On holiday in Shetland, we enjoyed better weather than Leeds. On Sunday we walked from the guest house, along the beach, past the blue and red houses and came to Lerwick Baptist Church an attractive serviceable building with very friendly people in it.
The Church is looking for a new minister. The sermon was preached by Aubrey Jamieson, below, Superintendent of the Fishermen’s Mission in Lerwick – fishing is a big and dangerous industry in Shetland. It was about Baptism and because it was clear, informative, and challenging I wanted to pass it on to my friends. Like me, you may not agree with everything in it, but it is worth taking very seriously. So here is the slightly abbreviated text which Aubrey has given us.
I want to use what we have been studying as a basis for our thoughts this morning looking at Baptism under four main headings. Why be Baptised? What does Baptism mean? What happens when we are Baptised? And finally Who is Baptism for?
So then – Why be Baptised?
Firstly and fundamentally, because Jesus commands us. When He was about to ascend to His Father he said in what has become known as the Great Commission – Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
It’s as simple as that. Jesus commands us to be baptised. Because Baptism is not about feelings. There are those who would say –‘I don’t feel the need to be baptised’ or ‘I don’t feel it’s the right time’.
But if we belong to Jesus, if we claim to be His disciple, if we are seeking to follow Him then we must take the challenge of Baptism seriously.
A phrase I often heard growing up in the church was ‘Baptism is not essential for salvation but it is essential for obedience’.
Jesus said to His disciples in John 15 v 14 – You are my friends if you do what I command you.
If we claim to be His followers, if our desire is to be obedient to Him we need to take seriously the command to be baptised.
But Jesus not only commanded us, He also set an example. We read in Matthew’s gospel and chapter three of how Jesus came to John at the Jordan to be baptised. John at first was reluctant saying –‘I need to be baptised by You and do You come to me?
But Jesus replied in verse 15 – Let it be so now: it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness. So John consented.
And verses 16 & 17 tell us what happened – As soon as Jesus was baptised, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lightening on Him. And a voice from Heaven said – This is my Son whom I love, with Him I am well pleased.
This was the first of three occasions when the Father spoke from heaven, the other occasions being at the Transfiguration and as He spoke in John chapter 12 of His death.
This in itself showing that Jesus was perfectly in the Father’s will.
In one sense Jesus had no need to be baptised. He had nothing to repent of. He was the sinlessly perfect Son of God. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that – He committed no violence nor was there any deceit found in His mouth. But Jesus knew that in taking this step He was submitting Himself to the will of God.
In contrast when we are baptised, we as repentant sinners are identifying with Jesus in His sinlessness.
But like Jesus, when we are baptised we are doing what God requires. We are doing what pleases Him.
Jesus commands it. Jesus set us a wonderful example. But notice also we have the example of the early church.
Because in the early church Baptism was not an optional add on to be considered at a later date if at all. No, it was a fundamental part of the process of becoming a Christian.
Right back on the day of Pentecost Peter declared in Acts 2 v 38 –Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven, and You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
As we look through the book of Acts we find numerous references to Baptism.
In Acts 8 v 12 we find Philip the evangelist baptising believers in Samaria. And then later in the chapter the Ethiopian official was led to Christ by Philip and was baptised.
After his dramatic encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road the Apostle Paul was baptised by Ananias in chapter 9 v 19.
The Roman centurion Cornelius and his non Jewish friends were baptised by Peter in Acts 10 v 48.
When we turn to chapter 16 we find Lydia the business woman believing and being baptised by Paul. And later in the chapter after a dramatic series of events he baptised the Philippian jailer and all his household.
In chapter 19 Paul baptised some disciples of John in Ephesus.
The evidence of Scripture would suggest that in the early church there was no such thing as an unbaptised believer.
When it comes to baptism there are those who would perhaps think that it’s just the Baptists doing their thing.
But when we turn to the Word of God we find that Christ commanded it, that He showed us by example and that the early church practised it. For them baptism was an integral part of the Christian life. It was a given. It was an essential.
