Baptism: God’s Gift of Forgiveness - Acts 2:37-42
For the last two weeks, we have been examining the waters of Baptism. We are in the midst of a journey examining the significance of this water…the water placed over heads or in which we were immersed at the time of our Baptism…water that has been around such God’s Spirit hovered over it at the moment of Creation…water that flowed from the head of Christ as He emerged from the River Jordan following His baptism.
The first Sunday we simply looked at the fact that Baptism is a simply a gift. It is a gift in the fact that it is a reminder of God’s grace…God’s prevenient grace working in our lives before we are ever truly aware of it.
Last week we considered how Baptism is also an acknowledgement of God’s gift of family. Through the waters of our Baptism, we are made part of God’s family. In these waters we are adopted into the family of God, we are made brothers and sisters with Jesus and with all who have received the waters in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We become part of the largest family the world has ever seen, a family not united by the DNA of our blood, but actually through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Today we move forward to consider yet another gift that we find in these waters of Baptism. In these waters, we find God’s gift of forgiveness.
Imagine a culture in which water is tied to forgiveness—a culture in which those in need of forgiveness are immersed in water, in need of someone to save them. The description of that ceremony we heard in The Interpreter sounds kind of shocking, but it should not be. The idea of tying water and forgiveness together can be seen from the beginning of the New Testament…each of the Gospel authors offers an account of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptizer, taking those who came to him at the Jordan River and baptizing them for the forgiveness of theirs sins, calling them to repent—to turn their lives back over to God. Through the Gospel of Matthew we read of Jesus calling folks to repent and return to God, and concludes the Gospel by telling the disciples to go into all the world to make disciples through baptizing them in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything that Jesus had commanded, which included the command to repent. Then here in Acts, as we read this morning, Peter began proclaiming the gospel of the good news of Christ’s redemptive death and resurrection, when the folks wanted to know what they should do, Peter said, “ ‘Repent, and be baptized….in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven….’” The ritual of water for the forgiveness of sins is as much a part of our culture as it is for the Ku tribe described in the movie
In this this short clip and understanding of the Ku tribe, we find both similarities and differences in our understanding of water and forgiveness.
With both, the person in need of forgiveness is placed under the waters. In Ku, the murderer is bound and tossed into the river. For us, the sinner, bound by sin itself, is placed under the waters of Baptism.
With both, the person who needs forgiveness cannot save themselves. With the Ku, the murderer, because he is bound, cannot swim to safety. He must rely on someone outside of himself to come to his rescue. For us, bound by our sin, we are lost, not drowning in water, but drowning in our sins, are unable to save ourselves. Nothing we can do can bring forgiveness and set us free.
With both, the persons in need of forgiveness deserve death. With the fictional Ku tribe, the wages of murder are life for life…the person deserves to die, and when he dies, justice is served. With us, our sin warrants our death…from the sin of Adam comes the promise that with sin, comes death…Paul reminds us that “…the wages of sin is death….”[i]
With both, it is not the water that saves, but it is the mercy found under the water that saves…
With both, it is a family member of the one who was wronged, that must do the saving…with the Ku, it is any member of the family of the one who was murdered. For us, for us, it is the Son of God, the child of the one we have sinned against, who is the only one who can save us…who can bring us forgiveness of our sins…but He did not just risk His life to save us, he gave His life, He sacrificed Himself, to bathe us in the mercy of God and bring us forgiveness of our sins. Like the offended families in the Ku tive, He had a choice…in the wilderness Satan tempted Jesus to think of and look out for Himself, but He choose to follow God…in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was tempted to choose some other path that what God set before Him, but rather than save himself and doom us to the justice that called for our death, Jesus went to the cross that we might have life by being joined to Him. How does this work?
We talked the first week of how our baptism is our response to what John Wesley called God’s prevenient grace. We considered how the Holy Spirit brings God’s grace into our lives before we are even aware that God is working upon us. With our baptism, John Wesley says that the Holy Spirit is at work again bringing God’s grace to us in yet another way. Wesley called it justifying grace.
With justifying grace, we come to acknowledge that we are sinners, that we are in need of saving, that we deserve death, and can do nothing to save ourselves. With that confession and through the waters of baptism, we are joined to Christ…baptized himself by John in the Jordan River…remember again what we said about the water having been here since creation began…the waters that rolled off of Jesus’ head in his Baptism are, in this way, the same waters that rolled off our head in our baptism. Through our baptism we are joined to Christ, to his life, to his death, and to his resurrection…and Jesus died the death that we all deserve. The death of Christ atoned for our sins, and through these waters we are joined to that death, and rather than receive the death that we deserve when a Holy God looks upon our unholy lives, we receive grace and mercy for God looks not at our sin, but at Christ’s sacrifice…not at our ugliness, but at the beauty of the Son…when we enter the waters, we find that Christ has dived in to keep us from drowning in our sin.
My friends, here in these waters we find a life-giving gift. We no longer have to struggle under the weight of our sin, under fear of the penalty of death, with guilt that would seek to drown us. Christ has saved us, freed us, and allowed us to become forgiven and enjoy the mercy of God. Jesus calls us to come to Him…to confess our sins…and receive this precious gift of forgiveness.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.