When I was 8 or 9 years old I started drawing my own comic books. I would spend hours at the desk in my bedroom with the radio playing just drawing and writing stories I created. Like Marvel and DC comics I had a whole stable of superheroes. At one point, I even attempted to interpret the Bible in comic book form. I persisted in this passion until I was around 16 and I have a box full of drawings that I numbered, dated and stapled together like comic books to prove it.
My original creation was an alien from the planet Zozo who had the power of speed. His name was Bullet and his trusty side-kick was called Bee-Bee. Having escaped along with others from the planet just before it was destroyed they crash landed on earth. Besides being very similar to Superman’s story I wasn’t real happy with their costumes. The first Bullet looked like he was wearing a form fitting Klan outfit and Bee-Bee’s clothes made him look like a ball. So I started the story again, tried to remove the Superman similarities and modified their outfits. I even changed from using a silver crayon to leaving it white because the crayon made him look more grey than silver. At first I used the old comic book cliché of my heroes wearing masks and having secret identities but soon realized that was silly: why did they need to hide their faces? So I started again. Instead of fighting other bad guys with super natural strength I thought, why not have them argue among themselves? So the bad guys came from their own number. And then I realized having them on earth and subject to our restraints was more a bother than it was worth. So I scrapped the whole idea of their planet being destroyed and had them back on their planet struggling to learn democracy, with an occasional evil bad guy thrown in to spice things up. And the more I developed the story the more I changed the plot and whenever I changed the plot I would start again with Bullet comic book number 1.
You see, in fantasy worlds, if you don’t like how things are you can scrap everything and start over. You can change your history; you can change your course; and you can even change your very appearance. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that in real life?
We might be given a second chance at some things and we might have the opportunity once in a while to correct our mistakes but the harsh reality is we still have to live with the knowledge of what happened in our past. We like to think we can forgive and forget but no matter how much we forgive we can never really forget, can we? Unlike my comic books, which I could start over from scratch, our lives have been running their course since the day we were born and we can’t go back and do it again. I don’t say this to discourage you but to remind us of the truth.
However, and this is the good news I am proclaiming today, there is a loophole. God offers us a chance not only to start again but in his eyes it is like we never sinned. Have you ever heard the Biblical quote, “Nothing is impossible with God?” We often say it but do we really believe it? We see the extraordinary miracles God performs in the Bible yet, although we believe them, we don’t really think they can happen today, especially not to us. But why can’t the God who parted the sea, stopped the sun, raised the dead, healed the sick and fed the multitudes give us a complete do-over and allow us to start again? I believe he can and the proof is in how he saves us. When you begin to think about how he saves us suddenly you realize that if God can do that, he can do anything in our lives.
Probably the clearest passage of Scripture concerning the meaning of baptism is found in Acts 2:38 and 39. In context, Jesus had ascended back to heaven after giving instructions for his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit descended on them. That happened in a very spectacular way when they heard what sounded like a violent wind from heaven, saw what appeared to be tongues of fire resting above them, and began to speak in other languages. It was the day of Pentecost when this happened, a Jewish feast, and the apostles went out to the crowd gathered in the streets and began to preach to them. Peter was the chief spokesman and told the multitude about Jesus and how he had died for their sins.
Acts 2:38 and 39 gives the answer to the audience whose question after they heard about Jesus was what they should do to be saved from God’s wrath. 38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call."
We have double trouble in our lives. We have sinned and we face God’s wrath. In our text, Peter clearly gives the double cure: baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
First, in baptism we are promised...
The Bible cannot be any clearer than Acts 2:38. This is the first part of the double cure: the washing away of our guilt and sin. Baptism is the promise here and the guarantee God gives us that we have been forgiven yet invariably two objections arise whenever forgiveness of sins is equated with baptism.
First, the question is always asked, “Can’t God save us in a different way?” The simple answer is of course He can, He is God after all and He can do anything. I will not try to dictate to Him how He has to save us. But at the same time, we cannot decide for ourselves how we want to be saved either, can we? Our thoughts and beliefs on the subject do not override nor change how God saves us. So, although God can save us in any way He chooses, the way that is described in our text is the way He promised to save us. Any other way is simply something we hope He will do.
