I want to talk about prayer today, and the next two Sundays. I’m doing this to help us get focused as we begin to have designated times of prayer for our congregation and the work of God here.

God calls us to work for his kingdom. As a congregation this means we are to be growing in our lives of ministry and service to God and reaching out to others to lead them into God’s kingdom. But when we think about this task, we soon realize that –

We have to pray!

That’s because we can’t do any of this in our own strength. Oh sure, we might be able to do some things through our natural talents and gifts. There are some who have built whole huge churches, but in the flesh. Later you find out they are not even a believer or are involved in something like adultery. And think of the various  cult leaders who have gathered a crowd, and many that still grow today. God is not in this.

What we can’t do in our own strength is what God calls us to do. In the power of our flesh we can’t do anything of eternal significance; we can’t produce fruit that remains

As Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” When God calls us to do something, God has to do it through us. Otherwise we are ultimately working in vain.

Also, we have to pray because there’s a whole realm of spiritual powers out there that stand against and oppose God’s work. There’s a spiritual battle going on. When we try to do something for the kingdom, there will be a response! It might be opposition from the community. It might be disruption in our church through conflict or distraction. It might be attacks on our physical health. Or it might be discouragement because of difficult testing and trials.

Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Once we realize our own weakness on the one hand and the powers arrayed against us on the other, we understand the need and importance of prayer for accomplishing God’s call in our congregation. We understand that, if we want to fulfill God’s call, we need to call on God. If we want to do things for the kingdom, if we want to move forward here with the work that God has called us to, we have to be praying.

As an encouragement to prayer, I want you to –

Know that God truly listens to our prayers

It’s not true that everything is already predetermined by God, so that prayer is ultimately meaningless. Rather, God invites us to work with him in bringing to pass his plan to redeem this world.

And God listens to us regarding the details of his plan for the world, the timing and the scope of who is involved.  God actually listens to and takes into account our input. So when we pray, we are involved with God in changing this world and bringing in the kingdom!

Here are some examples of God listening to people’ prayers. Abraham interceding for Sodom: Genesis 18:16-33. God fully intended to destroy Sodom for its sin. But Abraham prayed. He said to God, if you find 50 righteous people will you spare the city? God said yes! And then he went on to say, if you find 45? if you find 40? 30? 20? 10? And God listened to Abraham and agreed to spare the city for 10 righteous people.

God was willing to change the plan. But, as you remember, there weren’t even 10 righteous people there. But God did spare Lot and his family since, as Abraham had said, the righteous should not perish with the unrighteous.

Moses praying for Israel after the golden calf: Deuteronomy 9-10. God had determined to destroy Israel. Moses says in Deuteronomy 9:25, “the Lord had said he would destroy you.” (Also 9:14; 19). But Moses prayed for Israel. He stepped in and interceded. And Moses said, “The Lord listed to me . . . The Lord was unwilling to destroy you” – Deuteronomy 10:10. What God had determined to do was altered through Moses’ prayer.

Finally, while dying, Hezekiah prayed for longer life: Isaiah 38. The prophet Isaiah came to the king and said, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.” Isaiah 38:1. You can’t get any clearer than this! But Hezekiah prayed. And God responded – “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life” – Isaiah 38:5. The details of God’s plan were changed in response to prayer.

In all these examples we learn that God takes into account our prayers in how he accomplishes his will and purpose in this world. Especially when our prayers are shaped by his perspective and purposes. So we need to make our requests known to God. You have the ear of the King of all creation! Are you taking advantage of this; are you speaking?

As further encouragement to pray, not only does God listen to us –

God does amazing things through our prayers

– to work out his plan for this world. We’ve already seen some examples of this, but I want to give you some more from 2 Kings:

  • 2 Kings 4 – Elisha prayed and a boy was raised from the dead.
  • 2 Kings 6 – Elisha prayed and made the Syrian army blind and thereby overcame them.
  • 2 Kings 19 – Hezekiah prayed and God defeated an army of 185,000 in one night, without human help.

God still works in this way. Let’s look at the New Testament book of Acts:

  • Acts 4 – The church prayed and the house where they prayed was shaken and the gospel went forth with power
  • Acts 9 – Peter prayed and a woman was raised from the dead
  • Acts 12 – The church prayed and Peter was released from prison by an angel
  • Acts 28 – Paul prayed and many were healed

James 5:16-18 sums this up nicely – “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” Our prayers do make a difference!

It goes on to say, “Elijah was a human being like us.” In other words, he was a weak just like us. Remember how he ran away from Jezebel? He’s no different than us! But the text goes on, “and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.” (NRSV)

Even though we are weak, God can do amazing things through our prayers as well, which leads me to my point today

I’m calling us to renewed prayer

Without prayer we won’t get anything done. But with prayer we can accomplish God’s calling. Paul knew this and that’s why he asked for prayer. He said, “keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” -Ephesians 6:18-19.

If Paul needed this prayer, how much more do I need it; how much more do we as a congregation need it! So let’s increase our prayers for God to work among us and through us.

Pray for me, please! Pray for each other for God to stir us up and to empower us by the Spirit for his kingdom work. Pray that God will use us to connect with our community in new and powerful ways. And pray that God will touch and transform lives.


Series on baptism

We’re coming to the end of our series on baptism this morning. And we come to a topic that has been quite controversial. How does baptism relate to children? And as you know, churches have different views on this.

