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Monday
Jul172017

Water Baptism

Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 6:1-12.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 16, 2017.

Today we are preparing to have a water baptismal service as we celebrate the new life that God has given to believers.  There is a part of us that may wonder about the value of such an enactment, and whether or not we should continue doing it.  So today, I want to take some time to establish both its importance and significance in the life of a new believer.

It is the command of Jesus

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus not only gives his disciples a command, but he also emphasizes it by declaring his authority up front.  All authority, in heaven and on earth, had been given to him.  This is important because it establishes his authority to tell his disciples what to do, and it establishes his authority to send them to all the other nations in order to make new disciples.  He even states that this dynamic in which He spiritually is with them in this task, will continue until the end of the age.  So let’s break down the command or commission that Jesus gives to his followers.

The main thing in this command is to make new disciples.  They would do this by telling other people about the person, teachings, miracles, and work of Jesus and then extending to them the offer of Christ to become his disciple.  Thus it is the command of Christ that those who are already disciples are tasked with the mission of working to bring in new disciples.  Those who believe in Jesus and respond positively are to be those who are “discipled.”  Jesus mentions three other aspects of this task that are given to qualify or describe what that will look like and entail.

The first he mentions in verse 19 is going.  This mission requires us to go, whether it is across the street, the city, the state, the nation, or the world.  Not every disciple will do all of these things.  As God leads us, some may go to other nations, and many will be focusing on their homes and neighborhoods.  Regardless it is our task as a group to reach the ends of the earth with the offer of salvation and becoming Christ’s disciple.

The second aspect is that of baptism.  But I am going to come back to that since it is the main focus of today’s sermon.  The third aspect is teaching.  We make disciples by teaching people the commands of Jesus and His apostles.  Thus we have the Bible, which is the record of this teaching, and we have the influence of those who became disciples before us and are tasked with teaching us today.  Being a disciple of Christ is not about having a title, but about learning the ways of Jesus.

Now let’s go back to water baptism.  Jesus tells his disciples to baptize those who become new disciples.  Notice that as a command this is a matter of obedience upon those who are making disciples, but it also implies the obedience of those who are becoming new disciples.  There is really no way around the fact that Jesus commands us to baptize new believers and thus commands new believers to allow themselves to be baptized.  To ignore this would be to reject being a disciple of Jesus.  So with its necessity clearly established, let’s go to Romans chapter 6 in order to further flesh out what water baptism is and why Jesus commands us to do it.

The meaning of water baptism

Romans chapter 6 is not about water baptism per se.  It is actually about the conflict that can occur in people’s understanding of the grace of God.  So Paul deals with the person who would take the truth that God’s grace becomes greater in order to overcome our sin, and posits that a Christian should sin all the more in order to make God’s grace even greater.  This is a perverted sense of “glorifying God.”  If a person comes to believe that grace means that they should or could continue to sin then they are deceiving themselves and not paying attention to the Gospel that they received.  In verse2 Paul categorically rejects such an idea and goes on to use their experience of being baptized in water, when they first became a Christian, as his case for why they too should reject it.

In verse 3 Paul first points out that water baptism symbolizes being placed in Christ.  Thus the whole event of water baptism speaks of a person coming to Jesus and being place in Him.  They now have a place within the community of disciples, and an inheritance in Jesus.  The Holy Spirit has taken the person, made them spiritually alive, and connected them to Jesus.  We now belong to Him.  Another word we could use here is identification.  This identification with Jesus is important because it speaks to the Christian community that this person belongs to Christ and is a fellow brother or sister.  It also speaks to the world that this person is a believer in Jesus.  But even beyond this, it speaks to the spiritual powers and principalities that have held mankind and the nations in bondage under their deceptive lies.  It says to them that this person is under the authority and protection of Jesus.  “Hands off!”

Paul also points out that water baptism symbolizes joining Jesus in His death to this world and being raised to live a new life to God.  Before I came to Jesus I lived my life all for myself and this world.  But now I am following Jesus, both in His death and in His life.  I now live my life for Him and the glory of God the Father. 

