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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Here We Stand (Daniel 3)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - October 27, 2013
Text:Daniel 3

:: Sermon Audio (LINK) - scroll down for written draft
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "A Mighty Fortress" (Jonathan Reuss)

Hymn of Praise: "A Mighty Fortress" (EIN FESTE BURG)
Song of Praise: "Let It Be Said of Us" (Steve Fry)

The Word in Music: "If I Stand" (Rich Mullins)
Song of Commitment: "Today" (Brian Doerksen and Sandra Gage)
Postlude: "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow" (Fred Bock)

:: Sermon Manuscript
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon, not used in the service. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Today we are going to talk about taking a stand. You can take a stand for any number of reasons, but specifically we are going to talk about taking a stand for God. Or, more accurately, standing on God’s Word and promises in the face of evil or something wrong. I want to share two stories from history and then return to the question of our own times, our own faithfulness, and our own witness.

When the Heat is On

In today’s text we heard one of the more familiar stories from the Old Testament. It’s the story of the “fiery furnace” and the three young men of faith: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. These events took place during the Exile of God’s people, specifically the time period when the southern tribe of Judah was in captivity in Babylon. In Daniel 3, we read that the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, makes a HUGE image of gold and requires all the people of the land to bow down and worship it.

As a young man, Daniel had already faced the challenge of sticking to the Jewish food laws, but this requirement was of far greater proportions. If you recall the Ten Commandments, the first two command God’s people to have no other gods other than Yahwah and to not make or bow down to graven images or idols. The new Babylonian law directly conflicted with this most basic of God’s Law for His people. And the penalty for disobeying the edict of King Nebuchadnezzar was death by fire.

The three young Jewish men are reported by political rivals and brought before King Nebuchadnezzar, where they are given one more chance to bow down and worship the golden image under penalty of fiery death. Nebuchadnezzar asks them: “If you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:13)

I want you to listen again to their response:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not (!), let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)
What a response! What faith! It would be astounding faith to trust God for deliverance, but this is an even more mature faith that is committed to obeying and serving God even if He does not. Wow; I know that I often am proud of myself when I make a grand gesture toward God, but so often it is conditional: “God, if you get me out of this, I will do great things for you!” But this is outright faithful obedience, whatever the outcome. They trusted God and would obey Him.

This makes Nebuchadnezzar crazy with rage and he commands that the fire be stoked seven times hotter than before. The flames were so hot that the soldiers that threw the three men into the fire died from the heat. But the three, tied up when thrown in, were walking around inside the flames and there was a fourth person with them with the appearance of “a son of the gods.” This fourth figure is either an early appearance of Christ or is the Angel of the Lord. In either case, God does indeed deliver these faithful men who stood in faith and in obedience to the Word of the Lord.

And Nebuchadnezzar, who was the greatest power in the known world at that time – understanding himself to be a kind of “god on earth” – declared, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.” Then in typically Nebuchadnezzar-like fashion, he made a decree that anyone who spoke against the God of these three young men shall be torn limb from limb and their houses destroyed, also declaring, “There is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” And Nebuchadnezzar favored the three men from that point on.

Convinced by Scripture and Sound Reason

Today is known, informally, as Reformation Day. It commemorates the Protestant Reformation, when a young monk named Martin Luther took on the Catholic Church for abuses during his time. Luther’s great conviction and legacy was to look to Scripture to confront and correct those abuses. He named the errors in belief and practice in a 95-point list called the “95 Theses.” And he later was put on trial for his writings and teachings that continued to confront the powers of his day, which happened to be the established church.

I want to show you a short clip from a wonderful movie made of his life (which I commend to you). In this clip you will hear him defend his writings, stand upon the authority of Scripture, and finally declare that even if the consequences are grave, he can do no other. He reminds me of the three young me facing Nebuchadnezzar. He is committed to faith and obedience, even if God does not “deliver” him or provide a way of escape.

In this clip he faces both the representative of the Catholic church and the state authority of the region.

Let me lift out a few things…

First, he is willing to be corrected and repent, but under this condition: “Let my errors be proven by Scripture and I will revoke my work….”