One of the defining beliefs of the Mennonite church is that baptism is for people old enough to choose it for themselves. That is, baptism is for believers. We were originally called Anabaptists by those who opposed us, which means “re-baptizers.” That is, we gave believers’ baptism to those who had already been infant baptized, because infant baptism is not based on faith. And at the time of the Reformation in the 1500’s, both Catholics and Protestants branded us as heretics and killed Anabaptists for this practice.

Of course, now believers’ baptism is as common as can be. And thankfully no one is getting killed over this. But the question remains. Biblically speaking, how does baptism relate to infants and children? Or to put it another way, how should we minister God’s blessing to children?

Our text today is Mark 10:13-16

13And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

I’ll be referring back to this passage as we go along.

I want to begin by pointing out that –

Jesus had a very high regard for children

The word “child” (παιδιον) in our passage covers “infants” all the way up to someone who is nearing adolescence. We know this because of how the word is used in the New Testament.

  • In Luke’s account of this story in chapter 18 he mentions “even infants” being brought to Jesus, and these are called children. (Also in Luke 1:59 the word refers to an 8-day-old).
  • And in Mark 5:39-42 it refers to a 12-year-old.

As one Greek dictionary says, it refers to “a child, normally below the age of puberty” (BDAG). So even though some translations say “little children” it really does mean any preadolescent child. (The word was originally a diminutive of pais (παις) but in the New Testament it has lost its diminutive force, Louw and Nida).

Now, despite what we think today, the ancient world had a low view of children. They had little or no social status. They were seen as little better than slaves, at least until they became adults. In contrast to this, Jesus has a high regard for children indeed.

We see this first of all in that Jesus teaches that children belong to the kingdom. In our passage the disciples sought to keep children away from Jesus. Then v. 14 says, “But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’”

The disciples, apparently, held a low view of children. But Jesus rebuked them. In fact, he gets mad. “What are you doing!” And then he corrects their wrong thinking, “Don’t hinder them from coming.” Why should they have access to Jesus? Because they’re a part of God’s kingdom already.

This is a status that God gives them, due to their age. A part of what it means to be a child in Scripture is that they are not fully able to discern and choose between right and wrong for themselves. For instance, Deuteronomy 1:39 talks about “. . . your little ones . . . and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil . . ..” This is why we talk about an age of accountability. Children are not able to be fully morally accountable before God, and so God acts in grace towards them.

Also, Jesus teaches that children can teach us how to enter the kingdom. In v. 15 Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” In the parallel passage in Matthew 18:3-4 Jesus clarifies that this has to do with their humility. Now, I don’t think that he’s referring to humility as a personal virtue. Not all kids have this.  Rather, he’s talking about their social lowliness. While the disciples are focused on who is the greatest in this passage (Matthew 18:1) Jesus teaches them that they need to forget about this to enter the kingdom. And children model this.

Children represent God to usJesus said in Mark 9:37, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” This idea is based on what’s called the “shaliach principle,” which says that a person’s representative is as the person. So how you respond to the representative is how you respond to the sender. Jesus teaches here that, not only do his apostles represent him (Matthew 10:40), but children do as well. And so how you receive children reflects how you receive God.

And finally, Jesus received the worship of children. In Matthew 21:15-16, when he proceeded into Jerusalem, children cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The Pharisees criticized this, but Jesus accepted it.

As we know, children can come to have faith in God. That is, beyond their status of being a part of the kingdom, simply by virtue of being a child – they can have a real relationship with God. This is what I call childhood faith. And this should be encouraged and cultivated. Samuel is an example of this (1 Samuel 3).

So in all these ways, Jesus shows us his high regard for children. But  –

Does this mean we should baptize children?

I’m just gonna tell you briefly why we think this is not the best approach.

First of all, with regard to infants and small children, baptism is always connected to adults choosing faith and repentance. (I say faith and repentance understanding that they are two sides to the same coin. To believe in Jesus is to do what he says, repent. And to repent is to believe in the one who tells you to repent.)

This is what is taught in the New Testament. For instance, Peter taught on the day of Pentecost – “Repent and be baptized . . .” – Acts 2:38. The two go together.

And in the examples we have of baptisms in the New Testament there is always mention of faith or repentance. For instance, the crowd who listened to Philip preach were baptized, it says, “when they believed” – Acts 8:12.examples of baptismEven when whole households were baptized, the stories indicate that all those baptized expressed faith or repentance.

household baptisms

Clearly an infant or small child cannot hear the gospel, understand it and respond with faith and repentance. People need to be old enough to choose baptism for themselves.

Also, there’s no need to baptize infants or children. As we just saw in v. 14, “to such belongs the kingdom.” Whether they have childhood faith or not, preadolescent children are safe in God’s hands. They are below the age of accountability.

I would also say, that the symbolism of baptism doesn’t fit children. In other words, children are not just small adults. Their life and relationship with God is different.

Adults sin and are culpable before God. And they experience the results of sin – including death. And so they need to repent to enter the kingdom. And this is properly symbolized by the baptismal themes of leaving the world through repentance and being delivered from judgment and death.

But children are already a part of the kingdom. As Jesus said, “to such belongs the kingdom.” And they are below the age of accountability. When they become young adults and know the reality of sin and the consequences of this – yes, then the symbolism fits. Even with those who have experienced childhood faith.