Verses 5-12 give us a clearer picture of what Paul is saying in verses 3 and 4. Notice that in verse 12 Paul ends with a conclusion that we should all come to believe:  I must not let sin reign in my mortal body in order to obey its lusts.  The believer may fall into sin, but they should never think that this is what Jesus wants them to do.  We are called to the daily battle against sin and our fleshly desires, not so that we can be saved (under law), but because we have been saved (under grace).

In verses 5-12 Paul hits upon two different aspects of the symbolism within water baptism, one is present and the other is future.

The present aspect of water baptism is mainly spiritual and points to a spiritual transformation that is happening in my life.  It does not point to a physical death, but rather a spiritual one.  I had been a part of the rebellion against the Heavenly Father, but now I am at peace with Him.  So the old me is dying, but the new me (made alive by the Spirit) is living for God.  The old life dies the new lives.  In fact notice that verse 11 says that we are to “reckon” or “consider” ourselves to be dead to sin.  Thus, the Christian will still sense the old nature’s sensitivity to sin.  But by the Holy Spirit, we put that old nature to death and live out the righteousness of God.  The Christian can say “No,” to sin because of the power of the Holy Spirit in their life.  This new spiritual leadership is fueled by the Holy Spirit, but also carried out by the believer.

The future aspect of water baptism is mainly physical and points to a physical transformation that will happen in my life.  It is prophetic in that it declares what God will do in our life.  You see, Jesus had always lived “dead to sin” and alive to God, while he was on earth.  However, at a point in time, He died physically and then was physically resurrected.  Yes, the resurrection body is called a spiritual body elsewhere, but that is because it is different from the earthly bodies we are used to here.  Thus my baptism not only says to the heavens that I am going to live for Christ today, but that I no longer fear my physical death.  I know that just as Jesus physically died and was resurrected, so too will I be resurrected from the dead in order to live a new life with Jesus in the New Heavens and the New Earth.  Thus Jesus devises a ritual that reminds the believer of their future destiny, but also reminds Satan and his angels of theirs.  We are the overcomers of the world and water baptism shouts that to the cosmos.

If you are a believer today, take time to remember that day in which you were water baptized.  Remind yourself of the new life that you can live today because of the enabling presence of the Spirit of God.  But also remind yourself of the future life that God has for us in the age to come.  May God fill us with boldness to walk in the authority of Jesus and share the good news with others, so that they too may participate in this amazing statement to all that this one belongs to Jesus!

Water Baptism audio

Tuesday
Jun022015

Gratitude

May 31, 2015- Luke 17:11-19

At this point Jesus turns south to head towards Jerusalem by going between Galilee and Samaria.  It is here that he enters an unnamed village and encounters 10 lepers.  Today’s passage gives us a lesson in gratitude or thankfulness.  Neglecting to give thanks where thanks is due is a poor habit that causes our character to deteriorate.  In fact, ingratitude tends to spoil the good things that we have.  It is very common for a person to care for a new vehicle with great detail.  However, as the car gets older our care for it can deteriorate.  It is easier to drive it around without washing it etc…  This ability to diminish in vigor towards the things we ought to do can affect even those who start out very thankful.  Now there are ten people in our story who receive an amazing gift of healing from a horrible disease, and yet only one of them glorifies God and gives thanks to Jesus.  Let’s look at that.

The Hopeless Condition

In verses 11-14 we see the encounter Jesus has with ten lepers.  To be a leper was to be in a very hopeless situation.  Though the Law of Moses has very clear instructions on how a leper could be declared clean by the priest, nothing is said on what to do to get clean.  The truth is that it was extremely rare for a person who had leprosy to get better.  It was practically a death sentence to see its beginning stages on one’s skin.  Nothing could be done medically for these people and their body would slowly deteriorate and waste away.

However, that is only the physical side.  There was also a social stigma.  It was required for lepers to be separated from the rest of the village or city.  Thus a leper is one who has had to break off close contact with family and friends and becomes an outcast.  This type of social quarantine is a very heavy burden for a person to carry because God has made us with an innate drive to socialize on some level.

Thus lepers would often end up in small groups far enough from cities to be separate, but close enough to be able to receive any gracious help from the righteous.  These small “outcast communities” were better than nothing.  Yet, the hopeless condition of each person and the approaching doom of death was a constant shadow over it.