Second, let me repeat to you his famous final statement, which is also on your bulletin cover: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason… my conscience is captive to the Word of God… I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”

Let me say a word about the Catholic church. I talk about this often in new member classes because so many folks have a Catholic background of some kind. There are still some significant differences between the Catholic and the Presbyterian church, but the significant problems of Martin Luther’s day, especially around faith and works and the selling of indulgences have been corrected, in no small part to the witness of Martin Luther. And, in fact, the Catholic and Lutheran church have had some significant dialogues around core theological issues raised by Martin Luther and have found much to agree on. All of this is a legacy of Martin Luther’s bold stand.

Much as King Nebuchadnezzar was changed by the strong witness of the three young men, so the world – both the church world and the rest of the world – has been changed by the strong witness of Martin Luther, standing on the Word of God.

Here We Stand

So with those two historical stories going before us, I am challenged by the question, “Where will we stand for God and on God’s Word?” And it is a particular kind of standing that we’ve seen this morning. It’s not taking a stand on just anything. You can take a stand on who is the best college football team in the country. You can take a stand on which political party is better or worse. Those kinds of stands can be emotional or well-researched and backed up with data.  And, to be sure, Scripture can offer some guidance in matters from recreation to politics to relationships and more.

But the kind of stand we’ve heard about this morning is more basic than any of that. It’s the kind that comes about when you come up against real power and real injustice, wrong, or ungodly requirement. And when there is real power behind those kinds of demands, the stakes can be very, very high indeed. But that’s also when faith is tested for real. Both the young men in Babylon and Martin Luther in Germany found direction and strength to stand in Scripture – God’s Word to us. And surely they were also strengthened by God’s Holy Spirit for a confrontation that was beyond human strength.

When you are tested, confronted, challenged, or directed away from God, where and how will you stand? Will it be on scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit and spoken into the conscience and conviction of a faith-filled heart and mind? How can that happen if we don’t read and study and treasure God’s Word to us? How can that happen if we don’t continue to grow in faith and obedience and lives of worship?

Whether it is an increasingly secular culture or the mounting peer pressures of moving from elementary to middle to high school or the huge step of moving from a college campus into the world as a 20-something or the complexities of work, family, and relationships, our faith will be challenged. And we will have the opportunity to stand.

Will we be able to say with Martin Luther: “Here I stand; I can do not other. God help me.”?

Will we be able to say with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego: “My God whom I serve is able to deliver me… but even if He does not, I will serve and worship Him.”

With God’s help, may it be so! Amen.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

==BAPTISM (Fall 2013)==

Baptized in Christ Series
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
September 15 - October 20, 2013

Baptism is a rich, rich biblical concept and one that most of us don’t really understand too well. Yet, all Christians ordinarily ARE baptized. In this series we will explore the biblical meaning of baptism to better appreciate who God is, what God has done, and who we are in Christ and in Christian community.

Renewal of Baptism (John 7.37-43)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - October 20, 2013
Text: John 7:37-43

:: Sermon Audio (LINK) - scroll down for written draft
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "I Will Arise and Go to Jesus" (Heather Sorenson)

Song of Praise: "Come, Ye Sinners" (Joseph Hart)
Song of Preparation: "Come Just as You Are" (Joseph Sabolick)

Renewal of Baptismal Vows: "Down in the River to Pray" (David Mennicke)

Offering of Music: "I've Just Come from the Fountain" (Robert Hobby)
Hymn of Sending: "We Know that Christ is Raised" (ENGLEBERG)
Postlude: "Toccata in F Major" (Dietrich Buxtehude)

:: Sermon Manuscript
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon, not used in the service. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
37 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. 40 Some of the people therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, “This certainly is the Prophet.” 41 Others were saying, “This is the Christ.” Still others were saying, “Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He? 42 “Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” 43 So a division occurred in the crowd because of Him. ~John 7:37-43
We have spent the last six weeks on baptism. We have seen the rich symbolism drawn from the pages and history of scripture. We have seen the strong ties with the biblical covenant – old and new – and how it is God’s action and character from start to finish that stands behind the act of baptism and the story of God’s salvation. We have looked at the importance of this sacrament in the life of God’s people, as a dramatic and tangible depiction of God’s story. And we have heard the great invitation and been drawn to the great hope of this act and action.

