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God’s Promises to You in Baptism

 

Ezekiel 36:24-27 (text); Deuteronomy 30:5-8; Colossians 2:10-12

Rev. Nollie Malabuyo • April 26, 2015

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On the occasion of the baptism of Aviela Grace Rosana, covenant child of Jerome and Pumpum Rosana

Baptism of Aviela Grace RosanaDear Congregation of Christ: Today, we rejoice in the baptism of Aviela Grace, covenant child of Jerome and Pumpum Rosana.

Before we start this brief study of the doctrine of baptism, we want to clear up several misconceptions by stating three negatives. Firstly, our church is not a Roman Catholic Church, but a daughter of the 16th century Protestant Reformation—we are a Protestant and a Reformed church. There are many Protestant churches that baptize infants.

Secondly, infant baptism is not a Catholic tradition or ritual, but a biblical and historic practice of the ancient church. By the mid-3rd century, before there was even a so-called “Roman Catholic Church,” infant baptism was already a universal practice by all Christian churches. From the apostolic time, not a single Christian writer opposed infant baptism until the 16th century Anabaptists came. Some people believe that during these 13 centuries, all churches, bar none, were corrupted. This is an impossible, illogical proposition. At no point in church history were all churches under the sway of Satan!

A fresco of a baptism of a child from the Catacombs of San Callisto in Rome

A 3rd century fresco of the baptism of a child from the Catacombs of San Callisto in Rome

Thirdly, Reformed churches do not agree with the false teaching that an infant is born again (regenerated) by water baptism. But, we believe that baptism (and the Lord’s Supper) is a sign and seal of regeneration, forgiveness of sins, and membership in God’s visible church.

Fourthly, we baptize infants and little children, but we also baptize adults, according to Biblical commands. But what we do not practice are these: re-baptizing those who already have been lawfully baptized, and baptizing children of unbelievers.

These are the four most common misconceptions that come to the mind of typical evangelicals whenever they see any church that baptizes infants. There are many others, but these are the most common.

Our text today from Ezekiel 36:24-27 has wide-ranging teachings related to the promises of God in restoring his people. Though this text is not directly related to water baptism, the allusions to it are unmistakable. Four major promises can be found in our text.

“I Will Gather You from All the Countries”

Ezekiel was the prophet during the time of Israel’s exile in Babylon in the 6th century B.C; in fact, he himself was an exile. His book is clearly divided into two main parts. Chap­ters 1-39 is a condemnation and judgment of Israel and the nations for their sins. But in Chapters 40-48, Ezekiel writes his visions about the restoration of his people, Jews and Gentiles, and his temple.

So our text begins with God’s promise, “I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries” (verse 24). This was his promise to the Jews back then, and he fulfilled it when he worked out the return of the exiles after a 70-year captivity. However, this return was not the fulfillment of the final restoration of God’s people, since after their return, they were again oppressed by a succession of kings and empires. So the final fulfillment, as we have studied before, began when Christ came into the world to save sinners from all the nations. The New Testament people of God is the church, “the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). Peter even calls Christians as “elect exiles of the Dispersion,” the name used for Jews who were dispersed throughout the world.

So the fulfillment of this promise is the church made up of “Abraham’s children” of promise, Jews and Gentiles who believe in Christ scattered through all the world (Gal 3:29). Since Christ came two thousand years ago, God has been gathering his people worldwide, fulfilling his promise to Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3).

When the last of God’s elect has been saved, then Christ will return from heaven and “gather his elect … from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt 24:31). Then, finally, he will bring all his people into the new heaven and new earth, which is “your own [Promised] land.” There, “by the light [of God’s glory] will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it” (Rev 21:24). What a glorious fulfillment of God’s promise!