In some ways leprosy is a picture of the sin nature that riddles our human nature.  In this sense we are all spiritually lepers.  It cannot be fixed or healed by anything this world holds.  Only God can help us.  Yet, it is also a picture of the Church of Christ in its sense of being an outcast society.  Yes, from God’s perspective we are the called out ones and that is special.  But from the world’s perspective we are the outcast ones to which it says, “Good riddance!”  We can look at leprosy as a metaphor for being ostracized for one reason or another and learn a lot here.  In Hebrews 13:12-13 it says, “Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.  Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.”  Jesus presents himself as the rejected one and offers us a place within his community of outcast ones.

So we have a physical problem, a social problem and lastly we have a theological problem.  Notice that the lepers stand afar off and lift up their voices to Jesus.  That is because they were under requirement by the Law of Moses and the traditions to not come close to a clean person.  Now this pictures the condition of all mankind.  We are spiritual lepers who dare not come close to a pure God.  Legally we are doomed (“the soul who sins will die”).  Yet, in Jesus, God not only comes close to the lepers (see Luke 5 where Jesus touches one), but He actually makes himself worse than the lepers and requires them to join Him by faith in an even deeper level of being outcast.  Though the Law walls us off from God and we are relegated to crying for mercy from afar off, the grace of God has brought Jesus to our side of the Law as he joins us in our hopeless condition.  The marvelous truth is that Jesus is the Lord of life and no condition can remain hopeless when he is there.  Yet, the spiritual healing of a believer in Jesus is seen by the world as a social disease more and more in this world.  At its core, the gospel calls the world to embrace a difficult situation in order to be healed.

The Strange Command

Jesus gives the lepers a strange command and, before we get in to its specifics, I want to show how what he does is so much like how God operates.  In the desert there was a time where the children of Israel were harassed by snakes that were biting a lot of the people.  God told Moses to make a bronze snake and lift it up on a pole.  He was then to instruct those who were bitten to make their way to this thing and simply look upon it in order to be healed.  We are not told that anyone refused to do so.  However, we must admit it was a strange command.  Similarly the Bible tells of a Syrian general named Naaman who happened to be a leper.  His skill as a general had spared him a life of poverty, but it could not completely remove the stigma of the disease he had and its destruction on his flesh.  A young Israelite tells Naaman that there is a prophet in Israel who could heal him.  Thus Naaman travels to Israel and is told to dip 7 times in the Jordan River.  Naaman is offended at being told to dip in the muddy Jordan 7 times and heads home.  It is then that a servant challenges him to at least do it.  Though it didn’t make sense it was actually quite easy to do.  Why not?  God often gives strange commands to test whether or not we trust Him.  What is interesting is that they are often easy to do, but on the other hand they are intellectually and emotionally hard.  Now when I call these strange commands, I will point out that God does not give commands that are contrary to His nature.  Yet, they are often contrary to our logic and require us to trust Him, i.e. exercise faith.

So here, Jesus tells them to show themselves to the priests even though they are still lepers.  Now the only reason for a leper to do this would be because they saw some signs that they were getting better.  Yet, these men are being told to do so without any signs they are better.  They simply must take the word of Jesus for it.  Now His word is pretty heavy because he has proven he can heal.  This call for faith or trust balances two outcomes.  If I trust Him and He fails then I will be humiliated and crushed.  But, if I trust Him and He heals me then I will be free of this cursed condition.  Even today the call of Christ is one that calls us to follow Him by faith, believing that he will do the spiritual work of cleansing us from our sins and healing our hearts (that he will make us to be like him).  You may feel that it isn’t working and are tempted to quit following him.  I would challenge you to listen to this story today and here what the Spirit is saying to you, “Trust me.”  If you will continue to walk in the path that Jesus is on and do the things that he has told you to do, you will find that he will give powerful healing to you in every way.