Today, we conclude this series with something a little different. I’d like to draw on all that we have heard, learned, and experienced, but invite you to do something from the heart rather than simply learn more for the head. It is a long-standing practice in Scripture and among God’s people to practice covenant renewal. It is kind of like renewing your marriage vows – in fact, exactly like that! I’d like to take a moment to remind you of the baptismal vows that everyone who has been baptized here or who has joined in membership has taken. We just heard these vows last week as the Hollands and Jenny joined the church and as Kristin and Rusty Hodgson brought their daughter, Anna, to be baptized.

As you heard in the main scripture text today, Jesus invited anyone who is thirsty to come to him and drink. That declaration of who he was and that invitation to come to him drew some in faith and drove others away, even as it does today.

I want to remind you of the Gospel – God’s “Good News” in Jesus – through the vows of baptism and membership and scripture from which they are drawn. I want to invite you to come to Christ. Using all we have learned in previous weeks and God’s Word today, I’d like to invite you to renew your covenant vows of baptism, to remember them with fresh faith in your heart and mind. Listen then to the vows of membership, to scriptures from which they are drawn, and to the story and love of God spoken and lived into this world and your life.

Then I will explain a bit more about how we will invite you to renew your own vows.

Who is your Lord and Savior?

In answer to that question the Christian replies, “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior,” taking the name which is above all names onto his or her lips. Scripture says:
8 “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10:8-10)
By “Savior” we mean that Jesus is God’s provision for salvation, for rescue, for mercy. Where there was only rightful and deserved judgment for our sin and disobedience, God has provided the atoning sacrifice, the way where there was no way, and sent His only begotten Son into the world and for the world, for all who believe that they might be saved from sin and have eternal life. It is the most foundational “Good News” of the Bible, that God loves you enough to go to Hell and back for your salvation. Jesus is God’s Savior.

By “Lord” we recognize that Jesus is not only rescuer, but King of our life. And that position of power and authority is not just one of obligation for saving our life, though he has done that as Savior. Rather, he is the King of kings and Lord of lords, the one God has given all power and authority in Heaven and earth. By acknowledging him as “Lord” we acknowledge that we serve him, owe him our allegiance, devotion, and obedience, and willingly follow where he leads.

Though not everyone knows they need saving, everyone names something or someone as “Lord,” even if it one’s self. The Christian acknowledges and professes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Do you trust Christ and intend to be his disciple, obeying his word and showing his love? 

The second baptismal and membership vow expands upon naming Jesus as Lord and “unpacks” it into several parts: trust, discipleship, obedience to Scripture, and a life of Christ-like love. Listen to these verses from 1 John, which also speak to what it means to follow Christ:
23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. 24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. (1 John 3:23-24)
We trust and believe Jesus is who he says he is. And we obey his teaching and God’s commandments, which are found in the Bible, God’s Word. And we live as his – we “abide in him” with the help of his Spirit, which is demonstrated not only through our obedience, but through our love. Jesus taught often about love – love of God, love of neighbor, and even love of enemies. And he backed up his teaching with his own life. It is not enough to simply believe; we are called, invited, and expected to follow after him in word and deed. That is what it means to “trust and obey.”

Do you renounce evil and affirm your reliance upon God’s grace? 

The third baptismal and membership vow has two parts. In the first part we “renounce evil.” By that, we declare ourselves enemies of Satan and friends of God. We declare our ongoing repentance, turning around and changing direction, turned toward God instead of away from God. Yet, reality is that we do still err and stray like “lost sheep.” We still sin and fall short. And so a scripture that you hear every Sunday reminds us:
8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)
In the second part of this vow we “affirm our reliance upon God’s grace.” That’s just what 1 John 1:8-9 is talking about. We want to follow God, but we still sin; but God continues to be faithful and provide a way through Christ. So when we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and make us clean again. Remember that symbolism of the baptismal water: judgment for sin, but merciful deliverance unto life, and washing clean of sin.

Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, participating actively and responsibly in the worship and mission of the church? 

The fourth baptismal and membership vow is focused in a different direction than the other three, but it is vitally important nonetheless. It asks if we will be a “faithful member” of a local worshiping congregation. God did not make us to worship and serve him in isolation, but in community; and it is vital to our spiritual health and faithfulness to be plugged into the body of Christ somewhere. So, we always baptize in the midst of the community, not privately. And we always ask this vow, whether the person or family will be faithful and active members of a worshiping, missionally-engaged community of Christ. Listen how scripture puts it:
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
These are our theme verses for our Wednesday nights this fall. They describe the healthy “body life” of the Christian community. And they are essential to Christian faith and health.