“I Will Sprinkle Clean Water on You”

In verse 25, God has a second promise to the returning exiles, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.” For those of you who are used to seeing adults baptized by immersing them in water, the sight of water being poured on Baby Aviela must be wondering, “Why?” Again, the answer lies in Scripture.

baptism by pouringFirst of all, in the Old Testament, you will never find ceremonial immersion, but only sprinkling or pouring. Moses sprinkled the blood of sacrificial animals on the people to confirm them as God’s covenant people (Exo 24:7-8). Sprinkling was also used in the ceremonial purification of the altar (Lev 16:14); and the cleansing of lepers (Lev 14:7), unclean persons (Num 19:13), and even priests (Lev 8:30). Pouring was also often the mode in temple ceremonies (Exo 29:7, 12; Lev 2:1; 4:7).

Since John’s baptisms were Old Testament ceremonial purifications, he surely sprinkled or poured water on people. If he immersed them, he would be violating Old Testament ceremonial traditions. Therefore, the idea that John immersed people in the river has no Biblical basis. But did not John immerse Jesus in the River Jordan when he was baptized?

Again, what was John’s message? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2). John was “baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). Jesus’ baptism was not this kind of baptism. Instead, he was being conse­crated as High Priest and Mediator of the covenant of grace before his public ministry. All Old Testament priests were consecrated with a purification ceremony using water, “sprinkle the water of purification upon them … and wash their clothes and cleanse themselves” (Num 8:7). Oil was also poured over their heads (Lev 8:12), and this was done to Jesus as well (Mark 14:3-8). The priests were always sprinkled with water, never immersed. Would John violate the Law of Moses by immersing Jesus to consecrate him as High Priest? Absolutely not!

This is why in the New Testament, sprinkling, not immersion, is always mentioned. In speaking of salvation as cleansing from sin, believers are “sprinkled with His blood” (1 Pet 1:2), and “sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb 10:22; 12:24; see Ezk 36:25). Hebrews 6:2 speaks of Old Testament purification ceremonies as “various washings” (literally, “baptisms”). How were these “baptisms” performed? All of them by sprinkling! (Heb 9:13, 19,21; Exo 24:6, 8). These are all fulfillments of Isaiah 52:15’s prophecy about the coming Servant of the Lord saving the nations, “so shall he sprinkle many nations.”

Lastly, two Old Testament events are metaphorically called “baptisms” in the New Testament. Peter says that Noah and his household were “brought safely through water,” which was a type of baptism (1 Pet 3:20-21). The second event is the crossing of the Red Sea, which Paul also calls a baptism, “Our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor 10:1-2). Notice that in both events, who were immersed and perished? Unbelievers!For unbelievers, the waters signifying salvation become a sign of judgment.

“I Will Give You a New Heart”

Cleansing by sprinkling is an external sign of the forgiveness of sins and purification. God’s third promise in baptism is the giving of a new heart and a new spirit, the inward work wrought by the Spirit to those who believe, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” The mind, will and emotions—the total person—will be changed.

God will do a spiritual heart transplant on his people, “And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (v 26). Thus, God will change their hearts from being hard and rebellious to soft, pliable hearts that are responsive to God’s law. During the time of Moses, God commanded Israel, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deu 10:16).

What does this command mean? Circumcision is the cutting off of the foreskin of Abra­ham’s male descendants as “a sign of the covenant” between God and Abraham (Gen 17:7, 11). So this commandment is for Israel to change their hard and evil heart (Deu 30:6; Jer 4:4). The Bible speaks of the “uncircumcised” as Gentiles outside of his chosen covenant nation (2 Sam 1:20). But being uncircumcised is not merely a physical state, but also spiritual. God includes circumcised Jews among the wicked, uncircumcised Gentiles because they are “uncircumcised in heart” (Jer 9:26; see Ezk 44:9). Rebellious people have “uncircumcised ears” because they cannot and will not listen to God’s word (Jer 6:10).

How then will God work out this change? God warned Abraham that if anyone among his descendants is not circumcised, he “shall be cut off from his people” (Gen 17:14). Being “cut off” usually means exile or death (Num 15:31; Psa 37:28). Circumcision involves the shedding of blood. Since circumcision is also a picture of a spiritual change of heart, it is a fore­shadow of Christ’s bloody sacrifice on the cross to change the heart of believers. Thus, Christ was “cut off out of the land of the living” (Isa 53:8). In his death, Christ was also “circum­cised.” And unbelievers as well will be “cut off” from Christ and his church (Rom 9:3; 11:22).