Finally, baptism calls people to make far reaching adult kinds of decisions. Yet, as we saw, children are not able to fully discern and choose between right and wrong for themselves.

I say that baptism has to so with adult decisions because Jesus connects receiving baptism to “observing all that I have commanded you” in Matthew 28:19-20. And following Jesus’ teaching call us to make decisions about our entire life direction from now on. For instance, to love your enemies, to accept persecution, to be sexually pure, to sacrifice your life for the kingdom, and to be accountable to the church in these areas and more. But children lack the necessary frame of reference to understand what these choices would even mean.

We know and understand this in other areas of life. We don’t allow children to choose a marriage partner. We don’t allow children to lock into a career choice. Yet baptism is a much more significant decision than any of these, that affects their lives forever.

Baptism, along with the Lord’s supper is something that they can look forward to when they are ready, as a part of their transition to becoming an adult follower of Jesus.

This brings us back to the question –

How should we minister to children?

Jesus didn’t baptize the children that came to him, as we saw in our story. And there are no examples of children being baptized in the rest of the New Testament. But Jesus did minister to children, and we should follow his example.

We are to give them kindness and attention. This is what Jesus models for us when he allowed the children to come to him. He even affectionately hugged them (v. 16). (This fills in what it means to “receive” children in Mark 9

We are to pray for them and bless them. This is what Jesus models for us. He laid his hands on them and prayed for God’s blessing in their life. And this is why I invite children to come forward when we serve the Lord’s supper. This is the way that Jesus can minister to them, as we receive the bread and cup.

Finally, when we look more broadly at Scripture we are to teach them the way of the LordThis comes from Paul, echoing several Old Testament exhortations. “Fathers . . . bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” – Ephesians 6:4.

And beyond just parents, all of us are to “tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” – Psalm 78:4. We are to cultivate faith in them as children – and then help them make the transition to an adult faith when the time comes. (2 Timothy 3:14-15)

This is a letter I wrote a colleague in 2007. See also Scriptural teaching on ministry to children

I appreciated your question about the meaning of the phrase – “to such belongs the kingdom of God.” I wanted to say a bit more about what this phrase in Mark 10:14 means and also, more generally look at the central assumption of the presentation, that children are a part of the kingdom. And hey, this gives me an excuse to write out this stuff. I realize that there are some who say that Jesus is speaking somewhat metaphorically here so that they would be hesitant to say that children literally belong to the kingdom. This is my response. I welcome your comments.

In our text Jesus says, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” – Mark 10:14 (par. Matthew 19:14; Luke 18:16)

As I said before the age of the children in this story can be discerned based on two clues:

  • The first clue comes from Luke’s version of this story. He specifically notes that “they were bringing even infants to him” – Luke 18:15.
  • The second clue comes from the word that Jesus uses for “children.” – Based on its use in the New Testament this word refers to children from birth (e.g. Luke 1:59 – 8 days old) to puberty (e.g. Mark 5:39-42 – 12 years old). So the reference here is roughly to any child below 12 or preadolescent children.

Also, it should be noted that Jesus is talking about children in general, not a specific kind of children. The text is generic. Given the age range of paidion – infant to 12 years old, and Luke’s – “even infants,’ it is not talking about children as those who have a childhood faith or understanding. It is simply dealing with children as children, wherever they might be found.

The crucial phrase is “to such (as these) belongs the kingdom.” Who are these “such” ones? The word for “such” is toioutos. Its use is a bit ambiguous. So we have to ask, does toioutos refer:

1) to the literal children as belonging to the kingdom (and other children as well – and also possibly along with them childlike adults – v. 15) or,

2) only adults who are like these children in some way or another (that is, not these literal children but those like these)?

In the former case this teaches that children belong to the kingdom. In the latter case this saying is really not about children or their status with regard to the kingdom. It is about adults.

Those who have dealt with this text and it parallels are split between these two options. I looked at 27 treatments: 15 of them opted for position #1; 12 were ambiguous (I couldn’t tell what their view was!) or outright took up position #2. Often, on both sides, there was little reasoning given for the choice.

Here are the considerations that make me choose option #1:

