October 11, 2020 – Baptism: A New Creation People
Ezekiel 36:22-29, Psalm 32, John 3:1-15
A New Creation People
We’re taking one more little break from our Essentials of the Way before finishing it up the next week. Today is a baptism Sunday, and since we’re a new church and a lot of us come from a wide variety of Christian church traditions, I think it’s good every couple of years to preach about what these sacraments mean, to see how they can point us to Christ and remind us of who we are as followers of Christ. We’ll use Romans 6 as a jumping off point.
In the Anglican liturgy, baptism is not solely about the person being baptized. That is to say, every person here is a participant, not a spectator. Every Christian present for it takes a vow. If the person being baptized is old enough, they speak for themselves. If they aren’t, their parents speak on their behalf. And EVERY CHRISTIAN present then takes a vow too: they make a promise to raise the child up in the faith. This messy family of Christians commits to walk this faith journey together with the newly baptized family member. We are welcoming new members of the Mission Team, and we are welcoming new FAMILY MEMBERS. And we’re saying, “We are receiving you into this family. We are New Creation people, and we promise to help you figure out how to embrace that reality as fully as you can.”
Because the Bible talks about two states of being: Creation and New Creation. And the Bible talks about two kinds of people – creation people and New Creation people. The Bible says we are all born sons and daughters of Adam, Creation People, who through rebirth in Christ, become sons and daughters of God, New Creation people. In Romans 6, verses 3 and 4: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized 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.” Not a better life than we used to have. God does not take good people and make them better, and he does not take bad people and make them good. God takes dead people and makes them alive. God gives his chosen people a new life. Jesus said this – we are literally BORN AGAIN.
God has given his people signs, called sacraments, that use small physical things to signify much greater realities. There are two of them in the New Testament church – baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Think of it this way – First, we get born (that’s baptism), then we get to eat (that’s the Lord’s Supper.) Throughout the history of redemption, God makes promises to his people through a series of covenants of grace, and each time, there’s a physical symbol that acts like a sign and seal of that covenant, a reminder that God has promised to be with his people. In the Old Testament, God chose Abraham and said, in Genesis 17, verse 7, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” And then he gave Abraham the physical sign and seal of the covenant, which was circumcision. Circumcision was the small physical sign of the much greater reality, that God had chosen Abraham and had promised to be with him and all his descendants. It’s what marked people (or, at least men) as being part of this family of God’s children. And those chosen people, those descendants of this man that God chose named Abraham, they became the Jews.
And then, thousands of years later, God makes a new covenant with his chosen people, this time including both Jews AND Gentiles, people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, and he makes this covenant with them through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Remember what Jesus says in the upper room after the last supper when he’s holding the cup of wine? We say it every week – “This is my blood of the New Covenant.” And in this new covenant that God makes with his chosen people, the sign and seal of the covenant is no longer circumcision, but baptism. It’s what marks us as being part of this family of God’s people, as part of a New Creation people.
And Jesus has a mission for his New Creation people. Jesus commands his followers to go into all the world and MAKE DISCIPLES. And part of the mission of disciple-making is baptizing them, using a small physical thing to tell them and everyone around them about a greater reality, that they are members of a new family, that they have been BORN AGAIN, that they are part of a New Creation people.
And so we baptize people – we baptize new adult converts, and we baptize the children of disciples. We do it as a church family whenever possible, and when we do it, we do it during our weekly gathering, our weekly FAMILY REUNION, because each of us is going to make a promise before God to help these new family members to live out their new identity as fully as possible. Their new identity is someone who has been united with Christ in his death and united with Christ in his resurrection. This new identity which says that we are part of the greater and final Exodus, that we are part of God’s chosen people. In the Exodus, the Israelites crossed through water from death into life, out of slavery and into a life following God. In Joshua, the Israelites crossed through the water of the Jordan River from death into life, out of wandering in the wilderness and into the promised land.
And so when we baptize someone, we pour water on them, we wash them with water, as a sign that they have been purified by God through Christ’s death and resurrection so that they are now a new person, so that they are born again. This new identity which says that we are part of the greater and final Exodus, that we are part of God’s chosen people. Now, the Jews of Jesus’ day were not the first ones to baptize – using water as a religious cleansing ritual was a relatively common practice in that part of the world at that time. And it’s worth noting that the Israelites of Old Testament days were not the only people in that area to circumcise their male babies. AND, if you think about it, if you take it one step further, it’s not like the disciples of Jesus’ day were the first ones to eat bread and drink wine. But with all of these covenant signs, God in his wisdom and providence graciously took something already familiar to them and said, “Ok, here’s how you’re going to use this thing you’re already familiar with, here’s the reality behind it, and here’s what it means in terms of your identity as a community built around the death and resurrection of Jesus.”