Secondly, what does Baptism mean?
It means that we belong to Jesus. It is a dramatic way of declaring that we belong to Him.
Someone has suggested that the only prop required is a large quantity of water. Because the Greek word ‘baptizo’ from where we get the English word ‘to baptise’ means to dip or to immerse. Even in non-Christian literature the word means, ‘to plunge, sink, drench or overwhelm’.
So the word baptism implies in itself a large quantity of water rather than a few drops in a basin.
In the early church baptisms most likely took place in rivers, lakes or pools as they still do in many places today. Indeed three or four years ago when we ourselves were between buildings and meeting in the Community hall on two occasions baptisms were held at the Sands of Sound beach.
Many churches of course now have baptistries as we do. The congregation are asked to imagine that the water is like a grave.
So when we are baptised we identify ourselves with our Lord Jesus who died and was buried for us. For a second we will disappear, like Jesus off the face of the earth.
The most common method of baptism is to be taken backwards into the horizontal position signifying death and the grave.
Then like Jesus we symbolically rise from the dead. Paul in his letter to the Colossians speaks in chapter 2 and verse 12 about having been buried with Him in Baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead.
It has been described as an outward symbol of an inward experience.
So when we are baptised we are in effect saying- ‘Lord, you died and were buried for me, Lord you rose again for me. I identify myself with you in your death, burial and resurrection. I belong to You.’We belong to Jesus and we will also live for Jesus. Paul speaking to the Romans in chapter 6 of his great epistle in verses 3, 4 says – Don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through Baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
Baptism is more than a dramatic statement of belief, it is much more than simply a one-off event, far more than just ticking a box.
Paul describes it as rising to live a new life. So it has great implications as to how we live, our thoughts, our attitudes, our actions indeed all of our lives.
When Paul was giving the Colossians rules for holy in Chapter 3 of his epistle he says in verse 3 –For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
I read a story of two young women who having previously lived a very wild and riotous lifestyle were converted and came to faith in Christ.
Sometime later they received an invitation to one of the wild parties they would formerly have attended. The reply they put back was – ‘We are unable to come because we recently died’.
It may seem an amusing story but nevertheless it portrays a deep and vital spiritual truth.
As we go into the water we declare our resolve to die to our old way of living and we rise out of the water we are declaring our desire to live for Christ and follow His pattern of living.
We are having done with the old and grasping on to the new. If any man be in Christ the old has gone and the new has come. And baptism is a powerful demonstration of this.
It is in fact no exaggeration to say that baptism is a revolutionary act. It is a declaration that, come what may – I will live for Jesus. As the Apostle said – For me to live is Christ.
We belong to Jesus, we will live for Jesus and we are also made clean by Jesus.
When Paul was telling the story of his conversion to the crowd in Jerusalem in Acts chapter 22 he relays the words of Ananias in verse 16 – And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on His name.
The baptistry does not only symbolize a great watery grave but also a bath, a place where symbolically our sins are washed away.
Of course no water on the body can ever wash away sin but rather our faith in Jesus is expressed in baptism.
Peter spoke of this in his first epistle chapter 3. He was speaking of how Noah and his family were saved as it were by water. The water buried the earth in judgement but they also lifted Noah and his family up to safety.
But although Peter says in verse 21 – this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also –he goes on to clarify when he adds – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience towards God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Of course only the blood of Jesus can cleanse us from all sin. Baptism is a sign that we are made clean by Jesus.
Sometimes we come across people who perhaps came to faith a long time ago yet they delay their baptism on the grounds that they are not yet good enough for God. They look on Baptism as if it was some special sign of Christian maturity.
But in many ways the reverse should be the case. Because it is in Baptism that we acknowledge that we are not good enough, that we constantly stand in need of Christ’s cleansing. Because baptism is for sinners, albeit those who have repented. Baptism is a sign that we are made clean by Jesus.