  1. By the time of the New Testament toioutos was often weakened to mean “this” or “these.” It may well be that Jesus is simply saying “for to these (literal children) belongs the kingdom of God.” (Beasley-Murray – Baptism in the New Testament, p. 327). An example of this interchangeability comes in Jesus’ statement about receiving a child. Mark 9:37 has “whoever receives one such (toioutos) child . . .,” whereas Luke has replaced toioutos with outos (this) – “whoever receives this (outos) child.” For Luke the two words were interchangeable in this case.
  2. When Jesus uses the word toioutos along with paidion (child) in Mark 9:37 it has to do with a literal child – this child or any such child, not someone like this child. (As we just noted Luke makes this point even more clearly). This would certainly condition the reader of Mark in terms of how toioutos is used with paidion (children) a chapter later. If the phrase “one such child” means this child or any such child in Mark 9, then it is likely that the phrase “such as these (children)” means these children and other such children in Mark 10.
  3. Position #2 poses a logical problem. It would indeed be strange to say that group A belongs to the kingdom because they are like group B, but then maintain that group B is not a part of the kingdom. At a minimum “such” would need to include the literal children, the point of reference in this story. It can apparently also include others – “these children and those like them” – other children for sure, but also adults who are childlike (which is what v. 15 picks up). But it doesn’t seem possible to exclude children as the point of reference of this saying. (Ben Witherington, in his Commentary on Matthew 19:14 makes this point with reference to how our key word – toioutos – functions in this verse. He asserts it “cannot simply refer to adults who are childlike to the exclusion of those who are actually young children being brought to Jesus.”)
  4. To maintain that Jesus is speaking of childlike adults to the exclusion of the actual children standing before him makes nonsense of the flow of the narrative. The disciples are being told by Jesus why the children should be allowed to come to him. He says, “for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” To say that the children should be allowed access because childlike adults belong to the kingdom doesn’t make any sense. But it makes perfect sense to say that the children should have access to Jesus – the representative of the kingdom – “because to these children belongs the kingdom of God.” (Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament, p. 327).
  5. In the story itself Jesus blesses the children without requiring anything from them. No repentance in relation to the kingdom, no faith from them or their parents. Just as they are – they are blessed. This happens nowhere else in the gospels. This matches well with the idea that Jesus saw them as already belonging to the kingdom.
  6. That children belong to the kingdom matches well with what Jesus teaches about children in Mark 9:37. This says, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Par. Matthew 18:5; Luke 9:48). Like the disciples, children represent Jesus and the kingdom to others. So when the reader of Mark comes to the next chapter and sees the statement “to such as these belongs the kingdom” this would make perfect sense. Children can represent Jesus and the kingdom precisely because, like the disciples, they are a part of the kingdom – Mark 10:14.
  7. Finally, the idea that children belong to the kingdom makes sense with regard to Jesus’ other statement about children – that adults can learn from them how to enter the kingdom (Mark 10:15; Matthew 18:3-4; Luke 18:17). Children can teach us this because they are a part of the kingdom. If they were not, how could they teach us how to enter?



This is a presentation I gave to a ministers’ meeting in Franklin Mennonite Conference in 2007. See also Scriptural teaching on ministry to children

Seven reasons why we should not baptize children

1. Children are already a part of the kingdom of God. In Mark 10:14 Jesus said, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

In the last part of this verse Jesus says of children, “for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” This teaches us that we do not need to worry about the destiny of children. They are a part of the kingdom of God; the realm of God’s blessing and salvation.

If we ask, “What is the age of these children who came to Jesus and who are a part of the kingdom?” I think there is an answer. The first clue is from Luke’s version of this story. He specifically notes that “they were bringing even infants to him” – Luke 18:15. The second clue is the word that Jesus uses for “children” = “paidion.” Based on its use in the New Testament this word refers to children between the ages of birth (Luke 1:59 – 8-days-old) and puberty (Mark 5:39-42 – 12 years old). So the reference here is roughly to any child 12 and below, or below the age of puberty.

Although children certainly are born with “the flesh,” our natural desires that lead us to do what we want and not what God wants, they are not considered to be “sinners” like adults who do what is wrong. So this calls into question the fundamental assumption of the child evangelism approach: that children are just like adults who sin and need conversion and baptism (that is, the adult pattern should be applied to children.) Jesus teaches that children are already a part of God’s kingdom

2. Children, by definition, are unable to make the kind of adult choice that baptism requires. A “child” in Scripture means one who is not mature. Along these lines it is used figuratively to refer to adults who are not mature in some way (e.g. 1 Corinthians 3:1).

Literal children are not mature in many ways, but the focus here is on their inability to fully discern and choose between right and wrong for themselves.

  • Deuteronomy 1:39 talks about “ . . . your little ones . . . and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil . . ..”
  • Isaiah 7:15 speaks of maturity in these terms: “when (the child) knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.”
  • Hebrews 5:13-14 defines maturity in this way, “those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

Now there is such a thing as childhood faith, as we all know. This is when children express genuine and precious faith in God. This faith is loved by God and should be honored by the church. As Jesus said, God accepts and loves the praise of children – Matthew 21:15-16. But my point here is that we dare not make the mistake of confusing childhood faith with adult faith.

Childhood faith is dependent on what parents or others teach them and influence them to do. This is appropriate to their situation. Adult faith is a choice based on a person’s own discernment of what is right and wrong. Even though an adult’s faith will continue to grow and mature, the ability to discern for oneself and choose is what makes adult faith fundamentally different than the faith of a child.

Baptism calls people to adult decisions, to hear and choose for oneself faith and repentance in response to the gospel and to accept the hard teaching of Jesus – loving enemies, submitting to church discipline, sacrificing our lives for the kingdom. (That this is true can be seen in that Jesus connects baptism with discipleship, or “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” in Matthew 28:19-20)

So baptism calls people to adult decisions. But by definition children are not able to make these very kinds of choices, even if they have childhood faith.

3. The symbolic meaning of baptism does not apply to children. The symbolic meaning of baptism involves, among other things, leaving the world and sin behind in order to enter into the kingdom of God (like when Israel left Egypt and went through the Red Sea and became the people of God).

But children are not counted as sinners by God since they are not fully able to discern and choose for themselves. And children are not a part of the world who then enter the kingdom, they are already a part of the kingdom of God

So baptism is not an appropriate symbolic statement about where children are in their status before God.

