public to be baptized Jesus stands up, he looks down, he turns to his Father and says, "They're not ashamed of me." And he smiles.

About a year and a half ago my mother died of cancer. My mom came to faith when I was a teenager. The same youth director who led me to the Lord led my mother to the Lord. My father came to the Lord upon her death. I have an older brother named Don, who trusted Christ. I have a younger sister two years younger than me who came to Christ before I did. She was the first member of my family to come to Christ.

I have a younger sister. Her name is Joanne. She's 10 years younger than me. This whole thing that happened to me in terms of faith was something that she missed. Apparently when my mom knew that she was going to die, she sat down with my sister Joanne and said, "I'm not going to be here much longer. You need to take care of this faith issue. You need to talk to your brother. He'll help you."

So about a month ago my sister called me up and she said, "Randy, Mom talked to me before she died. And I've been avoiding this, but I need to take care of it. Can I come down, and will you lead me to Christ?"

"Sure." I wish it were always that easy.

We sat on my back porch at a little table, just the two of us. I opened up the Scripture to her. We both wept after we read every single passage. She bowed her head and I led my sister to the Lord. We went down to one of our neighbor's house, and the members of my home group stood around my sister and me as she went into their pool and I baptized her. My sister. The last member of my family to know Christ.

Our baptistery at Pantego Bible Church is outside. We put a heater in it so we could use it in the winter, because Jesus calls us to stand outside like the 1st century believers did in the river of Jordan and publicly say, "Do what you may to me but today I unashamedly stand for Christ."

Randy Frazee is senior pastor of Pantego Bible Church in Arlington, Texas. He is author of The Connecting Church (Zondervan, 2001).

(c) Randy Frazee

Preaching Today Issue #250


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Randy Frazee is senior minister of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, and author of The Connecting Church.

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Sermon Outline:

Introduction: God's mercy broke loose with the sacrifice of Christ.

I. Baptism is an act of worship.

II. Baptism is a reminder that we cannot save ourselves.

III. Baptism is an external expression of an internal reality.

IV. Baptism publicly announces that we are not ashamed of Christ.