Because baptism really is all about identity. It’s a physical signifier of our identity and our family – Who are we, who do we belong to, and what does that mean. Being a Christian means that God has claimed us, and has given us a new spirit and a new nature, a new direction and a new life. Look at verse 8 in the Romans passage: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In this same way, consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
If Romans is right, if baptism shows us dying to our sinful nature and being resurrected, then Martin Luther was right, when he said that the Christian life is actually a daily baptism, a daily dying to sin and coming to life in God. Luther talked about baptism a lot. When either his congregation or he himself felt under spiritual attack or under the oppression of past sins, he would frequently point people back to their own baptism. And I would encourage you to do the same when you face similar trials. REMEMBER that you have been baptized into Christ’s church, that you are a part of this New Creation people. REMEMBER that there’s this small and fleeting physical action that speaks to a greater reality. Luther pointed back to baptism a lot, and the phrase he used has kind of been simplified or codified over time as “remember your baptism.” Some people have really cool baptism stories, they got baptized in the Atlantic Ocean or in the Jordan River, or they got baptized on Easter by the visiting Archbishop from Rwanda. But most of us don’t have a cool baptism story, and that’s really ok. Because HERE’S an important note about Luther and his “remember your baptism.” Luther himself practiced infant baptism. He, like we, think it’s the most Biblically faithful way to bring people into the church. So we can tell that he wasn’t talking about remembering the EVENT of your baptism, but remembering the REALITY that you have been baptized. He wasn’t saying remember the ACT of your baptism, he was saying remember the FACT of your baptism. “Remember who you are. Remember WHOSE you are, remember whose family you’re in, and remember who’s the HEAD of that family.” And that’s what Paul is getting at in our Romans passage, verse 11 – “So you also MUST consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
People get baptism kind of wrong sometimes. In the first couple hundred years of the church, people would often be baptized on their deathbed, as close to the hour of death as possible, because the thought was that baptism itself wiped out all sins that the person had done in their life up to that point. And there are still denominations who believe that unless a person has been baptized, they can never obtain true forgiveness from God, and that unless a person has been baptized, they simply cannot go to heaven when they die. I don’t think this is so, and neither does our church, and I’d submit that neither does Jesus when he was talking to the Thief on the Cross. So, sometimes people still get baptism wrong. Baptism is not just about the individual, it’s about the community. It’s not JUST about the individual forgiveness of sins, it’s really deeper and broader than that. This is straight from theologian N.T. Wright, that baptism is not JUST about forgiveness, it’s about a community that is formed BY forgiveness, that knows itself to be the people who have been rescued from Egypt, rescued from slavery to sin, forgiven by the blood of Jesus, and brought into this weird new creation existence, and hence now we offer forgiveness to one another as well. And so what baptism does is bring you into this wonderful household where the word “Forgiveness” is written over the door.
The baptism liturgy reminds us that the birth of a child is a joyous and solemn occasion. It’s beautiful and it’s fun but it’s also incredibly serious – the parents know that they’ve committed to take care of this little life, they’re committed to protect him and feed him and help him grow up big and strong. And that’s exactly what we’re doing here today in baptism – we are welcoming a little one into our family, into our forgiveness community, into this group of New Creation people, and we will be committing to take care of him, to protect him from evil and sin, to feed him with Scripture and prayer and fellowship, to help him grow up big and strong in the faith. That’s why we all take a vow during the baptism liturgy. That’s why we ALL pray the Collect for Children every week, to commit ourselves to care for the children of this church, whether we have kids or we don’t, whether they’re ours or not. Because as Paul says in our Romans chapter, WE are united to Christ in his death and WE are united to Christ in his resurrection. That’s what baptism tells us. And, then if each Christian is united to HIM in his death and resurrection, then by extension we are each of us united to one another through Christ. And so our life is lived united as a forgiveness community because Jesus made forgiveness possible, our life is lived as a rescued family because Christ rescued us, our life is lived as a New Creation people because Jesus is making all things new. Let me pray for us, and then let’s get ready to meet our newest family member.