What does baptism mean? It means we belong to Jesus. It means we intend to live for Jesus. It means we have been made clean by Jesus.
Thirdly What happens in Baptism? Firstly we confess that Jesus is Lord. Romans 10 v9 – If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved.
Paul writing to his young co-worker Timothy exhorts him in chapter 6 verse 12 to Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
When did Timothy make this good confession before many witnesses? Probably when he was baptised.
Because Baptism is a great moment of nailing your colours to the mast. It is declaring that we belong to Jesus. We proclaim whose we are and whom we serve.
Experience has shown time and time again that the very act of baptism forms a tremendous opportunity for the gospel. As candidates confess their faith in Christ and proclaim their allegiance to Him it is a very powerful witness to those who come into the service.
Those of you who have been in church a while can no doubt recall that some of the most powerful, the most moving and the most challenging services you have ever attended have been services of believer’s baptism.
As the candidate confesses and then witnesses to that confession through the waters of baptism something very powerful takes place and others, even non- believers take note. What happens in baptism? We confess Jesus as Lord.
And then God blesses us with His spirit. When we give ourselves to Christ God blesses us with the gift of His Spirit. Through His Spirit He comes to live in us and becomes the source of our new life, a life marked by a new power, a new peace and a new joy. Baptism is a sign of the presence of God’s Spirit.
Some would say that baptism is more than just a sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence. And there are texts which would seem to suggest that the Spirit is active in and through the rite of Baptism. Peter’s appeal on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 v 38 was –Repent and be baptised everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism taken from this perspective is like a believer’s personal Pentecost.
However we believe that God’s Spirit is given at the time of conversion and is not bound by any ceremony. When we read the story of Cornelius and his friends in Acts chapter 10 we find that they were baptised after God had poured out His Spirit upon them. Their baptism was a sign that this had already taken place – an outward sign of an inward grace, if you like.
But one thing we can be very sure of is that God will bless the act of obedience by a fresh infilling with His Spirit. I said to the candidates as we met with them, they could be absolutely sure that God will bless them in the stand that they are taking.
However nervous they might feel beforehand, I know that when they take their stand of obedience and follow Him in His appointed way that God will bless them with His Spirit.
When you are coming forward for baptism you can look to God to bless you and I can testify like so many others in this room that You will not be disappointed.
In Baptism we also become members of His church. In Galatians 3 v 26, 27 we read – In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of You are were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Paul’s mention of ‘faith’ leads him on to speak about baptism which in turn leads him to speak on the church in which we are all one in Christ Jesus. Baptism is God’s way for us to join the church, the body of Christ.
Because when we are baptised we identify ourselves not only with Jesus but also with His people. The New Testament knows nothing of baptised ‘lone rangers’.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12 v 13 –For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
That is why in most Baptist churches, baptism and church membership are closely linked. Through Baptism we become members of the church of Jesus. And we give expression to this as we become members of our local fellowship. It’s the natural next step.
Some churches would actually refuse to baptise if the candidate is not also requesting membership. We would not go as far as that, recognising that sometimes people come to us from other Christian denominations that do not practise believer’s baptism, feeling challenged about it.
We would want to help them in their desire to be obedient to Christ recognising that they may continue to be identified with their local body of believers.
The main point being is that we are involved with a local expression of the body of Christ. That we identify ourselves with a bible believing local church.
But sometimes, even with our own people, those who have come to faith through the witness of the fellowship here, it would seem that there are artificially long gaps between coming forward for baptism and joining the church.
The New Testament model would seem to be –that they were baptised and added to the church. Perhaps we have inadvertently created artificial borders here. In the early church Baptism was the rite of passage into church membership. They believed, were baptised then they belonged.
In Philippians 2 v 4 Paul says – Each of you should look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.
In Romans 12 v 13 we are reminded to share with God’s people who are in need and practice hospitality.
These are but examples of so much of the New Testament’s teaching about our corporate life together.
