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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)

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We are in 1 Peter 3:20-21 today. This is a passage that teaches us about what water baptism means. It talks about,

“. . . when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which, a few, that is, eight persons were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as a pledge to God from a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . .”

We learn several things from this passage.

1. Baptism is a water crossing

 We see this is the phrase – “brought safely through water.” We have seen before how going through the Red Sea was a water crossing, which has five parts to it that teaches us about the meaning of water baptism. Today we see that Noah and his family’s crossing of the flood waters is also a picture of water baptism in five parts.

Peter tells us that baptism “corresponds” to Noah’s  going through the waters of judgment to new life on the other side. The word “corresponds” is actually “type.” It is a type of baptism, that is an event that points forward to something in the future, which is its counterpoint. They are interconnected.

And so first we have the story of Noah and the ark:

Noah

  • The flood waters represent judgment and death, sent to destroy humanity.
  • But God provided the ark and then sent the waters of  judgment away, saving Noah and his family.

There are five parts to this water crossing: 1. Noah left behind the old corrupt world; 2. Noah was set free from judgment and destruction. He and family passed through the waters unharmed; 3. Noah received the sign of new life/ a dove (think of Jesus’ baptism where the Spirit came as a dove); 4. Noah began a new humanity, it was a new start and a new community; 5. Noah committed to do God’s will – the Noahic covenant found in Genesis 8 and 9.

Well, as Peter says, Christian water baptism corresponds to this.

Baptism

  • We have the waters of judgment and death.
  • But God provides Jesus to save us from the waters – from Satan and death.

And we have the same five components: 1. We leave our old life in the world behind; 2. We are set free from judgment and destruction; 3. We receive new life, the Holy Spirit; we are born anew; 4. We are part of a new humanity in Christ, the second Adam; 5. We commit to obey God. This is the symbolic meaning of baptism. This is what we are expressing when we are baptized.

Also, Peter points out that –

2. In both cases God provided a means of salvation

First, there is the ark “in which, a few, that is, eight persons were brought safely through water.” God told them to build this and gave them the plan and then God sent the waters away.

Second, Peter is saying, you are saved . . . “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . .” God provides Jesus to us, who has overcome Satan and death and all that the deep waters represent. And through his victory we can be saved from all this. 

Finally, Peter mentions –

3. What those who are saved need to do – trust and obey

For Noah it was building the ark and then getting in it when the rains came. This was an expression of his trust in and obedience to God.

For us it is “a pledge to God from a good conscience.” Now this phrase is translated in different ways but this is the one that fits here. The word can mean request, but it can also mean a profession or pledge. It was used in legal settings to to seal contracts.

So baptism is a pledge or promise to God; it is an expression of our faith in and obedience to God. It is covenantal. And this pledge comes “from a good conscience” – that is, sincerely, from the heart, without reservations.

Finally, and lest there be any misunderstanding, Peter says, “baptism . . . now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as a pledge to God from a good conscience.”

It is not, of course, the act of baptism as a physical washing that saves. It is our faith and commitment to obey that connects us to Jesus, who saves. And this faith and commitment is properly expressed in baptism as a public declaration of allegiance to Jesus. In the act of baptism we publicly connect ourselves to Jesus, who is our ark, who saves us from the waters and gives us new life. He has overcome Satan and death and we overcome through him.

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We looked at John the Baptist’s identity last week. We saw who he was not. He was not the Christ, or Elijah or the prophet. And we also saw who he was. He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’ . . .” (John 1:23). Today our focus is on John the Baptist’s identification of who Jesus is, found in v. 33 of our passage. Jesus is “he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” Let’s read this text –

31 “I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

John’s identification of Jesus

Let’s follow the train of thought in these verses. In v. 31 John tells us – “for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he (the Messiah) might be revealed to Israel.” [Now in the Synoptics (Matthew Mark and Luke called this because they are very similar to each other), the emphasis is on how John prepares the people for the Messiah by calling them to repentance – “Messiah, here are your people.” But in the Gospel of John the focus is from the other end – he is saying, “People, here is your Messiah.” Like the best man or friend of the bridegroom (3:29).]

However, twice in this passage he says that he didn’t know who the Messiah would be. “I myself did not know him.” [Now in the Synoptics we learn in Luke that John and Jesus were cousins. And who knows if they knew each other growing up – probably not. But John’s point, even if he knew Jesus, was that he did not know that he was the Messiah.] So this creates a problem. How will he know who the Messiah is? Well, God gave him a sign. v. 33 – God said, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain” – this is the one.

And John saw this happen to Jesus. [Now in the  Synoptics it is Jesus who sees the “Spirit come upon him like a dove. But here John also sees this.] v. 32 – “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.” And he “bears witness” to this.

So Jesus is the one! As v. 33 says, Jesus “is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” John declares to us a key component of the identity of Jesus – he is the one who gives the Spirit. [Of course he doesn’t fully give the gift of the Holy Spirit until Pentecost – Acts 1:5; John 7:39; 14:26]

This then raises the question –

What does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?