Renewal of Baptism

So, I invite you to come, not row by row or even necessarily all of you; but to come as the Lord leads you. I invite you to come forward and touch the waters of baptism, spend a moment in silent prayer with God, then to take a piece of cloth from the communion table to remind you of these waters.

It may be that you simply want to re-commit yourself to these vows as a fresh expression of your faith and commitment to following Christ and serving the Lord this day.

It may be that you feel very “unworthy” and are hesitant to come up. I urge you to come anyway, and be reminded of God’s covenantal faithfulness toward you. Ultimately, baptism isn’t about you and your faith, but about God and His extravagant faithfulness. Come; be reminded of just how much God loves you. Come; remember the covenant family that raised you in the faith. Come; remember the great story of God’s love that reached into your life and does even now.

For those who are young children and whose parents have asked them to wait until they are of an age of understanding, I’d invite you to participate in anticipation, looking forward to the day when you will be baptized.

And finally, if you have not been baptized and have faith in Jesus Christ and would like to be, I’d invite you to come forward in the same manner, in anticipation of soon being baptized, and to speak with me after the service about doing that soon.

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, I invite you to come! 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Baptism as Anticipation (Matthew 3.13-17)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - October 13, 2013
Text: Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 10:39; Colossians 2:12; Galatians 3:26-29

:: Sermon Audio (LINK) - scroll down for written draft
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."
:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Praise the Lord!" (Don Phillips)

Song of Praise: "Every Promise of Your Word" (Getty/Townend)
Baptismal Song: "Long Before You Were Made" (Austell/Dawson)

Hymn of Response: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" (FAITHFULNESS)
Offering of Music: "Faithful God" (Laura Story)
Song of Sending: "Revelation Song" (Jenny Lee Riddle)
Postlude: "Trumpet Tune" (David German)

:: Sermon Manuscript
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon, not used in the service. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
13 Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15 But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. 16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” ~Matthew 3:13-17
It was early fall – in fact, it was the 21st of September, memorable because there’s an Earth, Wind, and Fire song called “September” about that date and it was the theme song that weekend.  “That weekend” was a college retreat for multiple schools in North and South Carolina, an annual tradition. I was two years out of college, but was back for a special reason. In the fireside room at Windy Gap, I pulled out a ring made from a diamond passed down to me by my grandmother and I asked Heather to marry me.  At that time is was relatively unusual for students to get engaged so early in their senior year, so the place was quite abuzz with it. People wanted to see the ring, congratulate us, and talk about our plans for the future. But everyone who saw or heard about it could pretty well imagine – pretty well ANTICIPATE – what was coming… a wedding, with vows, a white dress, family and friends gathered, and a life together.

As I described in the children’s message and again now, baptism is like that engagement ring because it is a sign and symbol of things yet to come. Just like an engagement ring anticipates the promises of the groom, fulfilled in the wedding and lived out in the marriage together, so baptism ANTICIPATES the promises of God, fulfilled with complete faithfulness in Jesus Christ (the groom) and lived out in our collective marriage to him and future with him.

Today is the fifth Sunday in our series on baptism and we will be reminded again that all that it symbolizes and points to is rooted in who God is and what He has done. But precisely because of that, we have deep hopes and promises for our present and our future.

The Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17)

I want to try to take something that can be confusing and make it simple for you. The focal point of that explanation is the baptism of Jesus. I’m not sure why, but I rarely hear it referenced when people talk about baptism. But it is the primary baptism story in Scripture; it is when, by example and explanation, Jesus truly instituted baptism for us.

You heard the story. John the Baptist (Jesus’ cousin), is teaching and practicing a baptism of repentance. We come to realize that he is the last of the prophets preparing the way for God’s Promised One, the Messiah. He has been talking about the Messiah who would come – one greater than himself, saying, ““I am not fit to remove His sandals” (v. 11).

He is surprised (and resistant) when he sees Jesus coming to be baptized. John says, in effect, “YOU should baptize ME; why do you come to me for this?” (v. 14, my paraphrase)

Jesus responds, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” “Fulfilling all righteousness” not only signifies that Jesus is fulfilling prophecy and identifying as the Messiah John has been preaching about, but he also takes upon himself all the meaning and symbolism of water baptism in the Scriptures: judgment, mercy, resurrection, and Spirit. Remember, those are all the things we have been talking about for the past five weeks.

