1 Peter 3.20-22
Can you name some milestone moments this year? We can name various rites of passages such as growth spurts in our children, new jobs, a new home, birthdays, anniversaries, special accomplishments, “first time” moments are always special occasions… Can you think of some memorable milestones along your faith journey? Baptism, confirmation, profession of faith, joining a church, marriage celebration, or the passing of a loved one… There are times that we separate our everyday milestones with the sacred milestones, but with God all these things are in his great care. God can speak to us in both the everyday and the sacred as moments of encounter.
Across the pages of Scripture there are moments of covenant promises made between God and his people. I call them milestone moments of faith. A milestone is a symbolic rock set up beside a road to mark the distance in miles to a particular place. It could also be an action or event marking a significant change or stage in development. Joshua 4.1-24 reminds us of the significance of stones of remembrance as the Hebrew children crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land celebrating God’s miraculous help. The stones were reminders for generations to come of God’s goodness to the Hebrew people. In Joshua 24.25-28 at the end of Joshua’s life he makes a covenant by placing a very large stone under an oak tree that would remember all the words promised before God. In Luke 19.40 Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem at the Passover. He points out that the “stones will cry out” if the people did not proclaim him King.
When were the moments in your faith journey that you know without a shadow of a doubt that God was with and enabled you to do something beyond human reason? Perhaps there’s a moment along your timeline when you heard God’s still small voice speak very clearly to you about your future. As Christians baptism is one of the most significant milestone moments along the Christian journey of faith.
Our passage today comes from Peter’s letter to the scattered believers who needed encouragement during a season of persecution. Peter’s letter specifically guides the believers as their faith is shaped by the challenges in their communities. To be sure 1 Peter 1.3 clearly defines the content of the letter, “On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Peter wants the believers to understand the meaning of their baptismal covenant and the promises of God. By the time we arrive at chapter 3 Peter is relaying to us that baptism is truly a mark of a good conscience toward God.
“Noah built an ark in which a few (that is eight) lives were rescued through water. Baptism is like that. It saves you now – not because it removes dirt from the body but because it is the mark of a good conscience toward God. Your salvation comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at God’s right side. Now that he has gone into heaven, he rules over all angels, authorities, and powers.” – 1 Peter 3.20-22
Here in the passage we have an unusual connection with Noah. As the waters of the flood separated Noah and his family from the old world, so baptism separates Christians from their old life. Baptism is more than a symbolic act, it is an outward sign of an inward grace. Baptism is the sign of transition between the old way of life to another that is marked by a new ethic. Accepting baptism, we affirm our willingness to share in the experience of all the baptized. We willingly accept the suffering and treatment of suspicion and hostility.
Some mark this passage in 1 Peter 3.21-22 as the key verse to the whole book with the understanding that this Epistle is instructional sermon for all Jewish converts. This passage indicates that the one being baptized is making a pledge or a contract. This baptismal agreement has conditions and demands. Perhaps the passage even implies a confession of faith, and a willingness to accept suffering as a believer. Baptism becomes the portrait of the resurrection of Christ and our own renewal as life, death and resurrection.
It is through the waters of baptism that we have entry into the Body of Christ. In baptism, we are initiated into the community of God’s covenant people. A covenant is a two-sided agreement involving promises and responsibilities of both sides. Baptism is the sign of the New Covenant. It is “through water and the Spirit” that we enter into new spiritual life in relationship to God in Christ.
John Wesley asserted in The Articles of Religion that, “Baptism is not only a sign of profession and mark of difference whereby Christians are distinguished from others that are not baptized; but it is a sign of regeneration or the new birth. The baptism of young children is to be retained in the church.” Baptism of an infant portrays our dependence which all of us have on God. The sacrament is the sign of God’s promise of grace, forgiveness and transformation. We do not receive all of the benefits of baptism at once. At whatever age, baptism demonstrates our access to the grace that claims, sustains, and saves us.
The first vow reminds us to recognize and renounce evil in all its forms. We recognize evil as cosmic, systemic, and personal even when our culture denies the existence of evil. The second vow asserts that God enables us to be victorious over evil in all its forms, and obligates us to oppose sin in the social order in which we live. The third vow affirms our commitment to Christ.