If this is what Jesus is known for,as John the Baptist makes clear, what does it mean? We begin first with the expectation of the coming of the Spirit in the Old Testament.

The Spirit was active in the Old Testament, but there are a number of texts that speak of a time when God would pour out his Spirit in great measure (for instance Isaiah 32:15; 44:3; Ezekiel 39:29.) Joel 2:28-29 is a good representative passage: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” The Spirit will come in a powerful way on all God’s people, not just a few representatives or leaders.

And also the Messiah was seen to be a person of the Spirit. For instance, Isaiah 11:1-2 says, “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.” (also Isaiah 42:1). So it makes sense that Jesus would be the one that gives the Spirit.

But what is this baptism with the Holy Spirit?

The word “baptism” has to do with a water experience. It has to do literally with water when, for instance

  • Noah and family went through the flood. And Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:20-21 that this was a kind of baptism.
  • Or when Israel went through the waters of the Red Sea, which Paul calls a baptism in 1 Corinthians 10:2.
  • Or when new Christian converts were baptized with water in the book of Acts.

But the word “baptism” can also be used figuratively, where there is no literal water involved.

  • You can be baptized with suffering. Jesus uses baptism language in this way in Mark 10:38 to talk about the cross. This is because ‘deep waters’ can figuratively speak of going through difficulties.
  • You can be baptized with fire. John the Baptist talked about this in Matthew 3:11. It is an image of judgment. And baptism language can be used because fire or judgment can be ‘poured out’ like water.
  • And in our case you can be baptized with the Spirit. That’s because, as we saw in Joel, the Spirit will be “poured out.” This is also a water image. And so baptism can be used of it.

When we look at the way the word baptism is used in all these cases, the best definition might be “inundation.”

  • Noah was inundated with water as he floated on top of the flood and got rained on.
  • Israel was inundated with water as they went through the Red Sea.
  • In times of suffering we are inundated with difficulties.
  • When judgment comes it inundates those who are judged.

And so Spirit baptism means to be inundated with the Spirit. It means to be flooded, overwhelmed or engulfed with God’s presence, with the life that comes from God, and empowerment and gifts to serve God.

The picture of Spirit baptism. The water in water baptism has to do with deep waters that symbolize judgment, suffering and death. And the picture of water baptism is one of being saved from these and coming up on the other shore. But the water of Spirit baptism is good water; fresh water, drinking water. This is the picture of Spirit baptism:

1. The Spirit is poured out like water, as in Joel 2.

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

3. When we drink we are filled with the Spirit. We are, as it were, a container of the Spirit that if filled to the top. Acts 2:4 says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” Ephesians 5:18 says, “be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

There is a contrast in these last verses between being filled with one kind of drink versus another. Many thought the disciples were drunk on the day of Pentecost, but they weren’t. They were filled with the Spirit. And Paul says don’t be drunk with wine, but rather be filled with the Holy Spirit. You can be filled with wine – and have this affect you (drunkenness). Or you can be filled with the Spirit  – and have this affect you.

Let me end with the most crucial question today –

Are you baptized with the Holy Spirit?

Have you received this from Jesus, who in known as the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit?

Perhaps you see yourself as a Christian but have never received the Spirit at all. You just went through the motions of conversion/baptism. You went through the symbolism, but didn’t receive the reality to which it points.

A part of the symbolism of water baptism is that when you come through the deep waters and up on the other shore, you receive new life from God. Well, Spirit baptism is the reality to which this points. When the Spirit comes, this is when you receive new life.

Peter in his message on the day of Pentecost said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 2:38. This is the gospel message and it includes the gift of the Spirit.

So put in place repentance and forgiveness; put in place the faith in Christ – and then receive the gift!

Let’s say you are a Christian and thus have received of the Spirit. The question for you is are you still inundated with the Holy Spirit? [Baptism language may well refer to the first or initiatory experience of the Spirit (just as baptism language is initiatory) with filling language being more flexible and especially applied to later experiences. But in either case the idea of filling and being inundated is the same.] Having received the Spirit at one time, are you still full of the Spirit, of God’s presence, life and power to serve?

A one-time experience of the Spirit at salvation is not enough. And a second experience of the Spirit after salvation is not enough. We are to be continually filled with the Spirit as we just saw in Ephesians 5:18. Notice the present tense, “be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

But too often I fear we live at a level far below this. God has given us a pipeline for the Spirit to flow through to us, but from our end the faucet is barely turned on – just a few drips. Maybe it’s because there is sin in their lives that blocks the Sprit. Or maybe we are distracted by the things of the world. Whatever the case may be, so often we are not living into what God has given us.

If we want to live the kind of Christian lives God calls us to – we must be filled with the Spirit! And if we want to do the work of the kingdom that God has called us to do in this place – we must be filled with the Spirit. We need to open ourselves up and receive of all that God has for us.

So receive the Spirit! God’s promise to us comes from the word of Jesus in Luke 11:13 – “The heavenly Father give(s) the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

As John the Baptist has taught us, this is who Jesus is. He is the one who inundates with the Spirit. Will you receive the blessing he gives?

William Higgins

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