John was baptizing with water for repentance; but Jesus did not need to repent. Rather, he took the water baptism for repentance (practiced by others, not just John) and the covenant sign of circumcision and transformed the old signs into a new one signifying all that he was going to do for us: undergo judgment, be the conduit of God’s mercy, bring resurrection and life, and usher in the Holy Spirit. Jesus did the same transformation with the Old Covenant memorial meal, the Passover meal. That was a ritual used to tell the story of the bondage and slavery of God’s people and God’s deliverance through a mediator and savior in Moses. At the Last Supper, Jesus likewise took that memorial meal (he and the disciples were celebrating Passover) and he transformed the old signs into a new one signifying all that he was going to do for us: his body and blood broken and shed that we might be delivered from slavery and bondage into new life.

We talked about baptism also as a sign of identity; after Jesus’ baptism, God speaks his identity, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” And the promised Holy Spirit (the fourth symbol of baptismal water) appears as a dove, identifying and signifying Jesus as God’s Son and the Messiah.

Anticipation through Identification

When we are baptized, we are identified with Christ through the Covenant.  As Galatians 3:27 says, you have “clothed yourselves with Christ.” Our baptism is connected with his, which is all about what HE was going to do (and did). It gets confusing because it was in the past and we are living now and much of this is still yet to come. But that’s just it; baptism doesn’t just mark a point in time. Remember what water baptism symbolizes and signifies: God’s rightful judgment of sin; God’s merciful forgiveness through sacrificial atonement; God’s gracious giving of life and a future; and God’s promised presence with us and in us forever.

When Jesus was baptized, he marked himself as the one who would go first (and last!) in experiencing all that on our behalf. So Jesus carried our sin on the cross and endured God’s rightful judgment. Jesus was the once-and-for-all atoning sacrifice – the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. By God’s power Jesus was raised from the dead on Easter morning. And with God, Jesus left his Holy Spirit with us always, even until the end of the age.

In a nutshell, our baptism identifies us as His people – the covenant people, the people of God’s promise. Baptism apart from Jesus would be as terrifying as bearing the judgment for our own sins; we could not bear it. Our only hope is in Jesus, that he has gone before us and done what we could not and cannot do. And yet, we benefit from his faithfulness. We reap the benefits of his obedience. And so, though we have not yet died or faced God’s judgment or been resurrected from the dead, we can ANTICIPATE those things because the one who died for us has also lived for us.

Remember, Baptism tells God’s redemptive story. It doesn’t save; it’s a symbol and sign of the God who saves. And first and foremost, baptism identifies us with Jesus, whose work and faithfulness is sure. He will not forsake you; he has not failed to do all that God purposed for him to do. Another word we use for “anticipation” is HOPE. Baptism marks our Christian HOPE in God. Because of what God did through Jesus, we can HOPE in the following:
  • God’s infinite and eternal purpose, plan, faithfulness, and love;
  • Jesus’ standing in our place to experience God’s judgment, mercy, resurrection, and presence;
  • Our own death, resurrection, and final judgment with Christ at our side.
Baptism as Anticipation

Do people (of any age) get baptized and walk away? Yes; it is not unlike a broken engagement and walking away from what is promised there. But Jesus is the perfectly faithful groom and will not himself walk away from any whom he has pledged to love through his own death.

Baptism is exciting, like an engagement ring is exciting. It signals so much that is yet to come and it is anchored in the perfect and faithful love of Jesus Christ, the groom to God’s covenant people, the Church – called the “Bride of Christ.”

Baptism is “here’s how much God loves you” and “you won’t believe what is yet to come!” Amen.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Baptism as Sacrament (John 3.22-4.3, Matthew 28.16-20)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - October 6, 2013
Text: John 3:22-4:3; Matthew 28:16-20

:: Sermon Audio (LINK) - scroll down for written draft
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Benedictus" (Couperin)

Hymn of Praise: "When Jesus Came to Jordan" (MUNICH)
Song of Praise: "Jesus, All for Jesus" (Robin Mark)

Song of Confession: "Kyrie (from Gospel Mass)" (Robert Ray)