The second objection to saying your sins are forgiven through baptism is that you are labeled a water regenerationist. Simply stated, that charge means you believe the water saves you. As I have said before, there is nothing special about the water in our baptistery: it is just Sterling tap water and it gets cloudy and nasty, full of silt and gunk if it just sits there in the stagnant pool. Too often today Christian groups have separated faith from baptism – as if they were two totally unrelated actions. But according to what I read in the Bible the two, faith and baptism, cannot be separated because they are both part of the whole process. In other words, salvation is found not in an either/or approach to faith only or being baptized but in following the entire teaching.
Well if that is so why did God include being immersed in water as part of the process of forgiveness? It certainly is easier to just say believe and repent, isn’t it?
The truth is that neither the water nor the act of washing caused any change. Let me say that again: neither the water nor the act of washing caused any change. The change came because God said so. “God simple declared that before the act of washing, the person was unacceptable in His sight; afterwards the person was regarded as acceptable.”
But now here is something else about the forgiveness baptism gives us that we often miss. When one receives forgiveness in baptism, he or she becomes a forgiven or justified person. You’ve heard what justified before God means haven’t you? Justify means it is “just as if” we have never sinned.
This justification, however, is one of those mysteries of God that we don’t often understand or even totally accept. And the reason we often miss this wonderful cure is because we misunderstand baptism. You see, we assume baptism forgives us only of our past sins. But if that were the case then we would all need to have daily baptisms wouldn’t we? Here’s the good news, the best news you will hear today or tomorrow or this week or all this year or even all your life: the blood of Jesus forgives us of all our sins past present and future and baptism seals our forgiveness. After baptism we are in a continual state of justification; we don’t have to run around fearing that we will be struck by lightning because baptism forgives us of our sins, period. Think about what that means. Think about how that changes everything.
The only way we can lose our salvation is if we walk away from it. God has not moved nor will He ever move – He is patiently waiting for us and more than willing to forgive us even when we really mess up. I don’t know why we can’t see or accept that. Maybe it has to do with fairness: how fair is it that so and so, as bad as he is, can have the same salvation as I? Maybe we prefer to talk about the dangers of hell and like to set up rules to follow because it will keep us in line (and make us feel better than someone who has messed up worse than us). But we are the ones who have put up standards and barriers and impossible goals in order to please God. God has completely and totally forgiven us of all our sins through the blood of Jesus and we can know that is true in baptism.
We are the ones who judge harshly, who condemn any who stumble, and who never forgive or forget the bad that we and others have done. That’s not how God is. Consider the parable of the Prodigal from Luke 15. The father in the story waited patiently every day for his son to return. And when he did return he did not yell at him, or punish him or always hold his mistake over his head. In fact, Jesus said he threw a party because his son returned! No wonder the other brother was upset. That’s not fair at all. But deep down, we don’t want fairness, do we? We want a cure: a permanent cure. And baptism provides that cure. Not just a temporary forgiveness for what we have done in the past but complete and total forgiveness for all our sins.
When we can learn to forgive like that our church will be a totally different place. We will not be able to hold the people who will come. And think about the freedom this cure gives. All our bitterness and fighting and judging and condemnation and hatred will melt away. God will be seen in this place and we will all fall on our knees to worship him who is worthy.
Baptism, then, has become the act that seals the promise of forgiveness. The water is just Sterling tap water but it symbolizes how we have been washed clean. The blood of Jesus saves us and God’s offer of grace and mercy is open to all but baptism is the mark that binds us to the blood and assures us that we have been forgiven. Our guilt has been washed away; our shame has been forgotten; our salvation has been secured.
