Baptismal Sermon -
It was all over. Jesus was yesterday’s man. Oh yes, for a moment it had looked like he was someone important as for three years he caused a real stir up and down the land. But that had all come to an end with his arrest and trial. He had of course been found guilty and was shown no mercy – he was executed, crucified, dead and buried: he was gone. It was all over. Jesus could be consigned to history. Seven weeks had already slipped by...
Yes, it was true that some of his followers maintained he was alive but no-
I wonder if that would just about sum up your attitude to Christianity too. Or perhaps you know people who think like that. ‘Jesus has nothing more to say to us today’, you say to yourself, ‘he belongs in the past so let’s leave him there.’ As for his followers well they’re simply deluded, they might be deserving of pity but they’re not worth listening to.
At best you might say that religion is a private affair so if they want to hold their own personal beliefs, what does it really matter? As long as they don’t bother us with their ideas that is.
The folk who were in Jerusalem that day thinking that life was just going to keep on chugging along in the same old way with the same old round of religious meetings were in for a big wake up call. Maybe you need to hear one too!
There was a lot of noise going on and it drew the crowds – what was happening? Some uninformed bystanders were ready with their assessment: these folk have drinking they said.
Have you noticed that there are often people around who although they haven’t got a clue what is going on they are nevertheless ready to dismiss everything out of hand? I wonder whether you have allowed yourself to be taken in by such folk. Sometimes they even like to put themselves forward as learned experts and the BBC is only to ready to give their views air-
But Peter had got something important to say and so he stood up to speak. He saw that all the excitement and agitation had drawn a crowd and so given him an opportunity of speaking out. As he began what would be the first recorded sermon of the Christian era he twice urged his hearers to pay careful attention to what he was about to say:
v.14 Peter "lifted up his voice" – he had nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about – and he had something important to say "let this be known to you, and give ear to my words."
Drunk? Of course no-
But Peter didn’t really want to dwell on that he had something that was more important for his listeners to hear. So he called again for a careful hearing of what he was about to say:
v.32 "Men of Israel, hear these words..."
What was it that was so important? Peter planned to talk to his listeners about Jesus. Some of the things they would know already but not by any means did they know everything they needed to know. They needed to realise that Jesus was not to be relegated to an historical past. Jesus had and has an ongoing and extremely important present. (In just one sermon Peter couldn’t say all there was to say either. He didn’t speak in any detail about the important role and function which Jesus would also carry out in the future.)
A Person is identified
As Peter began he carefully identified the person he was going to speak about. The name ‘Jesus’ wasn’t all that uncommon in the first century and Peter wanted his listeners to know he was speaking about one man in particular: Jesus of Nazareth. In the same way today we need to know who we are talking about when Jesus is spoken about because there are many different versions of Jesus being promoted ranging from Jesus Christ Superstar to the Liberal Jesus or the politically Revolutionary Jesus. Here at Sunnyhill when we talk about Jesus we mean the Jesus of the Bible.
So Peter identified Jesus of Nazareth and reminded his listeners that they already knew something about this man: they knew that he had performed many mighty works, signs and wonders though perhaps they hadn’t realised that these very signs were being to be understood as divine endorsements of this man.
A Death is Explained
Had those folk who were there that day ever seriously thought about Jesus’ miracles as God’s seal of approval upon all he said and did? Probably not and now the fact that Jesus died, or, to be precise, had been put to death didn’t seem to fit with their idea of what divine approval might look like; being crucified probably looked more like failure to them. Maybe it does to you...
Peter however had a different explanation. The fact that Jesus died was no sign of weakness or failure but instead his death was actually an integral part of God’s plan. Far from being a mistake or a failure it was the very reason why God had sent Jesus into the world!
Peter had an amazing truth that he wanted to share that day and this is it: death did not mark the end for Jesus! If it had then yes, I suppose, we could consign Christianity to history – an interesting blip in human history but nothing more. But Peter wanted his hearers to know that God had not left Jesus dead in the grave:
v.24 "God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it."
Death has power over us because of sin – it had no power over Jesus for he had never committed any sin himself. The rest of the NT makes it clear that when Jesus died he did so to pay for our guilt not his own.
Jesus had died not because he was out of step with God but because men and women failed to recognise him as attested by God and so rejected him, handing him over to evil men so that they might crucify him.