Thus all ten of the lepers decide to go and show themselves to the priest.  They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  We are told that they are healed as they go.  Although we are not told how far they went, it was close enough for one to come back and still find Jesus at the village.  I like to think that it was close enough to return and far enough away to be an inconvenience.  Can you imagine their journey?  First is the question, “Are we going to be healed?”  Then the doubts would come, “What if we get there and are still lepers?  Why did he tell us to do this?”  However, when they realize they are healed, I bet it was a Hallelujah moment.   Suddenly they know they can go back to their families and perhaps embrace a child they haven’t been able to touch or see for years.  Every fiber of their being wants to get back to a normal life and yet, what about Jesus.  Can I put my anticipated joys on hold long enough to go back and thank the one who made this possible?  Ours is not a geographical journey.  However, we are on our way to the celestial city to present ourselves to God.  We do this because we have believed what Jesus has told us to do.  Along the road of this life the mysterious power of Christ is working to bring healing to us in every way.  In fact Christ promises to make us every bit whole and complete.  Yet, it doesn’t happen the second we believe.  It happens as we go in faith following the command of Christ.  The joyful truth is that when we stand before the Father in heaven we will be completely clean!  Praise God.

Only One Was Grateful

Gratitude, thankfulness, probably all were thankful at some level.  Yet, only one took the trouble to come to Jesus and show it.  It is not enough to say that we have gratitude in our hearts.  True gratitude seeks opportunity to show itself to the One to whom we are grateful.

Now there is a difference between being happy for grace and being thankful to Jesus for giving it.  The difference is where our primary focus is.  Sometimes we find ourselves being happier for what we have received than we are thankful to God for giving it.  In that way we can be guilty of taking God’s gifts without regard for Him as the giver.  Which is greater, the giver or the gift?  We know the answer, but our life often shows a different answer.

Only one leper took the extra time to glorify God.  Maybe some others thought about going back to give thanks, but this man was the only one who actually did it.  It is sad how despicable our lust for good things can become when we see just how much we can become like an animal feasting on the carcass of Gods gifts.  Instead of taking the time to restrain our flesh and give thanks to God and glorify him for his gifts and then cooking a meal to enjoy, we can leap upon those gifts and suck them dry of any life they have in them.  In the passage the man first glorifies God and then thanks Jesus.  These two things are coupled together.  Thankfulness is between me and God and should be expressed often.  But glorification is between me and you.  It is our testimony of what God has done for us and how great He is.  Take time to Glorify God by declaring what He has done in your life and take time to express thanks to those through whom God has done them.  Though it may seem like wasted time, it is not.  It is time spent keeping our eyes upon the higher and more important things (relationship with God and his people).  It is time delivering our soul from the tyranny of the lust of our flesh for the lower gifts that God can and does give.  In fact it is a means of delivering ourselves from the sin of idolatry.  The good thing that God gives today can become an idol in my life that comes between me and Him.  In the day that we let God’s gifts become idols to us, they also become worthless to us.

A side note to this story is that the thankful leper was a Samaritan, which implies most of the others, if not all, were Judeans.  This Samaritan was even further away from God than the Judeans.  Of all the lepers this Samaritan would deserve it least and yet he is the one who returns.  In Luke 7 Jesus explained this dynamic before Simon the Pharisee, when a woman who was a sinner washed and anointed his feet.  He told Simon a story to illustrate this principle: The one who is forgiven much loves much, but the one who is forgiven little loves little.  Perhaps the Judeans felt they deserved a healing.  Perhaps a part of them was saying, “It’s about time!”  Yet the truth is that all of us are equally undeserving of the grace of God.  If we truly understood our sin we would know that God has given us far more than we ever deserved and could have hoped for.  We would run to him, tossing aside the gifts, in order to wash his feet with our tears and wipe it dry with our head.  The things of this world like different races, stations in life, etc. that make us think we are more deserving are a lie.  We are all the least deserving.  Until we see that we will be ungrateful or at best give it sparingly.  It will ruin our gifts like a cancer that goes untreated if we do not turn around and give God the glory with all our heart.

Jesus then tells the thankful ex-leper this, “Your faith has made you well.”  Now in the context all of the lepers had faith enough to obey Jesus.  Now it is important to remember that the word that is often translated as “heal” can also mean “save,” depending on the context.  It literally means to be safe or saved, whether from injury, disease, or sin, character deficiency, and emotional sickness.  Clearly Jesus means more than that the man’s faith had physically healed him.  Something more would happen in this man’s life than those who were ungrateful.  He would find a spiritual healing as well.  It is a tragedy to be physically healed and yet not be spiritually healed.  Have you settled for lesser things?  Let us all be quick to be more thankful that Jesus is in our lives than all the gifts he could ever give.

Gratitude audio