As human beings we are born into a world in which evil is real, pervasive, and inescapable by our own efforts (original sin). The Christian Church is a community that has said “no” to sin and been freed to say “yes” to Christ. We acknowledge that the authentic Church of Christ is inclusive of all persons. When parents and sponsors of the one coming to be baptized, they speak for themselves, not on behalf of the one being baptized. As parents and sponsors stand with the one being baptized, they too reaffirm their faith.
Baptized children must be shaped into Christians. As parents and sponsors, we take responsibility to teach and exemplify the Christian faith, to see that children stay within the nurture of the church, and to guide them toward personal commitment to Christian discipleship. This is why the baptism of infants and young children is to be practiced only when their parents or sponsors are believing Christians and when there is commitment that these children will be brought up with intentional Christian education and formation at church and in the home. I cannot stress this enough. Baptism obligates us to ensure for our children a Christian education at church and in the home.
Christianity is lived out not in isolation, but in community with other Christians. The congregation reaffirms its own faith and commitment, then promises to nurture, teach, and support those whose commitments are being affirmed and reaffirmed. As a church we are called to nurture new Christians in the faith. Sponsors are held to the obligation of discipleship alongside the parents. No matter how strong our commitment to Christ, we can greatly benefit from the guidance and example of mentors and companions.
Methodism has always allowed persons to choose sprinkling, pouring, or immersion as the mode of baptism. All three modes have been used since New Testament times. Laying on of hands is an ancient action of the Church indicating the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is recognized as the work of the Holy Spirit through which we are spiritually made new and commissioned into Christian service. “Remembering” our baptism is recalling and reclaiming the meaning of baptism and the divine grace that continues at work in our lives.
When baptized children are able to profess the Christian faith for themselves, they participate in the service of confirmation. They publicly take the vows. Confirmation has three parts: promise, profession and commitment. The words said by the pastor are the same as those following baptism, except for a change in the tense of the verb to indicate that spiritual rebirth has already taken place. The Apostles’ Creed is part of the oldest tradition of the Church, this Creed has been used in baptisms throughout the Christian centuries. When we proclaim our faith using the Apostles’ Creed, we are linked with Christians of every place and all time.
Let’s examine what a profession of Christian faith looks like in the Scriptures:
Surrendering. Declaring Jesus is Lord comes with a price for those who surrender and those who accept them into the community of faith. Bowing low in humility requires an act of the will to surrender to what seems out of the ordinary. When we look across the expanse of Jesus ministry we can see the disciples learning what it means to be humble – to bow low before a move of God. When people come to Jesus, it is not always the religious and proper way. When we hear the good confession of others, we must bow low before God and welcome those who have not yet come into the Kingdom of God.
Submission. The good confession is a tender time in the believer when the Holy Spirit is moving profoundly upon the heart. Aged believers do well to guide and encourage those who have been kindled in the move of the Holy Spirit. The good confession is required before a convert can be brought into the community of faith. When we call on the name of the Lord for the first time, we continue to call for all eternity. It is a one-time event, and it is an on-going experience. We acknowledge that God raised Jesus from the dead – Jesus did not raise Jesus from the dead. Jesus remained in total submission to the Father’s will. Submission is the agent by which Christ Jesus was exalted as the Messiah who could save his people. Utterly surrendering to the Father’s will is the way to salvation.
Heart. The good confession is a heart-felt commitment. It begins with an internal conviction that builds up by faith on the inside of a person. This inward belief we call faith leads us to an outward response. This response to God’s grace that Jesus died for our sins is not a pretentious act of hypocrisy. When someone boldly declares that Jesus is Lord you can bet that God’s Spirit is moving within that person to bring about dynamic change in their lives.
Verbal. The good confession leads each one of us to a verbal expression of faith. What begins in the heart makes its way past all our fears and doubts to become an expression upon our lips. Faith always expresses itself in declaration in a community. The good confession guides us to the fulfillment of making disciples and baptizing others in light of the Great Commission.