When we belong to Christ we also belong to one another, we are members of His body. And baptism is a powerful expression of this.
Fourthly, who is Baptism for?
The bible makes it very clear that Baptism is for believers. That faith is absolutely central to Baptism.
In Acts chapter 8 we find the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch and of how Philip came alongside him and explained the scriptures to him.
In verse 36 the Eunuch exclaimed –Look here is water, why shouldn’t I be baptised?
Philips answer in verse 37 was very clear – If you believe with all your heart you may. The official answered – I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
The only prerequisite to baptism is faith in Christ. Because without faith baptism will be of no effect. It will be completely meaningless, it can do absolutely nothing for us.
My Dad in law used to say – ‘If you baptise an unbeliever you only make them wet’’. It can do nothing else for them.
Baptism must be accompanied by faith or it is not the baptism of the bible.
This throws up some difficulties for those who come to faith in Christ who were perhaps sprinkled as infants. In their words –Should they be baptised again?
There are those who cite the references to whole families or entire households believing and being baptised as evidence that young children must have been included.
But to assume that very young children were included is perhaps to read too much into the silence of scripture which is dangerous, when scripture is elsewhere abundantly clear.
While not wishing to discredit the practises of other Christian groups I would have to say again that baptism which is not accompanied by faith in Christ, expressed by the candidates themselves, is not the baptism of the bible.
Baptism without faith is a fairly meaningless exercise.
But when it is accompanied by repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ then it is so rich and full of meaning and symbolism and it is so exciting and dynamic.
As we respond in obedience to God, following the example of our Lord Jesus we declare that we belong to Him, that we will by His grace endeavour to live for Him, that we have been washed and cleansed by His precious blood.
We identify with Him in His death, burial and resurrection as we die to our former way of life and put on the new
We take our stand confessing that He is Lord of our lives. We become united and identify with each other as fellow members of His body and in turn God blesses us with His Spirit.
Wow it surely can’t get much better than that.
Finally in closing as we consider all these things that I’ve so inadequately scratched over this morning: If you’ve not been baptised perhaps you’ve never thought all that much about it. Or maybe it has come before you many times and you’ve always put it aside.
Maybe you need to adopt the words of the Ethiopian when he said –Why shouldn’t I be baptised? The old version says – What doth hinder me to be baptised?
And we need to answer that before God. Maybe it just been a lack of commitment on our part or the fact that we have just believed and then drifted along.
Maybe it’s because of some baggage that we are carrying, fear of offending family or friends of another tradition.
Perhaps it just a fear of standing up in front of everyone.
Whatever it is, it’s not worth missing out on Baptism for.
It has been exciting to spend a few evenings recently with three young people whose lives God is at work in. They each have different stories to tell, they come from different backgrounds and experiences.
But they are united in the fact that they each want to be obedient to God and express their faith in Christ by going through the waters of baptism.
What doth hinder you from being baptised? If we wait till we have all the answers or feel we are good enough then it will never happen.
The only prerequisite for baptism is that we believe with all our heart.
We read that after the Eunuch and Philip came up out of the water, Philip was suddenly taken away but the eunuch went on his way rejoicing.
I trust that there may be someone here this morning who after taking that first step of obedience will go on their way rejoicing. And we as fellow members of Christ’s body will rejoice with you.
May God speak to someone here this morning and bless the step that they will take to His glory and His praise. Amen
(Note: I gratefully acknowledge much help in preparing this message from –‘Baptism, Belonging and Breaking Bread’ – Paul Beasley-Murray, BUGB 2010)
Aubrey writes, We had a wonderful baptismal service last Sunday with the three candidates and around 250 of a congregation including many un-churched.
This picture, taken in August, shows Aubrey Jamieson – Superintendent of the Fishermen’s Mission in Lerwick speaking at a memorial service to mark the anniversary of the Sumburgh helicopter disaster. The crash of the Puma helicopter on 23 August 2013 claimed four lives.