When parents ask me if I would consider Christening their child I always ask the question, "Why do you want your child baptized?" Most of the answers I receive are outright superstitious:-
· My child might get knocked down by a car and won’t go to heaven.
· Until she’s baptized she won’t really have a name.
· I want to keep my parents happy – and here’s the phrase folks – "by getting him done."
Oh to discover the origins of popular superstitions!
Admittedly some of it does go back to the church in the days of high infant mortality and its pre-Reformation teachings when baptism was seen (and is still seen by some denominations today) as necessary to receive saving grace. Once you’ve received baptism the belief is that you’ve somehow been infused with righteousness and your actual sins have been washed away. Any sins you then commit afterwards need to be purged by repentance and confession and if you die without confessing – well don’t worry – there’s always purgatory.
However, this "last chance saloon idea" is not biblical and based upon a misunderstanding of Jesus’ sacrifice through which we are already cleansed, forgiven, reconciled and sanctified. No amount of water large or small can actually wash our sins away. Baptism is a symbolic "rite of passage" in which, by obeying God’s commands, children are accepted into the covenant of faith. Our Lord said that His disciples should not hinder the children for: "To such as these belong the Kingdom of God." (Mk.10:14). As we sang in the last verse of the hymn:"We sing our thanks that old and young so to the Church of Christ belong. This is the covenant of grace; we look salvation in the face."
But let’s be sure we understand this much: no magic is being worked in xxxxx. She hasn’t suddenly been given an invisible shield which magically protects her against who knows what. Neither has she been given preferential status before God. She does not know God loves her. As she grows up she may have to deal with doubts. She may have to work really hard to draw closer to God, but as the text reminds us: "…His commands are not too hard for us…When she matures to an age of discretion our prayer is that the faith promises taken today – by proxy on her behalf – become her own. Think of the service today like a cheque promising riches made out to the child. Those riches will be hers when she’s old enough – as long as she cashes the cheque in the Bank of Salvation. And it can only be endorsed by personal faith in – and obedience to – Jesus Christ: "Who can defeat the world? Only the person who believes that Jesus is the Son of God."
That’s what we are doing when we baptize infants. "We look salvation in the face" and hold out the hope that it’s in anticipation of subsequent discipleship: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Mt.28:19). That’s why I Christen babies. To most Protestants infant baptism is a sign of the forgiveness of sins that is theirs whenever they repent in the future. It’s a pledge made to the child of new and never-ending life in Christ if they choose to accept it. It’s also about the Church providing them with God’s love and supporting them as they grow up. The Bible tells us to pass our faith along to our offspring so that future generations can declare God’s power. But our children and grandchildren will only have faith and will only trust in God if we show them that we do and want them to do so too. And that’s what I emphasize to the parents as part of baptism preparation. xxxxx we’ve discussed faith; fellowship of the church and the Christian home. It is your duty to make sure that today’s promises are not taken lightly. So say prayers each night with xxxxx; tell her Bible stories; come to our family services and take her into Sunday School. The church is here for you. But you’ve got to want the church.
Aside from all the theology and symbolism of baptism (which is important for us to understand) another reason parents give me for wanting a Christening is it gives them the chance to say "thank you" to God for the precious life that’s been entrusted to them. They are acknowledging God’s love for their child. Scripture says that God loves us like children. It often refers to God as our Father but there are also images of God as a mother. It is in these parental images that we can get a hint of God’s love for each one of us. The amazing thing is – and I will never get tired of saying this – He loves us, even before we love Him.
Now this part of my sermon is about nothing — nothing at all. That’s what we brought into the world with us when we were born. Just nothing…zero. There was a man who added a great deal of money to his first zero, and he became a rich man with a lot of zeros after the number one. He had an expensive car. In his glove compartment, stuffed out of sight, because he didn’t know what to do with it – was a Bible – the one he’d been given when he was Christened. Think of that! The eternal Word of God, showing, I believe, the way to everlasting joy with the answer to all the sins and sorrows of life and death … and he didn’t know what to do with it! He knew how to make money. He knew how to get a beautiful house and how to meet important people, but he didn’t know God’s simple way of salvation. How poor can a rich man be?
Then came the car accident. The ambulance was called, and there was nothing he could do but wait. His injuries were not severe, but he knew very well that he could have been killed. His hand reached into the glove compartment for the insurances documents, and his fingers came up with that little Bible. For the first time, he opened it and read that verse about "nothing." S It was 1 Timothy 6:7. "We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out." He realized that if he had been killed, all his possessions would be reduced to the original zero. Nothing would be left for eternity. Not a single penny of all his riches would be his the moment after his death. He thought about this as he was taken to A&E. "I felt as if I’d been struck by lightning!" he said later.
This verse couldn’t be simpler to understand. But I want to emphasize this – that where there’s no true faith or hope in God then after death there is something that will still be yours. Your sins! These you cannot get rid of after death. They must be eradicated before death or they are yours forever. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to stand before the Most High God in my sins. Yet we don’t have too! The good news is that God is love. He loved us enough to create us and therefore forgives the sins of those who repent and turn to His Son in faith. And in Jesus, God risked taking on human flesh to die on the cross, to show us just how much He loves us. We can’t comprehend such perfect love. Yet somehow the awful debt of my sins, of your sins, has been paid by Jesus on Calvary. "Whoever believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his own heart."
We have the freedom to do as we choose. The rich man in the car accident began to read the Bible earnestly, and he soon accepted the Lord as his Saviour. Will you also receive this loving Saviour as your own? Remember death closes life’s account forever. You may have been Christened a long time ago – but if you haven’t yet cashed the cheque don’t leave it until it’s too late – for you might not be so lucky and be able to reach into your glove compartment. Chances are you haven’t got a Bible in there anyway!Baptism doesn’t save us. Only the Living Word of God – Jesus Christ – can do that. So examine your heart. Re-affirm those promises for yourself. "For now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2). "…For whoever does not have the Son of God – does not have life." (1 John 5:12). Let us say this prayer together…
O God, I don’t always understand the theology of the cross, but I understand a parent’s love. Thank you, God, for loving each one of us. AMEN.