SERMON – United Congregational Church of Christ (Armada, MI)
Today’s Theme is the Baptism of Jesus…
This morning’s Call to Worship were the words of Mark 1:2-11. In them John the Baptist baptized the people in order to fulfill the words of Isaiah by getting the people ready for the coming of God’s Messiah. It was then that Jesus was Baptized and the miracle of the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and the Voice of God miraculously confirmed Him as His Son. The common question that I have is why Jesus was baptized. However, Matthew 3 tells us that when John the Baptist asked the same question, Jesus simply said that it was to “fulfill all righteousness”, and so John accepted it at that and went ahead and baptized our Lord.
This morning, I too will accept that answer as God has laid something different on my heart this morning. But first - a disclaimer.
Church is Often Too One-Sided…
Do you know what I don’t care for about church? It’s very one sided. The minister stands behind the pulpit with a supposed super-natural blessing from God which makes him somehow the sharpest knife in the drawer and the people in the pew have to sit there and take it. Now don’t get me wrong, the pastor is usually educated, but I’ve never been comfortable with a one-sided discussion because if the pastor says something stupid, the people in the pew take it as gospel.
For instance, my wife and I were at church listening to the preacher preach his sermon on Luke 15’s parable of the Lost Sheep, and how Jesus loves and goes after the one that strays. Then he brought up that famous painting of Jesus carrying a sheep across his shoulders as an example, then he asked the congregation if they knew why shepherds carried their sheep that way. He explained that it was because he so lovingly broke its leg in order that it wouldn’t stray anymore – and that’s how Jesus treats us as his sheep, if we stray Jesus will break our legs in order to get us to stay in the fold.
I bring this up this morning because I am working from a text that will challenge most of us. A text that seems to fly in the face of what we might have always been taught and what we already believe. And while I might be more educated than some of you in the Scriptures, I am not so foolish as to think that how I understand things makes me immune from being mistaken, just plain wrong, or maybe even stupid. While I always believe that I am correct, I am never not-subject to learning perspective or being corrected. So if I say something that you believe has no basis in the Scriptures, please feel free to shout it out and challenge me. Or if you prefer, see me after and I’ll give you my card so you can call or email me.
So that’s my disclaimer and without further delay let me pray before we look into the Holy Scriptures this morning to see what God has for us.
---------PRAY FOR GOD”S REVELATION FOR US TODAY------------
1While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
Does anyone else in here feel a little defensive when you hear that question?
Let’s pretend that you and I are the disciples that Paul came upon here. How do we answer his question? Have we received the Holy Spirit when we believed?
I have to admit, that I have struggled with this question for most of my Christian life, and I still wrestle with it at times presently.
I have never spoken in tongues, that I know of, but that seems to be the popular definition of whether one is filled with the Holy Ghost or not. When I was a new Christian I would spend hours in prayer and meditation asking God for the gift of tongues. I would visit the more charismatic churches and they would lay hands on me and pray over me encouraging me to “just speak it out”. I suspect I could have faked it and clicked my tongue a little to satisfy them, but whatever I might be, I’m not a shyster and I don’t just make things up to satisfy anyone. (That’s might be one of the reasons I hate politics or why Christian denominations don’t care for me much.)
But as I have grown in my faith, and in my less insecure moments I know that I have received the Holy Spirit when I believed. For who else has changed my life if not Jesus through the Holy Spirit?
2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
“We have not even heard there was a Holy Spirit”
The disciples of John were honest; they didn’t know anything about the Holy Spirit. I appreciate their answer because despite my education I am a novice where the Holy Spirit is concerned. I might have my doctrinal and my pneumological views but experientially I feel inadequate when I read of the experiences of the early believers; their ability to go even to their deaths with great poise and dignity being sure of their living Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit in them.
In today’s American culture, we all have heard of the Holy Spirit, if only when we end the Lord’s Prayer by saying “In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN” But experientially, can we honestly say that we have heard of Him?
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
In the church today is the battle that has been with us since the Anabaptists from the 16th century. The Romanists (and their kin) argue for an infant baptism and the Anabatists (and their kin) argue for an adult baptism after a personal confession of faith. The debate is old and tired, but it’s an important debate, and one that everyone of us should personally wrestle with - and personally decide upon - from a position of faith rather than from the common passive acceptance that we are born into.
A young family came to church one day, and it was a day when three babies were being baptized. The pastor carefully held the first child in his arms and more carefully spoke the words of the Rite over the child. Then the pastor ceremonially took water from the Baptismal Font and dripped it on the child’s forehead speaking the words of the Grace of God. Then ever so gently the pastor proceeded to dry the child off and drape the baptismal clothe over the child before handing the child back to its waiting and joyful parents.
The pastor then performed the same ceremony for the other two children when the small child with the young family said to its father, “Daddy, why is that man brainwashing those children?”
Lest you think I am of the Anabaptist ilk, I want to assure you that I have no problems with the baptism of Children in a certain context. Likewise, I think adult baptism has its place as well in certain contexts. Me? I was baptized three times in my life; once as an infant, once as a pre-teen, and once as a young adult. But my conclusion is that it isn’t the ceremony or the act that forgives and saves a person – its Jesus Christ; always and ONLY Jesus Christ.
My prayer this morning is that you will seriously consider Paul’s question to the disciples, “What baptism did you receive?”
I pray that you will wrestle with it, grapple with God with it, and challenge the understanding that you already have about your situation.
I pray we are not like the Cessationists who believe that any and all miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit have ended with the death of the last Apostles of Christ.
· What a gloomy place the church would be if we did not have the hope of being surprised by God through Christ and the Holy Spirit today.
· How boring our faith is if this is the best that we can hope for.
· What sense would there be in praying if we never had hope that Jesus could still do the miraculous, the surprising, and even the shocking?
No, I pray for a faith, for each of us, that confounds our teachers and baffles those who serve a hand-tied God. I want us to be a part of a Church community where Jesus is still on His throne, allowed to do what he wants to do, and to be the God who is greater than all that we can imagine or dream of.
And so I ask you again as the Apostle Paul asked, “did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
I hope that you will struggle with this, and I pray that you are honest enough with yourself about it.
May God bless each of us as we seek Him by faith and discover the presence of the Holy Spirit.