BAPTISM: as Sacrament
Text: John 3:22 – 4:3; Matthew 28:16-20
22 After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized— 24 for John had not yet been thrown into prison. 25 Therefore there arose a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.” 27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. 28 “You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ 29 “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. 30 “He must increase, but I must decrease. 31 “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 “What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. 33 “He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. 34 “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. 35 “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. 36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” 1 Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), 3 He left Judea and went away again into Galilee. ~John 3:22-4:3
16 But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” ~Matthew 28:16-20
Today we are in our fourth week of a series on baptism. I have been struck by how deeply this one act embodies, tells, and demonstrates the full Gospel of Jesus Christ. By way of review, we looked the first week at baptism as symbol: specifically a symbol of God’s judgment, mercy, salvation, and faithful presence. The second week we looked at baptism as sign, pointing to who we are – our identity – in Christ. Last week we looked at baptism as ritual, a tangible depiction or mini-drama that publicly acts out God’s story in witness to God’s great love and mercy.
Today we look at baptism as sacrament. First I want to define and explain what we mean by “sacrament” and then we will consider how baptism fits that description. We will also see, then, how it offers us an opportunity to respond to God’s goodness in obedience and worshipful witness.
What is a Sacrament?
First of all, “sacrament” is not a word used in the Bible. And depending on your church background, you may have heard of a different number of sacraments than two. We won’t go into all the theology and history today; that’s a full, long history lesson! The Roman Catholic Church counts seven sacraments and the Baptist Church has none (rather, they have two “ordinances” in communion and believer’s baptism, understood a little differently). Almost every other Protestant branch, including the Presbyterian Church, has the two sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Basically, “sacrament” is a theological word used by the Church to describe something very specific. Later in the service, for our affirmation of faith, we will be using some questions and answers from the Heidelberg Catechism, a Scripture-training guide for believers from the Protestant Reformation. Accordingly, you’ll hear an emphasis on Scripture and on grace over works. You can look at this in your bulletin (look after sermon below to see this): question 66 of Heidelberg asks, “What are sacraments?” And the answer, with generous scripture references, is as follows:
Sacraments are visible, holy signs and seals. They were instituted by God so that by our use of them He might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and seal that promise. And this is God’s gospel promise: to grant us forgiveness of sins and eternal life by grace because of Christ’s one sacrifice accomplished on the cross.
Let me pull out several descriptors from Heidelberg’s definition. Sacraments are:
VISIBLE and HOLY
You may think “visible” is a strange first description, especially since your own particular baptism is no longer visible on you. But think about it. Both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are quite visible; more than that, they are tangible. You can feel the water, taste and sometimes smell the bread. There is action of pouring, breaking, sharing. They are mini-dramas telling the Gospel story! It’s what they point to that is less visible: the mercy and grace of God. How do you see that except through someone’s life or through the re-telling of the sacraments? They are “holy” because in each case we set aside ordinary elements – bread, juice, water – for extraordinary and sacred use. That’s part of the prayers in each case, that the Holy Spirit would make these elements holy, setting them aside for this special purpose.
SIGNS and SEALS
We’ve talked quite a bit in previous weeks about baptism as a sign. That simply means that it points to something beyond itself. In this case, it points to what God has done uniquely in Jesus. The “seal” language is new; it is understood not in the more recent “seal a container closed” sense, but in the older practice of closing and validating a letter or official document with a seal. Think of the wax seal put on a parchment letter, with the identifying mark of a signet ring pressed down into it. An unbroken seal signaled the authenticity and authority of a letter as being from the one who sealed it. So as we’ve talked of circumcision and then baptism as the sign of God’s covenant, so also are they God’s seal for his covenant promise. Since God instituted baptism through the instruction and example of Jesus, baptism serves as a “seal” marking the authenticity and authority of these signified promises as being from God. It is God’s sign, impressed onto our lives. In John 3:33, John the Baptist is explaining to his own followers who Jesus was and why his disciples were now baptizing. John explains that he had only been preparing the world for Jesus, but now the One sent from God is among us, an eyewitness to Heaven itself! John says of Jesus: “[Jesus] who has received [God’s] testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the worlds of God; for he gives the Spirit without measure.” Jesus has put his trustworthy name on the message he brought and lived and as signs pointing to who Jesus was and what he did, the sacraments serve as validating seals to his message. They declare, “Jesus said this and did this; he is true and he is truth.”