Baptism is meant to be the marker of adult faith in Jesus, for those who have chosen sin for themselves, who are not a part of the kingdom of God, and it then becomes a symbol of transition from sin to forgiveness and from the world into the kingdom of God

4. A practical concern: Childhood baptism is often connected to a fear of losing our children if we let them wait. We fear that if we aren’t proactive we might lose our children to the world. We have to act before our influence over them wanes. As pastors we get caught in this fear and pressure. So we accept childhood faith for adult faith and baptize. We accept the smallest markers of childhood faith as sufficient for baptism. And the age of baptism gets younger and younger

But this is little different than infant baptism, in that we are trying to make the choice for them. We can’t make the choice for them, God doesn’t work that way. God wants each one to choose for themselves.

Each of our children will choose for themselves one day whether they will commit themselves to Jesus as adults. And they will make this choice regardless of whether we acted to give them childhood baptism.

Our task as parents and pastors is to prepare them for the day when they will make the choice for themselves, not to make the choice for them. And we should not act out of fear, but rather faith in God, entrusting our children into God’s hands.

5. A practical concern: Childhood baptism deprives people of the full meaning and experience of adult baptism. At least some have publicly lamented that they feel like they have never had a real baptism because they were baptized before they really knew what it meant or before they had an adult faith in and commitment to Jesus.

6. A practical concern: Childhood baptism creates confusion in church order. This happens when those with childhood faith grow up and choose for themselves in adolescence not to follow Jesus. We now have a person baptized based on childhood faith, who as an adult repudiates this childhood faith. (While it is true that adults can have a change of heart after baptism, at least here they made the decisions with full ability to discern and choose; with adult faith and unbelief.)

Do we exercise discipline in this situation? This would seem to be in order since baptism is connected with accountability and submitting to discipline. But is it really fair or right to hold them to this, since they were only children and didn’t fully understand what they were getting into?

What if this person later comes to an adult faith in Jesus. Should the person be re-baptized? If we say yes, then we acknowledge that their childhood faith was not an adequate basis for baptism; that it wasn’t a real baptism. If we say no, then the person is, in effect, left without a real, meaningful baptism.

7. Final thought: Childhood baptism dilutes the meaning of baptism and the Christian life. If we can baptize those who are not even able to understand, much less accept Jesus’ discipleship demands, it conveys a clear message: discipleship is not a necessary part of the Christian life. This is all the more true as the age gets younger and we baptize children who have just the smallest sign of faith.

 And this logic works its way into our criteria for adult baptisms also. All you need is a glimmer of faith to be baptized.

Conclusion: Baptism should be reserved for those who are able to have adult-faith; for those who are (roughly) 13 or older; for those with childhood faith, baptism should be looked forward to as the symbol of transition from childhood faith to adult faith.

The scriptural pattern of ministry to children

There are two Scriptural admonitions that are given to guide our ministry to children.

1. We are to train our children. Given that children are not mature morally and have an inborn tendency not to do what is right,  the task of parents and the people of God is to train, shape and form them in the way of the Lord. As Paul says in Ephesians 6:4, Christian parents are to raise their children in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

The church also has a role in this training of children given its commission by Jesus to “make disciples” of all peoples (Matthew 28:19). We do this through equipping parents and, more specifically, by offering programming to all children that teaches them the way of the Lord.

The goal of our training is that when our children are past the age of childhood acceptance before God they will be ready to begin to discern and choose to enter the kingdom of God for themselves. For those with childhood faith this may well be a smooth and seamless transition.

2. The blessing of children. Jesus is very clear that we are to “receive” children in his name. Jesus said in Mark 9:37 – “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” Jesus is also very clear that we are to “let the children come” to him – Mark 10:14. We are not to be like the disciples who tried to hold back the children from Jesus – who made Jesus angry.

But if baptism is not the way to do this as a church, what is? The Gospels answer this question by telling the story of Jesus blessing the children.  “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.. . . And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them” – Mark 10:13-16.

 To “let the children come” to Jesus is defined in this story in verse 16, it means to pray for them and bless them. What it means to receive children in Mark 9:37 is explained here in Mark 10:16.

When Jesus ministered to children he did not baptize them or even give them the Lord’s supper, he took them, prayed for them and blessed them. He took the time to receive them and care for them and to minister God’s blessing into their lives.

This is also what we should do:

  • At birth, when our children are born and then presented to God, we should pray for God to bless them.
  • At the Lord’s supper, whenever we receive it we should provide a place in the service to recognize them and pray for God’s blessing to be in their lives.
  • Whenever a parent or child seeks it, we should take the time to minister to their need and pray for God to bless them.



Series on baptism

Today’s message is about applying things we’ve learned about baptism to our lives when things get really difficult. The title is “Baptisms of suffering: Going through life’s deep waters.”

I would like to begin with a Scripture reading from Psalm 69 (vs. 1-3; 13-17).

Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold. I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness. Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me.

Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me. Hide not your face from your servant; for I am in distress; make haste to answer me.

In this Psalm we encounter “the waters” once again. In this case they refer to times of chaos, turmoil and evil in David’s personal life circumstances.

We all know, of course, that we will face deep waters throughout our lives. Even though we have passed through the waters of baptism, the waters will continue to confront us.

And they become personified in all kinds of ways in various people and circumstances in our lives. Here in Psalm 69 David’s enemies are the embodiment of the waters. We saw this supremely in Jesus where he calls his suffering and death a baptism or water experience in several places.