The finger is beginning to be pointed towards Peter’s hearers. He saw them as personally involved in this great story that concerns Jesus Christ and for the moment they are on the wrong side.
Peter didn’t straight away stress this personal application though he would soon return to it. What he did was to explain just what he meant when he spoke about God raising Jesus up.
A Resurrection is Described
Peter didn’t need to describe Jesus’ death in any detail. The events were too recent to have been forgotten and sadly crucifixions were common enough that no description of that horrible means of killing a man needed to be given.
The same, however, could not be said about resurrection. Yes, there were some passages in the OT that seemed to address the issue but these were commonly thought to apply to King David. Peter informed his hearers that David had spoken as a prophet and that in doing so he had not spoken about himself but about the coming messiah, the Christ. This messiah would not be abandoned to Hades, the place of the dead, and neither would his corpse be left to rot in the grave.
This is what Peter meant by resurrection: he meant a literal physical resurrection; there was no body to be found in the tomb because God raised Jesus up on the third day after his very real death on the cross. Peter knew for he was a witness as were the other disciples who stood with him as he preached. They had seen the risen Jesus, they had walked with him and talked with him and they had shared meals with him too and that for an extended period of some 40 days. In fact Jesus was as alive as it is ever possible to be!
An Ascension too
Jesus having clearly demonstrated his resurrection life to his disciples did not (and does not) continue to physically walk on the earth. No-
Peter continued and explained that it was from such a position that Jesus had kept his promise to pour out his Spirit upon his followers and it was the very arrival of this Holy Spirit that had caused such joy and excitement that had triggered the meeting that was at that moment taking place.
To sum up Peter wants it to be abundantly clear that the man they had known, observed, judged, condemned and executed had been established by God as both Lord and Christ. There was no shadow of a doubt about it.
As Peter preached his listeners got the message. What had they done! Consciences pricked, realising that they were personally involved they now earnestly wanted to know what could be done. Cut to the heart by what Peter had said they responded with:
"Brothers, what shall we do?" v.37.
Before his death and resurrection Jesus had told his followers that he would send the Holy Spirit. The Spirit would then:
Jn.16:8 "convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment"
Well, the Spirit had just come but he had set about this convicting work straight away – the response of Peter’s hearers indicates what is meant by conviction of sin.
A few years later a similar conviction of sin is recorded to help us understand these spiritual truths. Paul and Silas were in prison when the jailer profoundly moved by what he saw and what he heard asked a very similar question:
Acts 16:30 "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
Has it dawned on you that at some stage in your life you need to ask the same question? You can’t safely dismiss Jesus imagining that he belongs to a past that is long gone – he is alive and will always be – believing him and trusting in him is your only hope of having your sin forgiven and of enjoying life in the Spirit.
So let me ask you a further question: not now the question ‘Do you realise the need of going to Christ?’ but ‘Have you actually gone to Christ?"
Peter’s answer to the question "Brothers, what shall we do?" was clear and straightforward:
v.38 "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."
The answer Paul and Silas gave to the Philippian jailer was similar:
Acts 16:31 "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
And later that same day the jailer showed how seriously he took it for we read that he was baptised.
As Peter ended his sermon he did so by urging, encouraging and exhorting his hearers to make sure that the salvation being offered to them was indeed secured by them. This they could only do by exercising faith in the Saviour. His efforts under God proved to be successful as we read of some 3,000 being added to the church and being baptised.
Some Final Words
And so it has been going on down through the centuries. As the good news of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed men and women have come to see themselves as sinners before a Holy God and needing to be saved. They have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ and shown the reality of that trust by a further act of obedience: they have been baptised.
Please don’t get it wrong – no man or woman is ever put right with God through baptism. Sinners are saved by believing in Jesus, who he is and what he has done for us, baptism saves no-
Baptism is the act of obedience that Jesus wants those he has saved to show. We often think of baptism as us bearing witness to our faith in Jesus and of course that is true. But it is more true that in baptism Jesus demonstrates the depth of his love and commitment to us!
Now what about you? In a few moments we are going to proceed to David’s baptism. Do we need to plan another baptismal service for you? But baptism is only for those who have exercised personal faith in Christ and perhaps that is what you need to do first. If you have questions or matters that are as yet unresolved then do please feel free to speak to someone here about them. But don’t put it off endlessly – it is important to settle the matter, for now is the day of salvation.