Community. The Christian faith was never designed to be lived in isolation within our own hearts. It was never designed to be lived among our own people – family and friends. It was designed to reach out to the world around us. When Jesus left his disciples and ascended to Heaven, he gave them the Great Commission which remains the guiding mission for every believer.
The mission statement of the Kentucky Annual Conference clearly states our mission is to “Discover, Develop and Send passionate spiritual leaders and resources to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
Authority. The good confession happens when the eyes of our hearts are enlightened and we experience the hope of eternal life and the power of transformation that lies within the Christ Himself. Christ possesses all power and authority in heaven and earth. Christ is the ruler of all things in above and below. And, when we confession him as our Lord we are now seated with him in heavenly places. Christ bestows upon us the gift of his presence – the Holy Spirit. The good confession brings us into the perfect alignment under God’s authority. We are no longer living our lives unto ourselves and according to our own wants, but according to the Father’s will. We surrender in obedience to the one who made us in his image.
Name. The good confession is in the name of Jesus. When we make the good confession, we declare Jesus as Lord. There is no other name by which we are saved. In a society that celebrates pluralism where everyone can pray to their own view of God we need to know that our good confession of Christ Jesus is unique. There is no other God. And, there is no such thing as lip service. The Scriptures make no distinction between believing in Jesus and obeying the words of Jesus. When you and I declare that Jesus is Lord, we are also declaring that we will obey God’s word to the fullest. We no longer have a choice as to what we do or do not do. We have already chosen to obey God to the fullest.
Sent. The good confession happens in the context of the Christian community where disciples are sent to make disciples through the proclamation of what Christ has done for each one of us. Each one of us is sent forth on Sunday morning to proclaim our witness of God’s great love in the world. You do not have to school to proclaim Christ, it comes from your own testimony and witness as to what Christ has done in your life. When we look at Paul, we see a man of great talent in the Christian community. His whole Christian walk is founded on an encounter with Christ Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul preached because he discovered Christ Jesus was the real deal and he spent his life declaring that to others.
Good News. The good confession happens when we hear the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. People cannot come to a living experience of Jesus Christ unless someone proclaims the message of God’s great love to them. Each one of us is bound by the Great Commission to make disciples. It is in the witnessing to others that people can come to an understanding of their choices. The most profound impact you can make on others is to tell of the redemption that you yourself have experienced in Jesus. The good confession leads people to belief in the heart and a verbal calling on the name of Jesus. When the witnessing and the proclamation of Christ has been offered, each one of us comes to a living faith. It is not a dead faith that was yesterday’s news. It is new every morning. The good confession leads us to an on-going relationship with Jesus Christ that is vibrant and life giving.
Forgiven. The good confession leads us to accept Jesus as our high priest who takes away the sins of the world. When we imagine Jesus as our high priest, we can see him in his priestly garments of purple clothing befitting of his station as the one who hears our confession and takes away our sins. The good confession reaches the expanse of the Scriptures enveloping all the promises of God to his people. When Moses was called to lead his people, he requested a partner in ministry. And, that partner would be God himself. God would send his presence to go with Moses and to give him rest on the journey. That same presence is ours today.
Repeat. Throughout our lives, we need to participate in individual and corporate services of reaffirmation of our good confession. The sacrament of baptism never needs to be repeated because it is the covenantal sign of God’s gracious act. Once we have been claimed by God’s love, adopted by God’s grace, and initiated by God into the Body of Christ, God never fails to remain faithful to the divine side of the covenant. It is the human side of the covenant which is neglected, even broken.
Intentional. We need intentional opportunities to renew our trust in Christ and recommit ourselves to Christian discipleship. It is always the congregation’s responsibility to welcome new members inclusively, and pledge themselves to renew their faithful participation in the congregation. Baptism is a whole community recommitment to follow Jesus in faithful discipleship.
As we welcome a child among us today let us put aside our differences and welcome those who seek reconciliation through the baptismal waters of grace. As believers we are called to seek the well-being of all people not simply our own convictions. We stand ready to welcome at all times with all people in all places. Let our hearts and hands be open to receive the newly baptized and his family today.