We will all continue to have times of suffering, grief, persecution and testing. And along with Jesus we can say that these are additional water baptisms, or baptisms of suffering – where we go through the deep waters of life; where we are inundated by the deep.

Now, my point today is that if our times of suffering are in fact water baptisms, then, I believe, we can learn something from our literal water baptism that can help us get through these additional baptisms of suffering. We can learn something that will help us navigate the deep waters we encounter, so that in David’s words, “the deep does not swallow (us) up.” But rather by God’s grace and power we can pass through to the other side.

So here are two things to remember when the floods come.

1. God is able to defeat the waters

Just as he did in our initial salvation experience – pictured in our water baptism – so he can continue to do so, no matter how they come at us. And we need to remember this.

Who is our God? God is the one who overcomes the deep.

  • Psalm 65:7 speaks of God as the one “who stills the roaring of the seas; the roaring of their waves . . .”
  • Psalm 89:9 says of God, “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.”

In the same way, God is able to still the seas for us– the churning, destructive, chaotic, forces of evil in our lives

Who is our God? God is the one who overcomes all the hosts of the waters.

  • Psalm 89:10 says, “You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm” – referring to the creation.
  • Psalm 74:13-14 says – “You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness” – referring to the parting of the Red Sea.

In the same way God is able to defeat Satan, for us – that ancient serpent, who tests us and seeks to destroy us. As Paul says to the Romans in 16:20, “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

It is an essential defining quality of who our God is, to say that God can defeat the waters and all their hosts.

So, we need not fear the waters! Not because they are not fearful, they truly are, and without God, we are without hope.

No, we need not fear the waters because our God is the Lord even over the deep. As Psalm 93:4 says, “Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty!” The waters are mighty, but God is mightier. And so we should look to him in faith and hope as we go through our difficult times.

2. God will bring us through to the other side

Just as he did in our initial salvation experience – portrayed in water baptism – so he can continue to deliver us. We need to remember this as we go through trials in our lives.

  • He might do this by lifting us up over the deep, and then setting us on dry ground, as with Noah
  • Or he might do this by parting the sea so that we can walk though it to the other side, as with Israel

 However God does it, he will not allow us to be swallowed up, but will deliver us and bring us to the other side. Isaiah 43:2-3 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you . . . For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” He will be with us and he will save us.

David testifies to this in Psalm 18:16-19, again from his personal life experiences. “He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me . . .”

We don’t know when he will do it, but we have this promise in 1 Peter 5:10 – “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” And this gives us hope, even in our difficult times. God will bring us through to the other side.

Finally . . .

The other side of the deep waters will sometimes be the other side, that is, our death and going to be with Jesus and then the life that is to come in the new creation. And with regard to this, we can have strong confidence and hope that even the deep waters of death must submit to our God. Just as they did for Jesus, so they will for us – because Jesus goes before us and we are following in the path he has made.

  • We look forward to the day when Satan will be fully defeated. As Isaiah 27:1 says, “In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.”
  • And on that day there will be no more deep. Revelation 21:1 says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”
  • And on that other shore, as Revelation 21:4 says, there will be no more death and no more tears.

Spirit baptism

Series on baptism

We’re still looking at baptism today, however we are doing something a little different as we move to the topic of Spirit baptism.

Being “baptized in the Spirit” is talked about in several places, although the key text(s) is connected to John the Baptist, and is repeated in all four gospels.

In John 1:33 God said to John, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain (Jesus), this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” (See also John 3:34)

 In the first three gospels it comes not just as an identity statement about Jesus, but in the form of a promise from John. In Matthew 3:11 John himself said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me . . . will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Also in – Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16)

 This foundational promise is repeated in Acts. In Acts 1:5, just before his ascension, Jesus said, “for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” In Acts 11:16 Peter, quoting Jesus said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So this promise is emphasized in the New Testament.

Finally, this language of Spirit baptism also shows up in 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul says, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” So the idea of receiving the Spirit as a baptism experience is firmly rooted.

But how is it that we can talk of –

Spirit baptism as a water experience?

Well, we’ve already seen how there can be both literal and figurative baptisms. The creation, the flood, the Red Sea crossing and Christian baptism all involve actual water. However, Jesus’ suffering and death is a figurative baptism. The water is used to speak of the evil and suffering that Jesus went through.

In a similar way, Spirit Baptism is also a figurative baptism. This baptism language works because the Spirit is often likened to water in Scripture. Let’s look at this.

1. God “pours out” the Spirit. Isaiah 44:3 says, “For I will pour out water on the thirsty land. . .; I will pour out my Spirit upon your descendants . . ..” Joel 2:28 says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh . . ..” And in Acts 2:33, after teaching that Jesus received the promise of the Spirit, Peter says “he has poured out this that you both see and hear”; talking about Pentecost. In all of these, “poured out” is a liquid or water metaphor. The Spirit is likened to water.

2. We “drink” the Spirit. In John 7:37-38 Jesus said concerning the Spirit, “Let the one who is thirsty come to me and drink.” Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body . . . and were made to drink of one Spirit.” Spirit baptism is here a drinking in of the Spirit.