Offering of Music: "Be Thou My Vision" (Pepper Choplin)
Communion Music: "How Beautiful" (Twila Paris)
Song of Sending: "An Upper Room" (O WALY WALY)
Postlude: "Contrasts" (Emma Lou Diemer)

:: Sermon Manuscript
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon, not used in the service. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
22 After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized— 24 for John had not yet been thrown into prison. 25 Therefore there arose a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.” 27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. 28 “You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ 29 “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. 30 “He must increase, but I must decrease. 31 “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 “What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. 33 “He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. 34 “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. 35 “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. 36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” 1 Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), 3 He left Judea and went away again into Galilee.  ~John 3:22-4:3

16 But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  ~Matthew 28:16-20
Today we are in our fourth week of a series on baptism. I have been struck by how deeply this one act embodies, tells, and demonstrates the full Gospel of Jesus Christ.  By way of review, we looked the first week at baptism as symbol: specifically a symbol of God’s judgment, mercy, salvation, and faithful presence. The second week we looked at baptism as sign, pointing to who we are – our identity – in Christ. Last week we looked at baptism as ritual, a tangible depiction or mini-drama that publicly acts out God’s story in witness to God’s great love and mercy.

Today we look at baptism as sacrament. First I want to define and explain what we mean by “sacrament” and then we will consider how baptism fits that description. We will also see, then, how it offers us an opportunity to respond to God’s goodness in obedience and worshipful witness.

What is a Sacrament?

First of all, “sacrament” is not a word used in the Bible. And depending on your church background, you may have heard of a different number of sacraments than two. We won’t go into all the theology and history today; that’s a full, long history lesson!  The Roman Catholic Church counts seven sacraments and the Baptist Church has none (rather, they have two “ordinances” in communion and believer’s baptism, understood a little differently). Almost every other Protestant branch, including the Presbyterian Church, has the two sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Basically, “sacrament” is a theological word used by the Church to describe something very specific. Later in the service, for our affirmation of faith, we will be using some questions and answers from the Heidelberg Catechism, a Scripture-training guide for believers from the Protestant Reformation. Accordingly, you’ll hear an emphasis on Scripture and on grace over works. You can look at this in your bulletin (look after sermon below to see this): question 66 of Heidelberg asks, “What are sacraments?” And the answer, with generous scripture references, is as follows:
Sacraments are visible, holy signs and seals. They were instituted by God so that by our use of them He might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and seal that promise. And this is God’s gospel promise: to grant us forgiveness of sins and eternal life by grace because of Christ’s one sacrifice accomplished on the cross.
Let me pull out several descriptors from Heidelberg’s definition. Sacraments are:


You may think “visible” is a strange first description, especially since your own particular baptism is no longer visible on you. But think about it. Both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are quite visible; more than that, they are tangible. You can feel the water, taste and sometimes smell the bread. There is action of pouring, breaking, sharing. They are mini-dramas telling the Gospel story! It’s what they point to that is less visible: the mercy and grace of God. How do you see that except through someone’s life or through the re-telling of the sacraments? They are “holy” because in each case we set aside ordinary elements – bread, juice, water – for extraordinary and sacred use. That’s part of the prayers in each case, that the Holy Spirit would make these elements holy, setting them aside for this special purpose.


We’ve talked quite a bit in previous weeks about baptism as a sign. That simply means that it points to something beyond itself. In this case, it points to what God has done uniquely in Jesus. The “seal” language is new; it is understood not in the more recent “seal a container closed” sense, but in the older practice of closing and validating a letter or official document with a seal. Think of the wax seal put on a parchment letter, with the identifying mark of a signet ring pressed down into it. An unbroken seal signaled the authenticity and authority of a letter as being from the one who sealed it. So as we’ve talked of circumcision and then baptism as the sign of God’s covenant, so also are they God’s seal for his covenant promise. Since God instituted baptism through the instruction and example of Jesus, baptism serves as a “seal” marking the authenticity and authority of these signified promises as being from God. It is God’s sign, impressed onto our lives. In John 3:33, John the Baptist is explaining to his own followers who Jesus was and why his disciples were now baptizing. John explains that he had only been preparing the world for Jesus, but now the One sent from God is among us, an eyewitness to Heaven itself! John says of Jesus: “[Jesus] who has received [God’s] testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the worlds of God; for he gives the Spirit without measure.” Jesus has put his trustworthy name on the message he brought and lived and as signs pointing to who Jesus was and what he did, the sacraments serve as validating seals to his message. They declare, “Jesus said this and did this; he is true and he is truth.”