The argument often used against baptism is that it is a work and we are saved by faith, not by works. However that misses the point. We are saved by faith and we cannot do anything on our own to be forgiven. It was all taken care of for us on the cross and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin. Baptism is our response to the blood and our acceptance of God’s offer of forgiveness. If you were told that a rich uncle died and left you an inheritance but in order to receive the inheritance you had to go to the bank and fill out some forms would you think that was working for the money or just doing what you were asked to do in order to receive the money? Likewise, God has ordained that in order to receive forgiveness for our sins we must be baptized. Baptism washes away our sins: or as Peter wrote, baptism is not the removal of dirt from our body but the pledge of a good conscience before God.
The forgiveness promised in baptism is amazing enough but like those commercials say, “But wait! There’s more!” In baptism, we are promised forgiveness and in baptism we are also promised the...
II. GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
The Holy Spirit is the second part of the double cure. As our text says, 38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I see two problems that we have when the Holy Spirit is brought up. First we are scared of ghosts and things that go bump in the night – in other words things we don’t understand. So to overcome that fear we push aside anything we can’t explain and rationalize everything else. I wrestle with the contradiction I have had all my life because I believe in a supernatural God and the wonderful miracles in the Bible not to mention the stories of angels and divine intervention yet so often I have refused to see those things in my life. The result is I put God in a box and deny myself the opportunity to really see his power at work.
The second problem we have with the Holy Spirit is we confuse the gifts of the Holy Spirit with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament clearly describe miraculous gifts of the Spirit and how sometimes the Spirit works before baptism. You see, the Holy Spirit’s job is to convict people of their sin and show them Jesus. Sometimes it happens in ways that we cannot explain (like earlier in Acts 2 with the speaking in tongues) and sometimes it occurs in a very rational and logical fashion (like when we sit and step by step go through the salvation process). The purpose of miraculous gifts is always to lead others to Jesus and when that happens it is not nearly so scary for us, is it? Now there are a lot of abuses of the gifts today but that’s another sermon for another time.
As I wrap up this sermon today I want us to think a bit about what it means when the Holy Spirit is given to us at baptism. The promise is clear: everyone who is baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins receives the gift of the Holy Spirit. Too many of us for too long have ignored, forgotten about or have been simply unaware of the power and gift that we have.
The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit means at least three things. First, obviously it means that the Holy Spirit lives within us. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:19 – 19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.
We live in a very selfish culture where everything is about me. But we are not our own – when we were baptized we gave ourselves over to God and His Holy Spirit now lives within us. That speaks volumes about how we are to treat our body, how we are to live our lives and how we are to behave because it’s not about us; it is about God.
Next we see that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit means that He will protect us. 2 Timothy 1:14 says, 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you--guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
The truth of the matter is we are not very good at guarding the things of God. We fall asleep at our post or we just don’t pay attention. It is through the Holy Spirit that the Good News is protected. And if He is protecting the Gospel He will also protect us through whom the Good News is spread.
And most importantly, the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin. This is different then the conviction the Holy Spirit gives to lead us to Jesus – this is an ongoing conviction to help us live. Romans 8:9-11 says, 9You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
When Paul wrote, “if the Spirit of God lives in you” the answer should be obvious. Of course He lives in you since you were baptized into His name. When we let the Spirit of God enter our lives we are allowing it to control what we do. That is the small voice we hear telling us we shouldn’t do something or that we should do something else. More than a conscience this is the Spirit prodding and helping us to stay on the path God wants us to stay on. The only problem is we often ignore or argue with that Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is not going to twist our arm and if we keep resisting He will stop trying. Most of us know that if we are not welcome somewhere not to stay there don’t we? The Holy Spirit is no different. However, in spite of our rude behavior the gift of the Holy Spirit given to us at baptism never completely leaves. God loves us too much for that so He has commanded the Spirit to hang around so that when we call on Him again he will be right there.
So, the second part of the double cure is the Holy Spirit teaching, leading, guiding and directing us in God’s ways. Are you listening? Do you hear Him? We have been forgiven of our sins and we have not been forgotten in our journey. We have been saved from the guilt of our sin and we have been saved from the power of sin. We will sin but the Holy Spirit is here, waiting to help us out.