3. When we drink, we are filled with the Spirit. Acts 2:4 says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” And Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not get drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Both of these references parallel being full of wine and being full of the Spirit. In Ephesians it’s obvious. But it’s also true in Acts 2. On the day of Pentecost the crowds thought they “were filled with new wine” (Acts 2:13). Peter says, No! It’s too early in the morning to be drunk! This is the Spirit of God coming down (Acts 2:15). We are not to be filled with wine, which is drunkenness. But we are to be filled with a different drink – the Holy Spirit.

Now all of this, as I am sure you have noticed, points to –

The difference between water baptism and Spirit baptism

Even though Spirit baptism is a water experience, this is a different kind of water than the water that’s involved in water baptism:

  • The waters of water baptism are the deep waters that represent chaos, evil and turmoil. To have these waters is not a good thing. That’s why God must act in power to deliver us from these waters so that we can pass through them to the other side.
  • The water of Spirit baptism is good water; drinking water. It’s the water of the stream, the fountain or the spring. It’s the living water of God that nourishes life. We don’t need to be delivered from this water, rather we are to keep drinking of it.

Just a footnote here: Our Christian tradition allows for flexibility in terms of how people are baptized through immersion or pouring, although certainly pouring is the traditional method. Let me just say that our practice has represented Spirit baptism  well,  and not so much the idea of crossing through the waters or death and resurrection.

Alright, despite the difference in the kinds of water, there are still –

Clear connections between water baptism and Spirit baptism

First, both have the core concept of baptism. The root word (βαπτω) means to “dip in liquid” (BDAG). I don’t think it’s helpful to argue about exactly how this happens. But I do think there was a lot of water involved. I think the best word that covers the full range of baptism language (figurative and literal) is “inundation” which means to cover with a flood, to overflow, to overwhelm, to deluge, to engulf.

  • To be baptized in water is to be inundated with water
  • To be baptized in the Spirit is to be inundated with the Spirit

Second, they are connected in terms of timing. Remember? Just after Israel came up from their water baptism, they were filled with the Spirit so that they were moved to sing prophetic songs to the Lord (Exodus 15; Isaiah 63:11). And also, just after Jesus was water baptized the Spirit descended upon him and he had the prophetic experience of a vision (Matthew 3:16-17).

This close chronological connection is also seen in the book of Acts. For example:

  • In Acts 2 Peter links in his teaching water baptism and receiving the Spirit
  • In Acts 8 the Samaritans received the Spirit not long after their water baptism
  • In Acts 9 Paul is baptized and received the Spirit
  • In Acts 10 Cornelius and his family received the Spirit just before water baptism
  • In Acts 19 some disciples in Ephesus are baptized and received the Spirit

Although there is variation in these stories, water baptism and Spirit baptism are closely connected in time.

Why is this? It’s because the coming of the Spirit is what brings about the new life that is symbolized by water baptism. Romans 6:4 tells us that baptism has to do with walking in “newness of life.” But, as John 6:63 says, “It is the Spirit who gives life.” Now as a part of this we could talk about the fruit of the Spirit which causes us to live in a new way. And we could also talk about the gifts of the Spirit that empower us for ministry in our new life. But the point here is that it’s the Spirit that gives us the new life that baptism points to. So they are connected.

Finally, let me say a word about –

Spirit baptism and Spirit filling

In Acts 2 the disciples are Spirit baptized, but it doesn’t end there. Later, in Acts 4, in a time of need, they are once again filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31).

So it is to be in our lives. The idea is that we receive an initial outpouring (baptism) of the Spirit in our salvation experience. Spirit “baptism” language seems to focus on this initial experience. But we are also to continue to be filled with the Spirit throughout our lives. The “filling” language can refer to the initial filling (Spirit baptism) or to subsequent fillings of the Spirit. Spirit baptism is meant to be the beginning of a life of being full of the Holy Spirit.

Let me end by asking –

Do you want to receive the Spirit?

Whether you need that first experience of the Spirit that brings new life and power, or whether you need another filling of the Spirit for refreshment and empowerment. Perhaps you are beaten down, weary and need help this morning. Wherever you are at, the promise is there for us to claim.

We saw this in John the Baptist’s words at the beginning. Let’s also hear the promise again in a different form from Jesus: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” – Luke 11:13

God wants to give us of his Spirit. As Peter says of the gift of the Spirit, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” – Acts 2:39.

All you have to do is ask! As Jesus said, the Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him – Luke 11:13.

How should we ask? The verses just before this teach us, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10). We are to be persistent and ask, search and knock.

Take God at his word. He is true to his promise. And God will give you of his Spirit in your life.

Series on baptism

We spent time last week looking at baptism and how it symbolically portrays the story of how God saves us. We got help in understanding this by looking back to several Old Testament water-crossing events, which also tell stories of salvation through water. For instance, Noah and the flood – the story of the salvation of humanity. And especially the crossing of the Red Sea – the story of Israel’s salvation from Egypt.

But my point today is that all of these stories of salvation are figures, types and foreshadowings. As I said before they are background. They look forward beyond themselves to another story; to the water crossing of all water crossings; to the story of salvation. And it is this that I want us to focus on, because this gives us further understanding into the meaning of water baptism.

Turn with me to the story of –

Jesus’ water baptism

Matthew 3:13-17 – 13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.  14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

John is hesitant to baptize Jesus because his baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. But Jesus has no sin. So, John is saying, why should I baptize you? I need your baptism of the Spirit! But Jesus insists, because this becomes an opportunity for John to fulfill his purpose to reveal Jesus as the Messiah and for Jesus to begin his ministry as the Messiah.

