Sunday, April 26, 2015

Baptized into the Name

This morning I'm going to talk about baptism. That makes sense since we just baptized Simon Peter and Nehemiah. And I have a specific goal in mind. I want to help you to be assured. Life can be hard, sometimes really hard. And one ingredient to being able to respond well to all of that is the ability to know who you really are. To be assured that you belong to Jesus and that He belongs to you. That's the goal for this morning.

So, a few moments ago I poured some water over the heads of Simon Peter and Nehemiah. At the same time, I said what Jesus commanded to be said.

I baptize you into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Do those words mean anything or do anything? Or are they just empty 'religious words'? They actually are rather important. Something big just happened, and you are witnesses to it. The name of God was just placed on those two boys.

Let's consider this Bible theme of God's name. Here are some places in the Scriptures that make use of one aspect of that theme.

I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made. Isaiah 43:6,7  

Here, God is referring to Israel, His sons and daughters. And He is identifying them as those who are called by His name.

Then, there is this from Jeremiah.

Why should you be like a man confused, like a mighty warrior who cannot save? Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name; do not leave us. Jeremiah 14:9

This is an appeal. Jeremiah is crying out to God lest He abandon His people. And what is the basis of this appeal? 'We are called by your name.'

Then, there is this from Daniel.

O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name. Daniel 9.19

Again we see that God's people are called by God's name.

It's like the old tradition where when a woman marries she takes the name of her husband. This indicates that there is a relationship, a particular kind of relationship, between this woman and that man.

Likewise, there is a particular kind of relationship between God and His people. Christians can appeal to God based on that relationship. 'I need you. Do not be far from me. I am called by your name.'

When did this name change happen? It happened in their baptism. Listen again to Jesus' words.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… 

Those who have been baptized have been given God's name. That's what those words that I said are about. And that's what has happened to Simon Peter and Nehemiah. You all saw it happen. They are now called by God's name.

Now, does this mean that once a person is baptized it's smooth sailing to heaven? Is it now all automatic? Absolutely not! Consider, again, marriage. Once those 'I do's' are uttered and the minister says, 'I now pronounce you husband and wife', does that mean that they will live happily ever after? Nobody knows. We'll have to wait and see. A relationship has been established. That much is clear. They are husband and wife. But how will that relationship work out? Time will tell. The same is true at a baptism. A relationship has been established. The baptized person is now one of God's people, called by God's name. Will it result in heaven? Time will tell.

So, what does the future of one of these new relationships hinge on? What will make the difference between heaven or hell, happily ever after or not so happily? I remember watching a football game some time ago. Between plays the camera would, at times, focus on one of the players on the sidelines. This one time it showed us the Steelers' safety Troy Polamalu. He was sitting on the bench talking with someone not in view. You couldn't hear anything, but this is what you saw. Troy took off his glove and pointed to his wedding ring. Now, I don't know what that other person was saying - was it some lewd comment? - but Troy responded quite clearly. 'Not interested. I'm married'. He didn't actually say those words, but that was the point of his gesture. The ring he received at his wedding was a sign of the relationship he has with his wife. He pointed to the ring as a symbol of all that his marriage relationship meant to him.

Likewise, you need to point to your baptism because of what it is a sign of, that you are in a relationship, too. You are in a relationship with Jesus.

So, with that in mind, consider your enemy, the devil. He schemes to drag you down, and if possible, to drag you away. He is the master of lies. And there are times when he gets some traction on your soul. There are times when you are being dragged down. What should you do? Imitate Troy. You point to your baptism. 'God has placed His name on me. It happened in my baptism. So, now I have a relationship with the living God. I am His son/daughter.'

Now, who is the audience of your little speech? The least important audience is the devil. He needs to hear you, but he isn't the most important audience. A more important audience is you. There are times when you need to do something or say something simply for your own sake. Troy's gesture probably affected him more than the person he was talking with. There are times when you need to hear you say certain things, things like, 'God's name is on me.'

But even more important than yourself as an audience is this third person: God. He is there and He is watching what is going on. And your little speech to the devil is at the same time an appeal to your God. It's taking Jeremiah's words that I quoted and making them yours.  I am called by your name; do not leave me. 

God sees when you respond to those temptations by pointing to your baptism and what it signifies. He hears the appeal. And seeing all of that, He acts. He blesses you. He blesses you because what He has just witnessed in your little speech is faith. Not faith in some water and words. But faith in the gospel promise that the water and words point to. You have been granted a relationship with God. He is your God. You are one of His people, someone called by His name.

In your baptism the name of God was placed on you. And as you work at keeping that relationship, God will act to do you good. He will bless you. There was no magic in Troy's wedding ring. It's what it pointed to that mattered. It's not the water that saves. It's faith in Jesus' promises that saves.

And how might that blessing show in your life? One way that it will show, one result of God’s blessing, is a greater sense that you really do have God's name on you. You really are one of His. Assurance. So, there is something of a cycle going on. Life gets hard. But you respond by looking to your baptism, believing the promises there, that you are now called by God's name. God sees and He blesses you. And your faith is blessed to become a little stronger, a little more confident, a little more assured. And you are a little more ready to face the next challenge. This is only one aspect of your baptism.

Here is one reason why I think that understanding your baptism in this way is very helpful. It has nothing to do with your feelings. How many suffer and struggle because of the times that they don't feel like they are Christians? They doubt and wrestle because of feelings that come and go for a multitude of reasons. And how can you fight against the devil when you're not even sure that God is your God? You don't feel that He is. But what I've just told you is not about feelings. It's about something that happened, something that was seen by others. You have been baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. God's name is your name. That’s just a fact.

It's just like a wife who struggles with enjoying her husband because of how she is feeling about herself as a wife. The fact of the matter is that something happened on her wedding day. She married her husband. There is a ring on her finger that points to that fact. There are witnesses to that fact. She is married to that man. Being married or not is not the issue. The issue is whether she will act like the wife that she actually is, enjoying the promises her husband made to her on that wedding day.

The same is true for every Christian. The name of God was placed on you in your baptism. There are witnesses to that fact. The real question is not whether you are or aren't a Christian. The real question is whether you will act like the Christian that you are, enjoying the promises Jesus has made.

Let me say it again. Baptism does not save. It's faith in the promises signified by baptism that saves. And it saves not just in terms of heaven. It saves when it comes to dealing with life now. It saves by helping you to be assured of who you are. You have God's name upon you.

So, when life gets hard for whatever reason, this is what you do. Imitate Troy. He pointed to his wedding ring to say that he has a wife. Point to your baptism to say that you have a savior. Then, go and live like it.