LIVING THE RESURRECTION - WITH BAPTISM
by Pastor Mike Fortune
April 30, 2011
It's God's way of loving generously [Romans 6:3-4]
It's our way of living generously [Romans 8:11; 1 Timothy 5:6]
It's heaven's way of celebrating joyfully [Luke 15:24]
Everyone knows Prince William and Kate Middleton became husband and wife (duke and duchess) yesterday in London. But joining them before an estimated 3 billion television viewers were less familiar faces: the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who officiated the ceremony, and the Bishop of London Richard Chartres, who offered a beautiful homily urging the couple to find their joy in God, rather than to put heavy expectations on one another. Quoting Saint Catherine of Siena, the bishop said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” William’s mother Diana lived those words well. And I think you could hear echoes of her legacy in the prayer that William and Kate composed together to be read during their ceremony. “God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage. In the busyness of each day, keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy. Strengthened by our union, help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen."
And that is a good prayer for everyone to pray. Especially the folks getting baptized today because there are at least three similarities between marriage as God ordained it and baptism as Jesus modeled and commissioned it [I’m indebted to Marcus Witzig for these similarities in his article “Baptism—More Than Just Words” in the April 2011 edition of Adventist World]. First, point number one, both were designed to show God’s way of loving generously. The apostle Paul said it this way in Romans 6:3-4, "Have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.”
Baptism is God’s way of loving generously because when you are baptized, you remember that God so loved the world [cf. John 3:16] that He willingly sent his son to die on the cross to show us the full extent of that love [cf. John 13:1]. Baptism by immersion reminds us that Jesus was lowered into the tomb after he died on the cross but it also reminds us that Jesus was raised from that tomb. And because of His death and resurrection, Ephesians 5:31-32 says husbands and wives should love each other like Christ loved the church. And how did he love the church? He died for it! Similarly, Jesus emphasized the significance of baptism by beginning his ministry with it even though his cousin John tried to talk him out of it! Listen to these words in Matthew 3:13-15. “Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. ‘I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,’ he said, ‘so why are you coming to me?’ But Jesus said, ‘It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.’ So John agreed to baptize him.”
Mark 1:4 says John the Baptist baptized others for the forgiveness of theirs sins. And Acts 2:38 adds the gift of the Holy Spirit comes upon the believer choosing baptism in a special way not experienced before. But Jesus got baptized not because he had sins to be forgiven or because he wanted to experience the Holy Spirit descend like a dove, He did it primarily as our example and as a reminder of his generous love. This is point number one. The Bishop of London said it this way. “William and Katherine, you have chosen to be married in the sight of a generous God who so loved the world that he gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. And in the Spirit of this generous God, husband and wife are to give themselves to each another.” So marriage and baptism reminds us of God’s way of loving generously. But baptism also reminds us to live generously in response. Which is point number two. Romans 8:11 says, "The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you."
Today, I say to these baptismal candidates. “You have chosen to be baptized in the sight of a generous God who so loved the world that he gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. And in the Sprit of this God, you are to to be generous with your time and love and energy. Strengthened by your union with the resurrected Christ, you are to help serve and comfort those who suffer.” Alex looks out for others younger than him at school. Eva in her role as a social worker and mother serves those in her family and community even though the brokeness and evil in this world has thrown her a bunch of bad stuff to conquer. Karl rakes leaves and helps Bobby around the church and is a really great example to his grand-daughers. Carolyn takes care of her grand-daughters Amber and Hannah whenever her sons Greg and Tony need her. Phyllis had a stroke but isn’t blaming God. She’s determined to draw closer to Him and depend on Him for everything she can’t provide for herself.
But just because you get baptized and live a resurrected life, that doesn’t mean you’ll stay children of God. God loves us too much to force us to love Him back. It’s true, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” But what is also true is, “Absence sometimes makes the heart wander.” That’s what happened to the church in Ephesus who lost their first love [cf. Revelation 2:4]. And that’s what can happen to any of you baptismal candidates who do not continue to pray, read, and generously share your time and love and energy with others. We know this is true because 1 Timothy 5:6 says, “The widow who lives only for pleasure is spiritually dead even while she lives.” We can all live generous resurrected lives by God’s grace if we choose to. But if we don’t, the only other option is living lives for our pleasure. And if we do that, we will remain spiritually dead even while we live! Which would be a tragedy. So I encourage you instead to be baptized, like the courageous people making that decision here today, for the forgiveness of your sins. So the Holy Spirit will be poured out on you in a special way. And so heaven can rejoice with you. This is point number three. Job 38:1-7 says the LORD answered Job from the whirlwind saying, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”
But creation is not the only time heaven celebrates joyfully. The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 teaches us that heaven also celebrates when just one of us says yes to God and promises to generously love and serve Him back. Luke 15:24 says, “For this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.' So the party began.” The father in that story is like our heavenly father. And just like he threw a party for his lost son when he returned, heaven is celebrating joyfully the decisions of these baptismal candidates. Marriage and baptism were created by God. Both are witnessed by God and lots of friends and family. So it couldn’t be more appropriate that you’re here today to celebrate with the angels in heaven the decisions of the people being baptized today. If you’ve never made that decision, I hope you will and that no one will talk you out of it! My prayer for these baptismal candidates and for all of you is that in the busyness of each day, you too will keep your eyes fixed on what is real and important in life. And that strengthened by your union with Christ, you too will be who God meant you to be.