God instituted circumcision as the sign and seal of the Old Testament covenant. He instructed Abraham directly in that regard. With the New Covenant, we look to Jesus to explain and instruct us as to what the sign and seal will be. We see that primarily in two instances: John 3:22-4:3 and Matthew 28:16-20 (and the ending to other Gospels). We read in John 3-4 of the transition from John’s ministry to Jesus’ ministry, with Jesus continuing to authorize his disciples to baptize people. Then by the end of the Gospels, in Matthew 28, baptism is commanded as part of the covenant mission to the world: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Do you hear the covenant language and baptism symbolism in the Great Commission? There is the scope of the covenant people being blessed to be a blessing to the nations. There is the great promise of God to remain with His people and to never leave or forsake them. And baptism is identified with the name and therefore the character and work of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Spirit. In short, Baptism is instituted as a sacrament because of the example of Jesus being baptized and authorizing his disciples to baptize and because he commands it as part of his mission. Should we consider “making disciples” a sacrament, too, then? No, a sacrament isn’t just something taught or commanded by Jesus; it is also all these other things – visible, holy, sign, seal, etc…  But, being all those things, you can see that it is present and carried forth in the Great Commission, the first charter and direction given the forming, missional church. You will also see it in Acts in practice as that Church grows and spreads.

EXPLANATIONS and SEALS of the Gospel promise

Finally, sacraments explain and seal the Gospel promise. First, what is the Gospel promise? The promise is the covenant and the “gospel promise” is the new covenant in Christ which we’ve talked about in recent weeks. It is God’s covenant faithfulness to graciously forgive sin and give life through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. So the sacrament helps explain that Gospel promise. God’s Word and a sermon does that in words. The sacraments do that through sign, symbol, and dramatic action. Again, it’s like a mini-drama acting out the Good News before you. And it’s not just for watching; it’s something you participate in. Think of the Lord’s Supper. I regularly preach on what God did through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. But once a month, at least, you also see that story enacted in front of you, with the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the cup. And I quote Jesus’ words about this being a “new covenant, his blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of sin.” And then you are brought into the mini-drama, receiving his body and his blood through these elements of bread and juice. When we baptize a person, not only is God’s whole story portrayed in the waters of baptism, the one being baptized and all of you witnessing are brought into the mini-drama and the Gospel explained once again. And we’ve talked already about sacraments as “seals” of God’s Gospel promise – the wax seal on the letter. Sacraments identify the authority and authenticity of the enacted message as being from God and they specifically identify Jesus as God’s True Word.

Remember and Respond

The sacraments – the Lord’s Supper and Baptism – proclaim God’s Good News message: God has not abandoned us to rightful judgment, but has come to us in mercy and grace to rescue us and stay with us until He brings us home. But the sacraments are more than proclamation; I can say that in a sermon (and hopefully do all the time!). The sacraments are mini-dramas enacted before you that you might experientially see and hear and touch and taste that Good News message. Even more than that, the sacraments are mini-dramas that are not just performance, but participatory; they draw you INTO the story. And they are the means to do this given by God to the Church because they were established, instructed, and authorized by God to do so, as God’s own “signet ring seal” to the message. What a wondrous thing! What marvelous communication! What gracious and loving invitation! What a great God!  Amen.

CREDO: our affirmation of faith
From the Heidelberg Catechism (1562)

What are sacraments?  (Q. 66)
Sacraments are visible, holy signs and seals. They were instituted by God so that by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and seal that promise. And this is God’s gospel promise: to grant us forgiveness of sins and eternal life by grace because of Christ’s one sacrifice accomplished on the cross.
Gen. 17:11; Rom. 4:11; Deut. 30:6; Lev. 6:25; Heb. 9:8–9, [11–]24; Ezek. 20:12; 1 Sam. 17:36[–37]; Isa. 6:6–7

Are both the word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?  (Q. 67)
Yes! In the gospel the Holy Spirit teaches us and by the holy sacraments confirms that our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.
Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27

How does baptism remind and assure you that Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross benefits you personally?  (Q. 69)
In this way: Christ instituted this outward washing and with it promised that, as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly his blood and his Spirit wash away my soul’s impurity, that is, all my sins.
Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3