16And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Here is the five-fold pattern of Jesus’ water baptism:

1. When Jesus comes to the waters, he portrays that he is leaving behind his normal life to take up his ministry and calling.

2. By going through the waters he portrays that he is (already) free from sin and the powers of evil. With us baptism pictures our being forgiven and set free. For Jesus it’s simply a testimony to his freedom and sinlessness. God confirms this when he says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” There is no sin here. He doesn’t have to be saved, he is the Savior.

3. When he comes up out of the waters the Spirit comes as a dove upon him (think Noah). This is to anoint him to fulfill his mission. And of course this is where we get the word Messiah, or Christ, both of which mean “the anointed one.”

4. When he comes up out of the waters he is revealed as the new Israel; the leader of the remnant of the people of God, that John has gathered. He is identified as God’s son, a phrase that can refer to Israel in the Old Testament (Hosea 11:1; 1 Chronicles 22:10 describes the king/Messiah in these terms). Finally, a faithful Israel has come to fulfill God’s purposes.

5. After he comes up out of the waters he goes on into the desert (like Israel) where he shows his commitment to obey God. Right? Just after this Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1).

So this is an important water crossing, but this isn’t the story we’re looking for! This is a significant story, but it, like all the others, only points ahead to the real story; to Jesus’ real baptism. No, the story of salvation that we are looking for; the water crossing of all water crossings is the cross and resurrection of Jesus. So let’s look now at –

Jesus’ death and resurrection as a baptism

  • In Mark 10:38, speaking of his death Jesus says, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” He calls his death a baptism.
  • In Luke 12:50, again, speaking of his death, he says,  “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (Luke 9:31 – “exodus”)
  • In a similar vein, in Matthew 12:39-40 Jesus says his death will be like Jonah’s water crossing. The story of Jonah is a classic water crossing. And Jesus makes this connection.

That he would use this “waters,” “baptism” language should not surprise us, when we think of what the waters mean: distress, testing, judgment, death. This certainly fits his cross experience.

Let’s look briefly now at Jesus’ death and resurrection as a water crossing:

  • The waters – Satan, judgment & Death – overtook Jesus, killing him. He was dead.
  • But God acted. These powers had no right to touch Jesus, he was sinless. So God intervened on behalf of the innocent Jesus.

1. Jesus leaves behind this world, the old creation that is passing away.

2. Jesus is set free from the powers of judgment and death; he passes through the waters.

3. Jesus is resurrected to new life by the Spirit. He has a new resurrection body.

4. Jesus is the beginning of a new humanity. The first born from the dead and the first fruits of many more to come (1 Corinthians 15:22-23; Colossians 1:18.)

5. Jesus rules in righteousness at the right hand of God. He works to subject the powers, until finally death is overcome. And then he will hand the kingdom over to God (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

Now let’s make the connection between –

Jesus’ cross baptism and water baptism

Again, my point in all of this is to show that Jesus’ cross baptism is not just another water crossing, it is the water crossing of all water crossings. And as such it affects how we think about Christian water baptism. Baptism now has a cruciform shape. It is cross shaped.

This shows up clearly in Paul. When Paul talks about Christian water baptism, it is always in terms of Jesus’ death and resurrection (In fact, Jesus’ water baptism is nowhere referenced in relation to our Christian water baptism).

Romans 6:2-7 – “How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

Let me show you two ways that water baptism is cruciform from this passage. Water baptism symbolically portrays our death and resurrection. Or in other words the five themes of water baptism can be summarized by the cruciform rubric of death and resurrection.

 Let’s look at this in our text. The theme of  1. leaving behind/repentance matches – “we who died to sin” – v. 2. The theme of 2. set free/forgiven lines up with – “For one who has died has been set free from sin” – v. 7. This is about our death to the old.

The next three themes have to with resurrection to new life. 3. New life, 4. part of a new people and 5. a new way of living in obedience to God is described by Paul in the phrase – “newness of life” – v. 4. As well as the various references to resurrection.

So the five themes are cruciform. To pass through the waters, put simply, is to die and then be raised to new life.

Second, water baptism symbolically portrays our dying and rising with Jesus. First, we go with him through his death:

  • “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death” – v. 4
  • “We know that our old self was crucified with him” – v. 6

 Then we are raised to new life with him:

  • Just as Christ was raised from the dead . . . we too” are raised – v. 4
  • We are “united with him in a resurrection like his” – v. 5

With regard to the symbolic meaning of baptism, we are not just going through the waters; we are going through the waters of Jesus’ cross baptism. In our water baptism we reenact, as it were, Jesus’ cross baptism.

What does it all mean?

It means that baptism is a cruciform marker. Those who receive it are marked by the cross of Jesus. It’s as if it is branded on our forehead. And we are now to live cruciform lives.

This is a life that is characterized by our dying and being raised. We die to sin and to the world and are empowered to live new lives of righteousness by the Spirit. We deny ourselves; our comfort our self-centeredness and are empowered to love others by the Spirit. We lay down our lives for others and we find true life in God.

Jesus’ story is now our story, and we are to live this way every day, on his behalf and for those who don’t know him. And we do this until we literally die and then when Jesus returns we are literally resurrected.

This is what our baptism was about. And that is what our lives are to be about.