The relationship between circumcision and baptism is strengthened by Jesus himself when he calls his own death as a “baptism” (Mark 10:38). Peter also makes the connection in his first sermon, “Repent and be baptized … for the forgiveness of your sins … For the promise is for you and your children” (Acts 2:38-39). This is almost exactly the same language when God “cut” a covenant with Abraham, “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your children after you” where circumcision is “a sign of the covenant between me and you” (Gen 17:7-11).

Circumcision has always been an outward sign of an inward reality—a changed heart. The true people of God are those who are circumcised in heart, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit” (Rom 2:29). Paul says that Abraham received “the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith” (Rom 4:11).

This is why Paul equates the sign of circumcision in the Old Testament with the sign of baptism in the New, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism” (Col 2:11-12). The watery sign has replaced the bloody sign. Paul affirms the spiri­tual reality of a believer receiving a new heart and the Holy Spirit. His old sinful nature has been replaced with a new creation. A Christian is one who has been united to Christ in his death and resurrection (Col 2:12; Rom 6:4-5). But here’s a reminder regarding the death and burial of Jesus: It can never be used as a reason for immersion, because Jesus was not buried six feet under ground; he was buried in an aboveground tomb.

Therefore, Christ was “cut off” or sacrificed in order that the sin of his people will be “cut off” or forgiven and removed. Paul says that this spiritual “circumcision” is signified by baptism, the visible sign of the invisible reality of the washing away and forgiveness of sin.

“I Will Put My Spirit Within You”

Not only will God give his people a new heart or spirit. His last promise in our text is, “I will put my Spirit within you.” The Holy Spirit himself will indwell them, giving new life to their dead souls (Eph 2:1-5). The Spirit will transform their desires and motives, so that they will ”walk in statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (verse 27). God told Moses that when he “circumcises” the heart of Israel, “you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul … And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments” (Deu 30:6, 8).

Jesus still commands us today, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). From the day of Pentecost, God started “pouring out” his Spirit on all nations, and he will continue to do so until the “day of the Lord comes” (Acts 2:16-21). With God’s Spirit dwelling in you, your desire will be to obey God’s commandments. So you are enabled to bear the fruits of the Spirit, for as Paul says, if you “walk by the Spirit … you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16).

We are assured of this because baptism signifies our new life in union with Christ. But baptism is not only an outward sign, it is also an inward seal to us of God’s promise of salvation. The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of this promise in baptism, being “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee [down payment] of our inheritance” to be given to us on the day of Christ’s return (Eph 1:13-14). What assurance and comfort!

Dear Congregation of Christ: You have received Baby Aviela into our fellowship and promised to pray for her, and to help and encourage her parents bring her up in the teaching of the Lord. But as you witnessed her baptism, recall your own baptism and God’s promises to you when you were baptized. He has brought you into Christ’s church and will surely bring you into the heavenly temple. He has cleansed you from your sin through Christ’s death. The Holy Spirit has given you faith and repentance of your sins, and he has enabled you to live holy and obedient lives.

Jerome and Pumpum, in God’s perfect time, the Spirit will actually confer his saving grace to Baby Aviela. Your responsibility is to pray that this appointed day and hour of her life will come very soon, even—as in Jeremiah and John the baptizer—as soon as she was conceived. Then, as you bring her up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, she will exhibit this saving grace as she grows strong physically and spiritually.

Even at an early age, speak to her about the affirmations you made when she was bap­tized. Firstly, that we are all sinful, and Jesus cleanses her from sin by faith. That she belongs to God’s covenant family because her parents belong. Therefore, she is holy to the Lord, set apart for God and distinct from children of unbelievers (1 Cor 7:14). Secondly, tell her about what we believe as Christians and why. Read the Bible with her, teach her the Reformed catechisms. Bring her to the Lord’s Day worship services to hear God’s Word preached.

And when she finally has understanding of all God’s promises in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, at whatever age, we will rejoice at her profession of faith in Christ before the congregation. Then, the promises of God in her baptism are confirmed to be true and real!

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