There was a wealthy eagle who had adopted three sons. In time, he grew old, and he knew that he would have to entrust his business empire to one of his sons. There was concern, however, over which of his sons would be capable of managing his businesses and which would follow his desires for them. He set up a test. He took his oldest son to the edge of a deep canyon. "Down in the canyon is a gryphon." said the father. "Follow this trail to the gryphon's cave and bring me back one of his feathers."
The oldest son was an ostrich, and did not like steep places. "The path is dangerous." he said. "And I am no match for a gryphon. I know that my father will still love me if I do not do this. I will not go."
The father then took his second son to the canyon. The second son agreed. He took a helicopter down to the bottom of the canyon. When he saw the gryphon, he was frightened. The second son was a turkey, and he saw that his feathers were a similar color to the gryphon's. He plucked one of his own feathers, took it up with him in the helicopter, and gave it to his father. "You have not done what I asked." said the eagle. "I still love you, but I cannot trust you as my chief heir."
The youngest son was a penguin. He was neither charismatic like the turkey not strong like ostrich. If both of them were frightened to face the gryphon, he knew that he had little chance. Yet the penguin loved his father, so he obeyed his father's request. He walked down the treacherous trail to the cave of the gryphon. Once there, he approached the creature and asked for one of his feathers. The gryphon eyed the penguin for a moment, then gave him one of his shed feathers. The penguin then hiked back up the arduous trail. When he got to the top, there was the gryphon standing next to his father.
"Son," said the eagle. "This gryphon is my chief financial officer. He told me that you have indeed done what I asked. Because you were obedient, I know that you are fit to be the chief heir among your brothers. Come and take your place as my successor."
When I was a little boy, I used to ask my father what he wanted for his birthday, and he would always answer the same thing. "Good kids". My sisters and I would laugh at the joke, but I have since come to realize that it was not a joke. Fathers delight in obedient, well-behaved children. God is no different. He desires obedience. This desire is not because he is avaricious, nor is it, as many silly folks believe, because He derives power from His followers. He desires obedience because He is doing wonderful things and He wants to include His children in His work.
God has given people some very interesting opportunities to be obedient. Some did, some didn't. Adam and Eve, for example, had one rule to obey, and they did not do so. Abraham, on the other paw, obeyed God to the point of being willing to sacrifice His own son. Not every one of these opportunities is quite so dramatic, but each of us has at least one.
The Lord has given us two ordinances. Two things which He expects each of us to do. One is communion. The other is baptism. Today, we are here to talk about baptism. Let's start by discussing exactly what it is.
First of all, as you'll find in our statement of faith, we hold baptism to be an ordinance, and not a sacrament. A sacrament is a physical vehicle for the grace of God. There is nothing special about the water in the baptistry. If there were, I'd probably be very, very saintly by now. In point of fact, there isn't even any actual physical water in this baptistry. Just a Jpeg with a bluish tinge and some consensual imagination. But it isn't the water that is important. What is important is the act.
In the original new testament, the word used for baptism is "Baptidzo", meaning immersion. For this reason, a great many churches insist on baptism by immersion. King James practiced sprinkling. Afraid to offend the king, but unwilling to compromise the word of God, the translators of the King James bible simply transliterated the greek word, leaving us "Baptized", with its open-ended definition. But does it really matter whether it's by immersion, pouring or sprinking? Some would say yes, but as far as we are concerned, that's getting caught up in the letter of the law. The important thing is the act. I do personally believe that immersion is best, but what is important is that one does it, in whatever fashion.
Baptism is the first act of obedience given to any saint. It is not necessary for salvation, nor to receive God's love. Anyone who believes in Jesus as savior and confesses Him as Lord is promised salvation. Baptism is not necessary, but it is a natural extention of our acceptance of Christ. By being obedient to His first command, we publicly proclaim our submission to His authority. But there's more than that. There is a reason immersion is considered optimal. It is because this water paints a picture. When a person is dunked beneath the water, they are laid backwards because it is a symbol of death. Jesus died to redeem us from our sins, and when we accept Him as savior, we take part in His death. We die to sin and self. Our old nature remains there in the grave. The sin which tainted us and made us unfit to be God's children has been taken to Hell and left there forever. When the person is raised again, they are raised anew. He is a new creature with a new nature. He has been born again. That person is now immortal, for though his body may die, his soul will live and remain free forever. The old self is laid to rest and the new is brought into the world.
For this reason, we do not baptize babies, nor do we recognize the baptism of babies. Baptism is only appropriate and meaningful after the individual has accepted Christ for himself and has made the decision to be baptized on his own. This has gotten baptistics and certain protestants in hot water through the years. Pun intended. Those who hold to this belief are collectively known as anabaptists, meaning "re-baptizers" and many anabaptists were murdered for this, even by such reformers as Martin Luthor. As for us, we have no desire to cause contention, but we do insist that a Christian perform this first act of obedience of their own volition before they are permitted to become a voting member of the church. This is because doing so is saying "Yes! I will follow the Lord Jesus Christ! I will do as He commands. I will honor Him in my life before everyone." Failing to do so is saying "I'm not ready yet. I'm still not following Jesus with my whole heart."
Today, we have one among us who has been wrongly denied the right to take this step of obedience. That is a situation we are going to correct. Now, we cannot perform a physical baptism here. That will have to come at another time. However, we can enable this brother to follow Christ's command in spirit.
If you're reading this sermon online, let me just say that you missed a beautiful ceremony.
Today's reading: Acts 8: 26-38
26 And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.
27 And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,
28 Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.
29 Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.
30 And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?
31 And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.
32 The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth:
33 In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.
34 And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?
35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.
36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.