INSTITUTED BY GOD
God instituted circumcision as the sign and seal of the Old Testament covenant. He instructed Abraham directly in that regard. With the New Covenant, we look to Jesus to explain and instruct us as to what the sign and seal will be. We see that primarily in two instances: John 3:22-4:3 and Matthew 28:16-20 (and the ending to other Gospels). We read in John 3-4 of the transition from John’s ministry to Jesus’ ministry, with Jesus continuing to authorize his disciples to baptize people. Then by the end of the Gospels, in Matthew 28, baptism is commanded as part of the covenant mission to the world: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Do you hear the covenant language and baptism symbolism in the Great Commission? There is the scope of the covenant people being blessed to be a blessing to the nations. There is the great promise of God to remain with His people and to never leave or forsake them. And baptism is identified with the name and therefore the character and work of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Spirit. In short, Baptism is instituted as a sacrament because of the example of Jesus being baptized and authorizing his disciples to baptize and because he commands it as part of his mission. Should we consider “making disciples” a sacrament, too, then? No, a sacrament isn’t just something taught or commanded by Jesus; it is also all these other things – visible, holy, sign, seal, etc… But, being all those things, you can see that it is present and carried forth in the Great Commission, the first charter and direction given the forming, missional church. You will also see it in Acts in practice as that Church grows and spreads.
EXPLANATIONS and SEALS of the Gospel promise
Finally, sacraments explain and seal the Gospel promise. First, what is the Gospel promise? The promise is the covenant and the “gospel promise” is the new covenant in Christ which we’ve talked about in recent weeks. It is God’s covenant faithfulness to graciously forgive sin and give life through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. So the sacrament helps explain that Gospel promise. God’s Word and a sermon does that in words. The sacraments do that through sign, symbol, and dramatic action. Again, it’s like a mini-drama acting out the Good News before you. And it’s not just for watching; it’s something you participate in. Think of the Lord’s Supper. I regularly preach on what God did through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. But once a month, at least, you also see that story enacted in front of you, with the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the cup. And I quote Jesus’ words about this being a “new covenant, his blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of sin.” And then you are brought into the mini-drama, receiving his body and his blood through these elements of bread and juice. When we baptize a person, not only is God’s whole story portrayed in the waters of baptism, the one being baptized and all of you witnessing are brought into the mini-drama and the Gospel explained once again. And we’ve talked already about sacraments as “seals” of God’s Gospel promise – the wax seal on the letter. Sacraments identify the authority and authenticity of the enacted message as being from God and they specifically identify Jesus as God’s True Word.
Remember and Respond
The sacraments – the Lord’s Supper and Baptism – proclaim God’s Good News message: God has not abandoned us to rightful judgment, but has come to us in mercy and grace to rescue us and stay with us until He brings us home. But the sacraments are more than proclamation; I can say that in a sermon (and hopefully do all the time!). The sacraments are mini-dramas enacted before you that you might experientially see and hear and touch and taste that Good News message. Even more than that, the sacraments are mini-dramas that are not just performance, but participatory; they draw you INTO the story. And they are the means to do this given by God to the Church because they were established, instructed, and authorized by God to do so, as God’s own “signet ring seal” to the message. What a wondrous thing! What marvelous communication! What gracious and loving invitation! What a great God! Amen.
CREDO: our affirmation of faith
From the Heidelberg Catechism (1562)
What are sacraments? (Q. 66)
Sacraments are visible, holy signs and seals. They were instituted by God so that by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and seal that promise. And this is God’s gospel promise: to grant us forgiveness of sins and eternal life by grace because of Christ’s one sacrifice accomplished on the cross.
Gen. 17:11; Rom. 4:11; Deut. 30:6; Lev. 6:25; Heb. 9:8–9, [11–]24; Ezek. 20:12; 1 Sam. 17:36[–37]; Isa. 6:6–7
Are both the word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation? (Q. 67)
Yes! In the gospel the Holy Spirit teaches us and by the holy sacraments confirms that our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.
Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27
How does baptism remind and assure you that Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross benefits you personally? (Q. 69)
In this way: Christ instituted this outward washing and with it promised that, as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly his blood and his Spirit wash away my soul’s impurity, that is, all my sins.
Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3
- When Jesus Came to Jordan (MUNICH)
- Jesus, All for Jesus (Robin Mark)
- CHOIR (Confession): Kyrie (from Gospel Mass, Robert Ray)
- CHOIR: Be Thou My Vision (Pepper Choplin)
- SOLO: How Beautiful (Twila Paris)
- An Upper Room (O WALY WALY)